Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Year's Language Scofflaws 2015

Television newscasters seem to be leaders in poor usage of our language. Tonight I was listening to a news story about flooding in St. Louis. The reporter used the word “devastated” three times in the same report. Don’t these people have vocabularies or at least thesauri? My late father worked in broadcasting all his adult life. He often said that broadcasters have an obligation to speak correctly because they influence the nation. He was the original grammar police.

It’s not just the media. Over-used words. Decorated words. Altered words. Where is our language going? Here is my year end commentary on words that I have noticed with some pain. Our language is misused daily, especially in the media and everyday speech. Stay tuned. More words are coming up next, sponsored by Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th edition, which probably is already out of date.

Over-Used Words
Gotcha.  Generally this means I understand what you just said. I have not heard this on television news. People everywhere seem to be saying it.
Devastated, devastation. This is a popular word for scenes of destruction or desolation. I understand victims of unfortunate events using the word in interviews, but other people can use it less frequently.
So.  So has become a way to begin a sentence, especially a response to a question. It appears to replace well.  Example: So can we find another way to begin a sentence?

Decorated Words.
I call them decorated because they have been altered with added letters, which I call decorations that do not change the meaning of the words.
Towards is the same as toward. My dictionary defines towards as toward.
Amongst. My dictionary says it is a chiefly British variant of among. It means among.
Amidst. Unhistoric for amid.
Regards is used for regard, as “in regards to.” It is ok to say “as regards,” according to the dictionary, meaning concerning.
Anyways for anyway. The dictionary accepts this, but why bother?

Altered Words.
These are used to replace the original word.
Bemuse. Used for amuse, but they don’t mean the same thing. Amuse means to keep pleasantly or enjoyably occupied. Bemuse is to preoccupy or plunge into thought.
Alright. This means “all right.” The dictionary says it is a disputed spelling of “all right.”
Ginormous. Gigantic and enormous gave birth to this coming together. It isn’t in my dictionary although I hear it frequently.

At the End of the Day.

Been there; done that. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Pumpkin Bread - One Loaf

My daughter Sarah has a shelf filled with canned pumpkin, which she bought for a purpose that is not part of this discussion and no longer matters in her life. In response to her need to find something to do with it all, I offer her and the world a recipe for pumpkin bread. She lives alone with her cats, so this continues my theme of preparing foods for one or two instead of a family of humans. Here is the opportunity to make one loaf of pumpkin bread.

Great recipes often turn up in church cookbooks. Often the contributors to these books have simple and delicious ways to prepare foods. I found this in a book that I bought long ago in my Green Bay years, St. John the Baptist Church Family Cook Book, created by the church in Howard in 1982. I shrank the quantities and revised ingredients a bit. It is sweet and almost cakey.

One problem might be what to do with the other half of the can of pumpkin. I suggest pumpkin soup, which exists elsewhere in my blog. On the other hand, one can double it and make more pumpkin bread.

For Sarah and not her cats, but maybe her deceased dog, here it is.

Pumpkin Bread – One loaf

1/3 cup shortening                                                          1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar                                                                         ¾ teaspoon salt
2 eggs                                                                                   ¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup canned or cooked pumpkin                             ½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup water                                                                    12 teaspoon ground cloves
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour                                            ½ cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour one standard loaf pan. I learned the hard way that just greasing the pan caused the baked bread to stick to the pan, so I suggest sprinkling a dusting of flour on the bottom and sides as with cake.
Stir together until well mixed the flour, soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves. In a large bowl cream the shortening and sugar. Add eggs, pumpkin and water and stir until blended. Mix in the flour mixture. Last add the raisins. Nuts can be added. Pour it into the bread pan and bake about 70 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the loaf from the pan immediately.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Turkey Quiche for Two

Leftover turkey is the aftermath of Thanksgiving cooks. Our family gathered at my home and ate plenty, but still I have leftover turkey. I made a big pot of turkey soup and still have leftover turkey. I thought of something else to do with it, and here is a non-traditional quiche that is easy to make and won’t last all week. It has more refined processed food than I prefer (Bisquick), but it tastes good. It’s non-traditional because there is no crust to roll. The Bisquick makes crust while the quiche bakes.

