Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas Gifts and Small Indulgences

“Let’s go to the movie show when the new James Bond film comes out,” Noel announced one evening.  “I really want to see it…it’s supposed to be the best of Daniel Craig’s movies and we still have those five dollar coupons my mom gave us.”  I chuckled at his comment for a couple of reasons.  I just love it when he says ‘movie show’.  It’s one of his endearing phrases that never fails to make me smile.  I also smiled because indeed we still do have some movie coupons given to us for Christmas by his mother.  She died five years ago which tells you how often we go to the ‘movie show.’  It probably really did cost five dollars back then.  But, we carefully marked the date of the opening weekend on the calendar and when the time came, to my surprise we actually went.

Well, if you haven’t seen Skyfall you should.  It’s highly entertaining and although I’m not a huge fan of James Bond, I was intrigued by the plot, the new and old characters and the settings spanning the globe.  The bad guy is so bad I found myself almost snarling at him at one point.  Interestingly though, one of the things that struck me was 007’s unfailing commitment to a few things that he truly loves.  This latest James Bond highlights most of the indulgences that he has become known for over the years.  I’m talking about the gin martini (shaken, not stirred), the impeccably tailored suits; the vintage Aston Martin DB5.  Yeah, I know…this sort of stuff is product placement and we’re supposed to all run out to our local Aston Martin dealer and buy one or two…preferably equipped with machine guns and eject seats.  But, honestly you have to admire a guy who is loyal to a few things that he likes.

And so I’ve been thinking lately about indulgences.   I try very hard to be thrifty.  I scour advertisements looking for good deals and then check out the internet to see if I can beat local prices by ordering.  I buy most of our groceries on sale and travel to at least two stores to get the bargains.  I make about a third of my clothes, I buy a third out-of-season at deep discounts and the remaining clothes come from the thrift store.  Heals of bread go into a bag in the freezer to be made into salad croutons and crumbs for breading meat and fish.  Aluminum foil is saved and re-used until it no longer can be flattened.  Sometimes I shake my head in wonder at these money-conscious habits, but I can’t help it…it’s the way I was raised.  “Waste not, want not” and all of that.  But, sometimes my thriftiness backfires.  The bargain sweater for twenty dollars is made of acrylic that fuzzes up with one season of wear and has to be replaced.  I end up buying and replacing in a never ending cycle and often pay far more than if I’d just made a high quality purchase.  You’d think I’d learn.

Besides that, every once in a while I think it’s good for the soul to splurge.  There’s a great satisfaction in using a finely honed tool, wearing a cashmere sweater or spending an hour being pampered by a massage.  When I do treat myself to a little luxury I find that I walk a little taller; breathe a little easier.  Small indulgences reaffirm that I care for myself and that I deserve to be treated right.  Now, I’m not saying that I bust my budget for these things.  That would be counter-productive because I’d just wind up feeling guilty.  What I am saying is that any little thing can be a luxury.  Many years ago when I was struggling though the university living far below the poverty level I remember talking to a fellow student.  She was just as poor as me, but she said, “You know, I just bought myself a new box of stationery.  I saved some money out of my grocery budget and bought the prettiest cards I could find.  Now I can go on with the drudgery.”  Sometimes that’s all it takes to carry on without feeling pressed upon or bitter.  And here’s a bonus:  if we treat ourselves right we end up treating others right also.

This is the season of giving.  We give of our time, our energy and our money.  We spend our days thinking about the perfect gift for Aunt Helen or how to give our children memories of gingerbread, Santa and magical lighted trees.  We give and we give and we give.  Isn’t it okay to think about filling up our own reservoir?  Can’t we indulge ourselves just a bit this season?  If you ask me (and nobody did) I say Yes!   Everyone I know is worthy of a small luxury to make the season brighter.  So, as I’ve been ticking off the items on my Christmas shopping list and making special gifts for others I’ve also reserved a bit of time to think about myself.  I just might find something spectacular that says, “I value myself.”  If that seems selfish, oh well.  I’ll think of it as filling up my well so I can spread more cheer in this season of goodwill.

And so I urge you to treat yourself this holiday season.  Make a concerted effort to find the perfect gift that feeds your deserving soul.  Or simply choose to make a cup of tea and indulge in an afternoon of reading.  Oh, what will you do for yourself?  A soft pair of leather gloves?  A finely made tool?  A box of pretty stationery? 

But, since this was my idea, I would like to make one small request.  If, for some reason your indulgence involves an Aston Martin, I’d sure love a ride…

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Plans for the Holidays

Noel keeps a work calendar on his computer, and I keep an old-fashioned date book (the kind you actually write in) for my work.  We also write upcoming events on a calendar that hangs in the coat closet.  Don’t ask me how we ended up with this system; usually we’re able to keep it all straight. But, several weeks ago the calendars around here collided.  Noel came home from work announcing that a couple of friends from Idaho were coming for the weekend to go sailing.  He said, “I checked and we’ve got the weekend free.” 

