Dining with Dad

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When was the last time you played a round of Would You Rather? The game is great for conversation starters, road trips, or late nights around the campfire. It goes like this. Would you rather only eat ice cream or pizza for the rest of your life? If you said pizza, so did 60 percent of people in a Seventeen Magazine survey. Try another one. Would you rather eat breakfast or dinner (and when I say dinner you may say supper)?

For me, breakfast would win. Hands down! Can I get an Amen? For as long as I can remember I have loved breakfast. I blame my Dad.

Dad loved to cook. For him, cooking was a two-pronged event. First, he loved serving people. Second, he loved good food. Cooking provided a time for conversation with those he knew just a little and for those he knew a lot. Also, cooking was a means to an end for him and he savored the whole process like one might a perfectly grilled medium-rare filet mignon. Just last week my Mom and I were reminiscing about how Dad loved grocery stores. If a Kroger, or other large grocery was near a mall, Dad could be found walking up and down grocery stores aisles hoping to find unique products or specialty items while we girls shopped till we dropped. He read labels, tasted samples, and compared prices. He was a foodie before foodies were foodies.

Lately, breakfast has been receiving more ink and airtime than usual. Last fall, McDonald’s started serving all-day breakfast. Reflective of the market research gurus they are, the McDonald’s brass know people love eating the most important meal of the day all day long. Now, other food companies are hoping to expand their offerings beyond the a.m. hours.

The Quaker Company wants people to eat oatmeal sometime other than its normal eating occasion, i.e. the morning. Increasingly, people are eating foods such as oatmeal, yogurt, and cereal as snacks throughout the day. So, Quaker wants to capitalize on this trend with a twist. The twist is to make oatmeal more akin to rice by adding more savory ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes and cheese. Sounds interesting. Tasting a spoonful of this type of oatmeal might be a little like tossing back a drink of milk when your taste buds were expecting lemonade. Ewww! You know the feeling. According to a June report in The Wall Street Journal, Quaker is so serious about this concept they have hired a consultant known as the “Creative Oatmeal Officer” to develop new taste sensations. I am guessing we will find out more about these concoctions soon enough.

My Dad was all over breakfast as an all-day event. Growing up, many an evening we would consume breakfast for dinner. What a trendsetter. The best breakfast for dinner days were those including fresh ground sausage from his buddies. If I close my eyes, I can still taste it. Although I have spent many years searching for sausage to match the delectable taste of the Stenger brothers’ sausage, the quest continues.

What also continues is the breakfast for dinner trend for the third generation. My children often request it on their birthdays; my daughter did this week. We made Paula Deen’s hoecakes with sausage links.

Thankfully, Dad shared both his love of cooking and some of his secrets with me. How to prepare a killer-breaded tenderloin was one of the last cooking mysteries he revealed to me. Dad liked to begin with a whole tenderloin, sliced thin. Then, all of the day’s frustrations would melt away as he beat the pieces into submission with his pink-handled meat tenderizer. Next, he dipped the pieces in a milk and egg mixture, and then covered them in a cracker crumb and salt and pepper blend before frying them to a golden brown. Put one of these delectable slices between your favorite bun (I recommend one from Schmidt’s Bakery in Batesville.) and you have heaven on a plate.

Hopefully you have your own fond memories of dining with your Dad. Better yet, I hope you have a chance to dine with him this Father’s Day. Breakfast, anyone?

(This column was originally published on June 16, 2016 in The Versailles Republican.)

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What we lose when we forget

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(originally published September 17, 2015)

Last week’s observance of the 9/11 tragedies made me wonder; what happened to the observance of 9/11? Yes, flags flew at half-staff. A front-page photo of a trio of policemen and firefighters mourning in New York City was in the Indianapolis Star, but I see media coverage of these tragic events waning with each coming year.

Those of us old enough to remember will never forget. I wonder, is there an obligation to remind and educate our young people about that fateful day and the consequences still remaining from the attacks?

Ask anyone age fourteen and under what they know about 9/11 and more than likely they will respond that planes crashed into the World Trade Center. Unfortunately, they can reveal little else about the other attacks. To them, the day’s events are filed away with other “ancient” history.

