Over the past few weeks there have been three reported incidents of leg room rage on airplanes. Passengers who either wouldn’t allow the person in front of them to put their seats back or passengers so cramped they lost it with a passenger either in front of or in back of them while trying to claim what little area comes with their ticket. It is ridiculous how tightly the airlines are willing to confine us in order to serve their Screen-shot-2010-10-21-at-10.49.56-AMbottom line. I found the diagram to the left showing what the future could hold in store as airlines attempt to squeeze more and more people into the same cabin space. Sort of half sitting half standing. Really? And we’re okay with this? Why not suspend us from hooks on the ceiling like sides of beef? Maybe freeze us before take off so we don’t require any attention during the flight. If things get this extreme I’ll take a boat, bus or a train before I’ll fly. Seriously. I realize my not flying have little impact on the carriers. Also, I can see where other means of transportation less expeditious won’t work for many people. Time holds us hostage to the airline companies, but I will definitely fight standing up in my seat to promote their profit margin.

A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to British Columbia. Customarily she will pick up something at the airport food courts to take with her on the plane. On this trip she was late arriving at the airport. With no time to stop for food she barely made her flight. On the plane she was offered a snack menu from which to choose from. For $8.00 she opted for cheese and crackers assuming they couldn’t do much damage to that. Unfortunately, the airline outdid themselves. Amazing how you can completely ruin four slices of cheese and a package crackers. According to my friend the cheese resisted all attempts to be cut. Tearing it, pulling it, slicing it, proved fruitless. Chewing definitely wasn’t an option. I believe this could be a new secret weapon. A micro-fabric so invincible to outside forces it could be adopted by NASA to create spacesuits or to reinforce the walls on future space stations. After a while you just have to laugh.

Besides the obvious comfort considerations, there are health issues associated with sitting in such cramped positions for long periods of time. Diabetics, for example, often have leg circulation or foot issues. Strokes and heart attacks can actually be induced by such conditions, and certainly if you’re traveling with small children it can make a sometimes bad situation nearly unbearable.

Once, flying to the east coast, I got seated in the very last row of seats. This was interesting. Not only are you forced to sit perfectly erect during the entire flight, the bank of toilets are located directly behind you. A steady flow of customers either pass by or stand in line directly over you. I made one attempt at trying to sleep but found no matter how I shifted, my mind couldn’t wrap itself around the fact I expected my body to sleep in such a position. Even if I did drift off, I would jerk myself awake to find some waiting restroom patron watching me to see if I slept with my mouth open or snored. I ended up sitting straight in my seat for the five-hour flight. Fortunately, they had a beverage service.

You pay for every little perk these days. Gone are the days when wee bags of peanuts or pretzels were handed to you with your beverage of choice. Also gone are the days when flight attendants wandered through the cabins offering newspapers or magazines to read or a blanket and pillow if a nap was what you needed. If you want a pillow or blanket on many airlines they offer you one for around $7.00, and reading material is limited to the map of the exits or the in-flight magazine in the seat pocket, also benefiting the airlines.

All these are only the obvious extra charges. There are also a myriad of “hidden fees”. Are we having fun yet? If not, let’s take a look at what’s happening to that over weight allowance bag you coughed up $75 for at the check-in point. It’s highly possible baggage carriers are either sifting through your underwear or tucking that tablet into their jacket before throwing your suitcase on top of the pile.

Personally I’m not adverse to a little spoiling. The original Orient Express stopped running in 2009 I believe. You can still book a suite on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express for $5,000 plus a person, however. Sign me up please. Before you leave you are given a bottle of wine and served champagne. Lunch is a three-course affair in the dining car. Afternoon tea follows later in the day served in your cabin. The day is summed up with a four-course meal created by talented French chefs, and then off to bed which has been turned down, undoubtedly with a chocolate on your pillow. Mornings breakfast is served in your cabin, with an attendant pouring steaming cups of coffee or tea and seeing to your every need. This sounds way better to me than having a pillow/blanket pack thrown at me for an exchange of funds.

Malaysia Airlines recently came up with the incredibly bad taste campaign to enter a “bucket list” contest to win airline tickets or prizes. Considering their recent track record in the air, having a contest based on all the things you’d like to tick of your list before dying seems rather bad form.

I’m off on the train to San Jose this afternoon leaving Rick and Boo the Queen of Cats to man the oars. Made this soup to keep him going. Yum.