“Wait!” I said, “what about the grandchild who is due at any moment?  When do you plan to go and see the new little one?”  Although we didn’t know it was a girl at the time, our granddaughter Maeve was overdue to be born.  On the due date I texted her Mom, Kylene and said, “Okay.  We’re tired of waiting.  Hand over the baby.”  It didn’t work.  Maeve obviously had her own calendar and was taking her own sweet time.  Then I took a look at the closet calendar and realized that we were supposed to have dinner with good friends on the weekend also. We realized that something had to give.  Noel told me that these out-of-town guests were super excited to come and he didn’t see how he could “un-invite” them.  So, I reluctantly cancelled our dinner plans and we figured that if the baby would only come during the week we could sneak in a trip to Missoula before our guests arrived.   The altered plan seemed like an okay compromise, but I was pretty bummed about missing the dinner.  I am, by nature, a planner and I like to know what is going to happen well in advance.  I don’t like it when changes are made at the last minute. Well, Maeve finally decided to arrive on Thursday and we thought that our new plan was working fine.  Then, our Idaho guests called late Thursday evening to cancel because of unforeseen travel due to work.  I couldn’t believe it.  We’d rearranged everything because they were “super excited” and now they weren’t even going to come! Noel put down the phone and said, “Okay, on to plan number three.  I don’t suppose you forgot to cancel the dinner plans did you?”

“Nope.  And I can’t exactly call and say.  Just kidding…we’ll see you on Saturday,”  I replied with maybe just a hint of sarcasm in my voice.

So, we decided to drive to Missoula to see our new little granddaughter on Saturday knowing that we could easily work around everyone else’s schedule who wanted to see the baby.  After all, we had nothing else planned for the entire weekend.  Then, the telephone rang again.  I said, “What now?  Did they decide to come anyway?”  Noel answered, and I saw big smile grow on his face as he listened.  He said, “I think that would be great.  We’ll be in Missoula anyway on Saturday.”  He put down the phone and said, “We just got two free tickets to the football game.”  So, off we went with plan number four.  I must admit that by the time Saturday came I was frustrated by all the changes and I was a bit miffed that we had accommodated everyone else’s schedule.  (Okay Maeve, you’re officially forgiven for coming late.)

Now, I know with a busy family this kind of thing happens all of the time.  I’m just saying, that with the two of us, things are usually pretty quiet and we are able to make plans that don’t change all that often.  Like I said, planning ahead is what I do.  Then I can count on things and look forward to them.  Everything seems to go more smoothly and I enjoy myself so much more.  Spur of the moment?  Not me.

I’ve been thinking about that weekend recently as I’ve tried to figure out what’s happening at the holidays.  Years ago we gave up celebrating on the actual day.  Thanksgiving can be anytime in November.  Last year we celebrated part of Christmas at the end of February.  In this day and age most families have to work celebrations around many others’ schedules…ex-spouses, in-laws, step-children, work…you know what I’m talking about. Our family is no different.  Add the fact that we’re spread from coast to coast and the problem grows bigger.  Even expecting to see the majority of our family at holidays is ridiculous.  Yet…we do.  We just want to have our loved ones around us some time near the actual day.  And we’ll do just about anything to make it happen. 

Come October I start thinking and planning…and that often is not a good idea.  I badger Noel, “Have you heard from the girls?  What are they doing for the holidays?” 

“I have no idea,” comes the familiar response.  I always know what he’ll say.  I just ask him as a reminder that the holidays are approaching…like he can’t read a calendar.

I sort of know what rotation the kids are on.  Some of them alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I tell myself that it’s only fair.  It is.  But on some level I still cry, “Pick me, pick me!  Pick me every time!”  And then the sensible me chides the emotional me for being selfish.

A couple of years ago I made some remark to Noel’s daughter Lindsey about the continual struggle of who’s celebrating where.  I think I said something like, “Sometimes I get frustrated knowing who is coming and what’s happening.  I just want everyone to come and celebrate with us.”

I’ve never forgotten her reply.  She said, “I used get upset that everyone seems to want me to be with them during the holidays and I can’t be everywhere at once.  But, I just remember that it’s only because so many people love me….and how can you get upset at that?”

So, as the holidays approach I am trying to remind myself that if I feel over committed or if plans change at the last minute it’s because the people I love are in turn loved by many others.  And like Lindsey said, how can you get upset at that?

So, here and now I drink a toast to the upcoming holidays.  May you have as many loved ones near you as reasonably possible.  May you cherish the moments you do have.  And may you be so loved by so many people that you are filled with joy just knowing that everyone simply likes to be in your presence. 
And if nothing else, may you remember the “happy” part in “Happy Holidays.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

Food for Thought 2

I'll continue presenting some of the information gleaned at a continuing education conference with Dr. Merrily Kuhn.  For more about her credentials, please see my first post "Food for Thought 1".
I've been reading more and more about the role inflammation has to play in all sorts of diseases.  Merrily spent quite a bit of time talking about chronic inflammation and its negative effects on the body.  Our bodies are pre-programmed to deal with inflammation.  If we have a tissue injury of any kind our bodies respond with inflammation which increases the blood flow to the area and the ultimate purpose is to prevent infection in the injured tissue and to heal.  This is an acute response and is 8 - 10 days from onset to healing.  However, chronic inflammation is another story.  Our bodies become inflamed through toxins in the:

~water we drink
~air we breathe
~products we put on our body
~food we eat (hormone laden produce and dairy, omega 6 fatty acids, transfat, chemically lined cans   with BPA and High Fructose Corn Syrup)
~household products we touch
and from sleep deprivation and obesity (62% of Americans are overweight.) 

