A Resplendent Repast

Until a couple of years ago, I used to make a fabulous dinner once a month, which I would serve to my high school book club. The dinner was designed to go along with the book we had read–either time period, nationality, or foods actually mentioned in the book. I would cook all day and then send the non-book-club family members out to eat while we had our dinner here. I stopped doing it because eventually the book club consisted mostly of kids who were not adventurous eaters, and who left their plates virtually untouched after I had knocked myself out cooking all day. I hated throwing away all that hard work and good food!

Meanwhile, a whole seven years ago, some of my children gave me a gift that they thought would be perfect for me, and it was. It was the Nero Wolfe Cook Book, published in 1973. Since then, I have spent hours salivating over that cook book but I have never made a meal from it. For the entire seven years, I have been promising Robin’s husband Doug (a fellow Nero Wolfe fan) that someday I would make a Nero Wolfe dinner and have him and Robin over to share it. For the entire seven years, Doug had been saying that he would pay for the food if I would cook it. So you see, I had no excuse.

I was determined to make the dinner this summer while Lina was here. And, with Lina’s time quickly running out, we decided to squeeze the Nero Wolfe dinner into this three-day interlude between road trips. Sunday evening after returning home, I looked up the recipes I had chosen and made my shopping list. Yesterday morning I got almost all the ingredients. I had to send Lina out for the final three items: 2 ducks, fresh dill, and anchovies.

The Nero Wolfe Cook Book is a real cook book. There are no convenience foods in that book. The Spanish sauce for the duck called for tomato sauce, and this required buying tomatoes, squeezing out the seeds and juice, adding spices, and simmering them for over two hours last night. The Brazilian Lobster Salad called for homemade mayonnaise, and the homemade mayonnaise called for homemade sour cream. I barely had time after I got back from the store yesterday to get the sour cream started so that I would be able to make the mayonnaise today!

We set the table with our good china, stemware, and my grandmother’s silver flatware. Lucy made a centerpiece out of candle lanterns and glass “dragon’s tears.”

All the food that Lina and I made today was food that was mentioned in various Nero Wolfe stories. We started with the Brazilian Lobster Salad:


It was very yummy. Then we had the Duck Roasted in Cider with Spanish Sauce, Savory Rice Fritters, Corn Muffins, and Squash with Sour Cream and Dill.


This was followed by Blueberry Grunt for dessert.


Why is it called Blueberry “Grunt,” you ask? I wondered that myself, until I tasted it and found myself grunting in ecstasy. It really was delicious.

While we were enjoying every bite of our special dinner, Robin’s daughter Liz took the younger kids out for pizza–just like the old Literary Society days. Lina and I worked hard at cooking almost all day to make this meal, and I found myself experiencing a great deal of doubt that Fritz Brenner, Nero Wolfe’s fictitious chef, could possibly have prepared all those gourmet meals by himself. I’m pretty sure he had help in the kitchen.

We watched an episode of Nero Wolfe between the main course and dessert, and that was very enjoyable also. It seems kind of selfish to have spent an entire day making a meal, but I think it was worth it. And, there is a little bit of duck left over and I’m fresh out of gluten-free bread, so I have a feeling that tomorrow’s lunch may involve a duck salad made with homemade mayonnaise (which was divine, by the way).

That leaves me one day to download five years of my life, plan what to wear at the conference, finish revising a manuscript, and get packed to go.

A Looming Deadline

This week isn’t turning out at all the way I planned. I thought I’d be revising a manuscript to take to the writers’ conference and figuring out what to wear and stuff like that. Instead, I’m consumed with the necessity of saving as much of my old blog as I’m able to before the ax falls on Thursday.

I’m almost to the end of 2007, but that means there are still five and a half years of daily entries to go, and I’m going to be very busy tomorrow making a fabulous meal without a functional oven so I’m not sure how far I can get. The word on the web is that Xanga is going down at the end of this month, and everything saved there will disappear.

