Monday, August 10, 2009

Kitchen Miss Adventure

I am not a skilled cook. So I usually make easy, spartan meals--salads, rice & beans, roast chicken (the store actually makes that), sandwiches, crockpot soup. But occasionally I get an urge to do something more, preferably something healthy. I was inspired by eating with my friends this weekend on their sailboat out on Bear Lake. (The sailboat is another story, but it was lovely being out on the water, and I did the flailing-arms-I'm-halfway-on-the-dock-halfway-in-the-boat thing just once.)

My friends are both on Weight Watchers and becoming vegetarians to boot, so everything we ate was strictly good for us. And for the most part delicious, with the exception of the fat-free cheese in the quesadillas--I think they replaced the fat with polymer. My friend Elizabeth made a particularly tasty black bean and yam filling for tortillas, topped with fat-free sour cream. I wanted more than one, but following their lead, I stopped at just-full-enough.

When I got home tonight I decided I wanted to replicate that supper for myself, partly because I had started the day with a Kuoing Aman from Les Madeleines. If you haven't tried one, you must do it at least once. It's the most delicious pastry on earth--buttery, crunchy, caramelized on the outside and soft on the inside. I was bringing some to my coworkers, but I opened the box and ate mine in the five short blocks from the bakery to the office. To be fair, my health-conscious boss ate hers in about five minutes.

So when I got home, I wanted to eat healthy. I proceeded by my vague memory of what Elizabeth did--sauteeing onions and garlic in one pan, cubing yams to boil in another, smashing up some beans in the sautee pan and adding spices. Since I had run out of black beans, I substituted red and white beans. Then I decided to use tomatoes instead of vegetable broth. When the yams were finished cooking, I decided that rather than leave them cubed as she had (we assembled our own with the beans and cubed yams, etc.), I would just go ahead and mash the yams up with the beans.

I come by this haphazardness honestly. Many days when we would ask mom what was for dinner, she would waggle her spoon around in the air and say, "Oh...a mixture." This could mean either vegetables stir-fried with an ingenious sauce, or leaden grey leftovers stirred together and microwaved. (It wasn't too often the second; my mom was a pretty good cook.) She never attempted to give any of these "mixtures" a specific name, and never attempted a repeat performance. A mixture was a mixture.

When I was done mashing, unfortunately this mixture had the unfortunate look of a large pan of vomit. (I've spared you the photo.) But I was committed now, so I soldiered on and got out the tortillas. Loaded one up, sprinkled it with cheese and some greens, and rolled it up. Just about then my dog was begging for some (bless her), so I was distracted for a minute. And then realized that I had set down the plastic bag of tortillas on one of the burners, turned off but just recently.

Oh well. I took a bite. It was actually quite good. Needed some salt, but doesn't everything? Thanks, mom. Good mixture.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Red Stripe, Blue Moon

The sweat dripped down the cold pint glasses. They had the perfect amount of foam--delicate white bubbles that he wanted to dive into. But first the photo. The world leader, the semi-famous scholar, the bewildered cop. Not the way he wanted to become semi-famous, not the way he wanted to meet his president.

The next morning in a board room in New Jersey, they spread out the proofs. "Was it worth it, boss?" someone asked. "The jammed door, the arrest, the apology?"

"You're kidding, aren't you?" he said. "A hundred times over, it was worth it. The leader of the free world drinks Bud Light. Product placement, baby, product placement."

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Hard Times

I'm fortunate to have a job with a very stable employer in the healthcare industry, so I haven't been affected much by the downturn. But as I walk my dog around the neighborhood, I see the signs of hard times everywhere.

The man with the scythe
Next door to our little condo complex is a large lot that used to have an abandoned house -- the neighborhood kids would dare each other to go in its back yard. After the lot finally sold last fall, we were excited to see the bulldozer raze the house and garage (these were no historic beauties) and hear that an assisted living place would be built there. I've always liked oldsters, and figured they would be good neighbors. But then nothing happened. The snow fell on the pile of dirt, drifted into the hole. The neighborhood kids dared themselves to go down "in the pit." This spring, after the weeds had gotten about knee-high, I saw a man on a large riding mower attempting to chew through them. (I lied; he didn't actually have a scythe--but he should have. It probably would have done a better job.) He stopped for a break as I walked by and we talked for a minute. Three guys had invested savings in this project, and then lost their funding for the building. I hope they find another bank or investor soon.

