WHAT THE WIND BLEW IN & ANOTHER SURPRISE

Female swimmer

Years ago, Chocoholic and I spent a few days at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. One morning we changed into our swimsuits and went to the pool. It was a windy day. We both swam laps for exercise in the icy water. I love to swim. I’m a slow, but steady swimmer. When I was done, I climbed out of the pool, dried off and relaxed on a chaise lounge.

The wind picked up and blew a piece of paper to me that stuck to my chest. I peeled it off. It was a $20 bill.

A winner, in Vegas! Yea!

A few years ago, we met friends in Venice and joined a cruise in the Mediterranean. Chocoholic and I arrived the night before and stayed in a small hotel near St. Mark’s Square. We walked to a nearby trattoria for an early dinner. We were the only patrons, and there was only a single waiter present, a young man, much younger than us.

We enjoyed our pizza. When we asked for the check, the waiter said there was no charge. That was a big surprise. I asked him why no charge, and he responded, because it’s for you. That was another big surprise, but I had no more questions. We gave him a very nice tip and returned to our hotel.

I never figured out why he didn’t charge us. We’re not famous or beautiful or unique in any way, but we enjoyed our dinner and the hospitality.

 

HOW NOT TO COOK POTATOES

SPOILER ALERT: The following sounds suspiciously like a rant.

I’m a news junkie. I try to keep up. I follow food, health and medicine; war, catastrophes and disasters; writing and publishing; business, finance & investments; and baseball. Too many so-called “news articles” these days waste my time.

Many articles deliberately don’t get to the point until one has scrolled through endless paragraphs of detailed background. While the background is usually quite worthwhile, it suits me better to have it slotted after the advertised point as I’m usually already aware of the background. Too many articles never get to the advertised point, they just ramble. Click bait still occasionally lures me into opening new tabs with endless advertisements for whatever I don’t need, but I’m wising up about them. And bait and switch articles promise specific items of interest but never deliver. And then there is the recent plethora of articles that inform me of each and every freaking thing the well-meaning author assumes that I’m doing wrong.

For example, a fictional headline might read: “ONE HUNDRED MISTAKES YOU MAKE COOKING POTATOES!” I naively figure that given a veritable landslide of instructions to follow, at least a few will prove worthwhile, but, no! Each and every one turns out to be far too simplistic. Only a complete dolt would make such idiotic mistakes… like cooking a potato that has obviously been invaded by a big fat wiggly worm. Come on, guys. Give your readers credit for possessing a modicum of common sense!

Stop wasting our time.

Sorry… I couldn’t help myself. It was indeed a rant.

 

A SNOWY CHRISTMAS DAY IN HOUSTON

Years ago, it snowed in Houston on Christmas Eve, a very BIG DEAL. Early Christmas morning, Chocoholic and Jack, our beloved Black Lab, and I drove to a nearby park. The day was grey and overcast, and the snow was still on the ground. We took a box of crackers and cans of cat food to feed the ducks and the feral cats.

I held the crackers and Jack’s leash while Chocoholic took the cat food and the can opener over to the place where the cats hung out. As he began opening cans, we noticed a gentleman coming toward us off the pier, obviously intent on greeting Beautiful, Never Met a Stranger Jack. Jack was a big dog. He took off toward him in a flash. I flew through the air (full horizontal, Scout’s Honor!) and landed on my back, my breath knocked out of me. The box burst open and crackers rained down around my head. Jack instantly transferred his attention from the man to the crackers. I lay there, catching my breath while Jack’s massive jaw gobbled up crackers around my head. “SNAP! SNAP! SNAP!” He consumed at least half a box of crackers while Chocoholic and the other gentleman helped me to my feet. I was unhurt.

Unfortunately there was little Christmas cheer left for the ducks, but Chocoholic, Jack and I had a most memorable White Christmas. I wish you all the Happiest of Holidays.

MY GRANDMOTHER’S COOKBOOK

Lynn’s Lemon Meringue Pie. She took the picture.

Sometime around the start of the pandemic lockdown, I promised my sister that I would find Grandmother’s Cook Book.  Lynn wanted a copy of a favorite cookie recipe. I finally found the book the other day, some 3 years later, cookie recipe included. Lynn graciously avoided mention of the long delay and said that she’d get right on it.