So, for the last couple of weeks, I haven’t got much done in my “free” time except downloading blog entries. There is an archiving feature, but my blog is way too huge to archive and download as one massive file, so I am whittling away at it in hopes that maybe I’ll eliminate enough to be able to save the rest.

Meanwhile, this has made me realize something I should have thought of a long time ago, and that is that I should be saving my blog entries every day as a matter of course so that this can’t happen again in the future! I’m starting today!

Yesterday I was up at 5:30 and Lina and I said goodbye to my parents and got on the road at 6:30. We drove back to Nashville to have breakfast with Mary and Jordan. They were a little groggy when we got there, but they were busy preparing a hearty breakfast and the table was beautifully set:


(This actually was taken after we demolished the hearty breakfast). I was especially tickled to see Mary using the lovely placemats she so unwillingly made seven years ago–the one and only thing she ever made for her so-called “hope chest.”

We stayed longer than we should have because we just love hanging out with Jordan and Mary, and maybe we also were just a little charmed by their two adorable kittens, Howl and Calcifer:


Eventually, of course, we got back on the road which seemed to go on forever as we slowly left the pleasant coolness of Tennessee and drove down through the increasing warmth of Arkansas and then Texas. It was good to be home!

Today I had to go shopping first thing and then get ready for class. Just one more to go! I love to hear the stories that the kids come up with.


Whispering Hope

Whispering Hope

Septimus Winner

Soft as the voice of an angel,
Breathing a lesson unheard,
Hope with a gentle persuasion
Whispers her comforting word:
Wait till the darkness is over,
Wait till the tempest is done,
Hope for the sunshine tomorrow,
After the shower is gone.

Whispering hope, oh how welcome thy voice,
Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.

If, in the dusk of the twilight,
Dim be the region afar,
Will not the deepening darkness
Brighten the glimmering star?
Then when the night is upon us,
Why should the heart sink away?
When the dark midnight is over,
Watch for the breaking of day.

Whispering hope, oh how welcome thy voice,
Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.

Hope, as an anchor so steadfast,
Rends the dark veil for the soul,
Whither the Master has entered,
Robbing the grave of its goal.
Come then, O come, glad fruition,
Come to my sad weary heart;
Come, O Thou blest hope of glory,
Never, O never depart.

Whispering hope, oh how welcome thy voice,
Making my heart in its sorrow rejoice.

Stay at Home Day

Guess how many thrift stores we went to today? None. We sort of slept in before having a leisurely breakfast. We did some knitting. My mom started getting stuff ready to make fruit cake. I downloaded more blog entries. After lunch, we all took a nap. It’s nonstop action around here!

Eventually, the fruitcake batter was beaten into submission by Lina, who has more muscles than my mother and me put together. With the cakes in the oven, Lina and I set off for the beach for the last time. It wasn’t quite as lovely a day as yesterday, but it was wonderful to be back by the water. We treated ourselves to some ice cream before easing back into the water.

Once we were thoroughly waterlogged, we dried off and moseyed back. A mosey is about as fast as I can go these days. My mom had made lasagna for supper, and had saved out some sauce for me to have with rice since I can’t have the pasta.

I did a load of wash, downloaded and deleted more blog entries, and a little more knitting. All that’s left is to finish packing and try to get more sleep than I did the night before we left on this trip! At least we have another brief visit with Mary and Jordan to look forward to. I’m trying not to think about Monday. Or Tuesday. Or Wednesday. And I’m really trying not to think about Thursday, when we head out of town again.

A Sublime Summer Day

We knew today was going to be cool because Mary and Jordan were coming. But first, my mother suggested that Lina and I check out a couple more thrift stores. She was too busy making a peach pie to come with us, so we got directions and took off on our own. I was kind of excited to find a nice fondue set at the first place, because fondue at Christmas is a tradition of ours and I though Mary might like to have that option. So I took the fondue set up to the counter, only to see another, better fondue set (brand-new, never opened) for the same price as the one I had. I was so tickled.