Before September 11, 2001, 9/11 was simply the day my son was born at 11:47 p.m. Until then, the day was reserved for birthday parties. First, it was a Crayola crayon-themed party, followed by a barnyard one; many dinosaur and basketball-inspired celebrations were observed before they evolved into family dinners. Now 9/11 is always a backdrop to those celebrations.

Can we blame today’s youth for not knowing the horror of 9/11? Does it take time and effort to set aside the chores of the day for a moment of silence, a memorial service, and a lesson in a classroom? No, kids are not to blame. Adults are, whenever they don’t talk about it, don’t sit the family down to watch a documentary, or don’t pause to reflect on the day.

Some people trod along an interstate overpass waving an oversize flag at cars below to honor those who died on 9/11. Thank you. Some people serve in the military because of the sacrifices of that day. Thank you. Some people create artistic memorials using beams from the destroyed World Trade Center. Thank you. Such individuals will never forget the sacrifices of that day. How can we be more like these people?

Credit should be given to ESPN. One of the best (commemorative) programs I saw last Friday featured footage from 9/11 as NYFD firefighters searched through the rubble for survivors. Another portion of the program focused on how, within days after the attacks, Americans got back to business enjoying their pastimes such as a New York Yankees baseball game. President Bush threw out the first pitch showing the world that Americans were not afraid to continue living their lives.

The irony of such acts may help endanger our lives today because we get too comfortable living our lives that uncomfortable issues are easier to sweep under the proverbial rug. They are hard to talk about and hard to confront. In historical terms, 9/11 was akin to Pearl Harbor, or the day JFK was shot to the millennial generation. Hopefully, this new “Generation Z”, the one today’s youth belongs to, will never face their own 9/11. So, that is why it is vitally important to teach them this history long before encountering it in a high school history class.

Recently, a friend and I were discussing one of the most compelling speakers we ever had the privilege of hearing, Andy Card, former chief of staff for President George W. Bush. Card wishes history would not remember him for being the guy who whispered the fateful news into President Bush’s ear that America was under attack as the President read a book to a room full of school children. If the clock could be turned back . . .

That day, the President had to remain calm in front of the children. Their protection was important. It is time for the whisperings to be heard once again so the children will know. The children who will, one day,  protect us need to learn from history so as not to repeat it.

Thankfully, I learned this week that some local school children sung “The Star Spangled Banner” on 9/11, some others studied about the attacks; some did not. 9/11 cannot be consumed in a sound bite, but its bitterness must be tasted. Our nation depends on it.

Must see this

 

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It is no wonder I am distracted while trying to work on my computer. Daily, I am inundated with lists as I go about my merry way of trying to read, write, or simply communicate with others.

Lists are hard for me to resist. They break things down into manageable pieces for us. And, deep down, don’t we all want to see something familiar on a list? I do. Before I read to the end of a “best of” list my gyrations include agreeing with some of the selections, disagreeing with others, making predictions on what comes next, or starting to fume because something in Indiana was overlooked. Obviously, Donald Trump missed the memo about our flyover status, but apparently appreciates our rich Hoosier history with veep candidates.

A recent list that compelled me to click through some editor’s favorites was “30 small towns you should visit this summer.” Ironically, our family summer vacation was to a small town. Come to think of it, most of our vacations are to small towns. I guess you have to be from one to know one. The website’s teaser photo featuring white puffy clouds and a deep blue sky set against a background of mountains, colorful row houses on both sides of the street (which I am sure must have been surrounded by water on at least one side) made me press down on the trackpad.

From this list of 30, I counted seven that I had either driven through or visited. Of those seven, two were in Michigan – Charlevoix and Petosky – both great picks. Gatlinburg was one – in my opinion, they did not try hard enough on that pick. Lake Placid, New York – was just there and love it! Staunton, VA has always been pretty when I have driven through it. The pick of Bardstown, KY, home of the Stephen Foster story, and whiskey was interesting when I visited there in high school, and number 30 on the list, a Hoosier favorite – Nashville, IN. Although I have not been to Barrington, MA, I would enjoy it because the saltbox-style house pictured could have been a replica of my own.

A few days later, I followed up the small town list with “America’s 25 most beautiful scenic byways” list. Most of the scenic byways are out west, (think mountains and more mountains) but I have been on a few – the Blue Ridge Parkway, the US 1 highway through the Florida Keys, the Natchez Trail in Tennessee, and the Pacific Coast Highway in California. Many of the western byways such as Route 66, the Red Rock scenic byway, and the Lake Champlain byway stretching from Canada to Vermont all sound like must do drives.