Toxins cause oxidative stress (basically our bodies become rusty) which leads to inflammation.  Inflammation has been linked to cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and heart disease, to name a few.  So, we need to counter this inflammation and oxidation through ingesting anti-inflammatory foods and engaging in activities that promote health. 

Healthy habits that assist in decreasing inflammation include:
~Maintaining a healthy weight (especially losing belly fat)
~Avoiding excessive alcohol intake, especially beer and spirits because they have a depressive effect on the immune system
~Getting adequate sleep

Nutrients, foods and herbs that assist in decreasing inflammation include:
~Green tea
~Dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa...not the milk chocolate kind)
~Red wines (these contain resveratrol found in the skin of red grapes.  Since white wines are not made with the skins, there is not the health benefit in white wine as there is in red.)
~Fish oils
~Red and blue fruits
~Cruciferous vegetables
~Fresh ginger, thyme, rosemary, basil and oregano
~Vitamin D

Merrily elaborated on several of the items listed above.  I'll write more about some of the most interesting ones in future posts.  I've just been trying to include more of the items from the list in my menus.  I really don't want to rust.  It just doesn't sound fun.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Smoked Salmon Quiche

Try this yummy quiche with a twist.  Instead of the traditional crust, it has a crust made of potatoes.  Fun!!  Although this isn't exactly speedy, it would be great for a special brunch, luncheon or have it for a weekend dinner like we did.  I think the smoked salmon gives it a wonderful flavor, but it could be made with shrimp or another type of smoked fish.  If you're in our area, we found some great and relatively inexpensive smoked salmon at Blacktail Grocery in Lakeside.  This recipe used four dollars worth.  The original recipe was from Emeril Lagasse, but I changed it up a bit like I always do.  The leftovers make a great cold lunch.


3 and 1/4 cups grated cooked potato or frozen hashbrown potatoes, thawed and squeezed dry (I used the frozen hashbrowns and they worked great)
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients listed above and toss to combine.  Press mixture into a deep pie plate or quiche plate, spreading to evenly cover the bottom and up the sides.  Bake until the potatoes are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.  Remove from the  oven and cool on a wire rack.

Reduce the oven to 350 degrees F.


1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium leeks or 1 large leek halved and thinly sliced, about 1 cup
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperatrue
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
4 - 6 ounces smoked salmon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (I used 1 tablespoon of dried and it worked)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pour olive oil in a small skillet and set over medium heat.  Add the leeks and saute until softened, about 4 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Remove from the heat.  Place the cream cheese in a large bowl and using a wooden spoon, stir in the leeks and lemon juice.  Add the eggs one at a time, stirring just until comibined.  Add the cream, salmon, dill, salt and pepper and mix well.  Pour this mixture into the cooled potato crust and bake for about 30 minutes, until golden and the batter is set.  Cool quiche for 20 minutes before serving.  Serve warm or chilled.

*A note about leeks.  If you aren't familiar with them...they are usually very sandy.  I slice them, separate the rings and put them in a bowl of cold water, swishing them around so the sand falls to the bottom of the bowl.  Then scoop out the leeks with your hand, dry them on a towel and continue on.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Food for Thought 1

I went to a conference last Friday that was mind boggling.  The title was "Food for Thought:  How Nutrients Affect Mental Health" and was presented by Dr. Merrily Kuhn.  She is an RN who also happens to have three PhD's (Physiology, Holistic Medicing and Naturopathic Medicine).  All of the material she presented was very well researched and evidence-based.  The bibliography accompanying my course materials was seven pages of tightly spaced references.  In short, I believed her.  The day flew by as I listened with rapt attention. 

You know, I try to eat healthy.  I try to limit toxins in my immediate environment.  I try.  But, I also get confused.  One day I hear one thing and it is totally refuted the next.   The information I am presented with is often overwhelming and downright scary.  So, I was very pleased to get the information from this conference in a concise, thoughtul and organized manner.  But, I still was overwhelmed, and I must admit, a bit scared. 

When I met my daughter-in-law Kylene for lunch that day I tried to tell her just a few things I'd learned in the morning.  She was exceedingly interested as she sat next to her little baby Maeve.  This information is important for her.  It is important for children like Maeve.  It is important for all of us.  But, we need to be informed, not confused.  So, I decided to sort through the materials and post a few treasures that I learned.  I think I can best make use of the information in small doses so I will try to post it in bits and pieces that are easier to digest. 

I want to share the information about plastics first.  Of course, we are surrounded by it.  Merrily said, "I challenge you to go to the grocery store and not come out with a bunch of plastic and foam containers."  Here is the bottom line from the conference. Check the number in the triangle on the bottom of the plastic container and compare it with the list below.  Get rid of the crap.

What is NOT safe?
Polyvinylchoride is not safe.  Find it in #3 PVC plastic bottles such as some cooking oil bottles and in plastic wrap.

Polystyrene is not safe.  Find it in styrofoam and even clear plastic containers marked #6.  This leaches styrene which is a human carcinogen.  It's the same stuff used in the dry cleaning business.  Please don't drink your hot drinks from a styrofoam cup.
Plastics marked #7 PC.  This is sold as micro-wavable plastic; it is in plastic eating utensils and the lining for metal food containers (the industry lines the cans with plastic so that your food doesn't taste like the can).  It has also been used in Nalgene bottles and baby bottles in the past.

