Tuesday, October 28, 2008

of Human Nature

Mine and my neighbors.

Neighbors: PEOPLE! C'MON ALREADY! It's WINDY out. And it's GARBAGE DAY! Secure those recyclables. Have a little common sense. I don't want your stinkin' empty chicken salad sandwich box blowing into my yard!

Me: Procrastinating on pumping gas into Mensa Boy's wear-ble car has proven to be a good thing. I've been riding around just above empty since Sunday and each time I drive past Exxon the gas price has dropped another 10 cents. We are at $2.25 right now. They're practically giving it away!


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Holiday Soups

Fruit Soup
Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
Here is the text for my holiday soup story For Today's Woman magazine.

Whether you are throwing a party or going to one at someone else’s house, soup is a great menu item to consider for a crowd during the holidays. Soups can go together quickly and are fairly easy to keep warm or cold. The holidays are also a good time to roll out those soup recipes that are just too large or rich for a family weeknight meal. But more than that, soups are traditional fare for most holiday meals.
Margaret Wilson of Indian Land likes to serve oyster stew to her company, or take it to church dinners. “It’s easy to throw together,” she says. So easy, in fact, that she seemed a bit embarrassed to give out the recipe. “It goes together in just minutes,” she explains. Easy or not, the soup is much requested at Belair United Methodist Church.
My mother makes fruit soup at least once each holiday season. I remember having it when we went to my grandmother’s house in Iowa at New Year’s. Actually, we had oyster stew and fruit soup. When I mention fruit soup to my friends they say they have never heard of it, and they sound a bit dubious about what it might taste like. Fruit soup, or fruktsuppe in Norway, is usually served warm and is made from dried fruits such as raisins and prunes. It may have dairy such as cream or milk, or may even have alcohol such as brandy or champagne. In many other countries, the soup is usually served cold in the summer with fresh fruit that is in season. Either way it is served, it is usually sweet and so is considered to be more of a dessert than a main course. My mother likes to serve it with lefse, a Norwegian potato flatbread.
In some cultures, beet soup, or borscht, is considered a Christmas soup. The Polish call it barszcz and serve a strictly vegetarian version as the first course on Christmas Eve. Borscht is chock full of root vegetables and goes together quickly, but traditionally it is prepared several days in advance so that it has an opportunity to develop acidity.
Kwanzaa, a week-long celebration honoring African heritage, has several soups as part of its traditional fare. Peanut soup is common throughout Africa and has migrated to the U.S. as slaves in the South prepared it with local peanuts. The simplest recipe calls for two parts chicken stock, two parts shelled peanuts, and one part milk or cream. Another popular Kwanzaa soup is African Tomato Avocado Buttermilk Soup.
Hanukah also falls in December. Although it is a minor Jewish holiday, it still carries its’ traditional holiday fare, and the most easily-recognized food (besides potato latkes) has to be Chicken and Matzo Ball Soup. This Jewish staple is as revered for its healing powers as it is for its comforting taste and unique texture.
No matter the holiday you and your family observe, there is a soup recipe to help you celebrate. And most soups benefit from advance preparation, allowing the flavors to marry before serving to guests. Warm it up in a crockpot, add some crackers or lefse or cornbread and you’ll have a hearty meal to serve to your guests or to take to someone else’s party.

And my mom's fruit soup recipe, revised slightly:

Fruit Soup
By Mary Goetsch
2 Qts boiling water
1 C chopped prunes
1/2 C raisins
1 6-oz package dried mixed fruit, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon, plus a little grated peel
1/2 C sugar-(or to taste)
1/2 C tapioca*
Juice of 1 orange, plus a little grated peel
1 5-oz package dried apple rings, chopped
1 can good quality pie cherries packed in water
Cook all but the pie cherries at medium low heat until the tapioca is done and the fruit is tender. Stir in the pie cherries and heat through. If you like the way the soup looks, you are done. But if you’d prefer, you can add a couple of drops of red food color to make the soup look more appetizing.
Mary likes to serve it with lefse, which is a Norwegian potato flatbread, but it can be served alone. Serve in small ramekins or punch cups. It is very rich.
*You may use regular or pearl tapioca, but if you use pearl, be sure you soak it overnight before using

Actually, the only revision I made was to cut the sugar in half. I've always looked forward to the fruit soup and then when I get the first bite I remember it's awful sweetness. Well darn if she doesn't use and ENTIRE CUP OF SUGAR with all that FRUIT! So I cut the sugar to 1/2 a cup, and then I simmered the orange and lemon rinds in the soup while it was cooking. Now it's something I can see myself eating a lot more of. I'll maybe put some on ice cream, but I think I'll really stir some into my morning oatmeal. Toss in a few nuts and I think I'll have breakfast fit for a queen.

And many many thanks to neighbor Mary for help with the food styling. She really likes that and is creative that way.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

From the Charlotte Observer

Not voting? Better than voting without a clue

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

Today we salute the 40 percent of the citizenry who are true patriots. They don't vote.

Yes, I'm serious.

We are taught since childhood that we should show up and cast ballots as a sacred rite of citizenship. We are taught wrong.