All of these must see lists, and a recent drive through a local park, reminded me we so often focus on faraway sights to see while missing those right under our noses. I, for one, am guilty of putting off enjoying some of my local treasures because I think they will always be there, or I have been there and done that.

While driving through Batesville’s Liberty Park the other day to check my mileage after a bike ride, my daughter remarked how nice it was to see people having lunch in the park. Now why didn’t I think of that? It has been a long time since I simply drove to the park to dine al fresco. What a simple pleasure. Food always tastes better outdoors.

Other simple pleasures abound in our area. The state park in Versailles is often overlooked by locals who know it is crowded with out-of-towners on the weekends, but the crowds disappear during the week making it the perfect time for a hike, swim, or picnic. Many local towns have historical societies with interesting exhibits. Milan has the museum dedicated to its 1954 basketball team that won the state title.

Don’t be that person who answers, “I have never been there” when a stranger asks about a local attraction. The next time you are looking to get away think inside the box and put some local attractions on your “must see” list and keep enjoying summer.

 

Savoring summer

IMG_2273I just can’t say it enough – I LOVE summer. Simply put, the season makes me happy. Maybe I should add a little caveat. What I really love is sunshine on my shoulders, temperatures above 70 degrees, and clear blue skies. Coincidentally, all of these qualities converge during the summertime for us here in Indiana.

By my estimation, we are only ankle-deep in summer. We’ve barely stepped our toe in the water, but all around me people are trying to bury summer or at least put one foot in its grave. All around me, doomsday comments abound so much so that I have begun to collect them. Just this week, I saw an event at a local pool advertised on Facebook. It read, “Summer is winding down. Enjoy every bit of what is left of it.” What? We’re just getting started here people. I am yet to get my whole body in the pool.

Kids know it is summer. Here is an exchange I overhead a couple of weeks ago while on vacation. A parent who was obviously unhappy with the upper 70-degree temperatures (They were perfect, I might add.) in upstate New York announced to her family, “We should come back here when it’s summer.”

One of her small children said, “It is summer.”

Mom replied, “You know. I mean REALLY summer.” What she meant was the kind of summer we have been experiencing here this week where temperatures are in the upper-80s and the air is thick and towel-dripping wet. Something tells me that she would not like that either.

These are the days I do not want to be inside. Just as I did when I was a kid on Monroe Street, I like to stay outside until the lightning bugs come out or until mosquitos nip at my ankles – whichever comes first. Then, and only then, will I succumb to the air conditioning.

Earlier this week the end-of-summer sale catalogs started arriving. One front cover declared, “Last days of summer sale – 40 percent off.” For the record, summer is not about over. Nor are we in the last days of summer. The local Farmers Market does not even have a steady supply of homegrown tomatoes yet. So, stop it with the end of summer commentary. I, for one, do not want it to end before it gets started.

For those keeping track, summer officially started on June 20. As of today, we are 25 days in. Like I said earlier, ankle-deep. Fall begins on September 22. That is 70 days from now. I should have told that to my neighbor, this week, when she reminded me that summer is over in four weeks. Summer will still be here, even though school starts in four weeks. But, I will keep the faith.

My wicker furniture will remain in the breezeway until the leaves change colors and rustle in the breeze. I will come in when the snow blows and forces me inside. I will sit in my breezeway, like I did earlier this week, so to hear the bees buzz as they bury their bodies deep inside the hostas to suck nectar from the lavender blossoms. I will listen for my mail carrier to meet her halfway across the front lawn as she delivers a package. Hopefully, one of these days, she will take me up on my offer of a cold bottle of water before someone else beats me to the punch. I will enjoy the sights, the sounds, and the simmering because I remember the freezing of February. On to day 26, enjoy every minute!

Packing it up and packing it in

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Welcome to summer with a little riddle. What is something that should be easy for people and everyone has to do it if they want to escape? Those astute codebreakers answering, “Pack a suitcase,” win a fabulous prize to be determined at a later date. Thanks for playing along.

