Friday, June 30, 2017

Now I'm A Real Blogger

People, I'm beginning to feel like a real blogger. I know, I know. I haven't blogged since...well, it appears since my debut/final performance as a professional tambourine player, which was literally weeks ago.

In spite of that absence, I'm earning my blogger stripes and carrying on the greatest and most revered of blogging traditions--Husband and I went on a short trip and I took a picture of every single thing we ate.

Well, not every single thing. I mean, even the Pioneer Woman doesn't photograph the Quik Trip cookie, does she? There was a good reason for this photographic documentation of our nutritional failings: When we started our three-day-away, Husband and I decided we would not eat at any chain restaurants.

This is more difficult than it sounds, especially since we are old and empty-nested and our mealtimes are no longer dictated by the whinings of teen-aged stomachs. It turned out that on this trip I spent a fair amount of time studying Yelp from Earl's passenger seat and saying "This one sounds good! Oh, wait, they close at 9:30 so never mind."

But we managed to eat. And eat. And eat some more. We only had one meal that I would describe as average. All of the others would rate from good to excellent, with two breakfasts I would push into the region of "sublime."

We started at the Doo-Dah Diner in Wichita. If you live anywhere near southern Kansas you already know about this mecca of deliciousness. Oh, my, gosh. Because we are old and empty-nested and there was no one to ridicule us, we split a breakfast. The Triple D consists of half-portions of banana bread French toast, crispy corned beef hash, and Timi's Benny (a glorified eggs Benedict). By the time I was down to the final bite of over-medium egg and avocado, I was pretty sure I would burst but was too far gone to be concerned about how that would read in my obituary. (Husband's smiling in the picture, but I was imagining him trying to explain to the nice folks at the next table that he was so sorry his wife couldn't resist that last bite and exploded all over them.) Rating: Sublime.

Next stop, many hours later, was The Feedbunk in Yates Center. We felt lucky to find this spot, as there is not much original dining at 2:30 on a Friday afternoon in this area of Kansas. Not only did this restaurant exemplify the only permitted use of the Western Font EVER, EVER, EVER (ahem), it had a dandy pork tenderloin sandwich. And put your finger in this spot, because we're coming back to the Feedbunk later. (Rating: Very good.)

And here is where I began to notice how few restaurants stay open past 9 at night. By the time we meandered our way to Topeka (stopping at many, many spots along the way) and checked into our hotel and cursed the construction cones that seemed to be mocking us everywhere we went, we slid into the Monsoon Grill with just minutes to spare before closing time. Indian cuisine that was really good, and delightful staff who didn't roll their eyes at people who arrive just before closing and order some kind of lentil curry that they can't pronounce. Rating: Very good.

Okay, you know that finger you used to mark your place at the Feedbunk? Go back to that place, because breakfast the next morning came from there, too. When we had finished our sandwiches and sweet potato fries we were still stuffed so we decided to save the homemade pie until later. "Stuffed" turned out to be the day's descriptor, so the pie was still waiting the next morning and became breakfast.

Friends, if you really want to have a vacation that's a vacation, eat gooseberry pie for breakfast. It's really not that different from a doughnut, right? And you're getting some fruit, right? And if it's gooseberry pie from the Feedbunk, you will smile all day long. Just writing about it makes my salivary glands tingle. Tart, sweet, flaky, tart. Double tart. Rating: Sublime.

So, I won't bore you with every single thing we tasted in the next two days, but we ended the tour at Tortilla Jack's in Topeka. It was once more really late when we were ready for supper and most non-chains were closed, and in spite of a Yelp review that said "This will probably appeal most to Washburn alumni with strong senses of nostalgia," we tried it. The restaurant was clean and apparently we were hungry because I forgot to photograph the untouched meal so you're going to have to take my word that this nasty-looking paper tray held a chili burrito at one time. Rating: Okay, or a little better than okay. Probably terrific on late nights if you went to college across the street.

