“I see by your outfit that you are a birder”

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‘On the Streets of Laredo, way back when — and now’

Nobody goes to Laredo,” says my Texan Friend. Well, call me ‘Nobody’ then, because I’ve not only been to Laredo, I’ve been there twice.

This most recent time shouldn’t really count, since The Dude and I were there not even a whole day, Laredo being merely the ‘end point’ of our birding adventure to the Rio Grande Valley, tales of which I will regale you with another time. Or not. But count it I will, since we did in fact “go walking on the streets of Laredo”, to quote the Immortal Johnny Cash.

We didn’t spy any “young cowboys all dressed in white linen”. Or any cowboys at all. Well, except for these hombres:

The only cowboys we spied. And they were hanging out at the airport, not walking on the streets like any self-respecting Laredo cowboy

No, the time I spent in Laredo that really counts is the time I went there as part of a trip made with my Gramma and Grampa Peterson and my Aunt Marilyn.

Another Road Trip, another time. That’s Aunt Marilyn perched on the hood of our station wagon, G’ma and G’pa there on the right. I was probably in the car, sulking

This trip (which was, of course, a Road Trip) was a gift from my Aunt Marilyn in honor of my graduation from eighth grade. Which meant I was thirteen at the time.

The plan was to drive from Northern Illinois to Mexico. Yes, I said drive. My Aunt Marilyn made a memorable plane trip to Sweden once with my Aunt Net. But my grandparents, as far as I know, never set foot inside an airplane.

Aunt ‘Annette’, with me on her lap. We kids thought she was called ‘Net’ because she wore a hairnet

My grandparents, both the Petersons and the Henrys, were farmers. Which meant they never ever went on vacation. I mean, somebody had to be around to milk the cows. I’m still not sure how they managed to go on this trip. Maybe they and some other Farmer Relations had some arrangement to cover for each other, cow-wise.

My Henry Grandparents on ‘vacation’: cleaning up at poker in their kitchen

So. Back to this graduation-gift trip. Like I mentioned, we drove. Since we couldn’t, naturally, drive all the way to Mexico in one go, we stopped along the way at these places called ‘tourist courts’. These were inexpensive motel-like places, usually with rooms in a row or sometimes even little cabins. Sort of like the Motel Sixes of their day.

My Gramma and Grampa had one room, and Aunt Marilyn and I would share another. I remember after one particularly long day of driving Aunt Marilyn tossing her suitcase onto our chenille-spread-covered bed and raising quite a cloud of dust.

Me with Peterson Grans on the occasion of my Lutheran Confirmation. Same year as 8th-grade graduation, but even more important

My grandparents weren’t cheap, but they had scrimped and saved all their lives and weren’t going to change their ways while on vacation.

We did stay at a fancy resort in the Ozarks on this trip. I’m not sure how my grandparents had heard of this place, but I do know that the attraction was that we could stay there for free. All we had to do in return was listen to a presentation about buying time shares in the place. As if.

Many of the details of this trip are understandably blurry, this being Way Back When. I do recall that while in Texas we visited the LBJ Ranch. Why, I’m not sure, since my grandparents were diehard Republications. In fact I remember that my Aunt Marilyn had a framed photograph of Dwight Eisenhower hanging in her bedroom. I kid you not.

We also visited the Alamo. I distinctly remember my Aunt reading the plaque inside the very tiny fort (I think my living room is bigger, and I honestly don’t have a very big LR) and remarking, “We lost? All our guys died? Then why do we ‘remember’?”

And I remember that we would stop to eat wherever my Grampa saw trucks parked. (No, there were no fast-food places then. The closest thing to a chain was Howard Johnson’s, and that was way too fancy for Grampa.) He said that truckers knew where the best food was. Probably still true, though I haven’t checked in a while.

Anyway. We finally made it to the Mexican Border. Which is right there in Laredo. These days there is a humongous towering gate-like structure there, right next to an even-more humongous outlet mall.

Big honkin’ border tower. Even bigger honkin’ outlet mall

But back then you could just drive your car over the bridge to Nuevo Laredo, and voila! you were in Mexico. Which is what we did. Grampa P parked his Ford and we walked around a bit so we could say we’d been in Mexico. Pretty exotic stuff.

I don’t remember what we did there exactly, except for the walking around. But I do remember that when we got back to the car, it was surrounded by all these little Mexican kids. They had buckets and cloths and were washing the road dust off that Ford and shining it up real nice.

