Monday, January 31, 2011

One Dish Meals

There could be many reasons why many of my suppers evolved into what I call "My famous one dish meals." Maybe I was being lazy, or thrifty, or maybe they are all variations of casseroles, popular when my my children were growing up. Anyway, I cooked them then, and I like them still. The reliable standby, tuna casserole, is an example. It is good old American comfort food. But any creative combination of meat, starch, vegetable, and sauce can produce a delicious meal on a cold evening. Once mixed, it can be put in a casserole dish - like tonight's rice, chicken, and broccoli with a cheese sauce - or served from the pot. Of course soups and stews are one dish meals, too, just soupier!

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Sandy Cat has been going stir crazy this winter. She has braved the outdoors as much as she can before the cold forces her back in where she, the clawed one, torments poor, gentle, declawed Nora. But on this sunny warm day, Sandy was a happy girl. I saw her sitting on the rail, soaking up the sun, eyes closed blissfully. When I came out with the camera, trying to capture her rare serene moment, she woke up. I photographed her anyway.


At church, I feel cheated if we don't get to sing all of a hymn, because I often find the verses that follow the first even more meaningful, and often they carry the main thought to a conclusion. Today we sang all the verses of "All Creatures of our God and King," which happens to have been written by St. Francis of Assisi in 1225. The last two verses were so pretty. I was glad we got to sing them.

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light.

And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Going to the Movies

In the sunny days of spring or summer, I would rather walk through hell barefoot than be forced to sit in a dark, smelly movie theatre, but in the winter, it is one of my pleasures. This season I have seen only four but have enjoyed them all. (On second thought, maybe True Grit was a little too painfully graphic for me.) Last night we saw The King's Speech, and I see why it is up for so many awards. It is really excellent, and if not for a couple of scenes in which the king spewed forth a stream of "cuss words" in an attempt to overcome his pent up anger, it would have been a solid G. And here again, we have what is called art. The actual story could be told in a sentence or at least a short dry, historical paragraph, and perhaps people would say "Interesting" at best. But in a successful creative endeavor, someone (Hooper and company) has played out the story on screen in a captivating style. Go see it.

From Scratch

Around Greenville today the weather is in the warm low sixties and will surely cause the last of the piles of plowed snow around town to melt. In the house, I am working on learning to watercolor and now waiting for a layer of wet paint to dry. It is like writing, facing a blank screen or piece of paper and, even tho I may have a plan or idea, I don't know how the finished product will be. It is up to me. In either case, all we have to work with - besides some tools - is what we know. For example I do not have a PhD in English nor can I write a paper in Italian. I cannot paint like Quiller or Wyeth. But I do what I can, and my limited abilities and knowledge do not keep me from enjoying the experience.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bad Insurance

When a patient who has private health insurance comes into the hospital for treatment, we must call a representative of the insurance company for approval. That person then makes the decision to treat or not to treat, or if to treat then for how many days. Some companies are good to work with, but there is one that is not, and they often deny treatment. I don't mind naming United Healthcare as the rotten apple because they already have a bad reputation for being greedy and not serving their customers. One example that contributed to their notoriety was a news item from a couple of years ago, and I quote from Wikipedia: "McGuire's exit compensation from UnitedHealth, expected to be around $1.1 billion, would be the largest golden parachute in the history of corporate America." The same article also stated that the giant company had a 91% unfavorable rating.

The anger I felt today was truly a "righteous indignation" that stemmed from once again having to deal with one of their rude employees who, consistent to their pattern, denied coverage. I have had to tell several folks, after they have spilled their guts to me, that their insurance company won't pay for the help they need. People pay a lot of money for the right to carry their insurance cards, and they expect the company to take care of them when they are in medical (and psychiatric) distress. They become terribly disappointed, almost stunned when they find out their insurance is practically worthless. It feels like the money the trusting "little people" pay into "healthcare" is being stolen by the huge uncaring corporation. I feel really bad for the scammed people, the system that allows this to happen, for the fraud and the betrayal.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Watercolor pic

This snowy scene from a book was our watercolor project this week and last. It was done with only four colors, and by the time I attempted the third and smallest one, I found it wasn't as hard as I first thought. This is a shot of the ones the class did with my tiny one on top.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Legacy

Jack LaLanne died today at the ripe old age of ninety-six. I had wondered how long his lifestyle of exercise and good nutrition would carry him, and now I know. Nobody lives forever, even Jack LaLanne. He seemed upbeat and happy and found joy in teaching other people what worked for him, and many benefitted. It's not all about longevity, but enjoying the journey, the gift of life, and that is reason enough to try to do the right thing for body and mind.