Savory Rotisserie Chicken Noodle Soup

1 rotisserie chicken cut up
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped sliced
3 carrots, sliced
3 ribs celery, sliced
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic
4 baking potatoes, peeled and diced
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. rosemary
1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. chicken bouillon granules
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. white pepper
8 cups chicken broth
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can water
1 cup 2% evaporated milk
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1/2 cup cooked peas
2 cups cooked egg noodles
Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in stock pot over med. heat. Add onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Saute 6-8 mins. until onion is translucent and vegetables are tender. Stir in seasonings, broth, and bouillon granules. Add potatoes, mushroom soup, and water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to med.-low and simmer for 45 mins. partially covered.

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

Add chicken, milk, and peas. Continue cooking for 15 mins. Add parsley.

Place 1/3 cup noodles in bottom of each of 6 soup bowls. Ladle soup over top. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Finally I made it to the health club for orientation on the machines. They do this in groups so there were two other ladies waiting at a table I was directed to when I arrived. At the front desk we all been told to sit and wait for Cody, our machine guru, to arrive. Being good newbies we sat as instructed and struck up a conversation. Shortly, an exquisitely sculpted young man came over to our table and introduced himself as Cody. Lush hair, perfectly proportioned, tan, and blessed with a set of blindingly white incredibly straight teeth. Barbie would have left Ken for this boy. Up until Cody walked up we’d been chatting away amiably. Upon his arrival, the three of us sat with our mouths agape as Cody the Magnificent laid out the plan for the upcoming hour. Apparently August was eye candy month for me because I had the glorious Dr. Puddinface just last week when I got the splinter in my palm. Telling Rick about this when I came home, I said the female instructors were equally as dazzling. If he wished to exercise his option to look but not touch he was welcome to get a membership. He said he didn’t think so. It seems he secretly suspected they’d want him to exercise while there.

It makes all the sense in the world to me that health clubs and spas hire beautiful people. One does not hire a bald man to promote hair products, nor a person with severely crooked teeth to man the front line at the dentist’s office. We are addicted to beauty in our culture. The myth they are selling, I would assume, is that after you use their hair products, slather their cream on your skin, or sweat on their equipment you will ultimately look like their representatives. Even I, who leans toward taking most everybody at their word, can’t buy into that.

For a young guy Cody was surprisingly patient and engaging. Their HR person did a good job in recruiting him. Before proceeding, we were asked to fill out a questionnaire and answer some questions to narrow down the muscle groups we wished to target. It turns out my target group includes everything from the tip of my pointed head to the bottom of my flat feet. Basically, there was nothing between those two points not in need of some attention. Good to know. It’s fortunate I have fairly good self esteem or I might have gone into the tank about then. The thing that is deceptive, I believe, is that I’m small. In clothes I look fine. It’s when summer comes along and I have to free those upper arms or legs that I start noticing the skin isn’t as tight as it once was. I don’t expect to achieve anything near perfection but I would like to give gravity a little push back. I have a friend who is quite large busted, a curse I have never had to deal with. Her “girls” as she refers to them, have moved to a new location beneath her arms and refuse to return to the front unless confined by a bra. Vindication for me for all those years in gym class when I was entering puberty.

Once the questions were answered, Cody ushered us along a bank of huge machines stopping at one on the end. Men and women red faced and sweaty struggled on the machines in the main cavity of the room. Ah, exercise looks like so much fun, smells like it too. Cody sat in the seat provided for the user on the machine. He set the difficulty, placed his feet on a long metal bar, and breathing in and out moved the bar effortlessly back and forth bringing his knees to his chest and back. Looked so easy. Gesturing for me to go next, I sat down. As instructed, I planted my feet squarely where his had been. Waiting a minute or two with nothing happening Cody asked if the machine was on. As it happens it was. My brain was sending a message to my knees to push the bar. Clearly push came through several times. As much as I felt my knees straining to comply with the request, my muscles simply couldn’t make it happen. After some adjustment, probably reducing the torque to “newborn”, the bar moved when I pushed my knees. There’s nothing like a good workout to point out what truly abysmal shape you’re in. The other ladies had the same issues, so at least I wasn’t alone in my humiliation.

