Saturday, January 28, 2012


I know you are tired of hearing me say "every woman has a story to tell", but if ever there was such a woman, it would be my friend Linda. Linda and I met in 8th grade, when we were both put into an orchestra class by mistake. She ended up sticking with it, but I was itching to learn to cook and sew, so I switched to Home Economics. It took them a week or so to get our schedules sorted out, and by the end of that time we'd become fast friends.
High School Yearbook Staff
(that's me, seated, second from right - Linda is the dark-haired beauty directly across from me)
I must admit, I'm afraid, that one reason I was drawn to her was my insatiable curiosity -- nosiness, some people might call it. You see, Linda was a bit different from anyone I had ever met. A bit exotic, even. If you recall, I was a child of the fifties, and grew up in a very W.A.S.P.-ish neighborhood. I'd never even been to a Chinese restaurant, so imagine how fascinating it was to have a friend whose parents actually came from China! Linda was pretty quiet and reserved back then, and didn't talk much about her family history, but I got little snippets here and there. The first big revelation was when her dad picked us up from a football game one time. On the way home we got to stop by their family's noodle factory, where I discovered that my friend Linda could crack eggs one-handed, and at lightening speed. I was so impressed!

I'm sure I drove Linda crazy with my incessant questions. Eventually, I must have worn her down, for she began to open up, bit by bit. Finally I got to hear about her intrepid grandfather, the first to come here. Unfortunately, his wife refused to accompany him, so he got himself an American wife. (Did he ever divorce the first one? Who knows?)  Later I heard about her parents who, if I remember correctly, didn't even meet until just before their wedding, and who left for America shortly thereafter. Then there was Linda's older brother who, when fresh out of high school, was sent to Hong Kong to meet the relatives, and, courtesy of Grandma, came back with a wife of his own! I saw firsthand Linda's long struggle to be allowed to marry her beloved George, a perfectly nice young Chinese man from Hong Kong, but whom her parents resisted because "her family didn't know his family." Nothing topped the shock of Linda's audacious younger sister falling in love with an anglo, and insisting on marrying him regardless of how her parents felt about it. It was kind of like seeing Fiddler on the Roof come to life, where each successive child grew further and further away from "tradition." There was tragedy -- a horrible accident involving Linda's father and a wicked piece of machinery -- as well as triumph, when he finally overcame his debilitating injuries and was able to return to work.

Yep, if anyone has a doozy of a story to tell, it would be my friend Linda. So imagine my glee when, at the age of 58, she finally started talking about getting some of this stuff down on paper! If only she knew where to start? Upon hearing that, I flashed back to my own self, sitting at the computer in our Houston townhouse, about four years ago.  I had just stumbled across the blog of one of my favorite writers, Susan Wittig Albert, author of the China Bayles mystery series that is set here in the Texas Hill Country. I discovered that she had once taught English at nearby Texas State University, and left a comment on her blog, asking if she could recommend any good writing classes for someone interested in getting her personal stories down on paper. Within minutes she replied, "I'll do even better. I'll tell you about an organization I started, Story Circle Network, for women just like you, and invite you to attend our bi-annual conference with workshops, to be held in Austin in just a few months."

I decided to "pay it forward", and shared that same information with my friend Linda. So, guess who's going to be my roomie for three, fun-filled days at the SCN conference this April? Woohoo! How fun is that? Maybe, at long last, I will finally get an answer to the one question that I never got a satisfactory reply to: How do two parents manage to work fulltime running their own business, take care of elderly relatives, and raise three kids who, without their ever raising their voices at them, grounding them, or punishing them in any manner whatsoever, as far as I ever saw, all ended up being extremely polite, well-behaved, brilliant students, and who always seemed perfectly happy to spend all their free time working in the family business? Go figure!

Friday, January 27, 2012


A few days ago I finally harvested my first batch of oyster mushrooms from the kit I received for Christmas. The instructions implied that you should just harvest the whole lot of them as soon as the largest ones were an inch to an inch and a half across, before they start to curl up. However, when I realized there were lots of tiny ones hidden behind them, that had never had a chance to grow, I took only the largest ones.
That was a mistake. The rest of them just shriveled up within a couple of days.  I cut them off and tossed them into the compost. Now I've opened up the other side of the box, removed the bag, and put it in a bucket of water to soak overnight, after which I should be able to grow a whole new crop.

Originally I was just going to saute' this batch in some butter, but then I remembered that episode of the Jamie At Home TV series, where he and his friend Genaro went out hunting for mushrooms, then cooked them up over a campfire and served them over garlic-rubbed toasts. I started with that recipe, then went a bit crazy with it.