My Grampa looked a bit bewildered and amazed at this outsize gesture of foreign hospitality. We smiled at the kids, they smiled back — and then we got in the Ford and drove on back over the bridge to the good old U S of A.

To the end of his days, I’m sure my Grampa thought the reason they were holding their hands out to us was to wave goodbye.

Another picture of my Grampa P. Just because I have it, and it’s cool

New York City. April 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paradise by the kitchen light

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‘Meatloaf again. Or maybe chili this time.’

It’s my darned fault it’s been so chilly here in the Northeast. Not only did I stow my chili (speaking of ‘chilly’) pot away, but I put my meatloaf pans in mothballs. Figuratively, that is. It’s sort of like what happened last week when I took our big fat comforter to the cleaners. It snowed.

But back to the kitchen. When the weather’s cold, there’s nothing we Henrys like better than a big ole batch of Anything Made With Ground Meat. Of course, my Oldest Younger Brother Scott, being a Californian, scorns chili made with ground meat. But the rest of us slurp it up like gangbusters. (I’m featuring a photo of a large pot of a late great batch right there at the top of this post.)

When I was growing up, my Mom made chili a lot. Her recipe for chili was the same as her recipe for spaghetti sauce — except that the chili had beans.

She’d start with onions. (Everything she made started with onions. She once told me she didn’t feel ‘right’ unless she had a whole bag of yellow onions in her kitchen. She felt the same way about potatoes. Oh, and bananas. There were always bananas in varying degrees of ripeness, even decomposition. The black ones were used for banana bread. Which, naturally, was the exception to the everything-starting-with-onions rule. But I digress.)

My Gramma Henry and my Uncle Mike. Looks like they’re enjoying some banana bread. Or maybe that’s a homemade pickle — could go either way

Anyway, she started with onions, chopped and sautéed. Then came some chopped green pepper. Then a can or two of tomatoes. If she added oregano, it was spaghetti sauce. If she added chili powder and beans, it was chili. Either way, it did not go unappreciated. Or uneaten.

Gosh, Roger. Not sure! That looks like scrambled eggs that Aunt M is whipping up. But what I’m chomping into? That’s a Peterson Kitchen, so it’s anybody’s guess. Maybe one of Gramma P’s rolls?

My chili is a tad more complex, if not Authentically Southwestern, or even Californian. It’s not a secret, but I’m keeping the recipe to myself for now. Because this story is about Meatloaf, for which I am going to give you my recipe. (Meatloaf the food, not Meatloaf The Singer of ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’, which I’m only mentioning because some of you, like The Dude, may not have heard of him and won’t ‘get’ my titular pun.)

So here you go: LutheranLiar’s Mom’s Meatloaf

Here’s what you’ll need to make ‘my’ meatloaf. Minus the meat. Raw ground meat looks pretty icky in a photo, so use your imagination

I highly recommend making meatloaf, and making it often. Not that many people do, at least not in the Younger Generation, or in my (ahem) ‘circle’. So it’s rather a treat. And if you serve it to anyone Not From Here, why, it’s downright exotic. I once ‘dinner-partied’ some meatloaf when a Frenchwoman was a guest. She’s still raving about it — and that was at least ten years ago.

Here’s the meatloaf, ready for the oven. All mixed up, that raw meat doesn’t look too icky. I hope

Oh — before I forget. When you make meatloaf — or chili for that matter — it’s a great idea to make an extra one (or for chili, a double batch) so you can stow it away in the freezer for a rainy (or chilly, er ‘chili’) day. Trust me, there’s been many a time I’ve been too rushed (or too lazy) to cook dinner, and I’ve just thawed us out a meatcicle of some sort.

Meatloaf — again. This was last week’s. Yup, there was already a chunk missing before I could ‘capture’ it with my iPhone

So anyway. It’s still cold, it’s still March, and I’m still mad about meatloaf. And chili. And, basically, anything you can throw together with some ground meat. Even The Dude’s Mother’s Pepperless Stuffed Peppers taste pretty darned good when it’s nippy out.

Champagne livens up any occasion. Even an Anniversary Staycation Dinner

And everything tastes good with champagne. Which reminds me. It’s The Dude’s and my wedding anniversary this weekend. I think I’ll get that big ole pot out of storage and whip up a batch of the Duchess of Devonshire’s Beef Bourguignon. Or maybe I’ll just thaw out a chilisicle.