What is Safe?
Polyethylene is generally safe.
#1 PETE plastics that contain soft drinks and water bottles (but don't get them hot or put them in the freezer...this causes chemicals to leach into your beverage).

#2 HDPE milk and water bottles.

#4 LDPE wrapping films and grocer bags.

#5 PP yogurt containers and syrup bottles.

Why not change to stainless steel water bottles and avoid the confusion?  DON'T opt for aluminum bottles.  I found the excerpt below from The Mother Earth News website regarding how to tell the difference.
  • Aluminum sounds duller and has less of a ring than stainless steel. Rap your knuckles on the edge of the pot or bang it with a wooden spoon.
  • Aluminum feels slightly warmer than stainless steel at room temperature.
  • After being washed, aluminum tends to dull slightly, while stainless steel usually stays bright.
  • Because aluminum is softer than stainless steel, a key will scratch aluminum much more readily than stainless steel.
  • If a magnet sticks to the side of the pot (even weakly), it is definitely stainless steel and not aluminum. (Note: If a magnet does not stick, you still can’t tell which metal it is, but you can be sure it’s stainless steel if the magnet does stick!)
Read more:

Unsafe Handwashing Solutions
Please check your handwashing solutions to see if they contain Triclosan. Dial liquid soap has it.  This is a carcinogen that stays in your fat.  It has been banned by the European Union (EU), Canada and Japan.  Go to for more information.

All of these environmental toxins lead to oxidative stress and inflammation.  Inflammation is the leading cause of many diseases such as heart disease and cancer. 

I plan on going through my cupboards to see what I have.  And when I go to the grocery store, I think I'll start looking at the bottom of the plastic container as well as the ingredient label.  I don't want the bad stuff in my house.

Here's another sobering fact:  41% of the US population will develop cancer in their lifetime.  21% will die of it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Love in Full Color

I wrote this a few years ago, found it in an old file and present it here in a revised and updated form in honor of our 11th wedding anniversary.

Dear Noel,

I love you the color of the boulders that edge the paths in my garden.  I love your amazing reversible pink floral tie that matches your 80's pink silk shirt that I've thankfully never seen you wear.  I love you when you say things that make me blush.  I love you like the Stargazer Lilies that bloom in July.

I love you the pinkest.

I love you like crisp, shiny carrots newly dug from the eath.  I love you the juiciest of the best peaches at the supermarket.  I love you the summer sun as it sets behind the Rocky Mountains.

I love you the orangest.

I love you like the junipers that grace our land and of the moss on the rocks and the soft, spring grass that dances in the wind.  I love you the color that you say you do not like.  I love you more because I know that you secretly do.  I love you the fragrance of herbs that I snip from the garden and the green of the lake on a stormy day.

I love you the greenest.

I love you the fierce color of fidelity and white hot fire and daisies.  I love you the caps on the waves and the snow at Big Mountain and the color of our sailboat we named Tess.  I love you the white of the dishes from which we eat our evening meal and of the crisp paper on which I write.  I love you the moon.

I love you the whitest.

I love you the earth that nourishes and sustains and supports.  I love you the color of your eyes and your hair and your ever-tanning skin.  I love you like finely grained, but knotted alder polished to a soft sheen.

I love you the brownest.

I love you the colors of the garden.
I love you the colors of the sunset.
I love you the colors of the world.

Thank you for helping me garden with passion.
Thank you for showing me the fire of the sunset.
Thank you for giving me the world.

I love you.
Just you.


Monday, July 23, 2012

God's Henchmen

The folks who own the cabin next door are named Ron and Joan.  We love them dearly and talk back and forth through the hedge and trade tools and home maintenance advice from time to time.  They actually live in Missoula and just come to their cabin on weekends.  They’re members of a Catholic church in Missoula and many times over the years we’ve seen them leave early on Sunday morning to get back home for mass.  It must be pretty difficult to leave on a bright July morning as the sun is just coming up over the mountains and streaming across the lake.  For the life of me, I don’t know how they do it.  I’d be thinking up all sorts of excuses to stay for one more day.  But they leave most every Sunday. 

And then, on top of that, they told us that Ron was going to learn to be a deacon for their church.  It would involve classes for five years and wives had to attend also.  There would be reading and homework and countless hours of lecture.  And here’s the kicker.  The classes were to be held in Helena 115 miles away from Missoula.  If memory serves me correctly, they had to go over once a month for the whole weekend.  Wow.  That’s commitment.  Well, a few months ago Joan said that the five years was nearing an end and Ron was going to be ordained in a ceremony in Helena.  For me, that five years seemed to go really fast…probably not so much for Ron and Joan.  As they were talking about Ron’s ordination Noel said, “You know, I’d really like to go to that.  Will you tell us when it is?”  And then a few weeks ago we got an invitation in the mail.  It seems that 17 deacons were going to be ordained all at once in this ceremony.  Well, we really didn’t know what we were in for, but you just have to honor that sort of commitment and so we were happy to go.