The lawn with the clocks
A bit further down that same block is a house I used to envy--with a gardener's dream yard, beautiful blue tile on the porch, lovely dark stucco. Now, not so much. I'm not sure who bought it, but now there's trash and sometimes seemingly random objects in the yard and a general hangdog look about the place. The other morning as I walked, I heard an odd beeping and wondered whether someone's alarm hadn't been shut off. But instead, it was a clock radio sitting on the lawn, amongst several other old plastic models from the 1970s. Clock radios like cars with fins, with tiny upholstered speakers and round knobs. Actually, the entire yard was filled with stuff. No one was there to take any money, but jigsaw puzzles were stacked in one spot, books lined up on another, a few clothes hung on a thin rope tied between a tree and the fence, and other piles of flotsam and jetsam covered the lawn. It made me sad. But it was even worse when I saw the same sight the next day, with even more jigsaw puzzles this time. And this morning? A tarp covered some of the stuff, and there was a neon posterboard sign on the fence that said "Sorry, no yard sale today" in magic marker. I wonder if the yard sale is perpetual now, so they have to apologize when they take a day off. Hard times.

Couch in the rain
People leave free stuff out by the street a lot more now. You've probably already guessed that I don't live in the most fancy-pants of neighborhoods, so items left out with a free sign are not so unusual. But there have been a lot more lately. A few weeks ago someone left a couch and loveseat out and the rain got to it before anyone else could. The next morning it was soaked, its stuffing hanging out.

Now Leasing
Main Street in Midvale (700 West) is one of the streets I walk, and down from the Maverik and my church there's an apartment complex that was bought a couple of years ago by someone who wanted the Hispanics out of there, apparently. He set rules that forced several friends to move--people who sent their kids to our church and were gracious and friendly despite the language barrier. Stuff like no more than 4 people in a 2-bedroom apartment (which leaves out even 3 young kids sharing a bedroom, or someone sleeping on the couch). He renovated the units a bit, jacked up the rent, and put out flimsy white signs announcing all the benefits of the revamped (and in his mind, rewhitened) development. Washer-Dryer Hookups! New Kitchen! Now Leasing! Remodeled! I don't think he's filled very many of the places. The signs have started looking dingy. He deserves some hard times.

Victory garden
A man on the corner waves at me every morning as he sweeps his sidewalk. He's probably in his late 70s, wears the same overalls every day, and waters his lovely, huge garden in the backyard. An orderly riot of tomatoes, peas, beans. Fruit trees. He's lived through hard times. He doesn't seem surprised or worried. He plants that same garden every year.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Five...No, Seven

I don't suffer from any kind of severe OCD symptoms now, but about 10 years ago I came down with a nasty case of this disorder and had to take meds for awhile. Haven't been bugged by it for a long time. But it creeps up in odd little ways. Here are
five--no, seven--things that aren't so fun about having a slightly OCD brain:

  1. Counting. I can't help it...when I do the dishes, I count them. Did 12 dishes last night. Oh, and seven utensils counts as a dish.

  2. Special numbers. I love to do things in sevens. Or twelves. Of course, I count things in my head and no one knows but me. (Of course, now YOU know if you're reading this.)

  3. Clutter. You'd think with a slightly OCD brain I would have an immaculate house, wouldn't you? Well, you guessed wrong, bub.

  4. Tetris. On occasion, I'll get "stuck" doing something, and recently--for a couple of weeks--it was Tetris. I didn't play at work (much), but when I got home I had to play a round of Tetris Friends on facebook, and then I had to play another round, and another one, and another...every time hoping I could stop. One Saturday I played for 3 hours. Thankfully I suck at Tetris and playing more didn't help me improve, so I wasn't stuck in this pattern more than a couple of weeks.

  5. Twitter. Now it's twitter. I joined awhile ago (@SherriSLC) because Twitter seemed like the one way to find out what was going on in Iran. Then I signed up to follow healthcare/medical experts (always want to learn what I can about medicine for my job), photographers, Christians, Salt Lake City foodies, funny people, the odd celebrity or two. It's like a constant conversation and it's hard to stop eavesdropping.

I'm going to stop at FIVE. Take that, counting! Ha!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Cabbie Ray

A friend who's had a couple of really bad years decided she had to get out of town, get far away from anyone and everything, for a weekend. She's there now, sitting in a tent in the middle of nowhere. Using a telescope she bought at a pawn shop to look at the stars at night. Her hope is that if she escapes all distraction, all comfort, that she will finally be able to talk with God, feel his presence. I pray that she is safe and that this is happening for her.

She doesn't have a car, and at first she asked me if I could help her find some abandoned dirt road and drive her and her gear out there. I had been worried about this trip ever since she told me about it...she's not in good health, she hasn't camped out, she wanted to go alone, and she didn't even want to take a cell phone. So, since I also didn't want to damage my muffler again on dirt roads (just had a new one installed last week), I said no. I hoped she would find a closer, less extreme way to get alone.

But she called a few days later to say that she had found a cab driver to take her, someone who knew the desert south of Tooele and would help her set up her camp. A cab driver may sound crazy, but she has been taking cabs for decades and this particular cabbie, Ray, has been driving her for over 20 years. He's a good scout.