Over the next fifty minutes we became acquainted with ten machines, all working different muscle groups. On each machine we did about six to ten reps. Doesn’t seem like much does it? I didn’t think so either. Easy peasey. Waking up the following morning each muscle group addressed announced itself loudly. First they counted off in order, and then all together. Ow.

As luck would have it it was my day to work at the animal shelter. To add to my good fortune, I was volunteered for all the bottom cages as several of the other volunteers in that day were hurt or had had recent surgery. Crawling around on the floor feeling every muscle I’d pulled from the day before none of the cats questioned my movements. Animals can sense when to engage and when not to, and that day definitely weighed heavily on the side of the not pushing the envelope.

So, I embark on a journey of self-improvement once again. I get myself to where I think I’ve improved enough to stop and then find I’ve a long journey ahead beyond the bend in the road. Sigh.

This delicious appetizer or side is usually served on toast points, bruschetta, or in a sandwich. When serving it on toast points I give each guest a steaming packet to open and spread on themselves. Usually you use anchovies in the traditional version of this dish, but my family won’t go near them. So, I came up with this delicious alternative.

Mushrooms in Parchment (Funghi ‘Ncartati)

1 lb. mushrooms (your selection), sliced thin
8 slices Coppa Ham, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 green onions, chopped white and green
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped fine
4 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Tbsp. Italian bread crumbs
4 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, shredded
Juice of 1 lemon
Generous grind of black pepper
Lemon slices
6 squares parchment paper, 12″ x 12″
Extra olive oil

Preheat oven to 375

Slice mushrooms thin. Place in medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients up to lemon slices. Mix well.


Brush one side of each piece of parchment paper with olive oil in the center. In the middle slightly towards the front of the paper place 1/6 of the mushroom mixture. Top with a slice of lemon.


Fold paper in half over mushrooms and crease. Beginning with upper left hand corner, fold and crease, fold and crease. Follow all around the outside of the paper to form a half moon.



Place on cookie sheet. Bake for 10 mins.


Prices continue to rise. People are searching for ways to cut costs to keep their heads above the water line. I clip coupons and scan the paper for sales in an effort to keep food costs down. Our pharmacy sends emails with specials on coffee and cosmetics, which I try to follow up on. As it happens, I needed a few things from the pharmacy yesterday, but only had one coupon appropriate for what I was buying. Putting my items in the basket I went to the front of the store to check out. Because of the holiday weekend, all lines were busy. Being in no particular hurry, I chose a line and got behind the last shopper. The woman in front of me had an extremely full cart, but other lines were equally backed up so I stayed put. Luck being what it is, the woman turned out to be an extreme couponer. In the kiddie seat beside her purse was a bulging notebook. Standing at the register it flipped open to reveal page after page of plastic sleeves filled with coupons. Each section was tabbed and in her hand she held a stack of coupons about 3″ high. I’m not lying here. Naturally, each coupon had to scanned. Some were good. Some were not. I knit a sweater, wrote the great American novel, and took a class on Spanish as a second language while waiting for her receipt to print. In the end, she paid about $6.00 for the overflowing basket and went on her way. I bought some hair mousse and two twelve-packs of toilet paper. Handing over thirty dollars and one $.50 off coupon, I received enough change in return to purchase a pack of breath mints.

I wish I had the time, patience, and energy to collect and categorize all those coupons. Really I do. I admire the tenacity, but question the resources. My life doesn’t have the bandwidth to include the hours it must take to amass such a collection. Not only do you have to obtain the coupons in the first place, but you have to sort by like coupons, file them, and travel about to appropriate places to use them. Also, they go out of date fairly quickly. You would have to go through periodically and throw out the ones already past their use date. Ach.

Bartering though, is another concept for cutting costs I’m toying with. For example, my dear friend Louise and I barter every six weeks in a manner of speaking. While living in our previous home, Louise was the first friend I made when we moved to that area, also my hairdresser. When we moved, Louise sort of came with me. Every six weeks she travels here to touch up my hair. In exchange I make her a fabulous meal, provide her with her favorite adult beverage, and, if she has the time, offer my downstairs guest bedroom for the night cooking her breakfast in the morning before she leaves. This gives her a night away in the tall trees, provides us a chance to catch up on our lives, and leaves me root free for another six weeks. Works beautifully for us.