I must admit, I was pretty excited.  Noel was raised Catholic and every once in a while he’ll get the urge to go to Mass.  Although I have no idea what’s going on I always have a great time.  Catholics really have the whole pomp and circumstance thing down.  Everything is a huge ceremony steeped in centuries of tradition.  And the entire Mass is a feast for your senses.  You stand up and then you sit down.  Just when you get comfortable you stand up again; then you kneel.  Secretly I think the whole thing is perfectly timed to prevent falling asleep.  One time I was so mesmerized by trying to figure out some of the scenes in the stained glass windows that I didn’t realize I was supposed to sit down and was the only one left standing in the whole church.  Noel basically pulled me down.  Needless to say, I’m a lot more alert now. 

There’s always a bunch to look at too.  The Catholic churches I’ve attended have all been just beautiful.  The sun streams through the colored glass and shines on ornate woodwork.  There are draperies and crosses and statues and carvings everywhere.  Pretty cool, but pretty ornate…lots to catch your attention.  And one of my favorite parts is the swinging balls of incense.  I’m not sure if this stuff comes straight from the Vatican, but it sure is potent.  I can’t wait until it wafts over my row.  I breathe it in as deeply as I can just in case it’s specially formulated to make you holy.  And then there’s singing and organs and speeches and readings.  It’s grand.  And the best part is that I know nothing about any of it and I have no idea what it all means.  Every once in a while Noel tries to explain a few things, but I prefer not to know the real significance because I’m sure the reasons I make up in my head are a whole lot more fun.  I get no end of enjoyment from it.

So anyway, we were invited to this huge cathedral called Saint Helena.  We made the day of it, driving the four and a half hours through some of the most beautiful scenery past lakes and mountains and rivers.  We had a lovely dinner near the cathedral and then made our way over to the ceremony about fifteen minutes before it was to start.  On the way we congratulated ourselves for such perfect timing.  Noel said, “This is great.  We’ve got plenty of time.”  It had been a glorious day and we were jubilant.

Well, we thought we’d sneak in by a side door, but as we turned the corner into the chapel we realized that we had come in pretty much at the front by the altar.  And as our eyes adjusted to the dim light we saw hundreds of people already seated.  Since nothing else was happening at the time, it seemed that every pair of eyes turned to look at us.  Little did we know that as we were enjoying our pasta, apparently all of these folks, knowing that this was the hottest Catholic ticket in town were racing to snatch up every available seat.  Now, let me stop right here to tell you that entering a Catholic church is a lot like going to Costco.  You’re either a member or you aren’t, and everyone knows the difference by the way you come through the door.  At Costco, you rummage around in your wallet for your special card and hold it up for the guardian at the door to see.  She nods, and you get to enter.  Now, if you’re a Catholic you go through the door and do a special little ritual consisting of a slight bow to the statue of Jesus, then you dip your hand in a bowl of water and cross yourself.  It’s really quite lovely and I think it would be very nice to do in order to sort of shake off the cares of the street and remind yourself that you’re in a church.  I think it’s good to pause and orient yourself to the new environment.  But, of course, I don’t do this because I don’t know how and I’m not really a member.  I know this, and now everyone else seated in the church knows this.  The only difference from going to Costco is that even if you’re not a member the good and gracious Catholics let you go in anyway. 

Well, here we were in the front of the church, hopelessly looking for a place to sit.  No one budged.  No one scrunched closer to his neighbor.  No one motioned for us to sit down.  We scanned the entire church.  Finally, we found two seats near the end aisle.  Score!!  I asked the man sitting near the end if the seats were saved and were so pleased when he shook his head.  We smugly sat down and looked up to find that we were seated squarely behind a huge marble pillar about three feet in front.  Why the builders of this cathedral even extended the pew this far is beyond me.  Perhaps to accommodate the blind?  I decided these seats would simply not do.  I was not going to drive four and a half hours to stare at a pillar, so I took matter into my own hands and sent Noel in search of different seats.  “Come back and tell me when you’ve found better seats.  I’ll hold these,” I whispered.  Imagine my surprise when just a minute later I looked up to see him gesturing wildly from the very front pew.  Score!  I made my way again to the front of the church in time to hear a lady tell Noel rather firmly, “You can’t sit here!  These seats are reserved for Ron and Joan.” 

He replied, “Oh, I thought they would be sitting up front.” 

As I got up to leave I think I heard her mutter, “This is the front.”

Well, we were off again with every pair of eyes following us.  Little did we know that we were the warm-up show.  We finally found some seats in an overflow area to the side of the chapel and we could just see the altar if we craned our necks to the left and looked through an open door by the choir.  I’m sure the several hundred people who watched us make our way in, through, and around the church were a bit disappointed to see that we actually were going to sit down and stay down.  So, in order to entertain them a bit more we decided to stand near the side door when anything interesting was happening and walk up a few stairs to a platform and sit down during the singing parts.  We pretty much ended up standing when everyone else was ordered to sit and sitting when everyone else stood.  But, what the heck, everyone knew that we didn’t have the Catholic Costco Card anyway.

And then it started.  The bells outside started ringing and the organ inside started playing and the choir started singing.  I stood on tiptoe to see the altar boys and girls carrying tall candles enter the chapel followed by twenty or thirty priests in white robes.  It was amazing.  But, then, oh then…there were men marching down the aisle wearing long black capes and tremendous black hats with splendid white ostrich plumes.  Oh those Napoleonic chapeaus!  They were glorious!  They were grand!  They were magnificent!  Now, I may not know much about religion but I do know that I should not covet.  But, I’m just saying that one of those hats would make a wonderful addition to my collection.  “Who are they?” I whispered.  “Are they the Knights Templar like in the Da Vinci Code?” 