New York City. March 2018

 

 

The A-Hole Car

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‘Dealing with a gang of turkeys on Amtrak’

Actually, I wasn’t sure what to call that bunch of turkeys. Except not to call them for dinner (ba-da-bum). So I checked good ole Google. Turns out there are a variety of terms: ‘muster’, ‘posse’, ‘rafter’ being among them. The only one I decided against was ‘school’, since the ‘gang’ I’m going to describe seemed decidedly uneducated. At least in the mores and folkways of polite train-riding.

The story I’m going to tell happened when Dude and I were Amtraking our way home after spending a most delightful day and a half with The Child up in the Boston/Cambridge area where she lives and works.

You’ve probably heard enough already about The Child and her cool job at the amazing-and-recently-bought-by-Standard-and-Poor Kensho. Suffice it to say that The Dude and I are not only proud as punch but relieved that she won’t be couch-surfing at our place any time soon.

The Child showing us around Kensho’s new C’bridge digs. If you look closely you can see that her door has ‘Troll’ written on it (not by us)

Kensho’s new spread is one of those designed-so-the-workforce-never-wants-to-leave sorts of places. With not only two kitchens stocked with every kind of snack imaginable (even Goldfish, The Child’s personal catnip), but also a gym and a game room and (I am not making this up) a meditation room. The Child and The Dude worked up a bit of a healthy sweat at the ping-pong table, though, sadly, this went undocumented.

The Dude test-swings one of Kensho’s more, um, interesting new ‘office chairs’. (Yeah, I stole this shot from The Child’s Instagram feed; could have cropped the bottom, but wanted to keep those Dude Feet)

Anyway, we had a very pleasant time even not at the fantastic new office — an afternoon walking around Cambridge with Child and BF, capped with a nice dinner in a Millennial-friendly Williamsburg-hipster-esque spot near Inman Square.

Bumping into a few turkeys on a walk around Cambridge. Much better behaved than the turkeys we encountered on our train

Next day, for a change of pace, we went to the Isabella Gardner Museum, which is like one of my favorite haunts in New York, the Frick, in that it is a big beautiful house filled with the art and objects that the big beautiful benefactor left in it. It is my dream that, one day, The Child will be so successful that she can buy me one of these houses. Either one will be fine.

Meeting the benefactrice. Incidentally, if your name is ‘Isabella’, you get in free. We had to pay

Yes, we were allowed to take pictures inside the Gardner House. (I asked a guard, just to make sure.) Here are a few more to enjoy before I get back to the incident-on-the-train part.

This house has, among zillions of other attractions, a four-story courtyard. Sigh

Dude and Child taking in the courtyard while I measure the rooms for the movers

The Child, making like a Sargent

All right, enough with the art and the day-dreaming. Sooner than you can say “Gosh, that visit went fast!”, The Child had ushered us into an Uber, and off we went to the station, where The Dude enjoyed a fortifying Carvel cone before boarding our train back to New York.

We had suffered through a bit of a misadventure on our way up to Boston the day before. See, I can’t sit backwards without getting carsick, so we had dragged our bags through car after car of ‘backward-facing seats’ only to discover when the train started moving that the two ‘front-facing’ ones we finally found (next to the bathroom, ick) were actually backwards. We, duh, thought the train was pointed the other way.

But that was bliss compared to our ride home. Turns out a big snowstorm was predicted for Boston, so our train was crammed with not only experienced, polite train-riders, but a rather unruly mob of, I’m guessing from their (loud) cellphone conversations, o-no-our-flight-was-cancelled airplane-flyers.

You know how on the train they have this thing called the Quiet Car? We didn’t sit there, since we knew we might want to, you know, kvell a bit with each other over The Child. (Besides, the Quiet Car was, no doubt, full already with nice, quiet, and super-smart-for-choosing-it Quiet-Car-riders.)

The Dude, sitting quietly (even tho not in the Quiet Car), reading his Jack Reacher book on his phone instead of talking on it

So we sat in a ‘normal’ car. Which we quickly dubbed the A-Hole Car. (Only we didn’t call it ‘A-Hole’) This car was populated with peeps who coughed a lot, marched up and down the aisle bonking you on the head with bags and briefcases, ate smelly food, were accompanied by loud screaming children, dropped their tray tables so they made resounding bangs, slept with their feet on the adjoining seat, and watched movies without headphones.

