Love, an 11th-century Jewish Poem, and a Western on Netflix

“‘Tis a Fearful Thing”
by Yehuda HaLevi

“‘Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –

to be,
And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

And a holy thing,

a holy thing
to love.

For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.”

As often happens, I was in the car and switched the dial in time to listen to a program called Fresh Air on NPR. This day Terry Gross was interviewing Scott Frank, the writer, director and producer of a 7-episode Netflix series entitled Godless.

A writer’s mind is intriguing to me. Scott Frank shared much of the brainwork along with a bit of chance/luck, affecting his decision to create a western. In this age of popular movies that resemble video game screens to me, with futuristic sci-fi plots, that seems a risky genre choice.

His researcher had him read some notable westerns and the results of her historical digging. I did not know there were some western towns that stayed on the map because the women left following mining disasters chose to carry on rather than leave. He stays true to the genre in locale, dress, and speech and expands it to focus on the women of the 1880’s.

Though becoming a fan of Scott Frank during the interview, I didn’t feel compelled to search for his series. Watching television westerns was a family affair in my childhood, and as a young adult I managed to sit through some big screen Clint Eastwood versions, rented some John Wayne classics and sat through most of the Lonesome Dove installments. Now as a retiree I haven’t watched an entire movie on TV in years, and infrequently go to the theater. Viewing a western certainly was not on my to-do list, until Scott Frank shared the poem above along with the rationale behind its inclusion near the end of the filming of Godless.

As soon as I updated my Netflix account and changed my password and fixed a snack, I found Godless and delved right into episode one. In spite of the gruesome scenes at the start that usually mean I divert my attention to a vastly different activity, I stayed with it. I am hooked. I want to see it through to the end, to the reading of the poem. I want to feel what the characters felt, what the actors playing them experienced. Yes, I know I could skip ahead and watch the end of the last episode, but I don’t read the ending of a novel before its time, either. I am an interactive, empathetic reader and movie-watcher. That’s not going to change.

Having seen just one episode, I am wholeheartedly recommending this series.

If you have already watched it, keep it to yourself, please. I don’t want to miss a moment.

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Give Where You Live

By the time you read this, Black Friday and Cyber Monday will have come and gone. Great days to get stuff at an affordable price. Others will charge stuff on these two days, for whatever reasons, some sensible and others not so much.

I personally don’t need to hunt for more stuff or more reasons to make my blood pressure rise or my neck stiffen, so I will be far, far away from those areas that draw the greatest crowds with the greatest of promises. Not that I haven’t been there, done that. The first and last early morning line I stood in to get a holiday deal was years ago. I was with about five others who were waiting for doors to open at our very own Fred’s. My son wanted one of those then-newfangled cameras that sound old-fashioned and ho-hum now. He seldom requested much stuff, so this seemed a good one to get for a teen with a talented eye and a creative bent.

By the time you read this, Giving Tuesday will have come and gone as well, a day set aside for global giving, for making a difference via charitable giving. Did you even know there is such a designated time? Perhaps we should consider a different order for these days focused on money. Philanthropic Friday would help us focus first on the various needs among our own. Manic Monday could be the day all sit stupefied in front of screens searching for the best deals on the most-sought after items with free shipping. Tempting Tuesday could then be the day we fight crowds and tempers trekking through feet and bins for deals at hand. Putting our priorities in that order might place our dollars where they are most appreciated. save our drawers, shelves and closets from stuff that won’t fit into them, and keep our hearts reflecting the reasons for the season.

By the time you read this I will be an experienced bell-ringing volunteer for the Salvation Army. That organization is involved in stuff, too, the stuff that others need in the midst of crisis, not the frivolous stuff but stuff that meets immediate needs to keep hope alive when life drains it.

If you research where donated dollars go when you give, you will find that 96% of donated dollars go to the cause. Dollars given through the bell-ringers stay at home and care is given not to duplicate services by other organizations. These dollars help with immediate, temporary needs that don’t meet criteria for other forms of assistance.

Other worthy recipients of your donated dollars include VFW’s. Those donated dollars help veterans and their families, the individuals we should thank for living in a society that allows us to freely buy and sell our stuff. Our local J. A. Ashby Post 3485 serves these individuals in our area.

We also have the Linda Holland Memorial Coat Drive and Toys for Tots that focus on our community.

