Wednesday, December 30, 2009

OMG! Best Minestrone Soup EVER!

For Christmas my BFF, Judy, sent me (among other things) a copy of this magazine that I'd never even heard of, but is it ever a-may-ZING!  Just check out that cover photo - does that soup look GOOD!  I read it from cover to cover and dog-eared the pages for the recipes I wanted to try.  The first one was that soup on the cover - Minestrone Soup with Quinoa.

I rushed out immediately and bought the ingredients.  Now, I've made minestrone soup before, and it was good, but this recipe is different.  Not just the quinoa, which is a new food that is in my vegan diet (and I love it), but there were other differences as well.  FRESH herbs instead of jarred, fresh tomatoes, not canned, and fresh spinach, not frozen, and cut chiffonade.  (Luckily, the magazine included an explanation on how to do that: stack the leaves, roll tightly, slice across w/a sharp knife, then fluff to separate.  And fennel, both bulb and seed.

Fennel.  Huh??  I vaguely knew what that was, but had never purchased it. I had to read the tags on the various bins at the market to make sure I bought the right thing!  My first fennel!  Then I had to look up on the internet how to prepare it.  We did have fennel seeds already in our spice cabinet - I don't think I've ever used them, though.  The fresh fennel has a very pleasant and mild anise taste, as well as a delicate crunch.  (We've since used it tossed with other greens in salad and it's delicious.)

As you can see, there's a lot of slicing, dicing, and chopping to be done for this recipe.  Not just the vegetables, but the herbs, too.  I have a pot of basil, and there's thyme growing in my garden, so I did some harvesting.  Nothing like the feeling of eating something you've grown yourself!  I'm also really getting into the zen of the washing, peeling, and chopping of fresh produce.  It's become a relaxing and enjoyable activity, instead of a chore.  I guess that's a good thing since, these days with the vegan diet, I'm processing a LOT of fresh produce!

I also needed to crush the fennel seed.  Back to the internet!  I read that I could either use a bowl and pestle, which I don't happen to have, or a coffee grinder.  I have a coffee grinder so I got that out and whirled those seeds around until they were a nice fine powder.

Carrots, fennel, onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and the ground fennel seeds sauteeing in olive oil.  You just won't believe the delicious aroma that rose from this pot!  After about 8 minutes I added 6 cups of water, cannellini beans, the tomatoes, and quinoa.  I brought that to a boil, then reduced the heat and let it simmer gently until the quinoa was tender, about 20 minutes.

Doesn't it look gorgeous??

At that point I removed the bay leaves and seasoned it with sea salt and fresh-ground pepper.  Just before serving I added the spinach and basil.  This last step, I found, made a huge difference in retaining the color of the spinach (eye appeal!), as well as allowing the flavor and scent of the basil to be released right at the time of serving.  Is your mouth watering yet???  Grab a spoon because here's the finished product:

I didn't, but you can choose to garnish your soup with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, as the recipe suggests.  Isn't that a gorgeous bowl of soup?  The bright colors of the spinach and carrots, the plump beans, the rich-colored broth.  I gotta tell you - it tasted as good as it looks.  I don't think I've ever made a better-tasting soup.

Here's the recipe:
Minestrone Soup with Quinoa
{from Clean Eating magazine January/February 2010}

2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1 cup fennel, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup red onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
1-1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans (white kidney beans), drained
2 cups fresh plum tomatoes
1/3 cup uncooked quinoa
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup fresh spinach, cut chiffonade*
3 tbsp basil, thinly sliced
2 ox. Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated (about 1/2 cup), optional


In a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat.  Add carrots, fennel, onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and fennel seeds, and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes.  Add 6 cups water, beans, tomatoes and quinoa.  Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer gently until quinoa is tender, about 20 minutes.  Remove bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.  Stir spinach and basil into soup just before serving in warm bowls.  Garnish each with 1 tbsp cheese, if desired.

Nutrients per 8-oz. serving (including cheese): Calories: 137, Total Fat: 5 g, Sat. Fat: 1 g, Carbs: 19 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugars: 3 g, Protein: 5 g, Sodium: 70 mg, Cholesterol: 0 mg.

Give it a try; I think you'll love it!

Monday, December 28, 2009

My Secret to Good Health - Memories of Me Monday

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER:  "What is your secret or recipe for good health?"

When I was in the 6th grade I joined a diet club to lose weight (I've always had the vaguely held idea that if you stayed slim you stayed healthy). Actually, my two best friends, Judy Rich and Jill Brunson and I created the club ourselves.  We were the only members.  We planned to meet once a week at Jill's house.  During our first meeting we weighed ourselves and wrote the date and our weights in a little notebook.  I had a tiny calorie-counting book that I'd bought at the dimestore that we carefully studied, picking out the foods with the least calories and planning to only eat those foods.  But when you're an active 11-year old girl it's a little hard to just eat lettuce and radishes, especially when you don't even like radishes!

The club didn't last long.  We went on to create other clubs, the three of us, including a plant club where we all purchased tiny seedlings and measured their growth each week, a writing club (we were all working on novels), and a music club, where we kept track of the songs we heard on the radio each day, and how many times we heard them (a practice Judy and I continued for several years even after this club went the way of the others).

Truth be told, however, my "secret" to good health was my parents.  The food we ate was predominantly freshly prepared and homemade.  Spaghetti sauce was made from scratch, as was mac 'n cheese (no blue box full of preservatives), beef stew, fried chicken, sloppy joes, enchilada casserole, meat loaf, and creamed tuna on toast.  Sometimes we kids got hamburgers while my mom and dad each enjoyed a steak.  My mom was too thrifty to cook steak for us; it was too expensive, and we were surely too young to appreciate it.  Now and then when my mom was too busy to cook we ate Campbell's Pork 'n Beans and boiled hot dogs, a meal we called "weiners and beaners,"  or Campbell's tomato soup & grilled cheese sandwiches.

As for vegetables, we kids mainly got served canned peas, canned peas & carrots, canned green beans (my most despised veggie), or canned corn; once in a while we got creamed corn.  Potatoes were baked in the oven and had a hard, sometimes crispy skin (which we kids wouldn't eat); sometimes they were mashed or boiled.  My parents ate cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, and lima beans, but my mom seldom bothered trying to serve them to us - I expect she figured why waste good food and money when we were sure to refuse to eat them?  I don't think I ever saw a brussel's sprout, fresh spinach (instead of frozen), kale, mustard greens, any kind of squash, or even knew that peas grew inside a pod until I was an adult.

Salads were iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes, with Thousand Island dressing.  Grocery stores hadn't yet begun offering the vast variety of leafy greens you see now.  Arugula?  We'd have thought that was some kind of exotic, foreign dish!

My mom did go through some phases with our family meals.  There was the time period when she was grinding all her own wheat in the basement of our home in Minnesota.  I think that only lasted a few years, but she baked bread my entire childhood (at the time I had no idea how lucky I was).  Then there was the "Spam phase."  We got spam-burgers, spam and eggs, spam casseroles, and spam loaf.  I liked it best fried 'til crispy with eggs (to this day I get the occasional craving for Spam 'n eggs).  Another time she experimented with a soy meat substitute that I remember as being the consistency of mealy ground meat.  It wasn't bad tasting, but it was hard to get my siblings and I to even try anything new, let alone accept it as part of our "normal" family meal routine.  As soon as we knew it wasn't really beef, we rebelled against it.