Yup. It was just like being on a plane! But worse, since (at least for now, thank the Transportation Gods) you can’t talk on the phone on a plane. And this bunch of turkeys were indeed gabbling on the phone. Loudly, and a lot. One guy a couple of seats up, over the course of several calls, told us in booming detail all about the deal he was closing. He referred, several times, to his clients as “all pre-sliced, like bread in buns.” Once he even said he was “shaving down the buns”. I’m not sure what all that means, biz-wise, but I sure hope his deal wasn’t a secret one, because everybody in that car knew all about it by the time we pulled into Penn Station.

Oh, speaking of marching up and down the aisle, there was a woman who paused mid-march to ask what I was doing. (I was knitting some mittens.) She admired my handiwork, which was nice, but then she picked up my finished mitten and without as much as a by-your-leave or a how-de-do, she tried it on.

My mittens-in-the-making, pre-disturbance

Well. We made it home, sanity — and mittens — intact. And before the storm hit too. Thanks again, dear Child, for a wonderful visit. We hope to be back again soon. But next time we might drive.

New York City. March 2018

 

The Red Shoes (on)

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‘When saying it wrong is too cute to correct’

I was feeling kind of empty, the Australian Open being over and all (oh where will I get my Federer Fix?), so I called my Mom.

(Let me say right off the bat that I am ever so grateful to have a Mom, and that having one as smart and funny and almost-always-available by iPhone as mine is, well that’s just cosmic icing on the cake.)

So, anyway. After discussing various relatives and their illnesses and books and movies and baseball (she doesn’t follow tennis, but I love her anyway), and the Fate of the Nation in General, we got around to my blog. And the fact that my Mom had, yet again, tried to post a comment that didn’t ‘take’. (We won’t go into technical details, except to note that my Mom is extremely tech-savvy, more than I am, in fact. She has personally designed her own emoji. So I am stymied about why/how she can’t post comments. Sigh.)

My Mom and Dad and my Peterson Grandparents, when I was adorably small and in no need of shoes, red or not red

Her comment? It was in reference to last week’s post which, if you recall, was about me feeling like it was about time already to be giving away certain stuff in my closet and was titled ‘At least it’s not a dead-squirrel stole’. Continue reading

“I write, therefore I am”

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‘You read, therefore I am grateful’

I was sitting around the other morning, trying not to think about how weird it is that it’s not even 12 degrees outside and I’m scratching away at chigger bites (from our recent Panamanian Adventure; see last week’s post for deets and pix), when I noticed I got a ‘pingback’.

Our two lovely guides plus one irritating Panama tour participant who, among other things, insisted on being addressed as ‘Raven’. She got chigger-bit too. But she deserved it

For non-members of the Blogosphere, which would be darn-near all of you, bless your Faithful Little Hearts, this ‘ping’ meant somebody cited my blog, good ole Lutheranliar looks at life, in their blog. Which is an incredibly nice thing to do, and doesn’t happen all that much. At least not to me. Before I go on, I simply must thank this nice Blogger Person, Orla by name, who writes “Fancy Paper: little things that make you happy”. When I checked that ‘pingback’, I found that she had nominated me for something called the Blogger Recognition Award. (It’s protocol to thank your nominator, but I like to think that I would do so anyway.) Thank you, Orla!

What does happen to me? Cats hiding in plain sight. Or Sitting on Guys’ Heads in Times Square

Again, according to protocol, we Nominees are also supposed to say how we got started blogging, give two tips to beginning bloggers, and last but not least, list some blogs we like and follow.

Whew. Let’s dig in. So, how did I get started? Continue reading

Out with the old year, but not out with the old stuff. Yet.

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‘I’m so not ready for Swedish “death cleaning”, thank you very much’

As if The Holidays weren’t bittersweet enough. (You know what I mean: You’re happy because it’s Christmastime, but then Christmas is over and you’re smack-dab in the middle of that weird Week-Before-New-Year’s and everyone is telling you they’ll “see you next year” and you’re deciding whether to put away the decorations now or wait and be confronted with them when you walk back into the apartment after your trip to Panama.) Or wherever. You get my drift.

