Monday, October 15, 2007

The world is too much with us

Please click comments at the bottom of this piece and tell me your thoughts. You don’t even have to sign your name.

William Wordsworth wrote “The world is too much with us, late and soon . . .” When I read the newspaper I am sometimes inclined to agree, but most times the world is with us and we are with the world. And it’s usually good.

On a national level, for instance, Ann Coulter has decreed from her infinite and mean-spirited wisdom that the United States is a Christian Country. She says that Jews, for instance, need to be “perfected,” whatever that means. Her solution to the Muslim “problem” is "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." She leaves no room for the myriad religions practiced – or not – in our country today. The founding fathers in the Constitution of the United States declared in the First Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights for those paying attention (obviously not A. C. who has confused herself somehow with J. C.) that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That doesn’t say to me that Ms. Coulter should become our own national Ayatollah who decides how people should believe or think. Somehow people who know they are right just know they are right.

But being part of the world isn’t all bad. More locally a close acquaintance died a couple of weeks ago. The opposite of mean-spirited Ann Coulter, Wilma was kind and generous and hard working. After she retired from teaching she started her own travel agency, which she was part of until just a couple of years ago. When she died, Wilma was 91, and we took a couple of river cruises with her within the last five years: one from Venice up the Po to several cities like Padua; and one from Bucharest, Romania, by coach to Constanta on the Black Sea, up the Danube to Budapest. She kept up with (or surpassed!) all of us in our group, saw all the sights, enjoyed a drink or two before dinner, discussed politics and current affairs knowledgeably, was a fascinating woman who never lost her mental alertness, played a mean game of bridge, loved the Cubs, and remained interested and interesting until the end of her life. She joined us occasionally at dinner with mutual friends, and also participated in their annual Passover Seder with enthusiasm. We shall miss her. More, however, we’ll cherish the time we spent together.

And the world isn’t always sad, either. Our grandson David is on Fall Break from Beloit College in Wisconsin. (We see his brother Jonathan at least once a week. He’s fifteen, and that’s sometimes enough said. He is a delight, though.) We haven’t seen David since August, and we’ll have an opportunity to spend time with him, bake him some cookies with black and orange Halloween M&M’s, and have a meal at our favorite restaurant, Flavor.

Sepaking of. Chicago Public Television’s program Check Please, which has three ordinary people review their favorite restaurants each week, reviewed my cousin Rochelle’s restaurant, Flavor in Flossmoor this weekend. Rochelle was pretty nervous, even after the show aired. But Flavor got good reviews for having great food, a friendly atmosphere, and as one reviewer said, the friendliness is “a digestive.” I never thought about using the word that way, but it’s true. I always meet new and interesting people when we eat at Flavor. Sometimes when it’s crowded we tell the host that we’ll be glad to share a table, and we always find interesting conversation when we do that.

This Thursday Margaret Murphy will appear with her trio on Flavor’s weekly jazz bill. She is a wonderful musician and vocalist, and has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand, if you’ll pardon the pun. We plan on being there and you can probably watch me steppin’ with my wife, who is a wonderful dancer, and my cousin Rochelle.

Despite Ann Coulter and her negative view of the world, people like Wilma, restaurants like Flavor, singers like Margaret Murphy, and grandchildren, what can be bad?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Check this out

My grandson sent me this video of Raul Midon that I think you'll enjoy. Double click on it to play the video of this marvelous musician.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Sports Genes

I don’t have a sports gene.

Usually that doesn’t cause problems. But despite the continuing warm weather here in Chicago’s South burbs, the holidays are peeping over the horizon and we are starting to think about who’s hosting what, who’s spending the holidays with whom.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter particularly are family and friend holidays, I believe. When we host these celebrations, we invite our chosen family, their families, and various friends. Usually around fifteen or so people come. We see some of them, for whatever reason, no more than a couple times a year.