He picked us up last night after work (my car was load with her camping stuff), loaded everything up in his van, and we took off for the desert. He did find a beautiful and very isolated place, surrounded by junipers, and set up the tent. He also helped us set up the rest of her campsite--fire ring, her little portable john, blowing up her mattress. And then we prayed before we left her.

Ray has a different set of spiritual beliefs than my friend and I do, and I was self-righteously hoping that his theology wouldn't creep in and ruin her weekend. How wrong I was. He spoke words that gave my friend the affirmation and confidence she needed.

On the way back, Ray and I talked about his children, my siblings, how he met his wife, his cabbie adventures, my problems. He said that people open up to cab drivers, tell them things they wouldn't tell anyone else.

Thanks, Ray, for your kindness, gentleness, and for being a good boy scout.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Random Lists

Random things Chloe has picked up: My 5-pound dog Chloe loves to forage on walks—you’d think I never feed her. I think she just likes taking care of herself and the thrill of the hunt. Once she picks up something, she picks up the pace as well and urgently heads for home. She also loves to bury her plunder. It’s not so convenient when she does that in or under my bed, so I usually take it from her at the door.

  1. An open, half-empty bag of Teddy Grahams. She jauntily held it up so they wouldn’t fall out. After we got back home I fed them to her one by one.
  2. An entire quarter-pound spicy sausage someone had dropped in the Maverik parking lot. It was almost too big for her to carry…she looked like she was smoking a Cuban cigar. Took it from her at the door, put it in a baggie in the fridge, and fed her pieces of it for the next week.
  3. A cupcake wrapper that didn’t make it all the way home. She loves paper—she stopped several times to rip off a new piece and chew it up.
  4. Many pieces of bread, buns, and rolls. My dog is also a carb-lover, apparently. I usually catch her at the door, but sometimes she bolts downstairs. If I’m lucky, I find the item carefully “buried” in the corner of the bedroom. If I’m not so lucky, I find it between my sheets. (Yes, yes, I know I could make the bed.)

Random things I’ve learned/relearned lately:

  1. As much as inDesign is frustrating sometimes, it’s about 100 times better than Word.
  2. “Debridement” is not a macho name for divorce. It’s actually a yucky and painful medical procedure. (No, I’m not having it—but a friend’s mom needs it on a foot sore every day. I’ve heard some horror stories this week.)
  3. Twitter is not as superficial as it initially seems.
  4. Procrastination doesn’t make work go away (see Twitter).
  5. Lack of sleep isn’t a good thing (see Twitter).
  6. Dark chocolate and peppermint can cause wicked heartburn—York Peppermint Patties are verboten now.
  7. God is closer and more protective than we think.
  8. God is always, always yearning to hear us and talk to us.
  9. Prayer is hard. (Why don’t I want to do it? Why is Twitter so much easier?)

Random lovely sensations:

  1. Air outside that is moving slightly (but no breeze) and a tiny bit cooler than your skin temperature.
  2. A back scratch from someone who loves you.
  3. The smell of fresh cucumbers.
  4. A gentle tug on your hair.
  5. Underwear that fit perfectly.
  6. Sunday afternoon warm, couch, paper, drowsy.
  7. Complete lack of pain.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Boys are like hurricanes

Of course, if you have a boy--or (gulp) multiple boys--you know this. But as a non-mom, I am repeatedly surprised by this fact, by the whirling energy they spin off, by the way my brain spins when they leave the house.

My church runs a Kids Club on Wednesday nights for mostly neighborhood kids, mostly kids of immigrant families. I'm one of the leaders. Because I live in the neighborhood also, kids have often want to come over to my house to hang out.

I don't have a Wii or anything; I think the kids are just incredibly bored. Practically every day as I walk my dog around the block, I hear at least 2 or 3 times, "Can we go to your house?" As a never-married person who loves kids but never had any, I appreciate having these kids around, and enjoy having them over.

And then of course there is the hermit crab in me who doesn't want anyone ringing the doorbell (and ringing and ringing), doesn't want to be bothered, doesn't want to make pudding or rent a movie or color. In Blue Like Jazz, Don Miller talked about how some people are like an electric razor that you can get about 2 hours use out of, before needing to recharge for another 22 hours. The description seems about right. But I'm working on it.

Because I have one group of sisters over quite often, the boys often get jealous. As I drop the Avila sisters off at their apartment building, my car is sometimes surrounded by furious little boys telling me that I never have them over even though Maria and her sisters always get to come over. And it's true that I find boys harder to handle.