And as if all this Seasonal Sturm und Drang weren’t bad enough, the other day I innocently opened the Times to find a review of this new book called, I kid you not, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. Continue reading

“I’ll be (at Somebody’s Else’s) Home for Christmas”

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‘”You can count on me (not to give you a hard time about it)”‘

Or not too much of a hard time, anyway. I mean, what did I expect? The Child is a Certified Grownup now, and not even a freshly-minted one. (She is not only ‘over 21’, she is ‘over 25′.)

Hmmm. It’s a wonder she didn’t spend Christmas Away even earlier

Even when she was a wee Santa-Believing Child I knew that, at some point in the Foggy Festive Future, there would come a Christmas that she would want to spend Elsewhere. And, even though we’ve been guilty of ‘downsizing’ our Christmas festivities as the years have whizzed by — going from super-sized Trees complete with all the Tree Trimmings (including a big ole pot-roast-fueled Tree Trim Party) to ever-smaller sort-of-decorated Trees In Pots to No (gasp) Tree At All — I still took it for granted that she would be with us at Christmas.

After all, she made it home for Christmas all through college. Why, even the year she spent studying in Cambridge (the England Cambridge, not the Massachusetts Cambridge), she managed to get herself Home in time for December 25. (Gosh, I hope I fed her some pot roast.) Continue reading

Is that stocking half full, or half empty?

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‘The Philosophy of Gift-giving. It’s all how you look at it.’

One of the few times I saw my mother weep was one Christmas when she opened a gaily-wrapped package only to discover that my well-meaning father had given her an electric toothbrush. “It’s the latest thing,” he protested as he tried to comfort her. It didn’t help when he pointed out that it came with different heads, one for each member of our family.

Poor Dad. He was one of those well-meaning people who give gifts that they really want. He loved gadgets; ergo, Mom got gadgets. I think it was the next Christmas that he gave her the electric knife.

My Mom later told us about a Christmas when she was very little — a Christmas when she really really wanted roller skates. There was a largish, heavyish roller-skate-appropriate box under the tree that looked promising. But her Uncle Warren Who Liked To Tease (didn’t everyone have one of these?) kept telling her it was a hair ribbon. Poor Mom.

I’m not sure if this was the Christmas Of The Electric Knife. Or the Christmas Of The Electric Toothbrush

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Hygge for the Holidays

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‘Making a list, and checking it twice’

Okay. Confession Time. First, the idea for this post, which is to make a list of Blessings, comes from a Blogger Who Has Many Many Followers. (Which is kind of a blessing right there, wouldn’t you say, Susie?)

Susie mentioned she had ‘Hygge’ in mind when she made her own list. I would define “Hygge’ for you, but (Second Big Confession Coming Up), I had absolutely no idea what ‘hygge’ meant until I googled it and found an article titled, aptly, ‘What the Hell is Hygge?’ Continue reading

Deck the halls with bough of holly

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‘A Grinch Guide to Holiday decor’

Well, maybe not ‘Grinch’. Make that more of a ‘minimalist’. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas (well, not as much as I enjoy Thanksgiving; everybody who knows me knows that.) And it’s not that I don’t appreciate a nice Christmas Tree. In fact, I remember gazing out of the car window as we worked our way through small town after small town on those long pre-interstate drives up to my Gramma’s in Northern Illinois, admiring the Trees that were strategically placed in front-room picture windows for maximum drive-by impact.

But I’ve never been one of those people who fusses with the ornaments on her own Christmas Tree, arranging and rearranging them every time she walks by, striving for Holiday Perfection. In fact, I do everything I can to avoid having my own Christmas Tree.

Oh, there for a few years, when The Child was an Actual Child, I condescended to allowing a Tree on the premises. But I got The Dude and The Child to go get the tree. (I made this sound like a fun Daddy-and-Daughter outing, while I cleverly stayed home and sipped champagne.) And I threw a Tree Trim Party to get other people to actually do the decorating of said tree. I made this sound fun, too, by luring friends over with the promise of more champagne — and my Famous Pot Roast — in return for their bringing over an ornament (and this is the important part) hanging it on the Tree. (I’ve told the story of my Tom Sawyerish get-someone-else-to-do-the-work Tree Trickery in a previous hilarious/nostalgic post called ‘(N)o Tannenbaum’, which I invite you to read when you’re done chuckling over this one.)

I decorate myself in preparation for bribing friends with pot roast in return for decorating that bare tree, stage left

Continue reading