With this in mind I came up with an idea. I know. Please write down the date. It may not happen again for another decade or two. I had a large computer monitor I wanted out of my craft room. We defer to our laptop these days for everything so it was just gathering dust. I ran an ad to sell it on Craig’s List with no takers. I reduced the price to nearly free. Still no response. This is a very nice monitor, practically new. Hmmmmm. So, I came up with an idea. I needed a few bushes and tree limbs trimmed. I posted the monitor under free stuff at no cost with one caveat. Whoever claimed it needed to trim my trees and bushes. Having no idea how this would work I hit “publish” and went on my way. My phone and my email lit up with responses. Actually I had to remove the ad to make it stop. A student at Sac State was the first to respond.

Our student arrived about two hours later. I handed him the trimmers. In about an hour he did a nice job on the yard, piling the trimmings in my trash can. In exchange, I handed him the monitor and after mutual nods of appreciation he went on his way. This was an idea I can embrace. Sort of a win/win.

This is not the first time I have dabbled in bartering. I have swapped my artwork for services in the past, and have used my writing skills in exchange for goods a time or two. Bartering is certainly not a new concept, dating back to prehistoric days. Perhaps a warm pelt was exchanged for a willing bride, or meat for the best cave to wait out the winter in.

I will try this again. It allowed me to help out a student needing a desk, and it helped me to get rid of the tree limbs encroaching on my driveway. Yea.

This dressing leans toward the sweet. I’ve always called it sugar salad. The dressing should be made the day before for the best results. Yummy.

3Sweet and Sour Salad

2 hearts of romaine, chopped
3 green onions, sliced thin
1/3 cup green bell pepper, sliced in strips
1/3 cup orange bell pepper, sliced in strips
8 radishes, sliced thin

Poppy Seed Dressing

1/2 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsp. white vinegar
2 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. minced onion
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. hot paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 1/2 tsp. poppy seeds

Whisk together all ingredients. Refrigerate 24 hrs. for best results. Toss with salad ingredients just before serving.

Between Rick and I we share four children. These four have produced nine grandchildren. I know. Four boys and five girls in all. Of the girls, one daughter and one granddaughter have a real affinity for ink. The tattoos began as experimental I think. A small rose here, a delicate heart there. Now they’ve progressed like the urban sprawl covering larger and larger areas of available acreage. The artwork is genuinely to be praised. Amazingly detailed, with vibrant colors and clever design.

The ladies in question are young. Blessed with beautiful smooth young skin. A natural canvas upon which an artist can create. Unfortunately, as with all of us these bodies are in a state of flux. As the years pass, skin loses its elasticity. Even with the most tender loving care and expensive lotions and creams they insist on withering and wrinkling like an apple left too long in the sun. I can’t help but wonder what happens to tattoos during this transition.

Back in the 80’s I worked with a female executive. Linda was a very attractive woman in her mid-thirties. With a reputation as a powerhouse, she led her minions with a firm hand. Quite a feat in those days, particularly in an engineering company a venue long dominated by a strong male presence. Beautiful clothes were her hallmark. I used to wonder at where she stored all the accessories and shoes on display. Even on the hottest summer days, however, a jacket or cover up always accompanied her outfit. I knew she worked out because we had gone together on several occasions. Even on the treadmill a long-sleeved shirt was pulled on over her workout pants. Hmmmmmm.

Two years into our working arrangement we established a sort of friendship outside of work. Not best buddies, but we hung out on occasion, stopping off for a glass of wine after a long day or grabbing lunch every other week or so. As our friendship deepened, Linda’s story naturally unfolded. She hailed from a blue-collar family, very white bread. Her father, given the task of watching over four girls, took his job very seriously. Linda didn’t take easily to all the rules and restrictions. At eighteen instead of heading off to college as was written in her parent’s playbook, she chose to run with a local motorcycle club. In particular a twenty-something rider with cascading hair affectionately known as Blade. I remember his name because you just don’t come across that many Blades in a lifetime, so when you do the name tends to stick with you. (No pun intended.) During these wild and unproductive years she found herself quite drunk one Saturday night. While in this state she chose tattoos for both upper arms and one for her lower back now referred to as a “tramp stamp”. Back then tattoos were mainly the craze in military personnel, fringe groups, and motorcycle types.