This recipe is a reason to have an 8-inch pie tin in the cupboard even though stores don’t sell them anymore. To solve the 8-inch pie dish dilemma, I think the quiche can be baked in a six by eight inch glass baking dish that Pyrex sells. I didn’t try it since I have a round 8-inch pie pan.

Leftover Turkey Quiche for Two

Put into blender container and blend for ten seconds:
2 eggs
1 cup milk (I prefer whole milk)
1/3 cup Bisquick – regular or gluten free
1/3 cup melted butter
¼ teaspoon salt approximately

Pour the blended mixture into ungreased 8-inch pie tin or 6x8-inch baking dish.
Distribute on top:
¾ cup or more chopped cooked turkey (chopped cooked chicken works too)
½ cup or more grated Swiss cheese – or cheese of your choice

Bake it at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Eat it hot.
It is possible to find 8-inch pie plates in thrift stores such as Goodwill.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Meat Loaf for Two

It appears that meat loaf is a favorite American food. The evidence is in cookbooks and some restaurants. Bluephie’s restaurant in Madison serves Meatloaf of the Gods, and it appears in the cookbook from Monte’s Blue Plate Diner of Madison, which has the same owner as Bluephie’s. My culinarily inclined granddaughter, Dana, ate it at Bluephies and lived to go on to cooking school.

Better Homes and Gardens has dressed it up. The 15th edition of Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 2010, has a recipe with thirteen ingredients. If that’s not enough, the book has an illustrated page with ten glazes for meat loaf. That tells me that Americans like meat loaf in excelsis, not just plain. The above mentioned Meat Loaf of the Gods has eighteen ingredients.

Twentieth century cooking celebrity James Beard presents six different recipes for meat loaf in James Beard’s American Cookery, published in 1972. He also tells us that meat loaf is a product of the twentieth century that coincides with the popularity of ground beef. He then gives pointers about good meat loaf. It should be highly seasoned and firm but not dry. He likes it cold in sandwiches. It may be served hot with good tomato sauce, mushroom sauce or onion sauce. When cold, horseradish sauce or Cumberland (what’s that?) sauce is appropriate. James Beard’s book contains the only page-long essay that I know of that is about meat loaf.

I am fond of meat loaf. I horrified my mother when I was about ten years old when I asked it for my birthday dinner. She thought it was too dull. Since Mother was a champion cook, she made it for me and it was very good even without sauce on it. This week I found myself trying to figure out how to make meat loaf for one or two people, when all the cookbooks expect a small army to be at the table. I didn’t want to be eating meat loaf and its leftovers every day for a week, so I sat down and invented a plain meat loaf that would feed one or two people, unless one of them eats like a horse as my late husband did.

Meat loaf is somewhat like stew. One can put a great variety of ingredients into it and it will be good. That is shown in the cook books mentioned above. Here is my version.

Meat Loaf for Two

½ - ¾ pound lean ground beef                   1/3 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup rolled oats                                           ½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
½ cup tomato juice                                          pepper to taste
1 egg                                                                     ½ teaspoon ground thyme
1/3 cup chopped onion                                 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Mix it all together and put in a greased baking dish. Bake about 1 hour at 350 degrees.