My dad cooked, too, but he was mainly a breakfast kind of guy.  He was the one who made Spam 'n eggs most often, usually on weekends.  He also like to fry up slices of bologna.  He was our designated pancake-maker, and he was the one who most often wrestled with our heavy waffle iron, forcing it to give up perfectly crisped waffles.  He fried eggs and scrambled eggs and, when he didn't feel like cooking, got out the Cheerios and Corn Flakes and poured us each a bowl with sliced bananas and whole milk.

My mom packed our lunches for school, too, not to mention my Dad's lunch that he took to work every weekday for over 50 years. Our sandwiches were nearly always on my mom's homemade bread (which we didn't appreciate then, but sure do now); tuna w/mayo and a bit of lettuce, or peanut butter and jelly or, less often, bologna.  There was always a piece of fruit, an apple, orange, or banana, and two homemade cookies, usually chocolate chip.  I remember having a lunchbox off and on during my school years, with a thermos of milk, but I remember a lot more years of just using a brown paper bag and buying a carton of milk in the cafeteria.  In Minnesota, in the 60's, I can remember that milk costing just one penny!

We may not have had fancy meals, but we had well-balanced meals. Mom kept up with the current info on what constituted a well-balanced diet, and she made sure we were fed appropriately.  Apart from the usual childhood illnesses (measles, mumps, and chicken pox), and the occasional bout of 'flu, I was hardly ever sick.

Thanks to my "secret" to good health.  Thanks, Mom and Dad!

FOR NEXT WEEK: "Talk about, describe, the oddest or most unique person in your family tree."  Uh oh!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Free Red Gold Here

The Universal Donor ~ aka "Red Gold"

Ok, so sometimes I'm too sensitive.  Sometimes I let my feelings get hurt too easily.  Maybe I have an overdeveloped need to be appreciated.  Maybe I was just grumpy.  Or depressed from all the overcast, cloudy weather (I'm solar-powered, you know).  Coulda been any of those things that made me feel slighted by the woman at the bloodmobile.

I had received yet another email begging me to donate because, as usual at this time of year, "the available supply of O-negative blood is dangerously low."  I'm O-negative; also known as the Universal Donor because a person of any other blood type can be given O-negative blood if their exact type is not available, even a person with a positive blood type.  (Unfortunately, it doesn't work both ways - I can only be given O-negative blood.)

Mike and I have been planning to donate anyway.  He routinely donates about every 8 weeks, and I used to, until about two years ago when I began having trouble meeting the minimum requirement for iron.  But, the blood center is currently offering free cholestrerol screening with each donation and, since I've been on the vegan diet for about 2 months now and want to have my cholesterol re-checked - and I don't want to pay for it (my insurance won't pay for another lab test yet) - so I decided I'd take iron pills, eat spinach, raisins, & broccoli, and drink orange juice (the vitamin C helps the body absorb iron more efficiently), so that surely my iron level will be high enough to donate.

I used the link provided in the last email message from the Blood Centers of the Pacific, and Mike and I made appointments to donate at 5:45 p.m. yesterday, in Vallejo.  That was on Friday; I rec'd several more emails - appointment reminders - from the blood center; they didn't want me to forget!  I hadn't.  I was just as anxious - I wanted my new cholesterol numbers.

So Mike rushed home from work, picked me up, and we got to the Bloodmobile a couple of minutes before our appointment time of 5:45 p.m.  When we walked into the vehicle, it was packed with people.  All the beds were full, the little cubie where histories are taken was full, people were in the eensy waiting area, and we ended up standing in the entryway, looking around, and wondering what to do.  A moment or two later two more people came in behind us.  We attempted to make room, but there was nowhere to go.

A woman with a clipboard approached us from the front of the bus, looking frazzled.  Without even a "thank you for coming" she immediately lit into us with "we can't have this many people in the bus at once.  I realize most of you probably have appointments but you can't wait here.", what do you want us to do?  Mike and I both tried to ask where we should wait (it was cold outside on the sidewalk!), or should we come back later, but the woman didn't even take the time to listen to our questions, she simply turned away and went back to tend to those that were in the process of donating.  Mike and I just looked at each other.  I was incredulous, but at times like these I tend to react in one of two ways:  1. just give up and go away, or 2. pitch a fit.

Mike hates it when I pitch a fit and, to be honest, I don't like it either because it can get pretty ugly, and then I feel bad about it for a long time.  So I clenched my teeth, turned, and yanked open the door.  We paused for a moment outside, considering our options; hang around and see if maybe we eventually get called back in, or leave?  Knowing I was in no mood now to be patient, I said let's just go home.

Today Mike called and got us donation appointments tomorrow at the actual Blood Centers of the Pacific building in Fairfield where I assume there are plenty of beds, a warm place to wait, lots of workers to process us through, and a welcoming atmosphere.  (It's unfortunate that we have to go all the way to Fairfield but the small donation location on Redwood in Vallejo closed this past year.)

Cross your fingers for me, though, that my iron is at a high enough level for me to donate, and that my cholesterol is back down to a healthy number!

See you there?

Monday, December 21, 2009

If At First You Don't Succeed


Sorry if you're looking for the  "Memories of Me" Monday was crazy-busy, and then we had a disappointing trip to the Bloodmobile this evening. I need to do what Jack and Scout are doing.

I'll try again tomorrow.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Girl Jockey

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER:  "What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?"


Because I loved horses (don't all young girls?)....

But then I grew too tall so I decided to be a writer.

But writing didn't pay so I eventually became a computer programmer/systems analyst.

I made a lot of money, but writing computer programs almost completely destroyed my creativity.

I've spent the last two years trying to get it back.

I'm almost there.

Maybe I'll dig up that half-finished novel and ... well ...

... finish it?!

FOR NEXT WEEK:  "What is your secret or recipe for good health?"


Monday, December 7, 2009

Every Life Should Have Nine Cats

1971 - Patches the Cat gives birth in my bedroom; me, Lisa, Denise, and Steve

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER: "What is your favorite animal, and why?"

If you know me at all, you already know my answer to this question:


Yep.  Really.  They are my favorite animal because they are SO cool, so regal and gorgeous, and they are the only Big Cats that actually LIKE water (there are white tigers at Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA., that dive underwater!) but, since I can't have a tiger as a pet I, have settled for my second favorite - CATS!  Orange-striped cats, to be exact - just like tigers!  And the pair of orange-striped cats that currently live with me also like water.

{I do have to mention that my fondness for orange-striped cats also came about because of a very special cat that was part of our family from about 1992 to 2000.  OJ.  However, because I'm spending this first year of Memories of Me posts concentrating on my childhood years (up to age 18), I'll defer writing about OJ, or Jack and Scout, until I'm ready to write about my adult years.}

I haven't always had orange cats.  Growing up in the 70's I had a grey-and-white cat named Sam.  Sam was a tomcat back when it was OK to be a tomcat.  Sam roamed the neighborhood every night, got in fights, and came home bloody and with torn ears.  Sam stole pork chops right off the family dining table.  Sam fathered numerous litters of kittens among our neighborhood's female cats.  Sam only liked me.  My mom didn't like Sam, she was scared of him, and rightfully so since he'd growl at her if she came into my room and tried to move him from my bed.   I loved that crazy cat.