As I conclude this run-down of our non-chain eating experience, I'm pleased to report that my technique for finding the best local restaurants held us in good stead.

And in non-related news, yesterday I signed up for Weight Watchers.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Not to Brag, But...


I'm not a big believer in bucket lists. If you are, great! Congratulations on your goal to float the entire Amazon in a dugout canoe, or plant a flag on the moon, or sample every flavor of Jelly Bellys, or whatever. Much luck with that.

Me? I'm more a believer in celebrating accomplishments as they come along, then adding them to my resume. During the past weekend I added a line to that resume and I intend to make the font of that line boldface AND italic, possibly in all caps.

I was chosen to play the tambourine in a women's chorus.

I know! Out of all of the 60 or so women in the chorus, which practiced a total of 20 minutes, I was the one the director looked at and said "Do you think you could play a tambourine for the final eight measures?"

Me! A featured soloist! Well, not exactly a soloist, because there was a tambourine to the left of me and a tambourine to the right of me, and I was probably picked because when your chorus is all amateur singers and it will only be practicing a total of 20 minutes it's best to keep your percussion section together. But she chose me!

People, I have dabbled in music for as long as I can remember and before. (My mama always claimed I sang "Happy Birthday" to her, in tune, when I was 27 months old but I suspect my mama had a love-enhanced memory.) In my role as the semi-competent but willing accompanist I have played in front of thousands hundreds lots and lots of people, often by myself during introductions and transitions.

Seldom have I been as nervous as I was in the sections of the piece leading up to the tambourine-enhanced big ending.

What if I miscounted and came in during the big rests before my cue? What if all my music knowledge suddenly deserted me and I couldn't remember which were the second and fourth beats? What if I DROPPED THE TAMBOURINE?

I'm sure you're waiting with bated breath to hear how it went. I will only say that when I look back on the experience, my recollection is that it was something like this:


Or maybe this:


Okay, fine. It was probably more like this.


But yesterday I emailed the director of the group, who has the patience of a thousand saints to direct a chorus of voices that ranged from completely untrained to operatic, and I thanked her for her joyful encouragement of her group. She replied quickly:

"Thanks! It was an awesome weekend," she said. "You need to add 'Expert Tambourine Player' to your resume!"

Sorry, Pat. I'm ahead of you on that one, and it's in boldface, italics, and all caps.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What's In Our Purse

Back in the olden days when I was a child, I rarely got to watch television. That's because my family didn't own a television, which could turn into an entire post about the deprivation my cruel parents inflicted on their five children (who, okay, turned out all right). But when I was at Grandma Speer's house, I parked my fanny in front of the tube and didn't move all day.

Even as a little kid one of my favorite shows was Art Linkletter's House Party and one of the best segments of this show was when Art would wander through the audience and pick a lady with an enormous purse then start pulling items out of that purse. A can opener. A jar of olives. An ice scraper.

I thought of that segment last week when we cleaned out Pearl for the final time before she left to go live in the country on a beautiful farm with all the other beloved but aging cars that spend their days sipping 10W-40 cocktails under the oak trees. (That's where she is, and you're not convincing me otherwise.)

Anyway, there were three grocery sacks worth of items in the glove compartment and under the seats and tucked into the storage space. I stacked it on the stove to take inventory. (No, the masa seca in the upper left of the photo was not in the car. I had been making tamales and apparently was too lazy to move it six inches to the left so it wouldn't appear in the picture.)

Some of what we cleaned out was logical. An atlas. Menus so that we can remember what we have ordered before at Noodles & Company and not have to hold up the line trying to figure out what that deliciousness was. My handicapped parking permit which I had forgotten I owned because in just two months I am SO MUCH BETTER that I can walk into the grocery store from a regular parking space! Yay!

Some was logical to us because we yam what we yam. Plastic bowls and cheap spoons wrapped up in a grocery sack because we are the cheapest most frugal travelers imaginable and would rather buy a box of cereal than spend American dollars for breakfast when we're on vacation. Rain ponchos because when we go to ballgames after a shower we inevitably forget that we will want to sit down and will hate the resulting soggy bottoms.