Now that the holiday rush has officially begun, consider this motto: GIVE WHERE YOU LIVE. Share the love of the season.

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No dressing, thank you.

I don’t like dressing. Maybe you call it stuffing. After a bit of research I realize stuffing/dressing both describe the same dish. One comes out of a turkey, the other out of a pan. Either way, I don’t like it. Unamerican, unsouthern… I realize that.

So I have been analyzing my dislike. Perhaps it is because one can’t develop a taste for it having it once a year. Even then it’s not always served by the same cook. It seems there are as many variations as there are rocks on a gravel bar. Pretty much all made of the same stuff, some wetter than others, some color variations, but all different even if only slightly.

And the age of the cook doesn’t seem to matter to my taste buds, either. Both grandmas had special dishes I loved, that they prepared differently than Mom did. Had they been on a food network sharing their dressing recipe with the world, yuck. I still would not have liked it.

In my analysis I have studied the ingredients of various versions. I love cornbread, stale bread not so much. Other dressing staples are pretty normal, but I can’t say I prefer one with or without sausage. Both unacceptable to me once the dish is served.

The whole moist or dry issue isn’t one at all if there is gravy on the table. I do like gravy.

But even gravy doesn’t completely eradicate that dressing taste I don’t like. What is the culprit? Is it the celery? I love a crunchy celery stick loaded with peanut butter or French onion dip, but neither of those makes it into a dressing, at least not in the recipes I scanned.

Or is it the sage? Hmmm. I don’t recall seeing that particular little McCormick container in our pantry as a kid. Poultry seasoning was there, as was cinnamon for cinnamon toast, paprika for deviled eggs, nutmeg for pumpkin pies, but sage? No. Perhaps Mom is to blame for my dislike of dressing for not introducing sage to my tongue sooner.

If Mom fixed this seasonal dish, she most likely stuffed it into the bird. I seldom ate more than part of a leg so I never sampled the innards. I have outgrown the need to keep all my food from touching on the plate, but as a child guided by that rule, stuffing was contaminated from the git-go.

One time I made stuffing, the bag kind. It’s hard to prepare a dish one doesn’t enjoy for others to savor. It’s impossible to get a family recipe. I can’t find one stuck among the pages of any of the old cookbooks. It must have been buried with them along with the secrets to homemade biscuits, cornbread, fried pie dough and that fudge with a bit of texture to it. No googled recipe even gets close to satisfying my tastebuds and memories of those favorites. I have tried.

With no one around to monitor my manners, I no longer take half a spoonful just to be polite. I skip it and take extra of something I do like. Except at my brother’s holiday meals. Now, my sister-in-law has dressing that looks and smells appetizing and I have gone back for seconds. Of dressing. I don’t want the recipe. I don’t want her secret. I just want to eat and enjoy.

May you enjoy your dressing with all the trimmings! Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Boot Goes On, The Boot Goes On

Chilly damp weather invites welcomed changes to the wardrobe. Soft sweaters, turtlenecks, comfy tunics, all coordinated with skinny jeans and knee-high boots battle the ‘brrrs’ AND match my youthful spirit. (I will never readily admit that my spirit and my body my not need to be wearing the same outfits. Thought for a separate column).

Back to those knee-high boots for a moment. Now and then I reminisce longingly for the galoshes of my youth. Remember that button/elastic loop closing? Easy peasy for youngsters’ hands; would be, too, for these baby boomer hands that have lost some muscle.

I don’t recall how my go-go boots went on later as a hippie wanna-be. Always on the run as I was, they couldn’t have been too bothersome to lace or snap or zip. That optimistic attitude prevailed when I bought my last boots, I suppose.

The first pair is plain and functional, a bit sporty and easy to shine. Zipping is not too much trouble as long as my calves stay the same size; the zipper clasp could be a bit easier to grasp, but with wardrobe hacks popping up all over Facebook, I have that conquered.

That second pair, now, creates a bit more challenge. Had it not been for a fantastic sales incentive, I wouldn’t own such a boot. They sport TWO zippers; the longer one runs up the inside of my leg and the shorter is on the outside on a bit of a cape which gives the pair a country/western look. Now I’m a cowgirl wanna-be. The zipper clasp is hard to see and harder to feel, so I am a bit flustered before I even start zipping. Since I put my footwear on last thing before heading out the door, I am usually in a hurry. I can work up a sweat in blizzard temps putting them on.