One evening Sam went out for the night, as usual, but when morning came around he hadn't come home.  I never saw him again.  I didn't put up "Lost Cat" posters around the neighborhood, or spend a lot of time looking for him.  I think I just knew he'd probably fought his last fight, or didn't quite make it across the street ahead of a car.  I understood that cats, especially male cats, lived violent lives.  I had always secretly admired his bravery, independence, and adventurous spirit, even while I worried about his safety.

Another cat that we had was Patches.  She was a small female tortoise-shell cat and, as I've already mentioned, there wasn't much spaying or neutering going on back then so, naturally, Patches got pregnant.  She had her kittens on my bedroom floor.  We kids all gathered around to watch.  Being city kids this was our first experience at seeing animals give birth, and it was fascinating.  Patches had five kittens.  Four were tabbies or solid color but one, a female, was a pretty little calico - her coat had a snow-white background with patches of orange, black, and brown.  She was a real beauty.  The kittens eventually went to the local animal shelter, to be adopted out, but my mom has always expressed regret that she didn't keep that little calico, she was that pretty.

It's interesting to think about how far we've come, as a society, in the treatment of animals, just in my own lifetime.  When I was a kid it was not considered irresponsible to let your cats - and dogs, in many cases - to roam the neighborhood.  Nor was spaying and neutering an integral part of animal guardianship.  I don't know whether there were relatively fewer homeless animals then or not, or whether animal shelters are as overcrowded as they are now.  It was also an accepted part of life that animals often died from being struck by automobiles, poisonings, or fights. 

I'm very glad things have changed so much, and most people now consider themselves "guardians" of their animals, instead of "owners."

Are you wondering whether my life has had nine cats?

Let's see:

1. Sam
2. Patches
3. Callie
4. Bo
5. OJ
6. Leah
7. Tony
8. Jack
9. Scout

YEP!  And the plan is to have {at least} nine more.

FOR NEXT WEEK:  "What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?"

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hand-Delivered by Santa Himself

Stevie, 19 mos., Debbie, 4-1/2, Mikie, 6 ~ February 1962

Today's Memory Jogger: "For how long did you believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy? How did you feel when you learned the "adult truth" about each of them?  Do you still retain some of that magic feeling as an adult?"

I still believe in Santa Claus, because there really IS a Santa Claus, sheesh, everyone knows that!  Many people just won't admit it because they are afraid of being laughed at (which they will be, and I know because I'm laughed at all the time but I don't care, I know what I know). The Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, of course, are just made up, like leprechauns, magic carpets, and genies in lamps.  But Santa Claus has always existed, and always will.

I remember very well my first encounter with Santa, and I'm talking the genuine dude, from the North Pole, in his high black boots and red fur-lined coat, not one of the many "helpers" who impersonate him at malls and department stores.  I'm pretty sure this is also my very earliest Christmas memory, of any kind.

It happened very, very early on Christmas morning, 1962, in Hermosa Beach, California.  (Since he spends so much time at the cold North Pole Santa really really likes California because the weather is so dang nice.)

1220-24th Street ~ Hermosa Beach, CA. (photo taken May 1964)

At that time my family lived on 24th Street, in a three bedroom, 2-story house that's no longer there today (I know because I went looking for it about 10 years ago). The house's second story was an attic converted into two bedrooms with a connecting door. One room (which was my older brother Mike's) was slightly larger than the other and included the opening to the stairs which led down to the den. The attic bedrooms had low, slanted ceilings. On one side the ceiling slanted clear to the floor, on the other only partway where it met a wall about half the height of a normal wall. My dad could only stand all the way up in the center of these rooms. Each room had one window set into the outer wall at its far end. In my room, which I shared first with my baby brother, Stevie, then later with baby Denise, this window looked out onto the flight path for airplanes arriving at LAX. I spent many hours when I was supposed to be sleeping, standing in that window behind the curtains, watching those lights in the sky at first very small and far away, and then increasingly larger and brighter as they followed their set path to the airport.

I was probably doing just that on this particular Christmas Eve, when I was five-and-a-half, since I'd have been too excited to asleep. Sometimes my brother Mike would watch the lights with me, but he was nearly seven years old and already knew how to read, so it's more likely he was in his own room using a flashlight to read a book. Stevie was about two-and-a-half, sleeping in a crib at the foot of my bed, with a cloth diaper tied to one ankle. By the time he was a year old Stevie had learned to climb out of his crib. No matter how many times he was put to bed he'd climb right back out again until, in despair, my mom took a cloth diaper and tied one end to his ankle and one end to the crib bars. After a night or two of howling Stevie accepted his confinement and simply went to sleep. After awhile, all my mom had to do was tie one end of the diaper to his ankle, leaving the other end free and, just like a horse whose reins are simply draped over the hitching post, Stevie still thought he was held fast!

So I'd have stood alone in the window that Christmas Eve. I watched the lights closely, sure I'd eventually see a lone red light among them, Rudolph's nose of course, as Santa made his approach to my part of the country. I never did though and, finally tired, I climbed down and back into my bed where I quickly fell asleep. But then, much later, when the sky was just barely beginning to show the light of the new day, I heard The Footsteps.

Heavy footsteps. Unmistakably the sound of heavy boots clomping across my bedroom floor and into my brother's room. I'm quite sure my heart simply stopped beating for a minute or two while I tried to decide whether or not to open my eyes and get a peek at the big man. I knew I was not supposed to catch Santa in the act of leaving gifts or he'd take everything straight back to the North Pole and put my name on the naughty list! I heard some rustling noises, and then the crackling of paper and then, was that the sound of footsteps treading the stairs?

I sat bolt upright in my bed and opened my eyes wide. In the early morning light I could see that my room was empty, but I was sure I caught the briefest glimpse of a flickering shadow on the wall at the head of the stairs. Then it was gone. My left hand touched paper and there, at my side, was the stocking I'd hung on the mantle the night before, now bursting with toys and a candy cane poking out the top.

With a cry of excitement I grabbed it up. From my brother's room I heard the sound of paper tearing so I knew he was also awake. My feet hit the floor and I ran to Mike's bed where he was ripping open a bag of candy. In his lap was a happy scattering of gaily wrapped little packages, candy, nuts, and an orange.

"Santa was just here!" I yelled, jumping onto Mike's bed, my stocking clutched in my arms.

"I know," he said, cramming chocolate into his mouth.

"You saw him?" I asked.

Mike shrugged, chewing, and began unwrapping yet another piece of candy, "Sure."

I was incredulous. "But we aren't supposed to see him! He'll take everything back!"

"You aren't supposed to see him," Mike said, "I'm older."

In those days, when I was five-and-a-half, that explained everything.

It HAD been Santa! Right there in our rooms, Santa Claus himself, personally delivering our stockings to our beds! I could barely contain my excitement, wondering if at any second I'd hear reindeer hooves on the roof just above my head.

From back in my room I heard the bouncing and squeak of the springs in Stevie's crib and his little voice, "Ma?"

Suddenly Mike tossed back his blankets, scattering candy wrappers, nuts, and small packages to the floor. He'd just remembered that bigger and better treasures awaited downstairs.