The second store yielded fewer treasures than the first, but we did find a couple of things we could use. Then we went back to the café/gift shop that my mom had taken us to on Wednesday. Both of us had seen things there that we wanted to go back for. By the time we finished there, we barely had enough time to make it back to my parents’ house before Mary and Jordan pulled up.

My dad grilled some fabulous burgers out on the deck and we had lunch together squeezed around my parents’ round table. After lunch, I confess that I sneaked off to have a nap while the “young folks” visited out on the deck, with Mary looking like a movie star with her big sunglasses. I eventually joined them with scissors in hand. Mary had asked me if I could cut her hair while she was here, because the ends were blue again and she felt she should cut the blue off before going out on job interviews. It was hard to cut off so much hair! The swatches of blue hair looked like peacock feathers on the deck.

By the time I was done, Mary’s hair was the shortest it’s been since she was very young–probably a preschooler. Thank goodness it grows fast. She was sad to see the blue go but after all it was her choice.

That chore finished, Mary and Jordan and Lina and I walked down to the beach. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect–sunny and warm, but breezy and not humid. Although Lina and I have been to the beach twice on this visit, we had not so much as dipped a toe in the water. Today we all went swimming except for Mary, who wandered around taking pictures while Lina and Jordan and I luxuriated in the water. The water was the perfect temperature–cool and refreshing but not cold. Oh, it was heavenly! I am a water girl.

Eventually I got out of the water so I could drip dry before walking back to the house with the others. I haven’t spent such a pleasant afternoon in quite some time. This is what summer should be like! This is exactly the kind of weather that almost never visits Texas, but that I absolutely love.

My mother had prepared a delicious supper for us (including peach pie, naturally) and we had a great time of fellowship until Jordan and Mary had to leave. The icing on the cake was walking outside with Mary and Jordan to say goodbye, and seeing the grass flickering with fireflies. I LOVE fireflies! One more day in this glorious climate before we have to head back to the inferno . . .

A Tragedy and the Thrift Store Tour of Crossville

I woke up this morning and when I turned off the alarm on my phone, I checked Facebook just to see if there was anything earth-shattering going on. There was. A young lady who is the granddaughter of dear friends of ours had taken her life yesterday morning. Her aunt, also a friend, posted a heartbreaking note on Facebook which is how I found out. This was a bright young woman, an eloquent writer, who had so much going for her. She had a wonderful heritage of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who were all missionaries in Africa. How I’ve grieved for her family today. Please keep them in your prayers.

Once my mother got the message that Lina is interested in checking out thrift stores to look for clothing she can take back to Africa, she dreamed up a plan for us to visit three thrift stores this morning, plus Walmart, plus a yarn store. She had the route all planned out.

Thrift store #1 had a nice layout. I didn’t look at clothes at all, because I don’t want to compete with Lina and because I don’t really have an urgent need for clothes at the moment. So I hung out in housewares and there was some nice glassware for ridiculously low prices and some of it might have walked out the door with me. I don’t think Lina found anything there, though.

The second store was huge and had all kinds of stuff. I found a couple little items there (including the sheet music for Les Miserables for 25 cents) and Lina found some brass candlesticks. After that store there was a brief Walmart interlude during which my mother bought groceries and I had to go all the way to the back of the store to use the facilities, which forced me to walk past a blouse that was on sale and that might be a good thing to have for the writers’ conference I’m going to next week. (Did I say next week? Yikes!)

Store #3 was in an outlet mall. I bought a couple of garments for my offspring and this time I beat Lina to the brass candlesticks. I couldn’t get over how much nicer the selection was than what I have seen in East Texas and how cheap everything was!

Before we even had time to gloat over our booty, we continued on to the yarn store. My mom had been lugging around an insulated bag with ice cream in it ever since Walmart, so the ice cream came into the yarn store also. This is one of the classier yarn stores I have frequented. It’s very gorgeous. There are multiple comfy chairs and couches to lounge knit on. Nothing is cheap, however, and nothing is returnable either, so you have to think long and hard about buying anything.