Ultimate Mushroom Bruschetta
from Jamie At Home, by Jamie Oliver
(2 extremely generous servings)

Note from Jamie: Whether you're using farmed or wild mushrooms, or a combination of both, do your best to get hold of a nice interesting mixture. When it comes to frying them, make sure your pan is a large one so the moisture that comes out of them can evaporate easily. Otherwise they'll begin to boil in their own juices. Mushrooms cooked properly are so versatile -- you can stir them into a risotto, sprinkle them onto a pizza or serve them with a grilled steak or atop some roasted fowl.

extra virgin olive oil
11 oz. mixed mushrooms, wiped clean (I didn't have near that many, so I quartered the recipe)
2 cloves of garlic, 1 peeled and finely chopped, the other halved
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
a few sprigs of fresh parsley, leaves picked
optional: a sprig of summer savory, leaves picked
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 dried red chili, crumbled
a small knob of butter
1 lemon (on the show, Jamie threw in a bit of wine with the lemon.  I replaced both with balsamic vinegar)
2 slices of sourdough bread

Put a large heavy frying pan, big enough to hold all the mushrooms in one layer, on the heat and add a couple of glugs of extra virgin olive oil. Depending on the size of your mushrooms, leave any small ones whole but tear, break or slice the larger ones up. Add them all to the pan and give it a shake to toss the mushrooms in the oil. Add the chopped garlic and fresh herbs and shake the pan again. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and the crumbled chili and leave to fry gently for a few minutes. If the mixture becomes dry, pour in a little more oil.
Once the mushrooms have got some color going on, after about 3 to 4 minutes, add the butter and a squeeze of lemon juice (or balsamic or wine) to give a nice twang -- don't go overboard here, you don't need much -- and toss again. To finish this off and make it into a lovely creamy sauce, spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of water into the pan. Simmer for a little longer, until you have a lovely simple sauce that just loosely coats the mushrooms. Now toast your bread, if you are going to serve this as bruschetta, which I did not.
When toasted, rub the bread with the cut side of the remaining clove of garlic. Place each slice on a serving plate, pile the mushrooms and the creamy juices from the pan on top and tuck in.  

But, like I said, I didn't do this. I just happened to have a chunk of leftover grilled ribeye, medium rare, that I had stashed in the freezer last week and wanted to use up. I sliced it very thinly, then tossed it in the pan with the mushrooms during the final stage of cooking. Instead of serving it over toast, I served it alongside some oven-roasted potatoes. Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!

Thursday, January 26, 2012


History was always one of my least favorite subjects in school. Mostly is was all about the games men play, to prove who's got the biggest whangle-dangle. We would read about endless battles and maneuvers, regurgitate the names and dates back up onto our exam papers, then forget all about them as soon as we walked out the door.
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It was only by reading memoir and historical fiction -- stories written from a woman's point of view -- that I finally started to learn something. I may have known of the Civil War, but I understood nothing until I read Gone With The Wind. We may have been taught something about Viet Nam in school, but I didn't finally get it until a few months ago, when a friend loaned me The Lotus Eaters, by Tatjana Soli. I had class after class in which I was taught about Hitler and WWII, but I would never have had a clue were it not for The Diary of Anne Frank.

I suppose men write about what motivates them -- about how we ended up in these situations in the first place. It's the women, though, who teach us about what it cost -- about the price we would all pay, those on both sides, for generations to come. For instance, I knew a couple in Indonesia who had met each other in New York, where they were both members of a support group, not for Holocaust survivors, but for the children of Holocaust survivors. I never would have understood just how critical such a support group might be, had I not finally, after months of putting it off, got brave enough to open the book Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay, then stayed up all night to finish it.

I suppose what I'm trying to say here is that our libraries are chock full of history by, for, and about men. But, when it comes to stories by, for, and about women? Precious few, my friends.  Precious few. I believe that every woman has a story to tell. You may think your life is anything but epic, and that may be true, but even the small bits are important. Without these details to provide the background for their stories, how would any of those epic tales I mentioned above have come to life? How will your kids and grandkids ever know what your life was like "back in the olden days", or what you thought, felt, or dreamed when you were their age, or anything about the traits or features you may have passed down to them? Write it down my friends. Write it all down. You have no idea just how important it might be, to those who will come after.