"Come on!" he shouted. "Let's go see what's under the tree!"

So, as soon as I'd lifted Stevie from his crib and set him on his feet, I grabbed up my stocking and ran to catch up with my big brother.

FOR NEXT WEEK:  "What is your favorite animal, and why?"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Scout's Mouse Came in the House

 A few weeks ago Scout met up with this cute little mouse out in the garden.  At first the mouse didn't seem to think she was much of a threat.  They had a bit of a stare-off.
 Mouse decides maybe he'll just mosey along now . . .
Oh, no, you don't!

Not many critters get away from Scout.  She's quite the hunter.  I often think of keeping a Kill Sheet for her to track the birds, rodents, lizards, giant moths, and even praying mantises that she catches throughout the year.  One day a couple summers ago she caught & killed two hummingbirds.  Yes, hummingbirds!  TWO!  Honestly, I didn't know that was even possible but apparently it is!

So anyway, Scout caught this mouse and brought it into the house {of course} and {of course} it got away from her at one point and disappeared behind the tall {& very heavy} bookshelves in the living room.  It spent the night behind the bookcase and Scout spent the night crouched under the t.v. watching the crack where the mouse disappeared.  In the morning she was still there.  I finally had to take all the books off the shelves and then move the shelf enough for her to slip back there.  She chased the mouse out, caught it, and then I chased her, with the mouse in her mouth, out the pet door and into the garden where she and Jack harassed that poor mouse for at least an hour.

I decided he'd surely had enough and went out there and chased him out of the garden, under the cat fencing {much to Jack and Scout's disgust and annoyance}.  The little guy's fur was sticking up every which way but he looked basically unharmed.  He scurried off across the patio to parts unknown, and those rotten cats haven't forgiven me YET!

. . . but that was MY mouse . . . .!!!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

I Raised a Pig Named Wilbur

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER: "Describe the perfect winter day.  Tell about an activity you would do on that day."

1968.  In the living room of our home in Hopkins, MN, was a chair, I guess it may have been a recliner, I can't remember for sure, but it was softly upholstered (burgundy?), it rocked and it turned, and it was situated near a heater vent.  My perfect winter days were spent there, on Snow Days when the schools were closed, and we were cocooned from outside noises by the thick blanket of snow covering the ground.

But they weren't just "perfect winter days . . ."

When I think of the word "contentment," I see myself in that chair, my stockinged feet on the wall just above the heater vent to catch the flow of warm air, a stack of books beside me, and my yellow-and-white stuffed bear with the button eyes, Christopher, under an arm.  Deep into a book this shy little girl raised a pig named Wilbur, rode ponies on Chincoteague Island, and solved mysteries with Nancy Drew while my brothers and sisters roller skated or played games in the basement, my mom baked bread and made our lunch, and my dad worked a job (or two) to provide for our family.

At nine years old it didn't take much for me to feel completely happy and content.

It still doesn't.

And that, by far, is one of the greatest blessings I've been given in my life.

FOR NEXT WEEK: "For how long did you believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy? How did you feel when you learned the "adult truth" about each of them?  Do you still retain some of that magic feeling as an adult?"

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Overnight Steel-Cut Oats - Crock Pot Method

My friend, LaDonna, has asked me to post my recipe for overnight steel-cut oats cooked in the crock pot.  It really couldn't be easier, and having breakfast ready and waiting for me when I get up in the morning just makes my day.

If you've made steel-cut oats on the stovetop, you know that it takes awhile, around 25 minutes.  That's because these oats have not been processed and broken down into flakes so that they'll cook faster.  On the plus side their nutritional content has not been processed out so they are much healthier for your body.  And with this crock-pot method they are as easy as instant oatmeal!

All you need is a crock-pot and a container that will fit easily into it:

I use this overly-large mug; it's really meant for soups more than coffee, and it works perfectly for a single serving of steel-cut oats.

For the recipe, just remember the proportion of water to steel-cut oats, which is 4 to 1.  So for a single serving, place 1 cup water and 1/4 cup steel-cut oats into your inner container.  Add a dash of salt and stir gently.  If you like, add raisins or other dried up fruit (I like dried apricots or cranberries); they will be plump and tender by morning.

Now pour water into the crock-pot until the level is the same as the level of the water in your inner container.

Set the crock-pot on low (don't forget to plug it in), and go to bed!


Ready to eat!

In the morning, your steel-cut oats will be cooked perfectly and need only a stir and whatever additions (dried fruit, raisins, nuts, coconut) or toppings (milk, brown sugar, honey, etc.) you prefer.

*Be careful when removing the inner container - it will be hot!  Use pot holders or a dishtowel, not your bare hands!

I have also made steel-cut oats with milk or soy milk instead of water - both taste great. I'm especially fond of using vanilla-flavored soy milk - yum!

For more servings you can use a larger crock pot like this one:

Two bowls sit nicely side by side:

Or use a single, large bowl.  Make sure there is space around whatever container you use; you'll need to be able to get your hands (using pot holders) around it to lift it out.  And if you are worried you will forget to stir, be sure to get someone to supervise you:

To make a family-size amount simply put the inner container aside and place 4 cups water and 1 cup steel-cut oats (remember, 4 to 1!) directly into an 8-qt crock-pot (the smaller sized one).  Add a teaspoon or so of salt (depending on how much you like salt - I tend to go very easy on it) and whatever additions you want.  Turn the crock-pot on low and let cook overnight.  This makes 4 good sized servings.  Leftovers re-warm nicely in the microwave.

One last thing I've discovered: I can buy steel-cut oats in a simple plastic bag at Pedrotti's Produce in Davis, CA., for perhaps a third of the price of my local supermarket.  So check your local produce stands, especially those that are open year-round and stock dried beans, fruits, grains, etc., or perhaps you can find them at a good price in the bulk barrels at the larger supermarkets.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

When the Student is Ready the Master Appears

Day Four - 28-Day Vegan Challenge

"When the Student is Ready, the Master Appears."  ~ Buddhist proverb

I didn't even know it, but I've been on a journey toward a vegan diet for at least 10 years, perhaps much, much longer.

I remember my frustration, in my thirties, with the conflicting reports of what constitutes good nutrition.  Eggs were bad for you, then they were ok.  Fats are bad, then just some fats were bad, but try to figure out which ones!  Sugar substitutes caused cancer, then they didn't.  Pesticides on the fruit caused health problems, but the rate of those health problems were just as high in people who ate only organically-grown produce, so was there really a connection? I had neither the time (too busy living the over-scheduled & hectic life of the average American family) nor the inclination to search out scientific data; after all weren't there gov't agencies whose job it was to do that and then report back to us, the public?

I wished someone would just give me a list of the exact foods I should eat each day in order to be healthy and I would simply eat them and be done with it!

Last week I learned that there IS such a list!!!

It's on page 243 of "The China Study," by T. Colin Campbell, PhD, and it's in the form of a simple easy-to-read chart.  Yep, one. single. page.  And the list not only includes the foods of which you can eat all you want (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), the foods you should minimize (refined carbohydrates, added vegetable oils, and fish), and the foods to avoid (meat, poultry, dairy, eggs).


It's pretty darn easy to determine whether or not a food is animal- or plant-based making it child's play to figure out what to eat!