Friday, January 21, 2011


"Now the day is over. Night is drawing nigh. Shadows of the evening, steal across the sky."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Award vs Reward

The Golden Globes were on Sunday night. The Oscars will be coming up soon as well as the various Emmys, the People’s Choice awards, and probably other entertainment award shows. Though it is fun to watch the glamorous celebrities, sometimes the whole thing seems just a little much self aggrandizing, especially when I think of how little time any show is actually on the screen. One entire season of a thirty minute sitcom lasts for maybe just eight or nine hours total (after subtracting time spent on commercials), and most of us put in that much work in one day!

What if other people were judged on their performances in their eight or nine hours of work? Sometimes I wonder...what if all careers gave awards to celebrate their own professions? Who would receive what and what would the criteria be? To compare acting with nursing - since it is the occupation I know - I think of the time spent in education to get that first gig, and the dirty jobs that are the backbone of our careers, and maybe we eventually are able to survive long enough to rise to the top of the pay scale. Nurses are highly visible in the hospital, but there is a big supporting cast of administrative and other support people behind the scenes without whom nursing care could not be rendered. There are plenty of people to thank! But we don’t dress up fancy for public awards. We have a system of small rewards instead. When a patient says, “You’re the one who saved my life,” I will take that over a Golden Globe anyday.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Always Learning

When we are young, the things we must learn are not of our own choosing but where we are directed. From parents we learn language; elementary school teaches us basic math; college points us toward our careers. However when we get old enough, we can make our own choices about what we want to learn. I recently read about the importance of continuing to learn every single day as it contributes to our well being and overall enjoyment of life.

That being said . . . I have always wanted to learn to watercolor. I love the look of watercolors, especially the splashy colorful paintings. Last summer I gave it a try with someone who didn't explain and or really teach, so I stopped after two classes. I needed to learn! Yesterday I started again with another teacher, and now I have someone who can answer any question I throw at her. Watercolor looks like it should be easy. Kids have those little rectangular tins with eight hard colors, and all you have to do is wet your brush and moisten the hard color and then drag it across paper, right? Oh no… I keep hearing such things like watercolor is “unforgiving” and “the hardest media,” and might I add expensive, too. Nevertheless I am quite happy to be learning something that has interested me for so long. Maybe I won’t be that great, but at least I am going to learn how it is done.

Monday, January 17, 2011


We are already in the middle of January, which I have declared to be my favorite month. It appeals to the lazy part of me. We still have more dark than daylight, and the weather does not entice me to come out and play. I think it is alright to be a little like the bears who are expected to isolate, sleep and wallow around in the cold months. Of course they have prepared for the sleep-in by stuffing themselves and putting on extra fat - much like I do during December.

Observances during the month can be done during down time, too. A sampling:
-National Get Organized Month
-National Soup Month
-National Clean Out Your Computer Month
-Financial Wellness Month
-National Hot Tea Month
-Shape Up US Month
-International Creativity Month
-Book Blitz Month
*And this is the first day of National Fresh Squeezed Juice Week.

They all sound like good indoor things that can be worked on between naps.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The week of the big snow

After the first two lazy days of being snowed in, I cautiously made it the ten miles to work. When I reached the hospital grounds, I found all the little roads around it scraped clean, with huge piles of snow lining the sides. Nobody would have a problem getting in - provided they got that far - so it was business as usual. At home, the roof is still loaded with white and my front yard resembles an ice skating rink, shimmering and glistening when the sun hits at certain angles. My four legged residents are coping in different ways. My adventurous yellow kitty has enjoyed the wonder of the outdoors if only for brief periods, and fluffy black Nora has quietly enjoyed the scene from her perch at the window. Ol' Tillman has been a good boy but he hasn't ventured far. The area around my front door is anything but pretty as he has slipped around, puncturing and coloring the ice and snow with his "business." Next week's anticipated rains should take care of any mess. But it has been a peaceful time. We will long remember the snow of 2011.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Whose life is it anyway?

Another story that has been in the news the past couple of weeks is the homeless man with the golden voice who was "discovered" and given an opportunity to make something of his life. It was a gem of good news, a feel good story squeezed in with the perplexing bad news, and it warmed our hearts. We believed in him.