Over the next few months the tattoos came to life. Well suited for the lifestyle she was living at the time, as relationships will do when we are young the shine wore off Blade. Linda left him in her rear view mirror and moved on. Replacing leathers for jeans and tees she headed off to college to jump start her education. On one arm off the shoulder it read “Rider from Hell” above a cutoff clad female biker on a bike. On the other arm, “Born to be Bad” was inscribed above a heart with crossbones. I don’t know what was on her lower back. Didn’t know her that well. At any rate, as well accepted as these were by the Harley set, in an upscale college environment they were more of a conversation starter. Worse yet they set the tone for how she got treated at parties or on dates. Clasping her degree on graduation day preparing to let herself loose on the interview circuit, the tattoos were not going to be her foot in the door.

Hiding them for interviews, it became necessary to continue to conceal them as she moved up the corporate ladder. I suppose tattoos are well accepted in most environments nowadays. I’m still not sure I can picture them in the boardroom, but that too may be changing.

I’ve mentioned before I’ve thought of getting one myself a time of two. My choices would be small and most likely placed for easy coverup. I do admire the beautiful workmanship and support the girls choices to do what they choose to do with their bodies. Can’t help but wondering how they’ll feel about it down the road a piece. Being grownups I’m sure they’ll deal with it as it comes along.

As an aside the dogs in our neighborhood seem to have all lost their minds simultaneously howling and carrying on endlessly. Makes me wonder if it’s associated with the recent earthquake and aftershocks in Napa. We didn’t feel the earth move, but friends in the Bay Area certainly did.

This is a really meaty and delicious version of good old tomato soup, which I love with either a light salad or a gooey grilled cheese sandwich.

Meaty Tomato Pepper Soup

1 lb. ground chuck
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup orange bell pepper, chopped
2 15 1/2 oz. cans diced tomatoes, with juice
2 6 oz. cans tomato sauce
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 cup cooked corn
1 Tbsp. taco seasoning mix, hot
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice

Brown ground meat over med.-high heat in stockpot until browned. Drain on paper towels. Return to skillet. Add bell peppers and onions. Cook until onion is translucent over med. heat.

Add remaining ingredients except rice to pot. Cover and simmer for 45 mins. or until peppers are tender.

Ladle soup into bowls with 1/4 cup rice on bottom.

Serves 6.


I spent a good part of yesterday sitting in the doctor’s office. Well, lying down in the doctor’s office, to be more accurate. In my usual accident prone way I managed to take what should have been a quick look out the front door at a couple of baby deer and stretch it into a major production. Rick knocked on the living room window pointing toward the door. Opening it slightly to see what he needed I was to look to my left. Two very tiny deer were making short work of some recently liberated shoots on my azalea bush. So tiny and dear, or deer, whatever the case, I couldn’t bring myself to be too angry even if they were consuming my landscaping. We stood and watched them for a bit until mother came and moved them along to the next yard. Turning to go back inside, I absently ran my hand down the side of the door. Apparently, there was a long splinter of wood looking for a hand to insert itself in. Mine proved to be the perfect host. Wow, that hurt. Totally surprised to find myself in pain trying to close the door, I was even more surprised to see a large piece of it protruding from my palm.

Rick totally freaked out, letting loose of Lecture 47 from his 2014 Lecture Series on why I need to watch what I’m doing lest I do not make it to my next birthday. Directing his attention to my now throbbing hand, he pulled the spear out leaving half still imbedded beneath my skin. OW! Damn, I’m sure that’s not how that was supposed to go. Remind me not to frequent this facility again.

For a person who loathes going to the doctor, I seem to be spending a lot of time there of late. Deciding to ignore the problem and see if the splinter fairy might appear during the night and remove it, I went to bed. Disappointingly in the morning the offending object was still in place and my hand was starting to look upset about the situation. Reluctantly I put a call into my doctor. No same day appointments were available. What do people do anymore when they’re sick? I do suppose my splinter wasn’t exactly the highest priority on their patient list. The receptionist suggested I go to the urgent care clinic down the road from them.

Going to a new doctor’s office is, if possible, more annoying than going to one already familiar with your frailties. A book of paperwork is handed to you on a clipboard and you’re asked to recall your medical history, your families medical history, your allergies, surgeries, affairs, positions you’ve been fired from, and recent felony convictions. By the time you’re done they have more information on you than your mother is privy to.