The cook book authors have suggested many more ingredients, including spices, mushrooms, vegetables like green pepper and carrot, catsup, cream, other meats to combine with beef such as sausage, and more. It is a wonderful experience if one is not vegetarian.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sugar -- Our Sweet Enemy

Forget about ISIS and terrorists. We are killing ourselves without their help. No guns. Just spoons and forks. Americans are eating ourselves into poor health and major diseases. Just ask the authors of the three books I have been reading: (1) JJ Virgin’s Sugar Impact Diet: Drop 7 Hidden Sugars, Lose Up to 10 Pounds in Just 2 Weeks; (2) Suicide by Sugar: a Startling Look at Our #1 National Addiction; (3) Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. The authors, respectively, are JJ Virgin, Nancy Appleton and G.N. Jacobs, and Robert H. Lustig.

These three books have scary titles that describe their content. They all point out in different ways that sugar and related sweeteners plus processed foods have made Americans and people around the world heavier and sicker than they were in the 1980s and earlier. They tell us about the science of our metabolisms and how sugars, especially high fructose corn syrup, are in almost all processed foods in addition to obvious sweetening additions to our meals. They also suggest ways to reverse our copious use of sweet things. They know whereof they speak. The three books are sprinkled with stories about people who turned their lives around.

JJ Virgin is a bestselling author who has appeared in television, magazines and blogs. Her book is chatty and appears aimed at women who enjoy light reading. It also has content with its conversational style.

Nancy Appleton has a BS in clinical nutrition and a PhD in health services, and has a private practice in California. G.N. Jacobs is a reporter and filmmaker.  Appleton focuses on sugar as addictive for many people. Her story is about homeostasis, which she says is “the internal balance of the body’s electro-magnetic and chemical systems.” She says our bodies need balance for health: “Our bodies heal when we are in homeostasis.” It takes a book to make this sound relevant and interesting.

Robert H. Lustig is a medical doctor who has spent twenty years treating childhood obesity and studying the effects of sugar on the central nervous system and metabolism. Lustig is somewhat trendy now and appeared this week on Wisconsin Public Television in addition to being on YouTube and publishing a DVD with information about sugar consumption. In addition, I have spotted him on the Doctor Oz Show. Lustig’s book is the most scientific and is less easy to read than the others, but the person who reads it all learns a lot about how sugar is bad for our metabolisms from birth throughout life.

It looks as if we need to slow down on sugar consumption and that it isn’t easy for most people. The three authors agree that Americans get hooked on sweet foods, especially soda and processed foods, and it is giving us metabolic syndrome, which according to Lustig is a cluster of five chronic conditions familiar to most people: “obesity, diabetes, lipid problems such as high triglyceride and low HDL, hypertension, cardiovascular disease), any or all of which increase your chance of early death.” (Lustig, p. 94.) Lustig’s ongoing statement is, “a calorie is not a calorie,” meaning that calories are not all alike. Broccoli and soda are very different. Appleton’s list of factors for metabolic syndrome includes elevated blood pressure, elevated C-reactive protein, high fasting blood glucose levels, high triglycerides, a large waistline, low levels of HDL, raised LDL, and raised total cholesterol levels.

Appleton has a chapter that gives 140 reasons why sugar is ruining your health. She gives a list of thirty-one forms of sugar. She says Americans eat sugar and other similar sweeteners at about forty-eight teaspoons per person per day, while about two teaspoons of added sugar two or three times a day is usually the body’s threshold for added sugar. Virgin says that the average American eats about twenty-two teaspoons of sugar every day. I don’t know where they get their statistics, but either figure is a lot of sweet stuff. Virgin says, “It will blow your mind when you see how much sugar is sneaking into your diet—mountains of it, even in things you would swear have no added sugar.” (Virgin, p. xv.)

Virgin talks about hidden sugars that are in the processed foods that many people eat. She says, “…refined sugar by itself is a bad thing (especially liquid sugars like juice and soda), but you should avoid processed foods with added sugar and fat together at all costs—it’s a fat-storing, metabolically toxic combo.” (Virgin, p. 43.) She rates sugars into low, medium and high impact in accordance with the damage they can do. She has suggestions on how to eat in restaurants and fast food places. She says that exercise is good but we need to get our eating right first. She tells us to go easy on grains, roots and fruit, low-fat and no-fat dairy and diet foods, sweet drinks and dressings, and sweeteners and added sugars.