What a seemingly easy task – maybe easy for you, and you, and you over there. This is one of those times when I wish to be one of those people. Recently, I had to force myself to perform this dreaded-by-me task in order to enjoy a week away in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Am I the only one who feels packing is a dirty word?

Whenever a vacation nears I dread the obvious question from anyone who knows I am headed out of town. “Are you packed yet,” they ask. The reason I fear the question is because my response always indicates failure. It is not like I have not thought about packing . . . a lot. In all honesty, prior to a trip, I overthink it. I yearn to be nonchalant about tossing a few days’ worth of clothes and shoes in a suitcase like my husband the road warrior. Give him five minutes and the mission is accomplished. He even prepackages his toiletries. Give me a break. When I pack, the task takes more time than binge-watching a season of “24.”

Maybe it’s a girl thing. We have more decisions to make, right? If pressed guys could schlepp along with one pair of shoes – maybe boat shoes, a.k.a. Top-Siders. They can wear them to the pool, or to the beach. They can dress them up. They can dress them down. They can bike in them. If pressed, I bet they can run in them. We girls need more than one pair of shoes just to get out of the door in the morning and then they must be coordinated to our outfits as well. Are you feeling my pain?

This was my thought process mid-week before departure. Number one, I don’t want to do this. Number two, I want to go on vacation. Realization, I have to do this. Reality, it is raining. What else can I do? Well, I actually made my bed first so I would have somewhere neat to lay my suitcase – a process also known as procrastination. Then, I realized there was some dust on my suitcase, so I walked downstairs, retrieved the hand-held sweeper and used the crevice tool in and around my dark green American Traveler. Then, I decided to walk downstairs to throw in a load of laundry because my swimsuit cover-up had a bouquet of sunscreen. Still procrastinating, I know. But, I was moving toward making some packing decisions. Baby steps, people.

The next step forward (to make myself feel more accomplished) was to ceremoniously place the case atop my quilt and slip two swimsuits into the zippered compartment underneath the case’s lid. Yes, inquiring minds, I started packing! Quit judging.

Finally, after two more loads of laundry, some ironing, and Weather Channel consulting, decisions could be made about which items would make the cut and those to be left behind. When my husband talked about long sleeves, I decided that if he needed sleeves, I would probably need pants, so I threw in a pair. I counted the days we would be gone and packed at least one outfit for each day (although this goes against all professional advice on over packing). To overturn this advice, I vowed to wear each outfit at least once during the week.

After all of these gyrations and justifications, I wonder how I ever packed two kids to go on vacation. Although, I have learned something from packing, you wear what you pack, so toss it all in and say fahgettaboudit in your best Brooklyn accent. Then, enjoy that carefree vacation even if packing is not. Happy summer.

(originally published 6-30-16)

Pie anyone?

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I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but it all started when I saw a picture of a pie on Facebook this past weekend. Perhaps it was just a pie, or was it symbolic of the impending Pi Day on March 14?

Seriously, I have no business engaging in any sort of conversation about pi without an e. Trust me. I have the grades to prove it. But, I’m not one to let that little technicality get in the way.

Back to the photo one of my friends posted on Facebook. Along with the Kodak moment, she asked her friends to guess her location. Well, anyone with a lick of (pie) sense would know she was on the town square in Greensburg, Indiana. One astute pie connoisseur took one look at the mile-high graham-cracker-topped meringue and the Formica table covered in local advertising and answered, “Storie’s.” Give that woman a pie five.

Perhaps I will never know if my friend was planning to celebrate Pi Day or satisfy a sweet tooth, but she set off both in me. My husband always commemorates the day so I thought I would make one of his favorite pies to kick off the day. He loves math, and I, sadly, don’t. So, in this instance what they say about opposites attracting rings true. All I know is something about a circle and circumference and maybe some diameter thrown in there.

Math lovers like to claim Pi Day for their own, but lit lovers can do the same. Last year, I was so excited when I heard an English lesson on author’s purpose use the PIE acronym to teach the concepts persuade, inform, and entertain. Actually, I thought it also presented the opportunity to make my pies for my classes. How entertaining is that? Any day dedicated to pie anything has to be good.