We lived with my grandmother while we were growing up. She did the bulk of the cooking and was an excellent cook. Mother was a good cook but worked full time and cooked infrequently. My grandmother taught me how to cook. For many years, I considered myself a good cook but then gradually found myself cutting corners, using too many convenience foods. In my quest for a healthier diet, I have changed my ways, but I’m not really a good cook anymore.

My sister Lynn is a better cook than I am, and she, too, cooks most meals. She bakes regularly and is into sourdough and artisan flours. She made a lemon meringue pie yesterday and sent me a picture. See attached. (Obviously she’s a better photographer than I am too.) She confirms the pie is as yummy as it looks.

My grandmother’s cook book is an old-fashioned hardbound ledger book. It has been used for so long that it’s coming apart at the seams. It includes a wide variety of foods, especially baked goods, punches, homemade ice creams and hostess foods for times past. She routinely made lemon meringue and ice box pies; many different kinds of cookies; various chocolate, devil’s food, banana and angel food cakes; banana and rice puddings; and Christmas candies, all from scratch. The big deal every year when she was alive was making a huge, heavy, dark fruit cake at Thanksgiving and soaking it in bourbon until Christmas. I still love fruit cake but haven’t made one in a long time. When I eat sweets these days, they’re usually purchased and sugar free. Chocoholic, my husband would love for me to bake more cookies, but I’m afraid that I continually disappoint him.

UNEXPECTED GUESTS

Wildlife sightings began ticking up in mid-June, probably as a result of rain and increased forage. Deer were everywhere, causing Flash and me to occasionally interrupt our walking. A young doe careened around nearby yards in the early mornings, acting a little crazy.

One morning, Flash sent me a snapshot of an entire family of foxes and their kits lazing on a neighbor’s patio. My sister Lynn reported the rescue of a young fawn from a storm sewer. Chocoholic witnessed a young Cooper’s Hawk chase the fat squirrel onto our back porch. Two days later I heard a kerfuffle on the porch and have not seen the fat squirrel since. I assume the worst. A younger, smaller, foolhardy squirrel took over the territory. I feared he was not long for this world, but as of late August, he’s still here.

Strangest of all was the road runner. I had only ever seen a roadrunner once, maybe twice. They are elusive creatures that avoid civilization… or so my thinking went. Early on a mid-June morning, my neighbor and I stood talking outside in the shade about the young doe. She thought the doe guarded a baby fawn hidden in the grass behind another neighbor’s house. We turned and watched as a roadrunner appeared and strode confidently toward us. He carried a twig in his beak. We were not hidden or quiet. He showed no hesitation as he came within 4 feet of us. He circled the tree we were standing under, still only 3-4 feet away and stalked easily up the trunk to a nest near the top. I never knew road runners climbed trees or nested in them. I never knew they approached people.

My neighbor and I were both struck dumb. My mouth hung open in awe. It was almost as if the roadrunner nodded to us as if to say, “Morning ladies. Beautiful day!”

Follow up note: As of Labor Day 2023, that was the last of the rain to date with only 20 minutes of slow soft rain a couple of weeks ago. I stood outside and watched every minute of it. We are now in EXTREME DROUGHT. The road runner has moved her residence to another street.

DEADLY PREMONITION

In early July, I filled the birdbath and an old dog dish on the back porch with water for the birds and squirrels.

Later, I remembered my friend Nancy from Dallas who created a little concrete pond in her back yard to provide water for wild creatures. An unwanted snake immediately settled in, and she ended up killing it. I hoped I wouldn’t be faced with a similar problem. The birds came on the second day. The following day a creature appeared next to the water dish on the porch, looking like a deflated bicycle innertube or a dark crumpled chiffon headscarf. I figured it had to be a snake. He didn’t move, not one muscle. He appeared to be dead. I texted a snapshot to a family member who responded with one word: “Rattlesnake.”

GULP!

I patiently gave the snake plenty of time to leave, but he didn’t. Finally he disappeared, but then I could see that a dark mat on the porch was newly-tented. I feared the snake was hiding under the mat. Reluctantly, I called one of the local snake wranglers… I’ll call him Jack. I say “reluctantly” because I feared he would kill him. Snakes, even poisonous ones are quite useful. For one thing, they keep the mice and rat population down, especially useful in neighborhoods where many feed wildlife.