Lustig compares food addiction to established criteria for substance dependence. He’s the doctor, so he gives us an essay on what constitutes addiction: seven criteria, of which an addict usually has three: tolerance, withdrawal, binging, desire or attempts to quit, craving or seeking, interference with life, and use despite negative consequences. (Lustig, p. 55-56.) He expresses concern that many obese children come to his office and that type 2 diabetes is becoming common in children as well as adults. He says the goal of obesity management is to keep insulin down. He tells us about insulin and other hormones that affect our eating.

The three say in various ways that it’s not our fault. The food industry is in there with thousands of appealing processed foods. People are eating fast food in their busy lives. School lunch programs give kids processed sugary foods. Deceptive advertising is ubiquitous.  Our way of living and eating is a big problem, but not insurmountable. Virgin has chapters that tell how to taper, transition and transform. Appleton offers three food plans to follow.  Appleton and Virgin give recipes to help people who need help. All three give suggestions that can make a difference.  Lustig calls for global sugar reduction because the problem is not just American.

It’s about our health. If everyone stopped eating sugars, our medical establishment would shrink, food processors would need to change or cease to exist, and we all would feel a lot better and have longer lives. Yes, sweet foods are delicious and hard to resist. But life and health are precious. Virgin in her chatty way says, “So let me shout this from the mountaintop—it’s the impact of sugar that matters. You don’t have to eliminate sugar completely, but you need to choose your sugars wisely.” (Virgin, p. xiv.)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Chocolate Chiffon Dessert

I don’t advocate sugar for people, since it has been shown to contribute to undesirable diseases, but for those who want some sweet dessert, here is an old fashioned sugar delivery product that I changed from pie to crustless dessert. I found it as pie filling in two of my very old and much loved cookbooks from Better Homes and Gardens, issued in 1946 as deluxe edition, and in 1953 with “New” added to the title. The title has been “new” with subsequent editions for more than another half century.

They called it Chocolate Chiffon Pie. Over time the recipe disappeared from recent editions of the cookbook. I don’t find it in the 12th or 15th edition, which are in my collection. Other chiffon pies also absented themselves from the newer books. I raised my children on pumpkin chiffon pie for holidays, and that is gone too. Alas for today’s eaters. It is very good.

Chiffon pie ingredients are puffed up with egg white and held together with unflavored gelatin.  The pie is easy to make and requires no baking except for the crust, although it requires a few hours of refrigeration. While I make very good pie crust, I thought it would be easy to skip the pastry and put the filling into a dish and later serve it with a spatula or spoon and top it with whipped cream (or skip the whipped cream). It requires no exotic ingredients unless one thinks unflavored gelatin is exotic, and no strange or expensive equipment. We are not Martha Stewart in this instance.

The two old cookbooks give the recipe the same except for the number of eggs (three or four). I present it with some modification but essentially as I found it. The dessert is very easy to make and tastes good.

Chocolate Chiffon Dessert

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate in pieces
½ cup boiling water.
                Melt the chocolate in the boiling water.
1 envelope (1 tablespoon) unflavored gelatin
¼ cup cold water
                Soften the gelatin in the cold water and stir until the gelatin dissolves.
                Add the softened gelatin to the melted chocolate mixture.
3 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
                Beat the egg yolks light with the sugar. Add to the chocolate mixture.
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
                Add salt and vanilla. Let it cool.
3 egg whites at room temperature
½ cup sugar
                Beat the egg whites until stiff and beat the remaining ½ cup sugar into them.
                Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.
                Pour it all into a bowl. I used a rectangular glass baking dish.
                Refrigerate it until it is firm, about three hours.
                Spread it with optional whipped cream if desired.

To make this into pie, pour it into a baked pie crust and chill as above.