Why NO meat, poultry, dairy, or eggs???  For the scientific explanations, discussions on the essential nutrients our bodies need and where they come from, read the book.  No, no, don't be intimidated - it's written in every day language that's understandable, and makes total sense.  I can guarantee you'll have several "ah hah!" moments.  I sure did!

I haven't had to struggle with the "Why NO meat, poultry, dairy, or eggs?" question because for years I've noticed that the less I ate of those foods, the better I feel.  Being told I had high cholesterol, and knowing that cholesterol enters our bodies via animal-based foods, simply nudged me one step further toward a diet heavier in plant-based foods.  Years ago I gave up mayonnaise, butter, and any cream-based soups or sauces, and drastically cut my consumption of ice cream (which I love). These days, if I eat ice cream or something like beef stroganoff with its heavy cream sauce, I get a stomach-ache, and feel crappy for hours.  Our bodies know what's good and what's not, if we would just listen instead of reaching for the Tums.

Now that I've learned that "there are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants" ("The China Study", page 230), this 28-Day Vegan Challenge has taken on even more importance.  I'm only 4 days into it and already feel better and, unexpectedly (because I didn't set out to), I'm also losing weight, which is weird because I'm eating more than usual, and more frequently!

Ready to join me???

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Vegan Diet - My 28-Day Challenge

I've been talking about this on Facebook recently and am getting lots of questions, some concerns, and a ton of comments both for and against a totally vegan diet.

Instead of trying to keep up with multiple conversation threads on Facebook, and sending out individual emails answering the same questions over and over, I realized I should be posting to my blog so everyone who wants to, can follow along and see how things go.  Not to mention it will be a great way for me to really document this little journey and what I discover from it.

So, on Day Two, here goes!

The #1 Question - Why?

First, let me say I've been surprised to find that the subject of whether or not to eat animals is very nearly as emotional an issue as abortion or gay marriage! My own viewpoint has always been that animals are here on the earth for use (in healthy moderation) by mankind and, while I do totally object to any inhumane method of raising and butchering livestock (yes, I've read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, and it's horrifying), I have no moral issues about eating animals.  A line I still won't cross, though, is eating lamb or veal because I have an emotional objection to eating baby animals, and I consider the way veal is typically raised to be very cruel.

The reason I'm taking this challenge is for my own health. 

I'm 5'6" (purt near anyway), 136 lbs. and I have high cholesterol.

I know!  I was shocked, too, when my doctor told me a few years ago.  I always assumed that if I managed to keep my weight down and exercised regularly there was no way cholesterol would be a problem for me.  Wrong.  As it turns out cholesterol is manufactured by our own bodies, and how much our bodies create varies widely from person to person, and is hereditary.  Apparently, like my mom's, my body is highly proficient at mass-producing cholesterol.  So, for someone like me, it is important NOT to consume additional cholesterol because that's when the numbers shoot up to the danger levels.

Guess what?  Plant-based foods have NO cholesterol.  At all.  Ever.  Anywhere.


At the same time that I was considering how to change my diet to reduce my cholesterol, one of my moms mentioned on Facebook that she was reading "The China Study," by T. Colin Champbell, PhD, and that she was learning a lot about the adverse health effects of the average American diet.  I decided to get the book and see if I could learn anything useful. That very same week I happened to catch a portion of The Dr. Oz Show. One of his guests that day was Rocco, a cowboy who had been on the verge of literally eating himself to death.  A month ago Dr. Oz challenged Rocco with a 28-day vegan diet.  Now Rocco was back to report how he'd done and to find out the results of a post-28-day diet round of blood work. 

Not surprisingly, his cholesterol was greatly improved and, according to Dr. Oz, would continue to improve if Rocco stuck to his new healthy way of eating.

Shortly after watching the show I cracked open "The China Study" and, just be an amazing coincidence turned directly to page 231 and read:

"By definition, for a food chemical to be an essential nutrient, it must meet two requirements:

* the chemical is necessary for healthy human functioning
* the chemical must be something our bodies cannot make on their own, and therefore must be obtained from an outside source

One example of a chemical that is not essential is cholesterol, a component of animal-based food that is nonexistent in plant-based food.  While cholesterol is essential for health, our bodies can make all that we required; so we do not need to consume any in food."

And, for some us us, it's adverse to our health to consume cholesterol in food.

So that's the why of my new diet.  At the end of the 28 days I'll have my cholesterol checked again and see if there's improvement, and how much improvement. 

"I could never give up meat!"   I'm getting this comment a lot.  I don't think I'll have too much problem with that.  Mike and I have already been veering away from a diet heavy in meat, and for a few years now I've been tending toward mostly chicken, ground turkey, and the occasional steak.  I seldom eat bacon or sausage, and I'm really not a huge fan of fish.  I love tuna fish but a tuna sandwich always gives me a stomach-ache (I don't know why).  Several years ago when I was first diagnosed with high cholesterol I decided to give almost totally give up mayonnaise and butter.  I say almost because I do eat both occasionally, but I'm quite used to not putting butter on cooked vegetables, or mayonnaise on a sandwich.  I LOVE ice cream but, like tuna, I usually get a stomache-ache if I eat it (is that my body trying to tell me something)?

I think what I'm going to miss the most is MILK.  All my life I have had a glass of milk with dinner.  Soy milk just doesn't cut it.  Last night I ended up having a half a glass of soy milk and a glass of water with dinner.  I really, really missed that milk - oh, and so did my cat, Scout, since she usually helps herself to a bit straight out of my glass. 

I guess we're both going to have to adjust!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Rest of the Story

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER:  "Tell about a frustrating experience you've had with a car."
A particular memory popped immediately into my head when I read the memory jogger.  Here it is, from the days wayyy before cell phones:

I have no memory, really, of where I'd been that evening in 1973; all I can remember is being very, very lost in the hills of the San Fernando Valley, where my family lived, and it was dark and I was alone, and very scared.  Obviously, my parents had trusted me to drive myself somewhere that evening and I was on my way home but, being still new to driving, I didn't have a good sense of direction; ok, let's put it out there, I didn't even know (in spite of having been taken along on many, many Boy Scout hikes in my younger years) which direction I was heading in; whether it was south, east, north, or what!

It was pitch black.  Somehow, somewhere on the way home from wherever I had been, I'd taken a wrong turn, and was now completely lost.   I had no idea where I was.

And I was really scared.

I was driving the family station wagon.  I was on a winding, country road, no streetlights, no street signs. I had no clue how to get home from where I was.  It was dark; there were no houses around, no lights, nothing, which only increased my fear.  I didn't know if I should turn around and go back the way I'd come (especially knowing I wouldn't remember the turns I'd taken well enough to reverse them), or if I should just forge ahead and hope for the best knowing at the same time that I would also be taking the risk of just getting myself more and more lost.

There was nothing else to do but pray.  So I prayed. I prayed really hard. I prayed, knowing that I truly needed help, and because I was frantic and beginning to panic. I needed to know where I was;  I needed to know how to get home.

I prayed in the way that I'd been taught, first acknowledging the good things in my life, "God, I thank thee for all my blessings, I have so many blessings, but (I was too scared, and too frantic to be more specific before rushing on to what I needed) please notice that I'm LOST, and I don't know where I am, and I'm soooo scared.  Please help me find the way home!"