Look, some people shouldn't drive. Some people shouldn't sing. Some people shouldn't handle firearms.

Some people shouldn't vote.

We don't need to make them feel bad by trumpeting this “To the polls, ye sons and daughters of freedom!” nonsense. They're doing the right thing.

They don't know, they don't care and they don't vote. Leave them alone.

Do not unleash your campaign's Annoy-a-tron to call them at dinner and nag them to vote (for you, of course). They are gentle apathetics and have the right to watch “Wheel of Fortune” undisturbed.

See, in the mechanics of democracy, some assembly is required. You need to actually educate yourself on the candidates before entering the poll.

There are those among us who just don't get that. They pull back the curtains snorting fire to elect the next president and suddenly discover a dozen races they weren't expecting. It's like achieving parenthood, then finding out about diapers.

Hereabouts we elect insurance commissioners, state auditors and soil-and-water conservation district supervisors. No, I don't know what they do either, but plenty of people who are eager to do their civic duty just pick willy-nilly when confronted by such races, like a student who didn't bother to read the last chapter of the book before the exam.

This just doesn't serve the cause.

You may be the best soil-and-water candidate in decades, but if your name is Adolf Citibank Hussein, you're going to drive off the dedicated clueless who will vote instead for Joe T. Plumber, who favors erosion and drought.

So here's the deal: If you want to vote, have at it.

Before doing so, take a little time to study the races. You already know what you're doing in McCain vs. Obama and probably have figured out your pick in She Exports Jobs to China vs. She Won't Take A Stand.

But in the other races, nose around a little. Figure out if the candidates for school board, courts and commissions are in tune with you.

Google “League of Women Voters Mecklenburg,” for example, and read the candidate surveys. Check out the voter guide in the newspaper or online. Peruse the Observer's endorsements (and if you don't like the paper's elite liberal media pinko commie moron bias, vote against every single one – at least you'd have a system).

And if you don't have a pick in a race, skip it. No charge. Feel no guilt. I will absolutely applaud you. Leave the decision to those in the know. Stand up against VWI – Voting While Ignorant.

Democracy is a wonderful thing. So is a chainsaw. In both cases, you must be careful where you aim.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Herding Cats

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
Taking a page from my Mother's book, I bought this wine simply because I liked the name. And it was cheap. And I like the picture.

And it's not bad.

Kind of dry.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Remain Calm: ADMENDMENT!

You know what I'm starting to get nervous about?


That's right. My son wants a pumpkin pie. He's here for the weekend. I've gone to three grocery stores and the gas station. NO PUMPKIN ANYWHERE!

What's up with that?


Remain Calm

As I open my mail this morning, and I see that our net worth has dropped precipitously, the only thing I can think is "Be calm. Wary, but calm." There is nothing we can do. We have to just ride out this economic thing and hope for the best. Last week Warren Buffet said, "Be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful." That's what I'm hoping my investment companies are all doing. I trust them. I pretty much have to.

I had breakfast yesterday with some posse members and, as usual, we lent a little time to the economy and money in general. One friend said, "I thought about hooking (to raise extra cash), but that wouldn't really work." My other friend said, "There's all that talking..." I chimed in by saying that I understand many hookers have rules. Maybe you could have "no talking" rule. As we all laughed, I got to thinking, "Well, it's dark humor, but it's better than crying."

My friends and I can all thank our lucky stars that we are 20 years from retirement. The ones that I am concerned about are our nation's retirees and those folks that are near retirement. But somehow it all ends up working out.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Long Long Day

Our school is up for our SACS visit soon. SACS is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. They are an accreditation entity, and being accredited by them means that our school is recognized by colleges and universities worldwide as offering quality education.

Of course that is the extremely simplistic explanation. For a very very complicated process. We have to gather mountains of data for the group that comes to visit us, package it all up in a specific way, and ship it off before their visit.

This means a lot of digging for historical information and then digesting it and spitting it back out with summary explanations. As a data collector and writer, I've been involved with parts of the process as I help our administrators located what they need and now today we spent quite a bit of the day editing. We need to get the final product to a printer tomorrow.

You can about imagine the stress level at the school this week. I'll be glad when the paperwork is over and all we can do is move on with daily life and just wait for the people to come.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Napster Nap

My Napster quit working for a few days, and my player had to be reformatted. I don't get too excited about that kind of thing anymore. Just wait a day or so until I have time to download everything again. It's actually a nice excuse to break out of ruts and start fresh. I've been adding some televisions soundtracks like "Sex & City," "Grey's Anatomy," "House," etc. A while ago I stumbled upon mention of a group called Eddie from Ohio that I really like. And did you know that Chris Sligh, of American Idol fame, has a great Christian album out? It's very very nice.