Urgent care is done on a walk-in basis. A good rule of thumb on figuring how long you’ll be there is to count the heads sitting in the lobby as you enter. Figure at least 15-20 minutes apiece and that is approximately how long you’ll be reading your book before hearing your name called by a nurse. Five people in front of me and two hours later, I was shown to an examination room.

The staff was a lovely group, all very friendly and welcoming. They have such cute scrubs these days. When I was a dental assistant they were white and quite unattractive. They’d just begun to show some colorful uniforms with designs before I left the field.

Shortly, the doctor came in. Ladies I must admit the splinter was worth the floor show. If all doctors looked like this gentleman, the wait would be 6-8 hours minimum. Smile. As nice as he was attractive he said he would have to remove the splinter and give me a tetanus shot. Oh goody.

A nurse followed with enough equipment to do a set up for a heart transplant. It’s a splinter. I don’t need a set-up really. A pair of pliers should suffice. She explained they’d have to numb the area and then perform the removal in a sterile environment lest I contract an infection. Looking for an exit, Dr. Eye Candy returned. Gently taking my hand in his gave me an injection directly in heart of my palm. He became far less attractive as the syringe depressed. With all the advances in technology couldn’t they either knock you out for absolutely everything, or invent something that numbs the area by simply hovering above the spot? Someone get to work on this.

After some maneuvering the splinter came out. Life is good. The doctor told me to hang tight until the nurse came with the tetanus booster and to bandage my hand. Left alone in a prone position with a long week behind me my eyes closed. About an hour and a half later I was awakened by a nurse who was apologizing for forgetting me. Apparently everybody had gone to lunch and left me on the table. That’s fine. I had an excellent nap. I suggested they install a mini-bar for such occasions as I was hungry and was offered a delicious blueberry muffin before being sent on my way.  On the way out I noticed the office plants were doing very well. Always a good sign according to Erma.

So, I have a big bandage for a small incision, and thankfully medical insurance because I’m sure all that prep came dearly. Another day in the life.

In an effort to keep frying at a minimum, I created this delicious alternative to stove top prepared home fries.

Oven Baked Home Fries

3 large red potatoes, sliced in 1/2″ slices
2 medium onions, sliced thin
4 thin slices red bell pepper
4 thin slices green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp. parsley flakes
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 cup Mexican style cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Spray 9″ square pan with cooking spray. Place all ingredients but cheese in large bowl. Cover and toss well to coat.

Line in three rows in pan alternating vegetables as you go.

IMG_6529 - Copy

Seal tightly with tin foil. Bake for 30 mins. Remove cover. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake for 20 mins. Remove from oven and sprinkle cheese over top. Return to oven for 10 mins. or until cheese is melted.

Add additional salt and pepper as desired.


It’s hard to believe it’s time for kids to go back to school. It seems to happen more quickly then when I was hitting the books. From what I understand this is due to more in-session time off due to teacher conferences and the like. As much as I looked forward to summer vacation as a kid, I believe my parents anticipated the resumption of school with equal enthusiasm.

There was a news item yesterday about a young boy, seven I believe, whose parents allow him to stay home by himself for short periods time as a form of exercising his independence. Seven seems young to a lot of people, certainly it would have to my parents. Being a latchkey kid, both my parents worked outside of the home.  Up until sixth grade this required hiring somebody during the summer months to keep me from giving in to my own inner demons and getting in a pile of kid-type trouble. The summer between fourth and fifth grade we resided in Southern California. After interviewing several applicants, Hilde, a German immigrant, was engaged for the position. Hilde’s personality would have served her well on a chain gain.  She encouraged no insubordination, and when confronted with bad behavior didn’t hesitate to get the wooden spoon out of the drawer and threaten to use it. Never during that three months we shared together did she actually use the spoon, but I wasn’t fully convinced she wouldn’t, which made it equally as effective.

Food usually being my main concern, that summer it became more so. Hilde leaned towards her German ancestry when it came to food.  Many of the foods appearing on my lunch menu I’d never seen before. Growing up in Nova Scotia there wasn’t a lot of knackwurst included in my diet. Perhaps I couldn’t pronounce what I was eating, but I learned to love the flavors and tastes she added to my relatively limited palette at that time in my life. Knodel, or German dumplings, ranked among my favorites. Bratkartoffeln, fried potatoes and onion with side meat was wonderful as well, although occasionally it was served atop a large piece of fried liver which sent me screaming from the room.

