Monday, March 31, 2014

Circle of Friends: A Land More Kind than Home

            A couple of times a year, the Friends take a much deserved break and meet at a restaurant rather than cook. So while I don’t have a mouth-watering recipe to tempt you this month, I do have a delicious book to whet your literary appetite: A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash.
            I was a little anxious about how the Friends would receive this book—first, because I was the one who nominated it, and second, because it contains disturbing content. But when I read it last fall—at the recommendation of my friend Martha Bryant—I found it...let’s say somewhere between engaging and enthralling, leaning heavily toward enthralling. In his debut novel, Cash authentically captures the essence of the South without making all the characters appear to have been inbred (although, the reader may have suspicions about a few), and through the voices of three separate narrators, he tells a haunting and compelling story.  
            Be warned, this story is not for the squeamish. There are scenes of brutality and blood. And, because the plot revolves around the activities of a “charismatic,” snake-handling preacher, there are some beyond creepy scenes. For these reasons, a couple of Friends were not fans of the work. But most found it intriguing and thought-provoking. And it generated interesting discussion, something I consider a hallmark of a good book.
            Among the novel’s strengths:
1)  A clear, well-defined villain. One of the tenets of literature is that in order to be believable, characters should be neither all good nor all bad. I don’t necessarily buy into that theory. I found Carson Chambliss, the preacher in this story, to be evil incarnate and still very convincing.
2) A balanced approach in dealing with religion/Christianity. When I started reading it, my immediate reaction to A Land More Kind Than Home was “Here we go...another story about stereotypical southerners, who cling to their guns [or in this case, snakes] and their religion.” But I didn’t have to read long, before I realized Cash wasn’t following this pattern. He balances the evil of his preacher with the goodness and sacrificial love of Addie Lyle, who has spent her life helping people and trying to save the children of Chambliss’s church from his controlling, deadly grip.
3) Redemption and hope. To be worthy of my reading time, a story must offer these two elements. I don’t insist on a rosy ending—and believe me, this novel doesn’t have one—but I do want to finish a book with expectations that people can survive and persevere under trying circumstances, that people can experience a positive change of heart, and that ultimately good can triumph over evil. A Land More Kind Than Home fulfills these expectations.
4) Literary merit. In the highly unlikely event Cash should ever read this post, I hope he doesn’t say, “Huh? Where’d she come up with that?” And maybe it’s too much of my inner English teacher coming out, but I found the archetypes—among them, Chambliss, the serpent who beguiles and destroys; Christopher, the innocent, whose death ultimately saves others—skillfully woven into a modern tale of good versus evil. Along with those are mesmerizing imagery and engrossing characters.
            If there is a negative to this book, it is the pacing. At times, the story seems to drag with unnecessary details, especially when nine-year-old Jess narrates. Then again, those details are authentic to the perspective of a young boy and perhaps necessary. And the story’s strengths all but cancel out this minor flaw.    
            So, I guess you can tell I liked this book. Really liked it. I look forward to more work from this gifted southern writer. Your thoughts?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Productive Piddling

            No other season brings out the piddler in me like spring does. When summer temps soar to the high nineties, I wilt faster than impatiens in direct afternoon sunlight. Winter’s chill finds me huddled in my recliner cocooned in terry robe, flannel pajamas, and chenille throw. I do a little better in fall, when that cooling-off period re-energizes me somewhat. But it’s a subdued energy, mostly directed toward storing and protecting—“battening down the hatches”—in preparation for winter.  Spring, however...that's when my piddling rises to an art form.

             The best time for humanity to come to life is when nature is doing the same. The first day I can walk outside sans layers of protective clothing, I do my happy dance. I tour my yard, taking note of what survived the snow and freezing temperatures and what didn’t. I scan the top of a high, bare tree branch to locate the chirping cardinal who’s marking out territory for his summer home.
             And I piddle.
            In fact, piddling is why this post is overdue. It’s hard to sit at a computer when rites of spring are begging to be observed. Rites such as decking out the kitchen in its spring “wardrobe,”  taking my bike out for a quick spin to warm up muscles that have lain as dormant as sleeping plants, strolling the “seasonal” aisle of the grocery store to inspect the Easter candy and gimcrack.  And two sunshiny days in a row insist I go outside and dig...something...anything. It’s too early to plant, but that doesn’t mean I can’t dig.
            A while back, I posted my definition of piddling, defended it as a time-honored tradition, and explained what distinguishes it from CWT (Complete Waste of Time). As evidence that my time hasn’t been wasted, I’m providing proof of my productive piddling. But the most valuable outcome of my piddling—my improved attitude—can’t be shown in a picture. You’ll  have to take my word for that.
              The results of this past week's piddling:
 
            

 
The kitchen went from its winter wardrobe...
 