I play music quite a lot at work. I do it for a few different reasons. First, it helps to add a little background noise for when the counselors are meeting with people in their offices. I really don't think people should have to worry about their conversations being overheard when they are meeting with their counselor. Secondly, I think it makes the atmosphere more inviting to the kids and parents. I play a very eclectic mix of music, from Classical to Celtic to Christian to Pop. The rock goes everywhere from folk to a new cd I found called Head, which seems to be what we used to call Acid Rock when I was in high school. I guess it's called heavy metal now. But back in the day we called it acid rock because it was generally felt that you needed to drop acid to really appreciate it. The guy's name is Brian Welch. Can't understand a word the dude is saying. It's just a lot of screaming. But I enjoy the reactions I get from students when they come into the office and hear what I'm playing. And the adults seem to enjoy hearing anything from Three Dog Night to CCR to Sara McLaughlin to Sarah Groves. The third reason I play music is to keep myself from going out of my mind.

Tomorrow will be a busy day at school, as we are testing some students...giving them the PSAT or ASVAB... the seniors are having college & career day (I have to take credit for the fact that Erskine is coming), and the freshmen are going to the Renaissance Festival.


Monday, October 13, 2008


It's good.

When I was younger, actually not much younger, maybe even up to only about 3 years ago, I hated quiet. I could hear the faint ringing in my ears when everything was turned off and no one was talking. That little bit of ringing would drive me crazy. I've had it for as long as I can remember. To deal with it I always had something on. A radio, television, or music.

And I always needed to be thinking about or doing at least two things at once. Reading while watching TV. Listening to the radio while reading. That kind of thing.

Now I find I like quiet. And when I do have something on, that's all I do.

Today was a very quiet day at work. There was no school and the teachers had a professional development day off-site. So it was just the skeleton crew of office staff and maintenance in the school today. We got so much done we were giddy at the end of the day. In fact, we all said we wished we had another one tomorrow. But I'm sure after a few days we'd wish for more commotion.


Thursday, October 09, 2008


Don't sleep so close to the bedside table. Banging into it with your forehead in the middle of the night isn't pleasant.
And it leaves marks.


Monday, October 06, 2008

Me and the Coop at the Festival

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
Here is this year's festival photo of me and my buddy Adam clowning around at the library festival. He stayed dry this year! (last year's entry) I am supposed to be giving him a back massage in this photo. If you think it looks like I'm doing something else, then you can just keep those thoughts to yourself!

This year I did not work at the event or on it at all. I did the Komen Race in the morning, stopped home to charge up (read: nap), and then went to the festival for a bit in the afternoon. It looked like everyone was having a great time, and I think they may have made around $9 or $10k.

But let me move back to the Komen Race for the rest of this entry. And the internet. And how great both are.

In yesterday's entry I mentioned that I had not quite reached my goal of $610. I mentioned (I think, but I'm too lazy to go back and look) that I would probably write a check for the difference. I figured I'd wait until the next payday to do that.

So I was pretty surprised to get this message in my email inbox last night:

Hi Karen,
I have been following your blog for a few years now--totally enjoy your stories and pictures--keep them coming! I have commented to you via your blog address as well as your previous personal email address I am "Tom from California" as a tag.
I wrote to you before, regarding my wife and I retiring to Cary, N.C. You recommended Asheville--a very good suggestion I might say. My wife (Lynn) and I did plan on pursuing, but after she retired in August of 2007, she was diagnosed with bladder cancer and she wants to stay close to home for our girls.
At any rate, I enjoyed your blog of today talking about your "Race". Can my wife and I send the additional $64 for you to meet your "goal"? If so, how do I process the gift (check, credit card, or???). If it is too late we will contribute next year.
Thanks Karen. Your family and community stories are a great day-to-day read for me and Lynn. Nothing but good things for you and your family.
"Tom from California".

I mean wow! Isn't that neat?

So Tom! I thanked you in my response last night, but here's another, more public thank you. And a big shout-out to Lynn. We're pulling for her. And post a comment every once in a while. Let us know how you all are doing!

So I've reached $610. Even in today's economy, people find a way to support the causes near to their hearts. Love to you all!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Absolutely Crazy Inspirational

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
It's always controlled, friendly, noisy mayhem at the Komen Race and this year was no exception.
Buddy Rena and I showed up at about 7:40 and took a quick turn through the booths before entering the crowd starting the 5k non-competitive walk/run. We never did find our friend Sarah and the Jazzercisers from Fort Mill, but did see other Jazzers we recognized.
Here I am with Leslie and Shae from church. Leslie is in the pink survivor's shirt on the left. They both are also in our jazzercises classes here in Indian Land. Every year they come with their own group and every year at some point. right before the race starts, we turn around and there they are right in front of us! I'm always amazed by that. 15,000 people pack downtown Charlotte and somehow we always manage to find these two before the race without even looking for them.
Four things take me by surprise every year when I do this. One is what I just mentioned: running into people you know. The other is the enormity of the crowd, as pictured above. The third is the incredible noise. I don't record it. I should. And then post it on here. At the starting line there were all these drums. Some very good drumline. I never did actually see them. Maybe they weren't even there! Maybe it was piped in noise. But it seemed live. And the fourth is sights like this:
Thanks so much to everyone who donated to the Komen Race. I did not make my goal of $610 this year. The final total was $546. But hey, that's $546 closer to a cure, isn't it?