I have a pattern I want to make and I saw some yarn that would be gorgeous for it, but alas to get enough for my project would have cost $70. I settled for a scarf pattern and one ball of sock yarn.

The plan for supper was to go down to the beach and get their special Thursday night meal that is served from a little concession stand. Lina and I walked down because it’s a nice walk. My parents were supposed to drive the car down and meet us there. The only problem was that when we got there it was mobbed with cars and people. There were no parking spots. Lina and I did reserve a picnic table, but what with the crowds and the lack of parking and people getting arrested and police cars showing up, my parents decided that we were not going to eat on the beach after all. Instead we went to the little restaurant by the golf course and had a nice meal. They even made liver and onions with bacon at my dad’s request and he was a happy man.

Tomorrow Mary and Jordan are coming to visit so we are really looking forward to seeing them. Meanwhile, I am way behind on my blog downloading. I really, really hope that Xanga doesn’t die at the end of this month, because if it does, I’m going to lose a lot of memories.

The Southern Lady Starter Kit

I never even took out my computer yesterday after we arrived, and if I had I would have been too tired to write anything. We left home at 6:30 yesterday morning. I had only had about 3 hours of restless sleep. Thank goodness my mighty daughter Lina was better rested than her mother!

We had a mostly uneventful drive through the stunningly beautiful states of Arkansas and Tennessee, before finally pulling into the parking lot of Jordan and Mary’s new apartment. It is beautifully set up all ready and so homey-looking. We got to meet their two kittens, Howl and Calcifer, who are adorable and friendly and curious.

Our car was packed pretty full of Mary and Jordan’s stuff, which had to be brought into the house. Afterwards we went on a brief expedition to Walmart which resulted in supper. We had a lovely visit around the supper table but then Lina and I had to leave so that we could continue on to my parents’ house. We arrived at about 10:30 I think. I’m not sure because I wasn’t terribly alert by that time.

This morning we slept in and had a leisurely breakfast with my mom. My dad had left earlier for some medical appointments in Knoxville, where he will be getting hip replacement surgery in 11 days.

My mom wanted to take Lina and me for lunch to a place that is a combination café and gift shop. Now in order to explain what happened next, I need to explain something. I am, I like to believe, a lady (though not at all in the same league of lady-hood with my mother). I am a lady who has lived in the South for almost her entire adult life. I am not, however, a Southern Lady. There are certain characteristics that a Southern Lady has that only come with being born Southern. For instance, there is the honey-sweet southern drawl, which you use to say things like “Bless your heart!” Only you pronounce it “Blay-ess yo ho-wart.” Then there is the hair (big). The makeup (lots). The jewelry (flashy). The heels (high). The handbag (large, covered with embellishments, and flashy).

Lina has recently confided in me that she wants a Southern Lady purse (handbag). Having grown up in the South, this is not a surprising ambition, really. She still hasn’t found the perfect large, flashy bag though. Today in the gift shop, I was kind of keeping an eye out for her and I found a green handbag on the clearance shelf. I showed it to Lina and she turned her nose up at it because it lacked “bling.” The more I looked at it, though, the more I liked it, and it didn’t hurt that it was half price.

So guess who bought it? It’s kind of a Southern Lady starter kit. I’ll show you a picture when I get home. I don’t have my photo cable with me here. Lina, meanwhile, got a start on her Southern Lady persona also. She didn’t fall for any of the handbags there, but she found a big flat Southern Lady wallet in a zebra print with hot pink trim. She couldn’t resist.

I don’t know if I’ll ever progress beyond the beginner stage of being a Southern Lady, but for now I’m enjoying have a girly handbag, something I haven’t owned for many years.

This afternoon we were invited to tea at the home of my mother’s friend Valerie. Valerie is a wonderfully friendly and hospitable lady who is a fellow writer. She has been very prolific but has not had a lot of luck selling manuscripts–a situation I can certainly commiserate with! It was a lovely visit though, sitting at her dining table which overlooks the lake.