 
 
 
             to its summer one. 
 
 


 Actually, I did do some planting. Got the jump on springtime by trying my hand at a little hot house gardening. We'll see how that turns out.









This is what it's supposed to look like. I'll keep you posted.





                                          Bushes were trimmed and flower beds cleaned,
and most importantly...
Easter baskets got filled and readied for delivery!
(Nothing says Happy Easter like Dusty Cropduster.)
 
          What about you? Has spring brought out your inner piddler?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Practice Savory Seasoning; Always Use a Condiment


             A little over a year ago, my decision to lose weight segued into a focus on healthy eating. Not the Euell Gibbons back-to-nature healthy that insists Grape Nuts cereal tastes like “wild hickory nuts,” but  healthy as in lean meats, vegetables, and fruits, supplemented by reasonable amounts of whatever the heck I like to eat.
            The challenge for me was to find the tastiest way to prepare those meats, fruits, and vegetables so that I wouldn’t want to gorge on all the other not-so-healthy things. Spices, herbs, and condiments helped me meet that challenge.
            Let me admit right up front, I’m no expert in this field. Not by a long shot. Unlike my friend Cheryl, I can’t taste a spoonful of creamy carrot soup, smack my lips, ponder a minute, and say, “I think I detect some nutmeg with a dash of mace.” So here are my tips for those who, like me, are novices in the practice of savory seasoning.
I keep my chart taped inside
the door of my spice cabinet
for quick reference.
         Get a chart...or an app. A few years ago, I found a spice chart in a Woman’s Day magazine which I refer to a lot. Although an experienced cook might find it rather basic, it serves my needs. It tells me which herbs and spices go well with what foods. On the reverse side, it gives some special blends, a couple of which I keep on hand and use often. I looked for a similar chart as a give-away for this post, but couldn’t find one. So, instead, I’ll tell you there’s a free app called Spices (has a pic of a red chili) that’s very good.
 
         Pay attention. Start developing a curiosity about what’s flavoring the food you eat. Take the time to determine what it is you’re tasting...rosemary, basil, bay leaf? Train yourself to know the flavors of various herbs and spices. And if you can’t identify them yourself, ask if possible. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can start identifying the distinct flavors.

         Organize your spices. Whether you have a rack or an entire cabinet for spices, organize it  (alphabetically) so that you can grab the one you want quickly and so that you’ll know what you have on hand. Keep it updated. Yeah, I know spices are expensive and you hate to throw them out, but that jar of anise you’ve had ever since you got married probably no longer packs much of a punch.

         Grow an herb garden. I talked about this in an earlier post. I don’t have a place to grow herbs year-round, but in the summer I love having small pots of rosemary, sage, basil, chives, and thyme growing on my patio. Nothing fancy, but with just a step out the door, I can have fresh herbs to cook with all summer. (I know they can be harvested and frozen, but I’ve yet to attempt that.) And the scent! Even if I’m not cooking, I love to grind a few leaves between my thumb and finger and inhale deeply.
      Experiment. As far as condiments, we all know the old standbys: mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise. But to enhance your flavoring pleasure, experiment. I recently discovered I LOVE hot sauce with cayenne pepper. Who knew? Now I sprinkle it on almost everything but fruit or dessert. And I might just try it on fruit one day. There’s a wonderful tea shop near our house, which also offers specialty olive oils and vinegars. I’ve developed a fondness for their balsamic vinegar, and in the summer for a tangy/ sweet combo, I sprinkle it on...don’t laugh (or gag)...ice cream. And speaking of that good ol’ standby, mayonnaise, try making your own. I’ll admit I’ve never done it myself, but it’s on my “to do” list. Once again, Cheryl, the gourmet, flavors ready-made mayonnaise with fresh herbs to give it a special kick.
Just a few of my favorite condiments. Are relishes
 considered condiments? I don't know. But I had to
recommend those little peppadew peppers. If you
 like sweet and tangy, try them!
 

             Many months ago, I vowed to be more “helpful” in my blogging. While I’ve been a little lax with that, this past month I’ve tried to ratchet it up a notch. Here’s hoping you enjoyed it because, not being a domestic diva, I’ve just about exhausted my supply of homemaking helpfulness.
             What about you? Any favorites you'd like to share?
 