Need help getting started? Check out the Story Circle Network, one of the most amazing "support groups" ever created, for women with stories to tell!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


The Majestic Theater, Dallas
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My parents had the habit of taking the whole lot of us (we were a family of six) to the movies at least once or twice a month -- usually to one of the big, gorgeous downtown theaters in Dallas, where I grew up, like The Tower, The Palace, or my personal favorite, The Majestic, pictured above. Often it was on a Sunday evening, when we probably should have been a few blocks away attending choir practice and evening service at First Methodist Church. But, Sunday evening was "Sneak Preview" night, when you got to see two movies for the price of one, and Dad couldn't resist a bargain like that!

Now, we four kids were spread out over a span of twelve years, so I would imagine it was pretty difficult to find movies that would interest, and be appropriate for, the entire family. Plus, I don't think they even had a rating system back then. Unfortunately for my parents, they were saddled with a kid who had the terrible habit (at least as far as they were concerned) of always asking questions when there was something she didn't understand. Of course, I knew you weren't supposed to talk during movies, so I made sure I always "WHISPERED" these questions!

My dad's favorites were war movies and westerns. I hated both, especially the war movies, where I usually spent most of the movie trying to cover my eyes and ears at the same time. Not easy! These movies made no sense whatsoever to me, and I remember saying, "Psssst! Mom! Why do men fight wars?" "They have to Sweetie. It's their duty." "But why do they even have wars. They're so stupid!" "Well, it's usually because someone got greedy and decided to take something that didn't belong to them." "And that's why they make all the men go kill each other?" "Pretty much." "Well men are stupid! They could never make me do that. I'd just go hide where they couldn't find me. I'm sure glad girls don't make wars."

We also went to see each new James Bond movie as soon as it came out, which I didn't mind so much. I remember one in particular, which had a lady in it named Pussy Galore. "Pssssst! Mom! What's so funny about her name? Why does everyone laugh whenever they say Pussy?" Of course, as soon as I asked that, everyone near us started snickering. "See? Like that!" Her only response this time was a fierce glare and a "Shush! We'll talk about it at home!" In retrospect, I'm thinking she was probably just stalling for time, so as to come up with some plausible way to skirt the truth. I think she made up something ridiculous about it being a nickname for women with big bazongas, which I really wasn't buying, but even I was smart enough not to accuse my parents of fibbing!

I bet they were both just tickled to death when I was blessed with, not one but, two younguns, who questioned absolutely everything. I was pretty tickled myself.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


We have owned this house for seven years now. (Is that possible?) I have been living in it fulltime for four, and my hubby for one. We have pared down our belongings, unpacked all our boxes, paved the driveway, installed the water catchment system, put on a new roof, built the Cantina Garden, added a terrace patio, added on a dining room, remodeled the master bath, and replaced the flooring in the kitchen and bath. The only things we still haven't got around to are: 1) rescuing our rather luxurious garage utility room (it even has a shower, a toilet, and a large utility sink in it) from being a junk stash, and transforming it into something fun like a laundry/craft/garden room, and 2) finally completing that blankity-blank half-painted cinder block wall!

This is just the painted half.  The part closest to the house -- the really tall part that requires ladders -- is still raw cinderblock.
I've pretty much decided that the only way this #%*@ wall will ever get finished is if I turn it into a party. If I can figure out a good time when it's dry enough (you don't want water seeping through while you paint, from the soil behind the wall), but before it gets too hot, I'm going to go out and buy a mess of paints and supplies, fix up a mess of good food (with plenty of my Mexican Chocolate Streusel Brownies), fill my coolers with icy beverages, then call all my friends and tell them to come grab a brush. I think I will just let them have their way with it, and see what happens. Hopefully, we will end up with something unique and wonderful, like one of those below.  After all, this is the town whose motto is "Keep Wimberley Weirder!"  Well, then again, maybe not too unique.  I do have that dang home-owners association to deal with, and I sure as heck don't want them to come back and tell me the whole thing needs to be RE-painted!

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Monday, January 23, 2012


We recently got a call from that talented designer, Ms. Alexis Lane, over at Lane Design Studio (a.k.a. Dear Daughter). She had stumbled across a piece of fabric that she thought might go well in our kitchen shutters. Replacing that black and white toile will be the final step in the kitchen/bathroom redo that we started way last summer. Anyhoo, she wanted to know if we trusted her enough to let her go ahead and buy it for us.  We do, so she did.
Did she do good, or what?  Can you imagine any fabric that could have gone better with these...
or these...
or these...
or these?
No, I thought not.

And so, at last, we are done.  The original black and white tiled kitchen was quite lovely, but it was never my kitchen.  This one most definitely is.  It's a Hippy Hacienda kitchen!