Modified from:
Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book, deluxe edition, Meredith Publishing Co., 1946, chapter O, p. 7;
Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, (title page missing due to overuse), 1953, p. 315.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

John Bell at the Island Forum

I didn’t know much about John Bell but he turned out to be a very engaging and sometimes funny speaker on what he called the “Bayble.” That’s Scottish for Bible. Bell lives in Scotland and is well known in Europe and North America for his music. I only knew that at our church we have sung some music that he wrote. The conference that I attended for several days was about music by example but not by topic. More than two hundred clergy and lay people were there for the annual Island Forum at Washington Island.

John Bell’s fashion statement was colorful, not color matched very well, and barefoot. He definitely was not dressed as a conventional speaker. That was okay, although I didn’t expect our speaker to appear in rolled up green jeans.

Bell said that his job is lay education and he is scripture centered. His topics for each day were (1) the Bible and stories; (2) what to tell the children and retelling the story; (3) imagination; (4) women and the bible.

Memorable things that Bell said included reminding all the pastors of some church history, that the Bible is full of diversity of stories covering spiritual nourishment, story, poetry, biography, parable and more. It wasn’t written in a day; some writers of scripture didn’t know about other writers. God’s people speak in different ways, not apart from each other. He pointed out that apartheid in South Africa has its origin in a narrow reading of scripture that endorsed it. Bell had good things to say about Nelson Mandela, who brought people together. Differences and diversity are part of God’s invention, he said.

The second day was about stories and children. What we tell the children will stay with them all their lives. He used the song, “Jesus Loves Me This I know,” which the group sang slowly in four parts, as probably only a hall full of clergy would do. His point was that this song is the experience of faith and that God is love. It’s about relationship and affection of the person who teaches the song. Childhood hymns show childhood faith. He also had other examples.

Bell talked about today’s people being spiritual but not religious, a buzzword for people who are not in one faith tradition. He said it is about people being disappointed in conventional faith. The notion of God has moved from everywhere present to God being little engaged but slightly helping in the world, like a moralistic therapeutic session. These people have little connection with the God of the Bible, Torah and Koran. However, Bell points out that the best revelations should enlarge us as the voice of God who has spoken; today’s children with no faith traditions don’t know what God sounds like.

There are true stories and truth stories. True stories are facts that can be verified. Truth stories are what is meant to convey, like parables, which convey the nature of God and God’s kingdom. Bell talked about the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall as a truth story. We are guests in the garden; someone else owns it so it should be used according to the rules. The garden is a place of wonder. The role of humanity is to be moved by this wonder. The fruit that the people should not eat is a restriction, not a test; some knowledge is too much for us to bear, beyond our comprehension. The story is not about the temptress Eve persuading Adam to eat the fruit. Adam is passive in the story, but they eat it together and receive the knowledge.

Bell talked about (1) Abraham and Sarah, our ancestors. Sarah names her child Isaac, which means laughter. The old people now enable God to do his thing and renew the church, as Abraham and Sarah did as old people. He mentioned (2) the Ten Commandments, which are seen as divine restrictions, but what is common in them is that they are meant to liberate, not limit people. The commandment about the Sabbath has meaning for everyone. God took a rest; he wants people to see rest as necessary for human life. It’s a sabbath from ensnaring routines and includes land, servants and work animals. Bell spoke about the Heroes in Judges and the miracles of Jesus. Love demands that we treat people differently.

Imagination came on the third day. We extol it in children but are suspicious of it in adolescents. The story of David slaying Goliath was an example. Bell said that the adult in the group set young David up in armor that made it impossible for him to move effectively, so David got rid of the adult suggestion and took out his sling, with which he was proficient in killing animals that menaced his flock of sheep, and killed the giant.  Then Bell said he once asked some teenagers about how Jesus managed to feed a crowd with five loaves and two fishes, and they gave the imaginative answer that when the basket came around, the people added to the food supply and put something into it so everyone got fed. That is Godly imagination. Bell said that imagination is a gift that can be used for good and that is what the Incarnation is about.

