Monday, November 30, 2009

Adapt and Overcome

Only a rank degenerate would drive 1,500 miles across Texas without eating a chicken fried steak. - Larry McMurtry

Another Christmas project finished!

We were also out of school today for Thanksgiving. This extra Monday is what we get instead of a break around Columbus Day. I often use it to decorate for Christmas, but today I had other plans. Notice the word "had." This morning I worked on some chores, both physical and cyber. I also planned to fix lunch for my husband, the kind he usually doesn't get because I don't want to make that much mess during a work week--chicken fried steak fingers. For those of you not from Texas, chicken-fried steak is a steak, usually round or sirloin, sliced very thin and then tenderized like crazy, dipped in flour and milk and flour again, and fried in a skillet. Cutting the steak into strips before frying makes it fingers. Today I did an extra batch in order to have leftovers for supper, so I was loading the cast iron skillet three times. By the time you get to the third frying, a considerable amount of flour has accumulated at the bottom of the skillet and is getting very brown, so you have to watch carefully so that burned flour does not attach to your finished product. I managed that fairly successfully, removed the last batch of steak fingers to the paper towel to drain, and dashed back across the kitchen to read the reviews for some audiobooks that were on sale. I had the kitchen vent on full blast over the stove. I knew I smelled something scorched, but I ignored it, thinking it was just the flour. Well, it was just the flour and grease because I had forgotten to turn off the burner. There was not enough grease for a grease fire, but that flour was smoking like crazy. The vent had kept it away from me, but the smoke had drifted into the living room and the utility. I rescued the skillet to a dry sink, opened the doors into the garage, and tried to breathe. I had 20 minutes to decide what to do about dinner. After a cell phone consultation, here's what we came up with. I grabbed the plate of steak fingers and the salt shaker (turned out that I got the pepper becaue I couldn't see) and climbed in the car. My dear husband came home and got in the passenger seat, holding a plate of steak fingers in his lap. We drove to the local fast food establishment and ordered French fries and a container of gravy, and drinks. We got our order, parked in their parking lot, which is on the corner of Main Street and the highway, and watched locals and travellers come and go while we ate steak fingers off a china plate and French fries from styrofoam. It was a sunshiny winter day like we often have in this part of the country--44 degrees and no clouds--and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

By the time I got home, the house was still stinky and sort of made my eyes burn a little bit, but no smoke was visible. I left the door into the garage open for much of the afternoon airing things out. Either it smells better now, or my nose has gotten used to it. Then I knitted--hence the finished project.

Add-on for English teachers: A few years ago I was teaching Out of the Dust, a YA novel about this very part of the country during the Great Depression. I was preparing research topics for my class so that we could have some interesting presentations to go along with the book. Teenagers and food always go together well, so one of the ideas was dust bowl/depression food. Much to my surprise, everything I found on line that was authentic to that time period in this particular area turned out to be pretty much what we eat all the time and just think of as regular food. The "depression steak" which I'm sure sounded so quaint to people from other parts of the country is on the menu at practically every restaurant in Texas and western Oklahoma and eastern New Mexico. I've been told that it starts disappearing by the northern part of Kansas, but I've never checked that out. I do know that when I was growing up, if you said "steak," you meant chicken-fried; on the rare occasions that you meant a grilled steak, you specified "grilled." In case you're wondering why this would have been depression food, the tenderizing process makes a little bit of steak expand tremendously, sort of like pounding gold into gold leaf.

Tonight I'll have to finish getting the rest of my grades entered into the computer since they are due for the mid-period grading tomorrow morning. It's great being able to do that from home.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Snow

If you look really hard at the sky, you can see that great big fluffy flakes are falling. I don't know why they are not visible in front of the tree.
We seldom have an early snow like this; in fact, most of our snow is in late January, February, and sometimes early March, so this is a treat. My late-turning pear tree, which doesn't turn red until all other fall color is pretty much gone, really shows up like this. Notice that the temperature is at the point where the snow is sticking to the street but not to the driveway. You would think that asphalt would be warmer than concrete.
We had a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday. Both children and their spouses were here. In fact, I just did turkey and trimming and the girls brought the rest of the food. We had three little girls running, giggling, and generally having a good time, and lots of good visiting and conversation. The oldest little girl even said the Thanksgiving prayer for the meal.
Yesterday would have been my parents' 78th wedding anniversary. They would have been proud of those grandchildren and their children!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It's Almost Time

The turkey is in the refrigerator thawing. The celery and onions are ready to chop. The cornbread is ready for baking. And I'm ready for the last morning of school before the Thanksgiving holiday! We don't have a fall break in October, so it's a very long and busy time indeed between August and Thanksgiving. We are out of school on W, TH, F, and M, so this will be a welcome "rest and catch up" time. Our children's families will not be here until Saturday, so that will be our turkey day.

This year we have much to be thankful for--our health, our marriage (32 years next week), our country (even now, when we disagree with much that is going on) and the military personnel who keep us free, friends and colleagues, and above all, our children and grandchildren.

And then there are the little things--the Internet, copy machines, a smart room at school (see note below), freezers, electricity, firewood, and the list goes on and on.

Note: This is a clue to my age. I rushed out of my room between classes last week to go to the restroom, only to turn and rush back in automatically to "turn off the projector." My DVD was paused on the computer screen and being dutifully projected from the ceiling onto the big screen. I was just reacting to the mental image of film burning if it was stopped in one spot. How many years has it been since I've done that to a 16mm film? Since 1980 at least! Next I'll probably try to crank the copy machine!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Knitted Something!