For the uninitiated, the U.S. House of Representatives designated Pi Day on March 12, 2009. According to Wikipedia, the first known recognition of Pi Day was by a San Francisco physicist who led a procession of people marching around in a circle while eating pies. The wackiness caught on. People not only celebrate by eating pies they also throw them and discuss the significance of numbers (yawn). At least they are using words to do so (smile). Also, in appropriate fashion the Massachusetts Institute of Technology posts prospective student admissions online on 3.14. Too cute. But, like an infomercial, there’s more.

Let’s go back to 2014 when the whole month 3.14 was designated Pi Month. I’m wondering if April was Diet Month? Last year’s date was significant because at both 9:26:53 a.m. and p.m. the digits all aligned to designate the first ten digits of pi 3.141592653. In another twist, this year’s date 3.14.16 designated the first five digits of pi rounded. I’m no mathematician, but I don’t see any patterns for 2017. Smarter minds than I will probably come up with some sort of connection.

For now, I just like the pie connection and enjoy seeing those that other people make whether it is a mud pie or a pie-flavored Dairy Queen blizzard. I am already making plans for next year’s pie day. Hopefully, that will be the day I learn to make my mother’s famous piecrust. Hopefully, her secret is not as bewildering as all of those rounded digits. I’ll just stick to the crimped edges and sweet fillings.

It’s all about that dress

imagesSadly, I have to report that the latest crisis in our country may still be broiling, or at least simmering. As late as last weekend television news and infotainment programs were still mentioning the latest shred of information on the controversy. Therefore, I cannot remain silent on this topic for a moment longer. Any guesses out there as to which conundrum I speak? Do the words gold and white, or black and blue mean anything to you?

The, emphasis on the long “e,” please, dress. Has there been such discussion on a dress since Janet Jackson’s famed wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl? This latest manufactured-debate held our limited attention for better than a week. Perhaps credit is due for that feat alone.

Needless to say, I was over it the minute, 6:01 a.m. to be exact; I pronounced it gold and white. Simple – right? Luckily, I learned of the pressing what-color-is-the dress question over breakfast on Friday, February 27. Fortuitous because had I not obtained this nugget of so-called news, I would have been woefully out of the loop once I arrived for work.

As the first morning bell rang, one of my colleagues tailed a group of students into my room and said, “The kids are all fired up about this dress thing. You should take a poll.” Of course, she knows I love polls, political or otherwise, but this dress brouhaha wasn’t a day old and I was tiring fast.

Fired up didn’t do the furor justice, apoplectic is more like it. Any desires of accomplishing anything in the ensuing 85 minutes meant addressing the dress. Cell phones were being thrust into my face, all accompanied by the same query and followed by an explanation of why my eyes saw what they did. Cynically, I noted this was their way of sounding all science-y on the English teacher. Surely they were thinking if they Googled for some one-line explanation as to why this phenomenon occurred, it would pass for a lesson. Unless that dress sported a scarlet letter, I was not going there.

Finally, they calmed down until the next bunch came in. All the while, I was hoping it was out of their systems. Not so. Here we go again. A few kids insisted I view the dress photos on their phones. Then, perhaps my eyes would see something different. Nope, still gold and white. “Here, look on Twitter,” one insisted.” Same result except I saw a tweet from a student with a gold and white comment accompanied by some blue language. “Tell (insert student’s name here) that he needs to clean up his language,” I instructed her to laughter all around. At least I made them laugh.

Enter third period – same drill. Is it 2:50 p.m. yet? Finally, a kindred spirit in the front of the class agreed with me, imagine if a day were to be set aside for a collective national conversation on an issue of real importance. We high-fived, she and I, as the rest rattled on about retinas, the images your brain wants to see, and other theories on how our brains process color.

At the day’s ending bell, I breathed a sigh of relief. Then, I checked my email. Adults, I know were also intrigued by a simple shift’s color and they were emphatic about it.

“It was absolutely gold and white.”

“No DOUBT blue and black.”

“WHITE AND GOLD.”

“You kids are crazy. It’s blue and black,” one accused.

“Both, it changes every time I look at it,” said the fence sitter.

And from the appeaser, “I have tried to see blue and black, but I cannot – I see only white and gold.”

Needless to say, I didn’t respond. Last I heard Lego lost no time capitalizing on the story as they built two different versions of little Lego girls wearing both versions of the dress. Final word, perhaps this is the greatest marketing ploy ever. Now there’s a lesson for you.