 
  

 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Food And More Food

      

I haven't been completely lazy,
although Jack would beg to differ.
           I haven't any new writing to offer this week, but it's not because I've been lazy. Well, not completely lazy. I managed to do a little maintenance on my blog. And I contributed guest posts to two other blogs. Pay these sites a visit and take the time to explore. You'll find food for thought as well as food to prepare and enjoy at Oklahoma Women Bloggers and Brandi's Blog.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

WOW--Woo


            “Wooing is a part of love. I love to woo. I love to be wooed. I like to say the word, ‘Woo’!” – Miss Piggy, WSJ Magazine, February, 2014.
            When I read the above quote from that guru of woo, Miss Piggy, I took a cue from a nearby middle school, which always posts a WOW--Word of the Week--on its marquis. In celebration of Valentine's Day, my WOW is woo.
            A search on Dictionary.com clarified the definition for me. The lead definition says woo is a verb (used with an object), meaning “to seek the favor, affection, or love of, especially with a view toward marriage.” The second meaning: “to seek after zealously or hopefully.”
            Most of us would agree wooing is a good, desirable thing. Agreeing on the best way to woo is another matter. Although, I have the utmost respect for Miss Piggy, I take some issue with her wooing technique. Further along in the WSJ article, she claims, “I once went all the way to the Great Swamp in New Jersey to track down Kermit...My tricks for seduction are easy; I simply hold Kermie tenderly in my arms—and don’t let go.” A fine line exists between wooing and stalking or clinging. I fear it might have been crossed here.
When it comes to
Valentine's Day wooing,
 I'm a traditionalist.
 
            The way to woo is tricky because it is so individualized. For example, on the off-chance my husband asks you, please inform him I DO NOT want a Big Hunka Love teddy bear for Valentine's. Ditto for Hoodie-Footie pajamas. I have no space to store a four-foot tall teddy bear, and I can come up with a zillion better ways to spend a hundred bucks. Every time I see an ad for those pj’s, I picture myself ripping them off while in the throes of a hot flash. When it comes to Valentine's Day wooing, I’m a traditionalist. A nice meal, flowers, a sweet card...an expensive piece of jewelry. Give me any—or all—of these, and I’m happy. But that’s just me. Perhaps, for you, “nothing says loving” like being encased like a sausage in pink polyester.
The guru of woo, Miss Piggy, with the object
of her never-ending pursuit.
            While the way to woo is fuzzy, the when is a no-brainer: always. In the aforementioned definitions, I prefer the second one because it puts no limit, no end-all goal on wooing. I question some of Miss Piggy’s techniques, but truly, I have to admire a female who has pursued the same love interest for over thirty years. Would her seeking have remained as zealous if she and Kermit had married? Can’t say for sure, but knowing Miss Piggy’s zeal for other areas of her life, I’m going with the affirmative. (And btw, Kermit, you’re a fool for never having popped the question!)
            When I listed my wooing favs above, I was joking about the expensive piece of jewelry ...sort of. I really don’t think wooing has to be expensive, although occasionally it’s nice to splurge if you can afford it. I consider my friend, Family Law attorney Shel Harrington, to be another guru of woo. Visit her blog for a beautiful Valentine's day idea. And for some other inexpensive but meaningful ways to pursue your beloved, visit her blog here.      
            Let me hear from you. What’s your favorite way to woo or be wooed? (Please keep it PG.)
 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Trying to be Helpful