Hilde loved American television. Once I had been fed, she would sit before the television and watch All My Children while eating her lunch. A woman equally as tall as she was wide, she enjoyed her food and didn’t subscribe to thin American women, who she viewed with open suspicion. Lunch for Hilde consisted of huge slabs of bread filled with liverwurst or a bratwurst slathered with hot mustard. German potato salad or a side of sauerkraut usually accompanied the meal washed down with a large glass of German beer. Several times she tried to insinuate liverwurst into my diet, but I remained then and now immune to the siren song of the organ meat.

Each day after lunch Hilde tied on her hat and we went for a brisk walk. We probably logged in a mile or two out and back on these expeditions keeping me from packing on the poundage with all the delicious streudels and the like paraded past my overzealous eyes while she was keeping an eye on me.

In the evenings when my parents arrived, Hilde straddled her bicycle and pedaled the five miles in between our house and hers. She had never owned a car she told me. Didn’t want one. In her small village, the name of which left me years ago, cars were a luxury few but the rich could afford. Coming from a farming family, she was not a fancy human being. Clothing was chosen for functionality rather than fashion, and her thick shoes sensible if definitely not eye catching. Never married, at least up until that time, and with all her “people” in the old country, I felt she might have been glad for my company that summer.

My mother, a slave to fashion, felt Hilde needed some sprucing up to catch a man. Mother felt every woman should have one, Hilde being no exception. Asking her to stay on one evening beyond her usual quitting time, Mother did Hilde’s hair. Having nothing in her own closet close to the appropriate size she suggested a shopping spree one weekend to help Hilde select some more up-to-date styles for her closet. The tight buns and coiled braids I’d come to identify with Hilde were soon replaced with a softer look and before long she began to hum when making lunch in the kitchen.

I saw Hilde on many occasions after school reconvened that year, the most memorable being her wedding. Ours being the only “family” she had in the States we were there for moral support, or so my mother told my step-father. The groom, a man also as wide as he was tall, was also of German descent and called me “Leibling” at the reception. I wanted to tell him my name was Susie, but my mother pinched me and nodded her head so I kept my mouth shut.

Hilde comes to mind as school reconvenes every year. She gave me an introduction to delicious German cuisine I wouldn’t otherwise have had and a look into a culture that is also included in my family tree.

This chilled soup is quick to assemble and oh so refreshingly good.

Avocado and Cucumber Soup

1 large avocado, seeded and peeled
1 English cucumber
1/2 cup sour cream
1/16 tsp. onion powder
Generous pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. chopped chives
1 1/4 cups chicken broth

Cut avocado in quarters and place in bottom of food processor. Peel cucumber and cut in half lengthwise. Use spoon to scoop out seeds. Cut each half in half again and place in food processor. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth.

Serve cod topped with chopped chives.

Serves 4.

1Did you hear about the man who sat on hold with the cable company for three and half hours only to find out they’d closed? Ah, customer service at its best. There’s another story circulating about yet another guy who was totally bullied by a cable company representative while attempting to close his account and go with another cable provider. I had a similar experience with Social Security. I was on hold so long I finally put the phone on speaker and went about my day. After about an hour and a half I discovered the office had closed leaving only the recorded music to keep me company.

I think of this because I found myself once again standing in line at one of the major markets in the area yesterday trying to check out 15 items or less. It was some sort of special Friday in the store so there were more people milling about the aisles then is usual. Along the front of the store is a line of about a dozen or more check out lanes, two of which had their light’s lit. Shoppers were backed up five to a lane and the grumbling had begun by the time I pushed my cart behind several others in line. Besides the items I had just placed in the cart I was returning a bottle of orange juice purchased two days prior. The use by date I noticed after getting it home was over thirty days out of date. My other half is constantly pushing me to check dates before loading an item in the cart but as I actually have a full life there isn’t always time to inspect every item. If this is my job, then I’ll look forward to getting paycheck sometime in the near future with the grocery store label printed on the top. Since the price of everything has gone up so dramatically I make it a point to return out of date or bad goods and exchange them or get my money back. Five dollar is five dollars. Since I don’t seem to be able to exit the market under $100, every little bit helps. I pointed out to the clerk that the entire supply of this brand of juice had the same date printed on it. He looked at me with the same enthusiasm he might show his wife if she announced her mother was moving into the spare room. Fine.