He said that God uses intellectual, emotional, imaginative accents in scripture. The lion lying down with the lamb gives a picture of God’s intention. Imagination is a picture of the “not yet.” Imagination might release some parts of scripture. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is often seen only as twenty years old, when imagination can tell more. Other stories about Mary and other women can be enlarged by use of imagination. We unlock and see deeper with imagination. The voice of prophecy in the Church is what is ahead.

Women were the subject of the final day. Bell said that men and women read Bible texts in different ways. For example, it was said that in the Fall in Genesis, woman was made from the man’s rib and therefore dependent on man, which isn’t something that I as a woman would endorse. Rather, Bell said that Adam and Eve were meant for partnership. The snake speaks to Eve while Adam is quiet and accepts the apple, and then he accuses God for giving him a dumb partner.

Another example is in Exodus, where the midwives were commanded to kill the Jewish boy babies and they went against cruel male authority and Moses was born. Baby Moses in the basket gets adopted by Pharoah’s daughter, and he grows up to midwife the Hebrews into the promised land. Bell gave other examples of women whose stories are little known because, Bell said, our church lectionaries were put together by men. He said that the women stood up to cruel male authority because God called them to do it. Their stories don’t get told today.

Bell said that Jesus treated women as not inferior, that their faith, generosity and hospitality were recognized by Jesus while in the background the men resented Jesus talking to women and interacting with them. Female witness is indispensable. The Song of Mary, the Magnificat, shows us that when Mary magnifies or praises God, it makes God bigger for us. Then He who is mighty magnifies us. A small God means limited discipleship, and a big God does not.

Altogether it was a worthwhile conference.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Date Bread

My maternal grandmother was legendary for two things, date bread and chocolate chip cookies. We called her Sweetie Pie because she was uncomfortable with people knowing she was a grandma. She was glamorous most of her life, with a petite figure and plenty of curly artificially colored red hair. She was one of the rare divorcees of her time, and she had plenty of dates but no second marriage. When Sweetie Pie was at our home or we were at hers in Chicago, we ate her delicious home-made cookies and date bread. Later she moved to Sturgeon Bay to be near us as we grew up.

Her date bread recipe was in her head and not on paper. At one time my mother tried to get it in written form. Mother said that Sweetie Pie wasn’t specific about how much she used of most ingredients, so Mother patiently asked her, “How much flour, a teaspoon or ten cups? How many eggs?” and so on. Here is the result for my family and everyone else.

Date Bread

1 cup dates                                                        1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda                                    1 heaping teaspoon butter
1 cup boiling water                                          2 eggs
1 cup nuts                                                          2 cups flour

Cut up the dates.  Add soda and water. Cool. Cream butter and sugar. Beat eggs and add. Pour date mixture on this and blend. Add nuts and flour. Pour into buttered loaf pan with wax paper on bottom. Bake at 300 degrees about one hour or until done. Remove from pan immediately.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

What About Eve?

Did Eve really cause it? This is holy week. Tomorrow is Good Friday, when Christians remember the death of Jesus. Jesus came to make right a world that had gone wrong, allegedly because Eve listened to a serpent in the Garden of Eden, and she and her husband Adam chose to disobey God by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, a forbidden tree. Then God reportedly evicted Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and gave them a lecture and some punishment. Adam was to toil by his hands and Eve was to have pain in childbirth. This was the notorious Fall of Man, when sin entered the world and it was all downhill until Jesus arrived to save everyone. It’s all in the Bible and in Christian interpretations.

It appears to me that Eve is a minor player in the overall story of Adam and Eve. In one of the Genesis stories God created her from a rib of Adam, who was already present, and he was very happy to have her as a companion. They and God seemed to have a close relationship until the serpent appeared and told them that knowledge is a good thing and they would be like God if they ate the fruit of the tree. So they found it good and they ate. This was an act they did together. It wasn’t just Eve. Good-bye paradise; hello sin. Adam and Eve represented the entire human race (population 2). They were infected.