However, from the snippets of info we have been given about his life, this man has been "on the streets" for fourteen years. He is a drug addict, alcoholic, and a panhandler. Though his addictions may have forced that lifestyle on him, it is what he knows, and perhaps what he prefers. It has probably gotten him out of responsibilities, too.

Now Middle America is offering him a change for what seems to us a better way to live. But we can't just uproot someone from his surroundings, from all he has known, and expect him to meet our expectations. If this is something he truly wants, I suspect he can make it, but the culture of the familiar street will have a strong pull.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I am only one of thousands in the US who help to treat people with mental illness, but we could all probably say the same thing. There is a dearth of treatment options for the unfortunate among us who are tormented by a severe mental illness such as paranoid schizophrenia.

Historically, they seem to have always been a drain on society one way or another, but around two hundred years ago, individual states decided to do something positive for them. South Carolina began building state of the art facilities to treat “lunatics” who could stay and receive treatment for as long as they needed. Sometimes that would be for their entire lives. It worked pretty well for many generations.

Over twenty years ago, the states started shutting down these facilities for the mentally ill in a program euphemistically titled “Toward Local Care.” I suppose keeping the hospitals up and running was just too expensive. These patients, some of whom had been dependent on the safety of institutions for much of their lives, in truth had no good place to go. Outpatient treatment facilities expanded purportedly to tend to them, but many eventually ended up on the streets or in jail.

I have seen so many distressed psychotic people over the past twenty-five years, people who hear horrific and degrading voices and whose heads are filled with thoughts of violence. The day before the Tucson shootings, I talked with an incoming young adult patient who was besieged by voices commanding him to harm his parents. Weeping, he said he didn’t want to do what they say. When something like this happens locally to average people, it is not as appealing to the media.

The amazing thing is that these violent acts do not occur more frequently. We do what we can to prevent them. However, hospitals are businesses and must stay in business, and mental health centers must work within certain parameters. We can only treat those who somehow (often through aggressive acts) find their way to us. We cannot keep people who effectively lie. We do not track down every “nut job” out there.

Those among us who are free from a tormented mind cannot understand the tragedy and potential for further tragedy unless they have witnessed it firsthand. They try to make sense of a senseless situation, from whatever bias they have, still not getting it. People with mental illnesses can be scary, weird and annoying, and we had rather deny that they are out there. If we must assign blame, which I do not recommend, we must point the finger at all of us.

I am reminded of John Donne's words:

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every
man is a piece of the continent, a part of the
main. If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory
were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or
of thine own were: any man's death diminishes
me, because I am involved in mankind, and
therefore never send to know for whom the bells
tolls; it tolls for thee."

Monday, January 10, 2011

One thing to do when it snows

The ground was covered in a beautiful white snow when I got up this morning, and more fell as the day went on. As lovely as it looked, I exercised my option as a retired person to stay inside, except for a quick trip to the deck to take a picture of the backyard. I was pleased with my decision, but if I have too many days like this, I will be chopping off the end of my life expectancy. It was go to the refrigerator, read, cook, watch television, drink something hot, read, eat something else, etc.

The morning began with some delicious old fashioned Russian Tea.
This is how I made it.

Squeeze the juice from two oranges and one lemon. Set aside. Put the rinds in a saucepan and cover generously with water. Add some cinnamon sticks and cloves. Let it come to a boil and boil gently about ten minutes. Meanwhile make some strong tea. I used one family sized tea bag. Add sugar to taste. Drain the nice liquid from the fruit and spices you boiled, and then mix that with the tea and the juices. Serve hot!

I usually don’t fix this unless I have a cold and need healing, but today was great to treat myself to it, too.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Celebration of Sorts

My mother, who would be celebrating her eighty-ninth birthday today, was passionate about many things, but none more so than art in all its various forms. As luck would have it, I was able to do an arty thing today today that seemed to be essentially Mother. The art museum held a small event that was first, a talk by a local artist and second, a trip to the Wyeth section where we watched her sketch. She had chosen the watercolor titled "The Liberal" to copy in pencil. Then we participitants were given a sketch pad, a 4B pencil, a kneaded eraser and sketched along with her. I was a bit anxious at first since I haven't actually drawn anything in decades, but I decided I had to give it a serious try. One the way home, I looked at my drawing and realized it wasn't that bad. (The one in the pic belongs to the artist.) If Mother had been there, she would have loved it.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


A terrible event occurred in Tucson just an hour or two ago when someone shot a lovely young female US representative and several others. At this writing, it is unsure whether the congresswoman is alive or dead, but its hard to imagine how she would survive a close gunshot wound to the head.