Later still, while my mother made supper, Lina and I walked down to the lake and sat there knitting and talking and trying not to exclaim in horror as one scantily-clad girl after another paraded past us. I rarely am in a position to see how “normal” people dress at the beach and it was a little bit difficult for me. I kept wanting to run up with a towel and cover those girls up!

We walked back just in time to have a delicious supper with my mother, and my dad finally returned in time to join us for dessert. It has been a good day, but now I’ve got another full month of my old blog to download before I will let myself get some sleep.


A Lego Disappointment & Packing Day

Someday, I’ll take a trip that will be stress-free. I’ll be all packed three days ahead of time. The car will be loaded the afternoon before I leave, and I’ll spend a leisurely evening with my family watching a video and talking and laughing before going to bed early so that I can wake refreshed in the morning.

Mind you, it’s never happened yet, and it’s certainly not happening now, but I believe that it can happen someday! Early tomorrow morning Lina and I will be leaving for Tennessee once again. This time we will stay for longer. Tomorrow afternoon we will stop to visit Jordan and Mary. We will see their new apartment and we will unload most of the contents of the car into it. I am glad that we are able to take so many of Mary’s things to her. We weren’t quite able to fit everything, but I think we got all the most important stuff, thanks to Walter’s skillful packing.

After a brief visit with the newlyweds, we will continue on to my parents’ house, which is about 2 hours farther down the road. Lina and I are both really looking forward to spending some time with my parents when we aren’t all exhausted from the wedding.

Today I had to make an early-morning run to Walmart to get cat food, and I ended up not minding too much because on my way home I saw the western sky full of hot air balloons. Today was the first day of the annual balloon races, and they do look so lovely hanging in the sky.

I only had three students in my story class this afternoon, because 2 were sick and Jasper is attending a day camp this week. I was expecting him to come home all elated about his Lego camp, but instead a rather dejected little boy walked in the door this afternoon. We picked his camp based on the description in the brochure, which made it sound like he’d be making Lego machines with moving parts, something he would very much like to do. You can imagine his dismay when he arrived at the camp, only to find that it was the exact same camp that he did last year, with all the exact same models, most of which are just buildings! I feel so bad for him. The description in the brochure did not sound at all like the camp he did last year. He has been so excited about this camp all summer long, and I just hate that it is such a huge disappointment. (Not to mention that he spent most of his carefully hoarded savings on it too!)

Most of the day, obviously, has been spent getting ready for our trip. I made a loaf of gluten-free bread to take, and went carefully over the list of things that Mary has asked for, making sure to put them all together so nothing would be forgotten. We are going to be heavily loaded on the way there, but should be much lighter on the way back!

I will have my computer with me on the trip, but at this point I can’t say how much time I’ll have to post on this blog. I’ll do what I can!

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Helen H. Lemmel

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s a light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!


Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conquerors we are!


His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!



In Which I Gain a New Respect for the Bomb Squad

My poor husband worked all night long. He had expected to be home by 5:00 a.m. or so, but when I got up shortly after 6:00, he was still not here and I was very glad that I had the option of taking Lina’s car to do the shopping. Walter finally returned shortly after I did–by which time it was after 9:00. His first thought was to just go out and do his yard jobs right away, but after getting some equipment together he realized that he really needed to rest, so he went to lie down.

I decided that the time had finally come for me to work on replacing my autoharp strings–the two strings that snapped when I tried to tune it. The strings arrived a few days ago, and I found myself thinking that I really did not want to pay the music store $20 just to replace two strings. I know for a fact that most autoharp players take care of their own strings, so why not me?

I located an excellent YouTube video on how to replace a string and was very relieved to see that it was not that complicated. (I know. I really was that naïve.) So, I cleaned off the table and collected my tools and got all set up. Boy, was I in for a surprise. When I finished unscrewing the cover over the chord bars and lifted it up, I discovered that under the hood my autoharp was nothing like the one in the video. Instead of wooden bars with a chord button attached to each one, I have a series of hollow metal bars perched on top of springs (but not attached) and each bar has a deep groove on top. The chord buttons just sit in the groove (but are not attached either). So when I lifted off the cover, the buttons scattered and the bars were in danger of doing the same until I realized how precarious they really were.