I kept praying, talking out loud really, to God.  I kept repeating, "I'm lost, please help me find my way home!"

Although it seemed like hours, I know that it was only a few minutes later, that I suddenly came to a major street.  Lights, cars, houses!  Even with no street sign I recognized the street and, although I don't now remember it's name, if I were on it now, today, I know I'd immediately recognize it just as I did that night.

I totally knew my way home from that spot.

Coincidence that I arrived at a familiar street so shortly after my fervent prayer?  Doubtful, because listen to the rest of the story:

For the next two years, until I left home at 18, I tried to find that intersection again.  I drove that major road, its entire stretch, many many times and found not a SINGLE intersection with a road that led up into the hills, and into the pitch black dark that I'd found myself in that night. And on several occasions, when I drove past a particular spot on that road, I received the clear and distinct knowledge that it was the very spot where I'd emerged from my nightmare.

But there was no intersecting road there, no road at all.

It had only existed for that one night; perhaps only for a few minutes.  Just long enough to get me back on track, out of danger, and home.

Experiences like this are why I believe in God, and in prayer.

FOR NEXT WEEK: "Describe the perfect winter day.  Tell about an activity you would do on that day."

Monday, November 2, 2009

Stand Up, Sit Down, Fight, Fight, Fight!

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER: "Do you have a special school memory?"

So many memories come to mind it would be a very long post if I tried to include them all so, since my time is limited today, I'm going to pick just one.

Yes.  It was very difficult to pick just one!

I will say, though, the one I've picked is an all-time favorite.

In 1971 I had just entered Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, CA., as a freshman.  Go Seahawks!!!  My BFF, Judy, and I had both tried out for the drill team.  We'd gone to weeks & weeks of after-school practice, performed the routines in front of the leaders & current members of the team, and now the day had rolled around when we'd find out whether or not we'd made the cut.

Each girl who had made it would receive notification during one of her morning classes.  A current member of the drill team would come to the class, hand the teacher a note, and then leave.  The teacher would then read out the name of the girl who'd made the team.

Sounds so nice and personal, right?  True, it was much nicer than everyone crowding around a list and then either squealing happily, or walking away dejectedly, but it did make for a very nerve-wracking morning!  In every class, every time someone walked by in the hall, or came into the room, my heart would pound and I'd wonder, is this it???  And every time it wasn't "it," I would be sure that I hadn't made the team.

Thank goodness I only had to sit on the pins-and-needles through the middle of my second period class.  Geography.  In came a girl dressed in the red-and-white drill team outfit to hand a folded piece of paper to the teacher.

"Well, Miss Hansen," he said, and gave me a smile.  "Looks like you've made the drill team.  That's quite an accomplishment."

Those were his very words, his exact words.  I remember them so well because, not only was I super-excited to have made the team, but they were the only words of praise I ever received from this particular teacher -- I didn't do at all well in his class!

I couldn't wait to see Judy at the mid-morning break which was called "Nutrition" but, based on what we all bought from the vending machines, would have been more aptly named "Junk Food."  The minute I saw her, though, I could tell by her expression that she hadn't yet gotten her own good news. I tried to reassure her; there were still two more classes before lunch.

As I remember it, Judy and I had 4th period together, the last class before lunch. I don't remember the subject of the class, I want to say History, but I'm really not sure.  At any rate, I can recall how sad Judy was in class that day, because third period had come and gone, and now it was fourth period, her last chance to get notified, and by then she had pretty much convinced herself that she hadn't made the team.

I was bummed, too, because I couldn't imagine drill team being even remotely as much fun without Judy there, too; after all, we did everything together! We'd spent hours in our yards practicing the try-out routines and encouraging each other, and it was just inconceivable that we hadn't both made it, we both knew those routines perfectly!  We'd even already learned most of the cheers that we'd be screaming from the bleachers, including this one:

Lean to the left,
Lean to the right,
Stand up,
Sit down,
Fight!  Fight!  Fight!

We'd already made our red-and-white pompoms!

The clock kept ticking relentlessly toward noon, and Judy's head got lower and lower.  I knew how bad she felt, and I felt terrible, too.  It was just unbelievable that we hadn't both been chosen, that we wouldn't be having this very important high school experience together.  If we weren't both on the team I didn't know if I wanted to be on it at all.

I was just beginning to think I'd forego drill team for my freshman year, and then Judy and I could both try out again as sophomores, when the door opened.  Ten minutes before the end of class.  It was a drill team member and in her hand she carried The Note!

If the Los Angeles Harbor Light had burned out we could've just stood Judy up on top of it to keep the ships safe, that's how much she beamed!

NEXT WEEK'S MEMORY JOGGER: "Tell about a frustrating experience you've had with a car."


Monday, October 26, 2009

I Wore a Monkey Suit - Memories of Me Monday

The very corner market I frequented as a kid in the late 60's and early 70's; It's still on the same corner, in Redondo Beach, just with yet a different name. {Photo taken in 2001}

Today's Memory Jogger:  "What do you remember about shopping with your mother?  What particular store did you frequent?  What was your favorite store?  Did you shop differently with your mom than with your friends?" 

This cracks me up.  Of COURSE, I shopped differently with my mom than with my friends!

Back in the "day" there was not the ever-present hysteria about kidnapping (although I do remember the same dire warnings at Halloween about poisoned candy and razor blades in apples) and so we kids got to walk to the corner store in our Redondo Beach neighborhood pretty much whenever we had a bit of change saved up from collecting soda pop bottles (no cans then) and turning them in for a nickel a piece.  Ahh, those were the days!  My brothers and I, or my friends and I, would walk the 4 or 5 blocks to Paul's or Phil's or John's (it changed owners & names a number of times just in the 5 years we lived in the neighborhood) and shoot the works on Hostess fruit pies, 50/50 ice cream bars, peanut butter cups, Abba-Zabbas, Big Hunks, Sixlets, candy buttons, and eensy wax pop bottles filled with brightly-colored sugar-water.  There was penny candy, too, that actually cost a penny, or even two-for-a-penny; taffy, bubble gum, lemon drops, and jawbreakers.

Saturdays always found the corner store full of kids, turning in pop bottles, buying candy & drinks, as well as loitering outside.  It was a kind of gathering place for the days when you didn't see your buddies at school.  And every weekday there was a rush to Phil's for after-school candy.  If you didn't have any money you could often score a share of whatever someone else bought.  The store proprietor seemed to like us, too, there was never an "Only Two Students Allowed at One Time" or a "Leave Your Backpacks Outside" sign posted on the door (of course, we didn't have backpacks, we carried our schoolbooks in a pile in our arms).

Sure, every now and then there might be a scuffle in the aisle between two or more boys, or outside, but they were short-lived and mainly consisted of an exchange of rude words and then a push or shove.  And a few times kids were caught stealing which was a huge scandal.  The absolute worst thing you could do was embarrass your parents!

I remember going shopping with my mom a lot.  With 5 kids in our family (at that time) someone always needed something, not to mention grocery shopping every week.  And Back-to-School shopping was always a big deal.  Seems we mainly went to the May Company for that; I'm sure we bought our gym uniforms there, for junior high.  Now, those I remember VERY well.  They were all-white, one piece outfits with short sleeves, an elastic waist, buttons up the front, and shorts with elastic hems.  Yeah, can you imagine?  Our shorts ballooned up around our upper thighs and hips, but they were modest!  We called them our monkey suits.  We also wore white socks and white tennis shoes.  I think the boys got to wear blue shorts with white t-shirts, white socks and white shoes, but I'm not 100% certain.  Boys always got the better deal!