“No, Shelley,” came the reply, “those are the Knights of Columbus.” 

I don’t know why they are called that, but forever more when I think about Christopher Columbus I will imagine him standing on the deck of the Santa Maria, pointing grandly to the New World as he jauntily flips his black cape over his shoulder.  He will be wearing one of those amazing hats and the ostrich plumes will be waving softly in the breeze.  

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the swinging ball of incense entered and just behind came a man with a lovely, white and red robe and a huge red hat.  He looked for all the world like Father Christmas.  He even carried a shepherd’s staff!  “Who’s that?”  I whispered. 

“The bishop,” Noel said through the corner of his mouth.  I must admit that at first I was a bit disappointed but then I decided a bishop is pretty much like Father Christmas.  You don’t see him very often, it’s a big to-do when he does come and he is probably very kind and very wise.  I loved him immediately.

He stood up, removed his beautiful red hat to reveal another red hat underneath (really…it was just like The Cat in the Hat) and began to speak.  He told the deacon candidates that he wanted them to consider the depth, flavor, color and texture of their ministry.  (Don’t you just love that?)  And then he went on to list seven qualities that he wished them to possess.  He called them ‘Hallmarks of the Ministry’.   Now, I must admit that it took me a bit, but I finally got the gist of this whole thing.  All of the qualities started with the letter ‘H’.  So, he talked a bit about humility, then holiness, then happiness and then hope.  He went on with healing, hospitality and ended with humor (my personal favorite.)  And he called them ‘Hallmarks’ (get it?)  I must admit my mind wandered a bit and I wondered what God would have done if he thought that all of the Commandments had to start with ‘C’.  And of course, because I was still thinking about the black hats I thought about Coveting, but then I couldn’t think of any more except Cussing and Cilling (okay, I know that’s really a ‘K’ word.)  So then, I started thinking about more ‘H’ words and decided that it was fitting that we were in the Cathedral of St. Helena in Helena, Montana.  And with all due respect I decided that I would call the bishop “The Head Honcho.”

Just then, his speech ended.  A quick look at the program and I noted that his speech was called a Homily…a fact that filled me with an inordinate amount of glee.  And the singing started again.  Now, I’m not really complaining, but the Catholic congregations do a bunch of back and forth singing with the choir called Responsorial Psalms.  Basically, someone from the choir sings one or two lines of a tune that is full of sharps and flats.  They’re nearly impossible to sing.  And I’m telling you that the people who are supposed to sing these things have wonderful voices and probably teach singing at the local college.  They can’t even hit the notes.  And then sadly, it’s the general congregation’s turn…the folks who probably only sing on Sunday.  Those who are wise know to just keep their mouths shut or at best, they mouth the words.  The rest try to follow along, but like I said, these things aren’t exactly what you would call melodies.  The whole effect is a little depressing.  And to make matters worse, the same thing is sung over and over and over again.  I think it would be so much better for everyone involved if they just took the same words and set it to the tune of say...”Row, Row, Row your Boat.”  Lots of people would sing because it’s actually a singable tune, and since you’re singing the same thing over and over again, just like “Row, Row, Row your Boat”, it could be sung in a round.  Certainly a more joyful noise all around. 

Anyway, we struggled through some of the singing and then all of the deacon candidates had to lie down on their stomachs with their noses pressed into the travertine marble as a sign of humility. 

The effect was really quite humbling for everyone and a memorable statement about their submission to God.  But, they had to stay there forever and ever while we heard another rather tuneless song about all of the Saints and all of the Catholic churches in Montana (don’t ask me why.  I tried to figure that one out and I have no idea).  I started to worry that they weren’t going to let them get up, and then I thought that one of them would start snoring and it would drown out the singer which would have been a blessed relief.  But, they were finally allowed to rise.  Now let me pause to tell you that several weeks ago, Ron and Joan’s dog tried to race Ron down the back steps of their cabin.  The dog won because Ron ended up on the ground with a broken ankle.  He still wears a boot cast and only recently advanced from crutches to a cane.  Well, there he was face down on the marble and everyone else was getting up.  For one long breathless moment we all worried that he would remain there for the rest of the ceremony.  But two other deacons rushed to his side and sort of tuna-hauled him up, white flowing robe, boot cast, cane and all.  There was a collective sigh all around.

Well, the ceremony was grand and it certainly held my attention.  Now, as I sit at my computer I think back over the day.  Again, I’m amazed by the commitment of those seventeen deacons.  If everyone loved something enough to make this kind of sacrifice I think the world would be a much better place.  And their intentions of service to God and their fellow men are most honorable.  I wish them all well in their endeavors.  I may not be of their particular faith, nor obviously do I understand it, but I admire their ideals, respect their dedication and hope God blesses them in their good deeds.  And I’m glad that the powers-that-be in the Helena Diocese pulled out all the stops to pay tribute to them.