Just so you know. Unfortunately, it's a Christmas present, so I can't say what it is or who it's for or post a picture. I'm going to save up pictures and post them all together after Christmas. The color, however, is appropriate for the season--it's cranberry. And it is finished!

Friday, November 13, 2009

After All, It Was Friday the 13th!

When my son was little, we had a picture book, the name of which I do not remember. The story was about a rancher who leaves his wife at home on the boring ranch while he goes to the small town for excitement. It turns out that the most exciting event in town is watching a turtle cross the street. Meanwhile, back at the ranch—that’s a quote—an entire series of exciting events keep the wife entertained, including, if my recollection is correct, the Presidential helicopter.

While living in our small town is not that dull, there are days when nothing much seems to happen. We tend to get a kick out of the small events.

One morning a few weeks ago, a colleague came into the teachers’ workroom and commented that on the way to school she had seen a chicken trying to cross the road—the highway, in fact. It was a black chicken. That afternoon she saw it in the same place, still trying to cross the road.

Two or three nights later, my telephone rang. My son inquired, “Has Dad decided to put chickens on the lot? There’s a chicken in there.”

I innocently asked, “A black chicken?” Never miss a chance to make your children think that Mom has extrasensory insight, even if the child is 25.

“How did you know it was a black chicken?”

I explained. In the middle of the night, when my husband woke up for his wee early morning hours coffee, I told him about the chicken. I don’t think he believed me. Because of the objects on the lot and some low-hanging tree branches, it was a few days before he spotted the chicken. And even then, his first sighting occurred when the chicken crossed the road at the intersection of Main Street and Highway 60 to eat French fries from the parking lot of the Tasty Cream Drive Inn. This went on for a few days. There were regular chicken sightings inside our lot fence, on the sidewalk outside, and across the street at the Tasty Cream. Then, alas, the chicken disappeared. We all suspected fowl play by a dog or cat. (Sorry, it was too good a chance to pass up.)

About a week and a half after the last reported sighting—by this time we had students who had heard the story—a teacher who lives about 20 miles south of town came in chuckling. Her farmer husband had been down at the Wheat Growers grain elevator and had seen a chicken competing with the usual resident pigeons for spilled grain. She immediately asked, “Was it black?” After her husband gave an affirmative answer, she told him the story and then filed her report with us the next morning.

Elevator sightings continued for a day or so, but the elevator is on the very edge of town by the railroad tracks, and the black chicken had not been heard from again until this week. A student reported a sighting last weekend in the Post Office parking lot. That lot is at the other end of Main Street from the elevator; it is also next to our fenced lot with the low hanging tree and lots of cover. Unfortunately, though, there have been no more sightings. Since it is a black chicken, we had great hopes for an appearance on Friday the 13th, but it didn’t work out. I particularly had hopes, since although I’ve followed the story with great interest, being in on the original conversation, I’ve never actually seen the chicken for myself.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


I try very hard to be accepting of all kinds of people, but the truth is that I do not live in a cosmopolitan, or even metropolitan, area. I'm pretty close to the middle of "flyover country." We don't get a lot of exposure to the more exotic types of humanity, except for teenagers, and we just try to overlook that because they're, well, you know, teenagers.

Yesterday morning I was in Barnes & Noble in the nearest city, sitting in the coffee shop having what is for me an outrageously expensive cup of coffee. (In my town, the only place to get a latte is out of a self-service machine at the convenience store-gas station-pizza parlor-sub shop. No kidding!) I have been keeping an eye out for very small purses with lots of shiny stuff because one of my 2-year-old granddaughters is crazy about them. At a nearby table, facing me, was an adorable little girl of about 5, dressed in a striped t-shirt, jean vest, jeans, socks, and some cute suede clogs. Her hair was neatly put up with a big pink ribbon bow. On the table between her and the woman I assumed was her mother was THE purse! Small, shiny pink, rows of braid in gold, silver, and pearl, spangles in lavender and hot pink. I actually opened my mouth to say, "Excuse me, but would it be too rude of me to ask about your daughter's purse?" And, of course, explain why I was asking. Yes, around here, we do talk to strangers.

Thank heavens, at that moment, the mother reached for the bag, and it was obvious that it was hers. She was dressed in a long black skirt and pink blouse, and was, naturally, seated in a chair. As she was digging in the handbag, she turned toward me, and I saw the rest of the ensemble. The blonde hair that had been on the side facing me had been painted with rainbow colors on the other side of her head. I almost missed it, though, because of the 5, yes, 5, studs sticking through just below her lower lip, the ring IN her lower lip, the nose stud, and the eyebrow ring. I'll admit I didn't even look at her ears. As she stood, her long skirt, of course, raised up and brought her feet into view. She was wearing fuzzy fake fur rainbow striped houseshoes that matched her hair. I am not trying to judge, but I simply could not reconcile such an unconventionally--at least for our location--dressed woman with such an absolutely conventionally dressed child.

Of course, I realize that by daring to write this, I've proved exactly how provincial I am. I would not have blinked if someone in levis, boots, chaps, and spurs walked through, even if that person had smelled like horses and cows and manure. That I'm used to.

No Posting, Little Knitting

I've been in something of a funk lately--extra busy at school, uncertain about private plans, not feeling exactly well, but not exactly sick either, and not knitting much. Here, however, is some "little" knitting. I'm making Christmas ornament sweaters for my grandchildren. I am beginning with one or the other of the various patterns on Ravelry, but since I magic loop, I don't even have appropriate double points, so I'm improvising the rest. I do have the feeling that the hardest part may be making tiny coathangers.