But some of it...well, it defies logic.

Can you tell me why we needed to keep FIVE boxes of blown fuses that we stocked for the old Suburban because when we were pulling the pop-up trailer the back-up lights blew the dashboard indicators? And not one, not two, but three eyeglass repair kits, which don't really work so we carried the micro-screwdrivers as well? Or two sewing kits? Or a Swiss army kni--oh, never mind.

But I will reward those of you who have persisted today with a glimpse of the most useful item we carry in the car, the first thing I transferred into Earl.

Most of this is a hand towel, and it happens to be a fancy embroidered hand towel that we weren't using in regular rotation. But do you see those two clothespins that are attached by a cord? Those are the magic that turns this fancy embroidered hand towel into an actual bib. We acquired the magic when my mother-in-law was in assisted living and all the residents had these gizmos in the dining room. Voila. No more juice from your chicken wrap dripping onto your blouse as you eat in the car.

The fuses are now gone, as are the eyeglass repair kit, the menus, and the dashboard GPS that was made obsolete by my iPhone.

But the bib? It's coming along for the ride. And the drips.

I bet Art Linkletter found one just like it in someone's purse.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

His Name Is Earl

Husband and I are not the kind of people who trade in cars every year. Or every two years, or every three, get the idea. We trade in cars when one of us says "I do not feel safe driving out of town in that car any more."

(Me. I'm the one who says that, not Husband. But you already know that.)

A couple of weeks ago we were pulling into the Sonic stall for our final Mother's Day celebratory moment (because we are wild-and-crazy half-price shakes celebrators) when my beloved Pearl let out an ominous clunk. Husband and I looked at each other with wide eyes, then ordered our shakes so we could have a moment of delight as we discussed which of our friends we could call at 10:30 p.m. to ferry us home. And because we are old, old, old, we realized we have no one who would still be awake and welcome this kind of call.

Fortunately, Pearl managed to limp the two miles to our driveway and the next morning, after an inspection by our mechanic, Husband and I had this loving text exchange:
Him: Mechanic called and said he didn't see anything wrong with the car.
Me: Sounds good. I, personally, do not plan to drive it outside of Small Town because quite clearly he is wrong, but at least he doesn't think the wheel is falling off. 
I'm quite the charmer, am I not? That veiled sarcasm, the overt passive-aggression. Husband is a lucky, lucky man. But I had uttered the magic phrase that sets us car-shopping. Between the clunk, the need for new tires, and the rear-ending damage a year ago that we never had fixed, it was time.

Anyway, a few days later we were test driving Escapes and Rogues and Rav4s, and all sorts of medium-sized SUVs. And then the wonderful Subaru salesman took us to a white Ford hidden in the back row of the dealership. It wasn't quite as new as some we had seen, and had just a few more miles, but oh, when we pulled out on our test drive it was so comfortable. And it just felt right.

The salesman had heard me talk about how much I had loved Pearl, and I'm sure he was just making conversation but he asked: "How did you know that was the car for you?"

I couldn't even explain it.

"From the moment I saw her on the lot I knew she was the one I wanted. They could have said the engine was powered by squirrels and rubber bands, and I would have still wanted to buy her," I told him. "It was love at first sight."

The white Edge was more of a sweet-talker. While Husband was asking about mileage and warranties I was appreciating the back-up camera, and was delighted that I could would be able to listen to audiobooks over the car's speakers rather than carry a Bluetooth speaker on trips with me (yes, I did). I practically drooled at the individual climate controls for the always-too-warm driver and the always-too-cold passenger.

Finally we took her for a drive on the highway, where lovely Pearl's four cylinders made for a little engine that couldn't when it came to hills and passing acceleration and we knew this was our new partner in transportation.

Honk if you see us around Small Town. I'll always love Pearl, but our new ride is sweet.

His name is Earl.