That was discouraging enough. I had a rapt audience (Jasper) which made me more nervous than I might otherwise have been. I carefully removed the first broken string (#36). The video said that before putting in the new string you had to remove the chord bars. Not in my lifetime, baby. The newfangled design makes that a very bad idea. So, I worked at seating the “ball” end of the string and then snaking it under the chord bars without dislodging any of them. Medical clamps were required. So glad I have them! Then I had to try to figure out how to get the free end of the wire into the pin, cut it to the right length, curl up the end, and start tightening the pin while making sure the wire went around the “guide” pin the right way.

My first effort at curling the end didn’t work. I had to cut more off and try again. Chord bars kept on bouncing ominously. I felt like one of those bomb squad guys in the movies who are having to figure out which wire to clip in order to keep the entire city from blowing up. Jasper was breathing down my neck and that added greatly to my stress, especially since he did not pick up on my stress level at all but just kept on chattering cheerfully.

Then, when I thought I was to the point where I could start tuning, I plucked the string and it sounded horrendous. I looked and saw that the “ball” end was no longer seated properly. I had to loosen the string and use a pair of pliers and my medical clamps to get that ball back where it belonged. I wanted to curl in a ball and weep for an hour or so, but instead I took a really deep breath and kept going. I tightened the string again and then literally held my breath as I tuned it. It did not break. Whew! What a relief!

Then it was time to tackle string #12, which was a little trickier because it wasn’t on the edge but was between two other strings. It was every bit as nerve-wracking as string #36, but to my everlasting relief I succeeded in getting it installed and tuned without any breakage occurring.

This still left me with the problem of the wayward chord buttons. I had no idea which buttons went into which chord bar grooves. I had to give myself a good talking to, to keep myself from running down the street screaming. Instead I got on my computer and searched for photos of my kind of autoharp, with good enough resolution for me to see what order the buttons went in. Ever so carefully, I placed each button into the correct groove. Then I still had to line them up in the exact configuration as the holes on the cover, a process that was incredibly slow and tedious.

I’ll be honest: if I had known what lay ahead of me, I would never have removed that cover in the first place. I would have taken my instrument to the music store and gladly paid money to have my strings replaced. Now, though, that I have survived the experience (it took an hour and a half out of my day and several months off my life) I know it is possible to do it on my own and I will probably do it again someday after I’ve fully recovered from today’s adventure.

Walter took a two-hour nap and then got up and went out to work with Spencer. I was dragging myself, having only had five hours of sleep, and having been severely traumatized by my restringing task, but at least I had something lovely to look forward to: Cassie was coming to tea!

A long time ago, Cassie was one of my students and I taught her for all four years of high school. She is kind enough to come see me once a year or so, so that I can gloat over how well she has turned out and hear all her news. I scurried around setting up a tea table in the living room and heating water and so forth. I left the room momentarily and when I returned, Cassie was in my living room looking like a tropical flower with her vibrant yellow top and deep red hair. Jasper followed me into the kitchen and said, “She just came from the hair shop. That’s why her hair looks so awesome.”

I was delighted to see Cassie but also rather taken aback, I must confess. Up until today, when Cassie has come to visit, she still looked very “girlish” to me despite the fact that she is Flynn’s age. Today, I found myself sitting across the table from a grown-up. Cassie is most definitely an adult now–poised and attractive and confident. I have to admit that even while admiring the amazing young woman she has become, I felt a pang or two, especially since I am in the middle of downloading old blog entries and keep finding photos of her when she was not grown up at all.

students 2005

Cassie is second from right in this photo from almost 8 years ago.

 7-20-113 Cassie

*Sigh* If she had to grow up, I’m glad she did it so beautifully!

And yes, I made sure my husband went to bed early.