            A blog that I enjoy on a regular basis is www.houzz.com. One contributor I read consistently is Becky Harris. I like her because she gives what I call “do-able” suggestions—projects that fall within my range, both stylistically and monetarily. Her projects are manageable while making a big impact.
            This past week, Becky ran an article entitled “10 Ways to Set Up Your Kitchen for Healthy Eating.” This intrigued me because Weight Watchers has a strategy they call “controlling your spaces.” I wanted to see if Becky had anything to add. She did.
            Below is a compilation of ideas from WW, Becky, and moi, that I find helpful in controlling my space and my waist.
1.  An Herb Garden – In Becky’s article, she has a picture of a lush herb garden hanging right on a kitchen wall. It’s a lovely idea if you can do it, but I’ve tried inside herb gardens in the past and haven’t been too successful. This isn’t surprising, since growing even a Chia pet inside presents a challenge for me. But what has worked for me in the summer time is potted herbs on my patio. I generally have chives, sage, basil, thyme, and rosemary readily available, and these basic herbs fulfill most of my cooking requirements. Of course, in the winter, I have to resort to dried herbs and spices. But if you have a green thumb, I say go for the indoor garden.
2.  Fruit and Veggies on Display – This is one practice I’ve followed faithfully over the past year, and I attribute much of my weight loss success to it. “Hello, my name is Dee Dee Chumley, and I’m a nibbler.” Yes, I confess, if it’s sitting out or it’s handy, I’m going to eat it. So I decided my best strategy for controlling this urge was to feed it. But I try to feed it healthy food. So instead of having M&Ms or Cheetos at the ready, I generally have a bowl of fruit displayed on my kitchen island. My favs include Honeycrisp apples (has to be Honeycrisp), grapes, bananas, pears, grapes, and Cuties—bushels and bushels of Cuties. Check out what Becky says about making “still lifes” out of your fruits and veggies. I did this, and was thrilled with the results.
3.  Organization – Been there, done that! Last fall, I totally organized my cabinets and pantry so I could stop wasting time and driving myself crazy looking for stuff. I’ve found that be it rice vinegar or the blender, if I have to stoop and scrounge for it, I most likely am not going to use it. And this especially goes for the crockpot. A busy cook’s best friend is the crockpot, and the way I ensured I’d use it consistently was to make it easily accessible. So far, the organization efforts in my cabinets and pantry have held. Even my husband has been cooperative. However, my refrigerator is another story. The two places in my house that defy organization are my desk and my ‘fridge, and I don’t look for that to change any time soon. I welcome suggestions.
4.  A Tea Station – Already do this, too. Sorta. Both Bill and I are big hot tea drinkers in the winter, so I always keep a teapot on the stove—red one in winter, yellow the rest of the year. We keep a good selection of tea on hand. I don’t keep the tea displayed, but it’s kept within easy reach in the pantry. And limes and lemons are usually in the fruit bowl. I also keep honey out on the island, but am in desperate need of a decorative honey jar.
5. Pretty Dishes – Becky and WW suggest using smaller plates, but I say use pretty ones. During a move a few years ago, my mother gave me a collection of dishes. I kept them stored, bringing them out only for Christmas or Thanksgiving. I finally decided to use them during the winter. I like them. I like the way food looks in them. I like the way the table looks when it’s set with them. So even if it’s just Bill and I eating, I use them. And I generally switch out dish sets to match my mood and/or the season. Silly? Maybe. But it doesn’t cost a dime more, takes no extra time, and makes me feel like I’m “dining,” even if I’m eating only a bowl of oatmeal.
            These are the strategies I’ve found helpful, but visit with Becky for more suggestions. One disclaimer: If you follow the link, know that my pantry in NO way resembles the one she has pictured. I’m organized, but I’m not anal. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Keep On Scrollin'

            A sad thing happened today. I lost a friend. Before you start extending condolences, let me clarify this was a Facebook friend. And I didn’t lose him physically...just on Facebook.
            His Facebook demise wasn’t sudden or without warning. He gave all his friends a heads up a few days ago that he’d be signing off. Something about “mountains being made out of molehills.” Don’t know what he meant exactly, but he sounded a little bitter. 
            We’ve all heard the complaints: Facebook is just a place to brag, to “overshare,” to bully. And, of course, there’s the constant, pervading complaint that it’s a waste of time. I’ve been known to register a few complaints myself. But here’s what I’ve learned about Facebook or any form of social media: It’s a tool to use however I want. In fact, for me, it’s one of the few areas of my life where I feel—for the most part—in control. 
            For instance, I can pick my friends. Well, the ones that subscribe to Facebook. And I have quite a variety. They run the gamut from left-wing liberals to far-right conservatives. From twenty-somethings to grandparents. From close relatives to people I know only through Facebook. I even follow a couple of authors I like, although I avoid any fanatical following of the rich and famous...or the rich and ridiculous.  
Best device I've found for
managing Facebook. Inexpensive,
lightweight, and (hopefully) I'll never lose it.

            Facebook provides all sorts of ways to manage friends so that I can choose which ones I want to keep up with most. But what I’ve found most effective in managing time and friends is...wait for this...my finger. Yes, that little non-tech device that is with me wherever I go has enabled me to not only survive Facebook but to enjoy it.
             First, if I don’t have time for Facebook, I don’t click on it. What a concept! But if I do have some downtime, I enjoy scrolling through a few posts, catching up on what friends and family are doing, viewing pictures. That’s another way my finger comes in handy—scrolling. I generally glance at the recent posts on the news feed, pausing to read the ones I find interesting, and scrolling past the ads, most of the links, and posts of the 150 cute things someone’s kid or pet has done THAT DAY. If you happen to enjoy cute things that kids and pets do, great! That’s the beauty of Facebook. You can pause and read and even comment...or you can keep on scrollin’.
            Same thing goes for posts I’m pretty sure are going to irritate me. I scroll right past. I’m all for people expressing their opinions. I just don’t feel the need to read them. And I sure don’t feel the need to respond to them. Occasionally, I’ll hit “like” if I agree with a particular stance, but, in general, I prefer my political discussions to be in person. But, hey, if a heated Facebook argument is your idea of fun—or if you feel strongly led to publicly state your opinion—go for it. Just don’t get your feelings hurt when people feel equally led to disagree. Or drop you as a friend. As for me, I get enough political angst from watching TV news without getting embroiled in a Facebook debate.
             And speaking of TV, it comes with an “Off” button. That’s another place you can put your finger to effective use.