Four boys came over Sunday afternoon and we put in a movie, and then made pudding, and then "What is this for? Where did you get it? Can I have it?" and "Look, it's a stamp! Get the paper!" and "What else is in the fridge?" and "Can I go upstairs and ride your exercise bike?" and "Where's Chloe? Why is she hiding under the table? I want to pet her!" and...practically all at once.

I know this is what parents manage every day, all day, God bless 'em, but I'm not very skilled at it. So, when they took off I did take a deep breath and revel in the silence for awhile. But if I had the choice between "peace and quiet" and not having these children in my life, of course I would choose the pudding/questions/crayons/chaos. In two hour spurts, of course.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


The airwaves (This American Life, The Story, etc.) have been full of father-related content this weekend, it being Father's Day today. But oddly, almost all of it has been about estrangement--not knowing one's father, not being able to communicate, being wounded by dad. Perhaps that isn't so strange after all...dads can be more mysterious in their love than moms can, more difficult to reach.

That was true with me and my dad. He was a pastor, and because I often felt estranged from God--wracked by doubts even as a 10-year-old--I also felt estranged on some levels from him. Of course, he didn't know about the doubts most of the time. But there was an inner desperation I felt to "make things right" somehow with both dads: father and Father.

Now I don't feel that estrangement. And both dads are together now--my father died about 15 years ago. I was with him at the moment of his passing, after years of illness and months of pain, weakness, and the desperation to breathe that heart failure brings.

What I remember of my dad is the moments of gentleness, the quirky oddities. He had a "silly walk" that he liked to do, and his favorite joke was: "What's the difference between a duck?" (what?) "One leg is both the same." I still don't get it...and it makes me smile to think that my dad was such a fan of absurdist humor.

Every Sunday morning, he would sit in his old blue bathrobe in the living room, going over his sermon notes, practicing his sermon in a whisper. After he died, I got some of those sermon notes--main ideas jotted in his rushed, small-capital writing, what remains of his weekly spiritual and intellectual work. I always intended to try to fill some of them in, turn them into essays that would turn into a book that I could give my sibs. But it never happened--I just like to look at the notes sometimes and remember him in his blue bathrobe, whispering in the living room. Before he entered the ministry, dad was a brilliant engineer--he could have been extremely successful, lots of money, etc. I admired his sacrifice.

I used to play the oboe as a kid, and in high school I was in a woodwind quintet. One day we were "booked" to play for the state music educators convention, and as I frequently was when I had to play in front of crowds, I was terrified. So anxious that I was sick to my stomach, could barely breathe. My dad had given me a ride to the high school where we were playing, and I said that maybe I was coming down with the flu. Of course, dad knew what was going on. But instead of trying to convince me to go in there and play, instead of giving me a lecture or even advice, he just sat silently in the car and held my hand. We sat there for a long time, long enough that I would be late to go in for the performance. And then he started the car and drove me home. One could argue that dad should have urged me on at that moment, that he was merely enabling my anxiety. But what I remember about that is his silence and the warmth of his hand.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I bought a lot of things today, even after reading an article about the cost of owning things ( First I picked up "Pray for Anna" business cards at Kinko's, then magnets to stick them to--we'll pass out fridge magnets tomorrow. The Kinko's/Office Max was close to my favorite thrift store in the Poverty Mall (with a Thrift Town, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, and Big Lots). Oddly, the only other stores in the mall are a homeschooling supply store and a smokes/hookah shop. At Thrift Town I bought a jacket, a scarf, some dress pants--and here's the sign of a miser: socks. If a person buys socks and towels at a thrift store, you know they rarely buy retail. (I draw the line at underwear.) However, my thrifty ways were about to crack this day.

Next stop, Midas to get my muffler/tail pipe fixed...the tail pipe was almost touching the ground and my car sounded like a Harley. It would be several hours, so I stuck the magnets to the cards and then followed a fatal attraction to Fashion Place Mall across the street. ALL the stores were having big sales. After typically buying only used clothes, it's a surprise how gracious the employees are at an Eddie Bauer outlet. Even buying $9.99 t-shirts, they treat you like a VIP. Continuing through the mall, I suddenly felt a woman rubbing some moisturizer on the back of my hand and as I looked at her, she gazed on me with pity and said "Oh, you have DRY skin." She was right, of course. She was petite, long black hair, Israeli accent, selling "dead sea" cosmetic products from a kiosk. She asked if she could buff one of my nails. She talked to me about my face. I tried to tell her, confess really, that I don't take care of my body--she smiled and was talking a mile a minute. I think she hypnotized me. Suffice it to say I bought some beauty products. After a furtive conversation with her boss she agreed to sell me a facial mask at "her cost"...which was, now I realize, higher than I could have ordered it online. I shouldn't be allowed around such people.

Then back to the Midas where I paid $260 for a muffler, tail pipe, and oil change. I think I've done more than my share helping this economy out today.