Reversing the process to remove them signals uncalled-for distress. First aspect to remember is that one of the zippers zips up; the other zips down. Of course I never can remember which one is which way, and since I am usually taking them off at night in a semi-darkened room, fumbling for the zipper clasps promotes the excess perspiration I already mentioned.

Once unzipping is accomplished, I pause briefly to contemplate shedding restricting clothes before proceeding. When one is wearing sweaters and tunics over skinny jeans, restricting clothing is the UNDERCLOTHING. (A cartoon-like image of me calling for an ambulance because I have fallen and can’t get up, sporting only knee-high boots and jeans, means if I partially undress I put on the 2X nightshirt before continuing).

My legs and feet don’t change sizes that drastically during a long day so I can’t offer a reasonable explanation for the contortions worthy of a Circque du Soleil performance that I go through to get those darn boots off. The wear and tear on them is hardly from donning them often; that is solely from yanking and tugging, pushing and prying. Were you aware you can get charlie horses in your muffin top? Neither was I, until…

Then there is the added dilemma of putting them on the wrong feet, once in a great while. My reasonable explanation is the cape-thingy that makes them appear more countrified, AND having two zippers each. Of course, putting them on as I go out the door leaves no time to notice until I am peering at them from a church pew or from the lectern at Toastmasters.

Need I add there is no quick-change when that happens. I’m in the right boots/wrong feet for the duration. Not much different from wrong boots/right feet in this instance. All one can do is laugh.

Unless it’s from a church pew…

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“You have memories with…” pops up multiple times in front of most faces these days.

I should hope so! Memories of trick-or-treating are some of my favorites, as a child and as a momma providing the experience for my son.

Back in the 50’s all the boogeymen and monsters, ghosts and villains were make-believe in our neighborhoods in St.Louis. We started early in October creating Halloween decorations for windows and doors, learning poems and songs as tricks for our treats with the help of our schoolteachers and pestering Moms and Dads for the costumes we just HAD to have. As we grew older, we had the option of making our own, a sort of rite -of -passage not to wear one from the store.

The ultimate treat was getting permission to concoct a haunted house in our very own spooky-to-start-with backyard garage, with the help of a chosen few, and get to invite the neighborhood gang and charge admission!

Back to the future and a changed world in the 80’s. Published and broadcast cautions about needles in candies and fruits horrified us all. The for-real scary began to tarnish the fun for the next generation.

Big Bird was a favorite TV buddy for lots of youngsters then, but an up close and personal Big Bird staring back at my 4 year-old from the bedroom mirror petrified him. I decided to put his mask on AFTER we left the house, but wouldn’t you know he would catch a reflection of himself in a car window and break the sound barrier, drawing attention from both ends of the block! He became leery of all the creatures stirring in the night on a Moberly, Missouri street so our trick-or-treat bag was light that year.

The most Halloween fun we had was an event for parents and kids, a huge party with games and treats in a safe place that kept old and young off the Memphis streets. I was a gypsy, dressed to the max in my vinyl regalia, proud once again to sport a store -bought costume, one I had been allowed to wear while I taught 4th thru 6th graders in a small private school.

My now all grown-up 5 year old wanted nothing to do with regular cartoon or Sesame Street costumes. He wanted to be a goblin and he wanted us to perform the magic. We did so to his specifications; who better than he would recognize a goblin when he saw one?

I cut a square out of a sheet, big enough that when draped over his head the material hit mid -calf. We folded it in half and cut out a circle large enough for his head to poke through. We then used several colors of spray paint and painted scary swirly stripes on the sheet. He thought green, yellow and orange were just the ones. A scrap sprayed to match made a bandana. Dimestore makeup completed the effect: green face with black circles around the eyes and mouth. Voilà! A macabre beast who enjoyed the run of the gym playing games and collecting goodies. He even found the needle in a haystack and won a prize! ( A Q-tip in a bale of hay. What a mess)! Squeals of delight rather than ear-splitting terror much preferred.

So happy to live in a small town that has folks willing to work to create that safe, delightful fun-sort-of -scary Halloween experience that Moms and Dads can enjoy right along with the ghosts and goblins. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

PS. So next year when ‘You have memories with’ pops up on your Facebook page, may there be lots of smiles from all the action making the memories. But not too many photos! You want to be part of the fun!