After a long time of much more sin-infected disobedience to God’s commands, about which we can read in the Old Testament, we are told that God came back into the world as Jesus Christ. I see a theological connection here that starts with Eve and continues with the new Eve, who is Mary the mother of Jesus, and continues again with Jesus and Good Friday and Easter, the day of Resurrection.

Eve is barely mentioned in Genesis, but she has received plenty of blame for listening to a snake. St. Augustine formalized the doctrine of Original Sin in the fifth century, which is about the human race being infected with consequences of the Fall. Christians are baptized to remove it. And sin still exists, individual, social, corporate.

I say don’t blame Eve. The chosen people entered into the arrangement with God over many years. It’s their fault too, and ours, while evil exists all around the world. God gave everyone the capability of choosing. Being the first (Eve) isn’t being the only one.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Living Alone

I didn’t just say, “Wow! Is this what it’s like?” It has turned out to be good, at least for the last six years. Being the queen of my castle is good.  It is good because of a variety of favorable circumstances for which I can thank God, my family, and a long list of positive circumstances. A younger person is likely to see life alone differently, as my single daughters might attest, but these views are mine.

I never lived alone until I was about fifty years old. I went from cradle to wedding in the company of other room-mates, first at home and then at the university. In 1990, after my older kids had left the nest and I had become a librarian, six months at a new job in a new city were wonderful, but I knew the experience was temporary. The family arrived as soon as daughter Elizabeth finished high school in Green Bay as valedictorian. Rick and daughter Sarah then came and I wasn’t living alone any more. Going solo again about twenty-five years later as a widow is a different experience.

I sat down and in fifteen minutes had an impressive non-sociological list of things that make living alone in retirement enjoyable or abominable. Then I classified the items on the list as favorable, unfavorable, or neither. I landed clearly on the favorable side. Some people I know are not as fortunate.

I had a lady friend, who was blind and lived alone, whose daily prayer was, “Thank you, God, for this day, and I hope you’ll give me another one.” It’s a beautiful thought. (Her days finally ran out.) Another friend’s daily prayer was, “Here it is, God. Do something with it.” That became my daily prayer. It’s good to go through life with hints from others.

My list of circumstances and activities that make living alone in retirement favorable includes (not in order of importance): family nearby; social connections; enough income to cover modest expenses until catastrophe arrives; faith and church; good health; volunteer obligations in the community; interests and activities, including computer, social media, games, friends at places like the senior center; convenient transportation such as a car, cooking my own food, painting, reading, blogging, thinking, meditating, watching the news (staying involved with current events), and having a cat. It works for me.

My maternal grandmother, whom we called Sweetie Pie, lived alone most of her life without the husband who had left her when my mother was little. When I was growing up, I never thought she was doing anything unusual or unfulfilling. It seemed to me that she lived a good life as an attractive woman whose life seemed to me to be about her job in the music store and the men she dated but didn’t marry. When she became old, my parents moved her to Sturgeon Bay to be near us. I think she was lonely in a new city with few friends. She had family nearby but was alone a lot. She never learned to drive a car. Then she got dementia and her life narrowed more. The local police occasionally drove her home when she forgot where she was. Life changes with age.

My list of unfavorable things in some ways is the other side of the good things. Life can become unpleasant. Here is the list of things that I think are the downsides of living alone at any age: poverty; no social or family connections; isolation; illness, disease or depression; grieving about a lost loved one; disabilities; poor transportation; few interests; need for personal care; no faith community.

A few days ago I saw a program about Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the sixteenth President, and she had a difficult time after her husband was assassinated. She was unhappy in her loneliness. She had endured the death of her husband and all her children except her son Robert, and was alone. Not everyone today must deal with as much death as she did, but unhappiness can make living alone a miserable experience.