As we were making our way out of the cathedral (ahead of the crowd, I might add) I asked Noel exactly what a deacon does.  He told me that they are kind of helper priests who assist in baptisms, weddings, funerals and that they work with the sick and the poor and the down-trodden just like Mother Theresa.  Well, unfortunately that got me thinking.  (I’m sorry; I just can’t turn off my brain.  I’ve tried.)  And I thought that “Helper” was a nice word because it started with “H.”  But, “Helper” just doesn’t have enough power…enough zing.  It just doesn’t give the right vibe.  So, all sorts of “H” words started tumbling around in my brain and just like a Bingo ball, the one that tumbled out was “Henchmen.”  That’s it…they’re God’s Henchmen!  A quick check of the dictionary reveals that I’m right.  I easily skip over the definition that involves members of criminal gangs and come to the part about henchmen being loyal and trusted followers or subordinates.  Henchmen are also pages of honor to a prince or other person of high rank.  Who, I ask you has higher rank than God? 

So, Ron my dear friend, I’m glad to know you.  I’m happy that I got to witness this rite of passage as you attained a goal that most would find too daunting.  And I’m especially glad that you live next door just in case any extra holiness, goodness or purity rubs off.  Heaven knows, we can all use more of that.  And if I smell incense coming through the hedge, I’m telling you right now…I’m breathing in deeply.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Creamy Dreamy Greek Yogurt

My friend Teresa gave me this recipe a couple of weeks ago.  I was a bit leery at first because I went through a yogurt making phase last year and tried using a recipe that a Greek friend of mine gave me.  It involved the oven, a candy thermometer and several "Turkish towels" to sop up the whey.  It turned out thin and tangy.  We hated it.  So, I wasn't really sure I wanted to try again until Teresa gave me a taste of her last batch.  Yummm!  It wasn't tangy at all and it was so thick and delicious.  I had to try it and I'm glad I did.  I've made two batches now and we love it.  We've started using it instead of sour cream because it's so rich.  And I make mine with non-fat milk!  Teresa tells me that the recipe is quite forgiving.  She forgot her last batch for 5 hours as it merrily bubbled along in her crockpot, but it was still just fine.  Try this soon.  If you like Greek yogurt...and judging by the huge variety at the grocery store many people won't be disappointed.  It's easy.

Creamy Dreamy Greek Yogurt

Put 2 quarts (8 cups) of milk (you can use any variety) in your crockpot.  Turn it on high, cover and let it heat for two and a half hours.

After it has heated for the two and a half hours, turn off the crockpot and let it all just sit on the counter for another three hours.

After that time is up, dip out two or three cups of the milk and whisk 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (from the store or from a previous batch) into it.  Add this all back to the rest of the milk in the crockpot.

With the pot off and unplugged, wrap a thick towel or blanket around it.  I use an old down comforter.  Let it all sit snuggled up in the blanket overnight or 14 - 16 hours. 

Line a colander with a piece of fabric.  I cut up an old white T-shirt.  Place the colander into a pan or bowl that will support it with enough room for the whey to drain into without touching the bottom of the colander.  Cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, then put it in the fridge for about 6 hours.  If it's thick enough for you at the end of that time, spoon it into a container and cover. 

Mine seems to get too thick and I end up stirring some whey back into it.  I get a little over 3 cups of yogurt plus a whole bunch of whey.  If anyone has a good idea of what to do with the whey, please let me know.  I hate pouring it down the sink, but rationalize that making the yogurt is sooooo much cheaper than buying it at the store that it's okay. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dad's Garage (reprise)

I went to the thrift store yesterday and noticed a sign on the front door stating that all coffee cups were half off, so I thought I'd take a look.  And there, up front and in the center was a Corelle coffe cup exactly like the one my Dad used every day.  Yesterday was his birthday and I like to think that he put it there to acknowledge that I'd been thinking about him all day.  And so, in honor of my father's birthday I'd like to re-post an essay I wrote about him a little over a year ago.  It was fun to rummage through the albums to find a few different pictures.  I didn't realize how much I would feel blessed by taking this time to honor him.  Happy Birthday, Dad!

A few weeks ago, my friend’s father passed away while she and her mother were looking through the many and varied items in his garage.  He had been lingering in his body for several days and they had been keeping watch over him.  Finally, to get a bit of reprieve they went out to the garage to start sorting through a lifetime’s accumulation of stuff. I felt that it was fitting that he would choose this moment to leave, knowing they were looking at the odd assortment of items he had chosen to keep over the years.  I imagined that he couldn’t quite hear their comments from his bed, so thought, “Well, this might be as good a time as any to sever all ties to this body and drift over to the garage for one last look and listen.” 
As I think of this scene, I remember my father’s garage in all its messy, yet somehow organized glory.  Oh my goodness, I loved that garage almost as much as I adored my father.  In the garage I could get to know my true, authentic father.  He didn’t really have a lot of say in the decoration of the house.  He put up with the pink bedroom and the fuzzy toilet seat covers and the bric-a-brac in the china cabinet without saying a word. 

Our dog Puddles and Dad in the Nagahyde recliner
But, in his garage, where he reigned supreme there was none of my mother’s input and I could get a glimpse of the real man that was my father.  I never dared to go out there when he wasn’t there.  But, when he was working at his metal lathe or fighting with some engine overhaul I could spend as much time as I liked as long as I didn’t make too much noise.  He’d often forget I was even there.  I would gaze in wonder at decades of accumulation stuck between the stud walls, hanging on nails from the ceiling and tucked into shelves and cupboards he had made.  Where had this come from and how had he gotten it all in here?  I knew that he built the garage shortly before I was born, so all of this was placed purposefully by him, yet it looked like three lifetimes’ accumulation.  Of course there was the usual assortment of tools for every purpose.  My dad could do or fix anything, so a man must have a wide variety of tools.  But, in addition to the usual sledge hammers, pitch forks and chisels were other mystery tools that he had fabricated for specific purposes.  There was the special rake for removing leaves from the gutters and another one for removing leaves from the ditch.  There were rolls and rolls of tape for every purpose and an entire drawer devoted to gloves. 