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Who Knew?

I was even MORE sheltered than I realized! I was way over 21 before I experienced these.

  • FRIED CHICKEN LIVERS – I grew up wishing a chicken had 10 legs, that way I could have had more for me. Whatever the rest of those pieces were, no thank you. Mom seemed to always buy one whole chicken so, well, you see the issue. With only one liver to stat with, I guess that was Dad’s treat. When I discovered as an adult how tasty and inexpensive they were, I was a cheap date. That delicacy was also my #1 craving as an expectant mom. They are SO good and affordable that I have never felt the need to master the art of frying them at home.
  • MUSHROOMS – I can close my eyes and savor the first moment I ate sauteed mushrooms, still sizzling when brought to the table in that fancy Memphis restaurant, so elegant the work ‘restaurant’ seems insulting.  Again, scrumptious and kind to the pocketbook in the grocery store, but I DID learn to saute them, and was later thrilled to know were great in all sorts of raw ways without dealing with the mess of frying. My parents both hailed from the Bootheel. Maybe mushrooms don’t grow there.
  •  AVOCADOS – First let me say I probably tasted dishes made with avocados long before I knew avocado was a color of kitchen appliances AND a food, but not sure I did as a kid, seeing as beans and potatoes were the staple items in our household, even growing up on the famed Hill in St. Louis. But wait, guacamole is Mexican, not Italian, isn’t it? Hmm. What was that OTHER green stuff? It took growing up and older to tune in to foods good for lowering cholesterol, adding allowable calories and flavor to salads and eggs, and even permitted as a snack, before I paid attention to this item. (I just realized at this writing that I am not really sure if it is a fruit or a vegetable, but tasty either way). This one is NOT so inexpensive; if you have bought any lately you are aware of that. But considering it’s nutritious, and edible without frying, heck, without dirtying up any dishes since it can be its own bowl, its’ worth the hassle of getting that seed out of the way and getting the fingers a bit slimy, and trying to think of a nice way to describe the color other than baby s#*^+ green.

There must be tricks I haven’t yet discovered on Google about how to buy an avocado that is the perfect shade of green when it’s peeled, or that ripens at just the right pace to be able to buy more than one or two at a time if the price is ever right. I bet Google could also tell me an easy way to grow mushrooms without chopping down all my oak trees. But chickens with more than two legs and one liver? Probably not. Tis a shame for all those other parts to go to waste.

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Pumpkin Tease

We get stuck in unexplainable ruts sometimes, but marketers have it figured out. It is not unusual to see Christmas in July sales, and Starbucks has us all craving pumpkin lattes in August, way ahead of the seasons and holidays when those dishes are celebrated. I know pumpkins are not harvested until late summer, but canned pumpkin is available year round. How many of us buy that item year round, though?
Lately I have had to push my brain into thinking of deadlines in the present for material appropriate for a future time. That is tough enough, but add having to learn a thing or two more about this tech stuff, and my mind is as mushy, it seems, as that canned pumpkin puree. I just met the deadline for an October publication, and this recipe is now stuck in my head. I am going to try it early, before Halloween and Thanksgiving tables feature pumpkin pies.
I asked my sister if she had an easy favorite. She does. When I asked her the source, she pulled out of her file a crinkled page from a 1993 Good Housekeeping magazine. Maybe you would like to try it, too!

Sensational Double Layer Pumpkin Pie 
4 oz cream cheese, softened 2 pkgs (4 serving size) vanilla flavor instant pudding 
1 tbs milk or half-and-half

 1 can pumpkin (16 oz) 

1 tbs sugar 

 1 tsp ground cinnamon 

1 ½ cups thawed whipped topping

½ tsp ground ginger 

1 graham cracker pie crust ¼ tsp ground cloves 

1 cup milk or half-and-half 

Layer one – Mix cream cheese, milk and sugar with wire whisk in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in whipped topping and spread on the crust. 
Layer two – Pour 1 cup milk into bowl. Add pudding mix and beat with whisk until well blended. It will be thick. Stir in pumpkin and spices with wire whisk. Mix well. Spread over the cream cheese layer. Refrigerate for 3 hours. Garnish with more whipped topping and nuts. 

Google a spiced pumpkin latte recipe to enjoy a pumpkin evening before October rolls around. I’m sure there are tons of them out there. Enjoy!

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