Cleaning products were on my list. They all seem to run out at the same time. My mother is coming up in September so it’s time to actually move the furniture and clean underneath it rather than flit around it and pretend I did. Rick is taking the cat and going to a hotel. It drives him straight up the wall when I do this. He informed me it is most annoying to have someone rushing about dragging a vacuum hose and spraying noxious sprays around his head. Not to burst his bubble but if you are to clean the house, you have to CLEAN THE HOUSE.  Believe me if a way to could be found to circumvent the actual cleaning process and do something more fulfilling a woman would have invented it by now.  He has an annoying habit or two himself, but I shall refrain from starting a list. After fourteen years together we accept that neither of us is perfect. Expectations carried into the relationship early on have long since been tossed out the window replaced by more realistic ones now in place.

I come from a long line of clean women. My maternal grandmother was up with the roosters at 6:00 a.m. every morning. Breakfast was eaten and the first cup of tea poured by 7:00. By 7:30 the breakfast dishes were washed and drying in the faded wooden dish rack. A slim woman by any standards, Gammy, as we grandchildren referred to her, wasn’t one to spend a lot of effort on breakfast during the week days. A prolific baker, several slices of her scrumptious homemade wheat bread usually found their way to her plate. Lightly toasted, the buttery slices were spread with tangy orange or lime marmalade from her pantry. Fruit always plentiful at our table, this might by a crisp rosy apple with a piece of ripe cheddar cheese. A bit of a clothes horse, as is my mother, my grandmother had a closet full of lovely outfits to choose from if going out for the day. When home on cleaning days, however, house dresses designed purely for function rather than looks, went on over underclothes. The dresses were designed for the express purpose of comfort and disposability easily replaced if soiled. They came in a variety of patterns printed on cotton. Some were covered with tea pots, others chickens, or apples, most faded from frequent trips to the washing machine. The tubular gowns started at the shoulders and dropped straight down to just below the knee. Snaps were sewn in at the appropriate spots for easy on and off maneuvering. Certainly they were not designed with attracting anything but dust if memory serves me. As a girl, I can picture my grandmother feather duster in hand making short work of the silty layers gathered on the myriad of knickknacks perfect as a gathering spot. Mementos of her life and those who came before her were scattered liberally throughout the old family home. Many of these have since come to live in my house and I too spend much time keeping the dust as bay with equal love and concern.

As with the women before me in my family I do most of the housework. Time Magazine, I think it was, did a study on this a while back. According to the results men have stepped up in this regard but still can’t catch up to their female counterparts when it comes to helping out around the house or tending to their offspring. I think men wrote the book on this subject back in the beginning and weren’t all that disappointed about how the story went. As with the old southern expression, “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke”. My ex often commented “I’d rather take a beating then do dishes”. Hmmmm. Never mind. Once after I had surgery on my toe he used the vacuum. I took a picture, blew it up, and framed it. It hung on our den wall for the duration of our marriage as I knew it wasn’t likely I’d ever see such a phenomenon again. Both my children went on to marry spouses who pitch in and help carry the load at home so things are changing as the new generations come up the ladder.

This light dinner was perfect for a warm summer night. In and out of the oven in a minute and delicious going down. I’ve become a big fan of cooked grapes and with the blue cheese absolutely wonderful! I make one pizza per person as they disappear quickly.

Blue Cheese and Grape Lavash Pizzas with Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce

4 slices lavash
3-4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup fresh spinach, sliced thin
6 large basil leaves, sliced thin
6 slices Genova Salame (thin), sliced in 1/2″ slices widthwise
4 large mushrooms, sliced thin
1/2 cup red onion, sliced thin
1/2 green pepper, seeded and sliced thin
1/2 yellow pepper, seeded and sliced thin
12 purple grapes, halved
4 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
1 cup Italian cheese blend, shredded
Sliced black olives as desired
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Cover cookie sheets with tin foil and spray foil with cooking spray. Brush the top of each lavash with olive oil.

Layer in order listed distributing ingredients over the top of all four slices as evenly as possible. Dust with black pepper. Cook for 6-8 mins. or until crust is browned. Watch carefully. Slice and serve with dipping sauce.

1Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce

4 oz. crumbled blue cheese
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1/3 cup cream
1/8 cup 2% milk
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. hot sauce
1 tsp. parsley flakes

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.


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