The "suspect" was tackled, perhaps shot, and is in custody. On the news he has been described as a "crazed lunatic," which he may well be, though that is not a label we have officially used in close to a century. Now we use the term mentally ill, which many murderers have been found to be. Most likely he is delusional (having a fixed, false belief that logic cannot change) or responding to voices that tell him to do something bad. These folks are out of touch with reality. The mental health system has many people pass through it who are capable of the same horrible thing. Help, intervention and medication can prevent some terrible events, but not all. "Normal" people try to find reasons for such acts, but that is because they do not understand it is the mental illness that causes it. Most likely this is the case for this killer, too.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


The Christmas season has officially ended. Today marks the celebration of the Wise Men's visit to the Christ Child and the bearing of their meaningful gifts. Though my tree has been down for several days, I admit I like the reason January 6 gives for not rushing that duty. In my unofficial life, however, Christmas doesn't feel as if it's over until the last cookie has been eaten and all leftovers have been dealt with in some way. I don't rush that either. This morning I had the last of Peter's fruitcake cookies with my morning coffee. Pretty soon all remnants of Christmas will be gone, and we will be pressing toward spring.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Silly Questions

I like oxymoron type humor.
  • Why do we park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?
  • Why isn't phonics spelled fonix?
  • Why is it called after dark when it is really after light?
  • How is it that fat chance and slim chance mean the same thing?
  • Why doesn't glue stick to the inside of the bottle?
  • If all the world is a stage, where does the audience sit?
  • If something is out of whack, well what is a whack?
  • Why is abbreviated such a long word?
  • Why is it called rush hour when your car can barely move?
  • If olive oil is made of olives, what is baby oil made of?
  • Why are a wise man and a wise guy opposite?
  • Is there another word for synonym?
  • Why don't sheep shrink when it rains?
  • Why are the called apartments when they are all stuck together?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Thoughtful Gift

Jessica told me she had a surprise for me for Christmas, and it took a while, but I got it. Next year it will become the official skirt to my Christmas tree. She had her three little boys paint their handprints on it and then mailed it from Texas to SC. Carin received it first, did the same with her children, then sent it to Sally, and then to Paige. Maybe one of these days, the little ones will have hands as big as Jacob's (the middle prints near the hole for the tree) and we will look back and remember when.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Presidential Last Words - Maybe

For most of us humans, our first word is "dada," which is apparently pretty easy to say. But last words are something else. If a person has time to prepare, he will often say something that is representative of his character. I find that interesting.

"I feel myself going. I thank you for your attentions, but I pray you take no more trouble about me. Let me go off quietly. I cannot last long."

later . . ."Tis well."
George Washington
December 14, 1799

"Is it the fourth?"
Thomas Jefferson
July 3, 1826

"Thomas Jefferson still survives."
John Adams
July 4, 1826

"This is the last of earth. I am content."
John Quincy Adams
February 21, 1848

"I love you Sarah. For all eternity, I love you."
James K. Polk
June 15, 1849

"Approaching death to me is a mere shadow of God's protecting wing."
Andrew Johnson
June 9, 1873

"It's useless, Gentlemen. I think we ought to have a prayer."
William McKinley
September 13, 1901

"I have a terrific headache."
Franklin Roosevelt
April 12, 1945

"I want to go. God take me."
Dwight Eisenhower
March 28, 1969

Saturday, January 1, 2011

More than nourishment

This morning I got up early to make some chocolate crinkles. When Stuart was a little towhead, they were his favorite cookie, so I have wanted to bake them for him every Christmas. Since he and his family were making a visit today, I had to have plenty. We mothers and grandmothers are like that. We like to fix our children's favorite foods. It is one way to say, "You are special to me."

Before interstates and fast cars, I remember riding for three days in the back seat of our family car, through mountains and prairies to visit my grandparents in northern Illinois. I remember crossing the Illinois River by ferry, driving through until after midnight, and finally very happy to walk through the back door of their big comfy home. My grandmother was up waiting. First thing, she lifted the lid on the pot of soaking navy beans to show us she would be cooking bean soup - Daddy's favorite - for him tomorrow. It was a way of showing she loved him.

We can all probably remember something made especially for us by someone who loved us. It feeds our souls.