I liked shopping with my mom.  I was always impressed with how she seemed to know just where to go to find whatever was on her list for that day; I couldn't figure out how she did that.  We always had two or three of my younger siblings with us, too, and I would help entertain them if they got restless.  My sister, Lisa, who was the youngest at that time, would often throw a fit if she couldn't have whatever she wanted; she could be especially bad when we were shopping for clothes.  She wanted everything pink, frilly, ribbony, silky, and short.  My mom bought practical clothes but Lisa hated practical, she wanted to dress like a movie star or a princess.  My mom made most of our clothes, too, so we would usually be shopping for stuff like socks or shoes, or coats, but Lisa would want the store-bought dresses (no pants, even as playclothes!) and the frilly blouses and short-shorts.

Some people never change!

The rest of us kids didn't care that much about what we wore.  My mom has always said about me, "I could buy anything and bring it home (or sew it) and Debbie would just wear it."

I haven't changed either, I guess!

I do remember that one of my other sibs was tough to buy for, too, but in a different way.  My older brother, Mike.  He hated, absolutely hated, to go shopping especially for clothes, and most especially for back-to-school clothes.  By the time was in his teens he wasn't keen on even going to school, let alone spending time at a department store trying stuff on to wear to school.  He resisted like crazy, and got into frequent arguments with my mom.

One time that I remember quite clearly, because I've never forgotten his reply to my mom's insistence that he go with her to the store and try on some jeans so that she would be able to buy the appropriate size, and because he was "down to just one pair that still fit."

Mike said, "So? I can only wear one pair at a time!"

When I was 12 or 13 there was a new fashion fad that my BFF, Judy, and I were totally into and desperate to own: "Hot Pants."  These were short shorts in blue denim with different colored waistbands and pockets and they were soooo boss!  Of course, neither of our mothers would buy them for us because they were too short, immodest, and simply not appropriate.  But everyone had them!  This was around 1970 and the Love Generation of the 60's still had a hold on the fashion industry, and Hot Pants reflected the Flower Child/Free Love attitude, not to mention that we thought they'd be grovvy worn with the peasant-style blouses we had already learned to sew for ourselves.  So Judy and I concocted a Plan.

We each saved our allowances and our babysitting money and when we had enough we walked to the shopping center and each bought ourselves a pair of the coveted shorts. They cost $3.99.  Then, and this is what floors me now: we wore them to a church picnic! The picnic was being held at El Nido Park, in Redondo Beach, which was walking distance from our homes, so after the picnic started we slipped off unnoticed, ran home, and changed out of our mom-approved long pants into our Hot Pants, then returned to the picnic all puffed up like peacocks & strutting around in our short-shorts.  Boy, we thought we were something!

Funny thing is: I don't remember our parents' reactions at all. I definitely don't remember getting sent back home to change, so I'm thinking maybe they just looked the other way and let us have our little moment. I was not made to return the shorts either, and I remember wearing them again that summer.  They may well have been the first item of clothing I bought with my own money, but it wouldn't be the last.  Within a few years I was buying a lot of my own clothes, and sometimes fabric for items that I sewed (like my drill team "Friday" uniform in high school), and taking great pride in it knowing my parents hands were full providing for the needs of five kids.

Judy and I went "shopping" quite a lot.  It was something we really enjoyed.  We often walked (sometimes barefoot in the summer!) to our favorite stores, Sav-On and the "Dime Store," to browse, buy a small item like a new writing tablet, a set of colored pencils, or embroidery thread, and then walk back home (unless we stopped at Winchell's Donut shop which I'll write about another time as it's an entire blog posting on its own).  We also walked a longer distance to a shopping center where there was a Woolworth's that had a lunch counter.  We loved to sit on the red vinyl stools and order Cokes and pretend we were older girls who ate out all the time.  We'd try to talk all sophisticated and stuff.

Then we'd buy 5 candy bars for a quarter and go to the 50 cent movies. Usually a Disney flick.  Suitable for kids.

NEXT WEEK'S MEMORY JOGGER: "Do you have a special school memory?"

Yes, I do.  Read about it next week!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Holiday Fundraiser to Benefit Several Charities

To all my blog readers, if you are anywhere in the vicinity of Benicia, CA., on Saturday, November 7th, stop by and check out this holiday fair and fundraiser.  I'll have a booth there!  The event benefits several charities, plus gives many of the self-employed women in the area (like me) a chance to display their products and services.

Be sure to bring the kids to see Santa!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Will do Math for Books - Memories of Me Monday

My three favorite books of all-time:  "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee, "Island of the Blue Dolphins," by Scott O'Dell, and "The Giver," by Lois Lowrey (not sure why "The Giver" didn't make it into the photo - must've been a technical difficulty because of course I own {multiple copies of} the book).

TODAY'S MEMORY JOGGER: "What are your favorite books?  Describe the best book you have ever read, and also the worst book."

Here are more of my faves from when I was a kid:

Most of these books I've read multiple times; many of them I still re-read every few years.  For a lot of them I have some very specific memories.

When I was in the 5th & 6th grades the Bookmobile used to come to my elementary school every other week.  Not sure why; after all, we did have a school library, but perhaps it carried books that our library didn't.  At any rate, I loved climbing aboard the library-on-wheels and choosing a book from amongst its shelves.  That's where I first found "Brighty of the Grand Canyon," by Marguerite Henry.  She was a favorite author already since she wrote the "Misty of Chincoteague" and that whole series of stories about the famed ponies on Chincoteague Island.  Brighty was not a pony, but a winsome and dear little burro who lived in the Grand Canyon.

I first read "Where the Red Fern Grows," by Wilson Rawls around the age of 10 or 11.  If you've never read this book, stop reading this blog, and go get it!  It's the most incredibly fascinating and emotional story of a boy and his two hound dogs, and it's absolutely unforgettable.  When I was around 14 my mom read the book to my brothers and sisters and me, one chapter at a time, every Monday evening for Family Night.  At that time we ranged in age from 7 to 15 but every one of us was mesmerized by the story, and looked forward to that chapter all week long.  Even though I had already read the book, it was a totally different experience to hear it read aloud. Even my strong and stoic mom could barely make it through the last, and most emotional, chapter.  There was not a dry eye in the room that evening!  Both my mom and dad had read to me since I was a baby, but this particular experience, of hearing "Where the Red Fern Grows" read to the whole family, is probably the biggest reason I became a read-aloud mom to my own kids.

Have you figured out yet that I LOVE to read?  I can't remember a time when I didn't love to read.  I know that I learned to read quickly; I'm pretty sure I already knew a lot of words before I even started kindergarten, and in those days reading was not taught until 1st grade.  I had good examples to follow; my mom and dad both read, and so did my older brother, Mike.  It was also a way for a very shy child to inhabit many different worlds and cultures, have incredible adventures and, best of all, imagine herself the heroine of the stories!