The third category on my list includes things like the lifetime influence of one’s family;  marriage that might or might not have been good; the government safety net including medical insurance and food stamps; poor transportation opportunities; the personality of the person; gender differences (I don’t speak for men who are alone); and life events.

I spend time at the Madison Senior Center, where I interact with women and men who are lively and connected. Some of them volunteer in the community. Others come for programs. A number come in for daily lunch, some of whom are fragile and need the service. Some live alone, but they don’t wear labels to announce it.  I spend time in activities at my church, where people are engaged or in need, and many are my age. We have our share of widows who live alone.

I don’t spend a lot of time doing the things that young people who live alone do. That’s a story for them to tell.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cheese Souffle for One or Two

The only way you’ll get this is to make it at home. Hardly anyone hears about souffles in the media or restaurants. If Martha Stewart has shown how to make one, I haven’t seen it. A soufflé lives in a cookbook.

I hadn’t made a soufflé for many years but suddenly I had a reason. After the dentist extracted a front tooth, she told me to eat soft foods for a while. I ate some tomato soup, yogurt and bread pudding, and then decided that I could use some imagination in my new eating regimen. Cheese soufflé seemed to be a good idea. I went to my big fat worn out 1953 Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook and found the recipe, which I adapted by reducing the ingredients and rewriting some words.

Once again I thanked my seventh and eighth grade home economics teacher, Mrs. Robertson, whom I haven’t seen for about sixty years and who probably is in the great kitchen in the sky, for teaching me the procedures that this recipe requires. Actually, it’s easy to make a soufflé. This is a small one. It’s supposed to be puffy when it comes out of the oven, and it will fall from its glorious volume almost immediately, so it must be eaten right away.

Cheese Souffle

2 tablespoons butter               ¼ pound cheddar cheese, shredded or in small pieces
2 tablespoons flour                 2 well beaten egg yolks
¼ teaspoon salt                       2 stiff beaten egg whites
1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 300 or 315 degrees. Melt the butter. Add flour and salt and blend. Add milk gradually and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sauce is thick and smooth. Add the cheese and cook until the cheese is melted. Gradually stir the hot sauce into the beaten egg yolks. With electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they are stiff but not dry. Carefully fold the cheese sauce into the egg whites with a wide spoon.  Pour the soufflé into an ungreased one-quart baking dish. To make a crown, trace a circle through the top of the mixture one inch from the edge.   Bake about one hour and fifteen minutes until it is firm and brown on top. Serve immediately.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Stable Birth -- Book Review

I am pleased to review a book written by a friend of mine, June Paul.

A Stable Birth: A Story About the Birth of Jesus Christ is a short book that retells the birth of Jesus in story form. Author June Paul engages the reader with dialog and imagery as she has the characters of Joseph, Mary and the Innkeeper and his wife talk with one another as Paul imagined they might have done in the birth and aftermath of the birth of Jesus in a stable. The book’s title suggests the image of the stable birthplace and the stability of the character of Joseph, who responds to the awkward situation of being Jesus’ earthly but not biological father.

The book is organized in six chapters, each defining one aspect of the holy family’s visit to Bethlehem to take part in a census. The action is based on the birth stories told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and it reminds one of scenes in a drama, each building on the preceding chapter.  The characters discuss the birth of the holy child, whom angels have told them will be the Savior of the world, with animation and some repetition as they ponder what it means for them.

Author Paul brings the biblical story to life in a good page turner. She also includes questions for discussion for readers to use for education and formation purposes. This is a book for people who might have wondered what it was like to be Mary and Joseph during and after Jesus’ birth. It is for people with curiosity about the shepherds who came to see Jesus, and even for those who might have thought about an innkeeper who does not appear in the Gospel but is important to the telling of Paul’s story. 

The book is available at in paperback. This review is of the revised edition.