Jack wore a red shirt, jeans, western boots and a straw cowboy hat. He was older than I had anticipated but was quite fit and very professional, not to mention utterly fearless. He came empty-handed. After fussing at me for not calling him right away, he set me straight: The wranglers need to know about every snake right away, even garter and other non-poisonous snakes. He would relocate the snake to a local ranch after recording him in an extensive research project they’ve had ongoing for many years.

He stepped out onto the back porch and began looking for the snake, still unarmed, while I watched from the safety of the kitchen. I must admit I closed the screen securely, cutting off the wrangler’s escape if the snake threatened him. I considered taking a snapshot, but didn’t want to distract Jack. He quickly found the snake when he lifted a plastic container from the far corner.

“Whoa! A monster rattlesnake.”

Other than those 4 words, he was cool as a cucumber. He set the container down and went to get his things. I closed and locked the slider behind him. I ran to get our snake stick and propped it next to the door just in case the snake got away from him. Chocoholic was watching TV evening news and asked drolly if I were going to be backup. I glared at him. Any pitiful efforts on my part to subdue an angry rattlesnake would be a last ditch measure. We would all perish.

Jack returned with a big covered plastic bucket and a snake stick. It only took him a minute to get the predator into the bucket. The snake looked to me to be maybe 3 to 3.5 feet in length, but he was pissed and squirmy, and I can’t be sure.

Jack explained to me that: A rattlesnake that size could deliver 4-5 lethal doses of venom to adults; few Texans die from rattlesnake bites, but they do suffer; the toxin is strong enough to kill human tissue which will turn gangrenous and require multiple surgeries. The average hospital bill for rattlesnake bite approaches $50K for 20 or so doses of antivenom alone, not to mention the other pricey care. Cats and small dogs will not survive a bite.

Thank goodness we have such dedicated community volunteers. Kudos, gentlemen.

I should mention that my heroine in The Pig Parts Series has two encounters with rattlesnakes over the course of seven books, once in close quarters in a laundry room with her newborn baby nearby, and once during a major storm during her long, solitary odyssey in rural Mexico. She, of course, is much braver than I am.

 

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

Turkey Trot Practice

Wildlife surrounds us: deer, coyotes, turkeys, snakes, racoons, squirrels, hawks, birds, armadillos and foxes among others. Even the rare mountain lion.

Wild turkeys are particularly delightful. A few years ago on an evening when we were entertaining a card group, some 18 to 20 turkeys perched on our fence looking like gigantic ungainly vultures. Unfortunately I’ve misplaced that picture. It was quite a sight.

Several years ago, I watched a fascinating documentary on PBS by Joe Hutto: “My Life as a Turkey.” He raised a flock of turkeys from eggs as if he was their mother. The video might also be found on YouTube. It’s well worth watching.

Turkeys can be dangerous. Males have irritable dispositions and deadly spurs, on the backs of their legs, and upon occasion have been known to kill humans. When Flash and I walk in the early mornings, we sometimes encounter the flock and have to wait for them to cross the road in front of us. Sometimes we have to fix them with strobe or flashlights to get them to move on. Sometimes nothing works, and a lot of waiting around or a detour is involved. Lately, in a nearby neighborhood, two adult turkeys have been terrorizing walkers.

This past winter, the flock was quite large, numbering more than 50 birds. As summer progresses, the numbers have already begun to dwindle due to coyote and other predations.

One cold overcast morning, four of the male turkeys put on a magnificent display hoping to lure the dowdier females into mating with them. As you can see, they had practiced their moves and didn’t miss a step.

And a one and a two…

SUBSTITUTE MUFFINS

Banana Nut Muffins

Most of the time I try to cook healthy for my family. I occasionally bake muffins, and I’m always looking to eliminate the sodium, cut harmful fat and sugar and increase fiber. They don’t always turn out as I’d like, but I was pleased with a recent batch.

NOTE: June 2023. Various digital health publications are now reporting that the common sweetener found in Splenda is genotoxic and may damage your DNA.