When we host Thanksgiving, we have a traditional menu: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, cranberry orange relish, jellied cranberry sauce, my Grandma’s dry dressing (mmmmmm), green beans with sliced almonds or fresh artichokes, salad, stuffed celery, giant green and black olives, Bobby Christopher’s chocolate maple pecan pie, pumpkin pie with cream I whip at the table, parker house rolls, wine and drinks. We open a can of cranberry sauce, but otherwise we make everything from scratch. We bake the day before, get up early on Thanksgiving morning and put the turkey in, and then get started peeling potatoes, making some kind of sweet potato soufflĂ©, and so on. It’s hard work, but we love to do it for people we love.

We always suggest to our guests that if there’s something not on our menu that screams family dinner for them, they should bring it. Someone always shows up with their family’s special event dish, usually made with cream of mushroom soup and some sort of vegetables, and cheese, or cream of mushroom soup, green beans and canned fried onions. I’m not big on Campbell casseroles, but it’s comfort food for a lot of people, bless their hearts. Usually someone picks up a frozen apple pie that we don’t have oven room for. We set it aside and eat it eventually.

After we eat, I like to take a walk to settle my food so I can have another piece of pecan pie later. I prefer to play board games or chat with people I haven’t seen in a long time before we serve the gang turkey sandwiches for supper. After all the work, which Ann and I share, we need to do something sedentary, especially as we age and begin to realize we can’t do the kind of things we used to. Conversation is the perfect solution.

We have had some interesting Thanksgivings over the years. There was the time Ann had surgery the Monday before the holiday, came home from the hospital on Wednesday, and lay on the couch, totally incapable of cooking. Both sets of our parents were alive at that time and they all came, along with my sister, her husband and my niece. My father-in-law got up around five and clomped around the house in the belief that if he were up, everyone else should be. I cooked the dinner and got everything out at the same time with minimal help. But when we sat down to eat, my mother-in-law had disappeared. Our relationship was tenuous at best. I had worked hard to get everything together and I was irritated, but mild irritation turned to fury when we found her, eventually, shoveling snow off the street in front of our house. I may well have said a couple bad words in an uncharitable moment.

On Thanksgiving the year after my son died, his friends Bill and John showed up. They had spent Thanksgiving evening with us for several years before Daniel died. Bill told us, “My dad said, ‘Isn’t it time you go to Mosers?’ He just wanted us out of the house.” I am not sure Bill’s dad even knew about Daniel. We spent hours catching up and reminiscing about Daniel, and they didn’t leave until after eleven that night. God bless Bill’s father.

Another time we spent Thanksgiving with friends who had a huge house and invited about forty people all together. They asked me to be in charge of the kitchen because in a former life I was a professional cook. We had an interim priest while we were looking for a permanent one, and after everyone else was served, I finally collapsed with my food at the table next to him and his grown son. “You’re not as dumb as I thought you were,” Fr. Hess said, shoveling food into his mouth. I stared at him blankly. “I mean, you’re smarter than I thought.” My mouth dropped open. “You’re smarter than you look.” Finally his son said, “Dad, shut up.” I think he was trying to tell me that I had pulled the dinner together, everyone was served at the same time, and the food tasted good. He just couldn’t get it out.

I haven’t forgotten that I started out this essay about my lack of sports gene, and I am wending my way back, as is my habit, to my point:

Lately after Thanksgiving dinner, everyone rushes from the table into the family room to watch a really important football game. All conversation comes to a halt. If I try to talk with people I haven’t seen for months, I am met with the same kind of stares I gave Fr. Hess or asked to go into a different room because “we are watching the game.” It makes me feel as if they regard me as merely the person who cooks and cleans – for their benefit. None of us do very much for nothing, and I expect my pay off to be conversation. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

We haven’t decided what we’re going to do about Thanksgiving this year. Maybe we’ll just let ourselves be invited out. If we decide to host the dinner, the invitation could note that if the football game is paramount, people should stay home and watch TV.

Or maybe I should look for a sports gene splice instead.

Please share your interesting, unusual, bitter or funny holiday dinner experiences by clicking on comments below.