One time he was putting a new starter on my International Scout.  A trailer had rolled over his foot a week or so before so he was on crutches and I was designated to retrieve the tools as he needed them.  He was able to tell me, “I need the 11/16” socket that is in the first bank of drawers, third drawer down, upper left-hand corner, fourth socket from the front of the drawer.”  I would find the drawer filled with perhaps two hundred items, but he was never wrong as to the needed item’s location.  Almost all of these tools were engraved with his name.  I still am amazed when I think of man who valued his belongings so much that they all bore his name and that he knew where every single item was located. 
Dad had a safari hat hanging from a hook above one window in the garage.  I always wondered where it came from and when he had worn it.  I guess I could have asked, but then if the answer had been mundane I would have been very disappointed.  I preferred to think that in a past life, way before I was born he had traveled to Africa on safari to stalk lions and zebras.  He was a quiet man, not given to talking about the past, so you never knew.  I placed the hat in the same category as the blue fishing pole that was so stout you could have caught a hundred pound fish with it.  We lived near mountain lakes and I had been fishing with my father any number of times.  But, that pole was not for the lake trout he usually caught.  No, that thing was from a far greater adventure.  Perhaps marlin fishing off the coast of Florida from a huge yacht before he even knew my mother.  My dad, the man of mystery.

Joe, Dad, Aubrey and Casey about 1983
He loved Will Rogers’ folksy style and had a framed picture of him hanging above his workbench. The caption at the bottom read “Beloved American”.   That was my dad.  He worked hard, loved his country, always voted, watched the news every night, enjoyed the outdoors, raised a huge family and at the end of the day was simply a humble, loving man who was doing the best he could.

He’s been gone from this life for many years now, but lingers with me often.  It is usually when I am using his yellow-handled hacksaw engraved with his name, or when I am religiously watching the nightly news or when I’m fixing some broken down item that I found at the dump.  I sometimes catch him smiling down at me through Will Rogers’ eyes as I get a glimpse of the framed picture that now hangs in my messy, yet somehow organized garage.  Dad, I’ll always miss you, but am comforted that your spirit is within me every day that I live. 
How about we go on a safari?  Just you and me.

Monday, April 16, 2012

North Fork Magic

What an enchanting stay we had last weekend at a Forest Service cabin close to the Canadian border!  Good friends had invited us to join them a few weeks ago when they rented the Schnaus Cabin, but we already had plans.  It was such a good idea however, that I booked it for the next available weekend.  And we were so grateful for the idea.  This lovely cabin is at the end of a 43 mile very bumpy gravel road purposely designed to make travelers slow down and take in the scenery.  Our bums were massaged by the rutted road (mine actually tingled when we got out of the truck…an altogether interesting, though not unpleasant sensation).  Our journey took us past bubbling waterfalls, through dense forests and also through stands of ghostly tree trunks resulting from the Roberts fire a few years ago.  We stopped to stare in awe at a herd of forty-two elk.

Stunning scenery and the North Fork road caused us to quiet our minds and remember yet again our good fortune in living in this inspiring country. 

 So, by the time we reached the cabin we were pretty mellow and our springs had un-wound enough to appreciate the absence of noise…well, save for the wind hushing the pine trees and the occasional call of a bird. 

Arm in arm we stood on the front porch to take in the grand views of Glacier National Park. 


After a dinner of fish and shrimp cooked on the propane range I settled by the wood stove with a glass of red wine to read by the light of the propane lamps. 

Log books are provided for guests to journal in and as I read the entries I knew that this “Schnaus Haus” had worked its magic on many others who came before. 

Here are a few of their ponderings:

No cell service, no TV, no WiFi.  HEAVEN!!!
The flutes were used to lure the mountains out of their clouds – a tip for you if you’d like to see the Glacier views.
Lovely stillness.
Made a cozy fire and enjoyed a bottle of wine.
We ate ~ we drank ~ we sang ~ we played ~ we laughed ~ we drank some more.
Falling stars and yellow gold trees…the North Fork dazzles once again.
Took a little hike yesterday looking for trolls and faeries.
Blessings are upon us.

And then there was this musing written in tiny, widely spaced print. I wonder what a handwriting analyst would make of this?
I wonder about her.  If she’s nervous.  If she’s packed or packing.  What she’s bringing.  What she’s told her friends.  “I’m going to Montana to see an old friend.”  “I’m going to Montana to see an acquaintance.”  “I’m going to Montana to see a guy I went to high school with that I haven’t seen in five years.  I once told him I had a crush on him.”  She flies into Kalispell tomorrow for five days…wish me luck… 
I felt the presence of those folks who in finding a bit of their souls here, also left a bit of their souls for me to find. 
Contemplation.  Contentment.  Restful, blissful quiet. 

Recommendation:  let the Schnaus cabin work its magic on you.