BANANA NUT MUFFINS

1 large egg

2 very ripe/overripe bananas mashed well

1/2 cup milk (I used  2%.)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 cups 100% whole wheat pastry flour (If you’ve never used this flour, you should definitely give it a try.)

1/2 generous/rounded cup Splenda

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used cashews as container was already open, but pecans and walnuts would work well.)

Spray 12-hole muffin tin with cooking spray. (You can use paper muffin cups if you like, but I prefer the crust achieved without them.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Beat egg with fork. Stir in milk, banana and oil. Mix with a fork. Mix flour and other dry ingredients. Stir into batter just until flour is moistened. Avoid overmixing. Batter will be somewhat lumpy.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Sprinkle lightly with a little Splenda if you like your muffins on the sweet side; otherwise their sweetness will be quite delicate.

Bake 18 to 25 minutes. Test with clean toothpick inserted into middle when indicated by fragrance, golden brown color and edges beginning to separate from pan. Toothpick should come back clean.

When done, remove from muffin pan immediately. Serve warm.

Makes 11-12 small muffins. When completely cool, store in airtight container. Will keep well in fridge for three or four days or may be individually frozen.

MY PRECIOUS LIVEOAK TREE

My precious live oak tree lies dead and dismembered in our front yard.

Central Texas sufferred another traumatic winter weather event the first week of February 2023, a devastating ice storm. Several people died, and three days after it “ended,” there were still thousands without power, but the most frequent victims were the trees. Downed and damaged trees have to number in the hundreds of millions as Austin alone reported 10.5 million. Eleven weeks later, heavy branches are still falling without warning in our neighborhood and around our house.

We lost our only live oak tree. Live oaks shed their leaves in March, not in winter. Too much ice accumulated on its leaves. Half the tree leaned way over from the weight and sufferred a literal greenstick fracture. The other half leaned over the other way but did not crack. Most of the tree trunk remained upright.

I have seen many ancient live oak trees with massive branches propped up on wooden and concrete braces custom built to hold their great weight. I had hoped the tree guy would tell me that he could apply a similar fix, but of course, he couldn’t. He cut the tree down. He informed me that the 2021 Snowmageddon event followed by 18 months of major drought further complicated by recent heavy rains severely weakened the tree. Indeed, the fracture site revealed a blackened and rotted interior portion where standing water had damaged the tree trunk.

City workers loaded and carted off the dismembered tree earlier this week in a massive cleanup using big trucks and heavy front loader equipment. When spring is guaranteed, the tree guy will plant another tree, either another live oak or a Texas Red Oak. The Red Oak is the wiser choice. It will lose its leaves in winter and carry reduced risk of destruction during the next ice storm.

While losing a tree is not as traumatic as losing a family member or a pet, it’s an emotional loss. It hurts.

MY GRANDMOTHER’S DICTIONARY

My grandmother’s dictionary

Recently, one of my book clubs read The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams, a New York Times Bestseller and award-winning novel published by Random House. Everyone seemed to enjoy it… an informative and well-written book that easily held my interest.

I took my Grandmother’s dictionary to the meeting for show and tell, Webster’s Giant Illustrated Dictionary. It was compiled and edited under the supervision of Joseph Devlin and published by The World Publishing Company, copyright 1941. I grew up using this popular dictionary; indeed, I occasionally still use it. My grandmother was a stay-at-home mother of four. She read true crime novels, The Bible, the local weekly newspaper and The Houston Chronicle.

I’m a reader, so I look up words and phrases in dictionaries all the time. I occasionally look up new and different meanings that words and phrases have taken on in the recent past in current internet urban slang dictionaries, sometimes with shocking results. My grandmother’s dictionary includes a section of American Slang as it was used in 1941, and I thought you might find a few of the entries amusing if not surprising:

“Bible belt… a district in which religious hypocrisy flourishes.”

“boiled owl… a radio enthusiast who sits up all night.”

“boner… a mistake; a slip of the tongue; a faux pas.”

“bushwah… unwarranted statements; false assertions.”

“cackleberry… an egg.”

“geek… a snake charmer…”

“sky pilot… a minister or clergyman…”

The dictionary is a link to my childhood… a reminder of my grandmother, and I enjoy having it sit on my desk. Best of all my mother wrote my grandmother’s name on the flyleaf using her gorgeous handwriting.