In my family we kids always got books for Christmas and birthdays.  Even now it's just not Christmas without a new book to crack open during the quiet Christmas day afternoon following the high-pitched & noisy excitement of Christmas morning. I grew to love rainy days, and cold winter days (especially snow days in Minnesota when schools would be closed) because it meant I could curl up in a favorite reading spot and indulge in my favorite activity all day long if I wanted.

In elementary school we students could order books via the Scholastic Book Club (through our school) for between 45 cents and $1.25 or so.  My mom would give me a few dollars to spend and I would write down the books I wanted from the books listed on the pamphlet, then calculate and re-calculate the prices to get the most books for the money. Those were probably some of the few times I did math willingly!

In the 60's and early 70's, in southern California, most cities had what were called "neighborhood branches" of the public library.  These were small branches situated right in housing developments and neighborhoods, making it easy for people to utilize them simply by walking or biking a few blocks.  What a shame they are for the most part a thing of the past.  I can't even begin to imagine how many times I either walked or rode my bike to one of those little branches.  My friend, Judy, and I would ride our bikes and come back with our bike baskets full to the brim with books.  I often couldn't decide which book to read first so I'd put them in a stack, read Chapter One of the book on top, then Chapter One of the next book, and so on down the stack.  Then I'd start at the top again and read Chapter Two of each book!

In Junior High "Gone With the Wind," by Margaret Mitchell was THE book to read amongst the girls.  I bought a copy with my allowance and carried it from class to class the entire school day just so I could read a paragraph or two on my way from one class to another.  When I finished it I immediately turned back to Page One and started over, reading it completely through a second time!

Just writing about the books I loved as a child makes me want to re-read them yet again.  Maybe I will!

MEMORY JOGGER FOR NEXT WEEK:  "What do you remember about shopping with your mother?  What particular store did you frequent?  What was your favorite store?  Did you shop differently with your mom than with your friends?"

Are you writing down your own memories?  Share with us -- if you like!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Drama Queens - Memories of Me Monday

Me, standing in front of the junior high school I attended 1969-71 {photo taken in 2001}

The memory jogger: "Describe the buildings, grounds, etc., of the junior high you attended. What was it like walking to school?"

I have more clear memories of my two years at Adams Middle School than I do of all my other school years combined.  Maybe that's because of the huge difference between junior high school and elementary school, or perhaps it's because I attended there during the time I was also going through that wondrous time in a child's life known as puberty but, thinking back, I'm pretty sure the real reason is because it was the most dramatic, emotional, and crisis-prone time in my life.

What was going on?  My best friend and I were fighting!

Hey, that's totally serious stuff when you're a 12 or 13-year-old girl!

It's pretty much the end of the world when you're on the outs with your best girlfriend because she's the most important person in your life; she's the one you do everything with because you enjoy all the same things, she's the one you talk to on the phone every day the minute you get home from school even though you spent most of the school day with her, and she's the one person you can trust with your all secrets.  When you're not speaking to your best girlfriend, you might as well be the last person on earth because that's how alone you feel.

Yeah, we were quite the drama queens, Judy and I, and also our friend, Jill, who we were very tight with as well during 6th grade, and with whom we matriculated to the Adams Middle School campus.  It was either Judy and I, or the three of us, all summer before school, and the fighting, began.

I don't remember the details of many of our fights but most of them did have a common theme:


Nope, not a boy.  Charlie was short for Charlotte.

I don't remember meeting Charlotte; I just know it was in the 7th grade.  Judy and I had many classes together, and Jill was in some of them, too.  So was Charlotte.  From early on Charlotte and Judy did not get along.  Jill and I tried to be friends with both of them, and that's when the trouble began.

I remember one incident during lunch break.  We were outside on the grassy area.  Judy, Jill and Charlotte were playing tag.  I hadn't wanted to play so I was sitting on the lawn reading a book.  Charlotte came over and started saying that Judy and Jill didn't play fair.  Judy and Jill heard Charlotte's comments and assumed I agreed with her or something, so they got mad not just at Charlotte, but me as well.  I thought that was totally unfair so I got mad right back.

That afternoon, walking home from school, Judy and I walked on opposite sides of the street, arms wrapped tightly around our books, both our noses high in the air, each disdainful of the others' very presence. I have to laugh, now, when I think back on how many times during our two years at Adams we repeated that scene!  Sometimes Jill and/or Charlotte would be along as well, if Jill was going to Judy's house, or if Charlotte had once again missed her bus (which I suspected even then was on purpose and just to cause trouble) and begged to come home with me so that my mom could give her a ride home.

The following evening I wrote in my journal: "Judy and Jill were still mad.  They had all these wonderful things planned like Judy spending the night at Jill's house and going to the movies the next day.  Judy didn't even want to go to Sister Gaine's slumber party!  I started crying in Math because I was so sad.  In one of the notes Judy and Jill wrote me they said they wouldn't be friends with me as long as I was friends with Charlotte.  So I told Charlotte I wasn't going to be her friend anymore and Judy and Jill made up [with me]."

That was on a Friday.  The following Monday I wrote: "Today Judy got mad at me.  And it's been only 2 days since the last fight.  I'm friends with Charlotte again also and I guess that's partly why Judy's mad.  Judy's most famous saying is: 'Any friend of Charlotte's is no friend of mine.'  And that includes me.  In P.E. I gave Judy a good kick in the rump.  Then in Social Studies Judy forgot her purse in the classroom and I picked it up.  When I got home I marked up all her papers and things that were inside it.  I'm really mad at her now."


Understandably, when Judy found her purse the next day, in the locker we shared, she was furious, and so was Jill, who had taken sides with her.  It seemed we were always either two against two, or the three of us united against Charlotte.  Again, Judy and I walked home separately.  Later we had a screaming fight on the phone.

The following day, a Wednesday, I wrote: "Judy was mad still, that is until P.E. when she told Carolynn that she was ready to make up.  But by then I was mad because in Art which is just before P.E. she made friends with Charlotte, 'cause remember her famous saying, 'Any friend of Charlotte's is no friend of mine?'  But we made up in S.S."

It's amazing to think of how many times the four of us repeated the same drama, in a hundred variations.  Sometimes Judy's and my parents tried to intervene.  I think mostly they just hoped we'd grow out of it.

And we did.  We all graduated from middle school and Judy and I went on to Redondo Union High School.  Jill and Charlotte went to other high schools (not the same one, though, I don't think).  We stayed in touch with Jill, since she lived fairly nearby but Charlotte, who didn't, we lost touch with very quickly.  And with great relief, I would imagine!

In all the years since, except for a brief period in high school when we fought over the same boy, Judy and I have remained very close.  She's my BFF, my "best friend forever."  I know she's going to read this post, so I sure hope she doesn't mind my baring our souls (not to mention our [now] hilariously pathetic adolescent insecurities) to the world! 

MEMORY JOGGER FOR NEXT WEEK: "What are your favorite books?  Describe the best book you have ever read, and also the worst book."

Reminder:  you don't have to use the memory joggers in a literal way; that is, whatever memory is sparked by the jogger, feel free to go with it, if you like.  Today's post is a good example; it certainly had only a tenuous connection to today's memory jogger!

Update:  If you're a digital scrapbooker get my free "Drama Queen" Word Art (plus an entire "outline" style alpha/number/punctation set) inspired by this post at the Webajeb blog!

Now go make some new memories!