Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Real Thing

Wife had to make a quick trip to Arkansas early this week. The best thing she brought back with her? Arkansas strawberries!

I will risk offending with this statement but I will make it anyway. There is no strawberry on the face of this Earth that will surpass one that is grown in the State of Arkansas. I can’t explain it but it’s true. (Probably true for tomatoes also, but I’ll leave that for later comment).

I will plead guilty to having a totally emotional and biased point of view. In South Arkansas where I grew up, the coming of spring also meant that the first strawberry crop was imminent (first ones were usually around the first of May). The fruit was sacred in my house. My dad, mom, brother and I all loved them.

For my father, however, the affinity for the lovely red berries bordered on the ridiculous. When he learned of the first strawberries being available, he would call my mother from his office in the late afternoon and tell her he would pick them up on his way home (this meant he would buy them at a make-shift market set up by a grower on the side of the road, or perhaps pick them at a pick-your-own type farm). She knew this was her signal to make sure the other ingredients for his favorite of all desserts were on hand (more on that below).

He had no tolerance for tasteless strawberries, especially those in grocery stores, which had been picked weeks earlier and shipped from some God-forsaken place like California. His belief was that one purchased (or picked) strawberries locally during strawberry season. When the season was over, one would wait until the next season for strawberries again. (Although it was permissible to freeze the freshly picked ones for later use as an ingredient in certain recipes).

I have tried to be a little more open minded than Dad, but some of these quirks, I am afraid, have stayed with me. Read on.

To my way of thinking, strawberries are good in a variety of ways. In my advanced age, where I can gain a pound just by looking at calorie-laden food, I mostly just eat them by themselves. But they’re wonderful in a pie, on top of ice cream or as the key ingredient in homemade strawberry ice cream. They’re very good sliced over cereal or oatmeal or mixed with other fruit. Wife has a great recipe for a strawberry cake. All are perfectly acceptable ways to enjoy fresh strawberries.

Strawberries are never better, however, than when they are served fresh in the most luscious of all desserts, strawberry shortcake.

Unfortunately, many times a dessert is presented as strawberry shortcake when, in fact, it is not. It is an imposter. You might have been a victim of such deception but this is your lucky day. I am here to tell you exactly how to prepare true strawberry shortcake and it is not difficult.

Start with a pie crust (the “shortcake”). You may make one or purchase one. Wife, a wonderful cook, has conceded that a pre-packaged crust that can be unrolled and baked is just about as good as one she can make and, of course, many times easier to prepare. Before baking the pie crust, cut it into circles using a cookie cutter or the top of a drinking glass, about three-or-so inches in diameter. Bake the circles in the oven on a cookie sheet until golden brown.

Next, of course, is the key ingredient – the strawberries. Mash them lightly with a fork or some other instrument (I think you can even buy something for this purpose) until they are just a little juicy, but don’t over-mash them as you don’t want “strawberry soup.” Add sugar as you mash. How much? Depends on how sweet you like them. If the berries are plenty ripe, you won’t need much. Add a little and see how they taste. Do not use Splenda or any other artificial sweetener.

Next -- and this is crucial -- is the whipped cream. You do not use Cool Whip or anything else that might come in a pre-packaged container or, God forbid, a can out of which the concoction squirts. No matter how the manufacturer might package and sell it, this is not whipped cream.

If you’ve never whipped cream, it’s easy. You buy cream in a carton, put it in your mixer and whip away. You can also add a little sugar to this while it’s in the mixer. It’s absolutely heavenly and when I arrive there (in heaven, that is) – where, not only will there be no more weeping, neither will there be high cholesterol and I will have a perpetual 34-inch waist -- I will order an unending supply.

In an individual bowl, place a couple of the crusts, three if you’re really hungry, and break them into several pieces if you like. Put a generous serving of the juiced berries on top. Then top with a liberal dollop of the whipped cream, and prepare for ecstasy.

Remember, this is the only true strawberry shortcake. If you are presented strawberries on a little spongy cake with some kind of topping on it, you may accept it graciously and enjoy, but be aware you are not eating real strawberry shortcake. Similarly, strawberries atop ice cream or pound cake might taste just fine, but this is not strawberry shortcake either. (It is your decision whether or not you want to correct someone who serves any of these items to you and bills it as strawberry shortcake. Wife has asked that I refrain from doing so).

So now you know what it is and, just as important, what it isn’t.

Go forthwith and make some of this for yourself and your household while there are still fresh strawberries. If you are not in Arkansas, you are permitted, of course, to acquire those indigenous to your own area. If you are fortunate enough to reside in Arkansas this time of year, you know the routine.

You may all thank me later.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

None Better

Wife and I experienced a piece of pure heaven last night. We attended James Taylor's and Carole King's concert in Nashville, part of the "Troubador Reunion" tour.

Although I know every generation thinks the music they listened to in their formative years is the best ever, I challenge anyone to say/think it gets any better than this.

The tunes took me back, of course. Whether it was the radio at summer Boy Scout camp, my bedroom or in the car-- or wearing out the turntable with JT"s Great Hits and Carole King's "Tapestry" -- so many of their songs were the ones that defined my youth and have stayed with me.

"It's Too Late."

"So Far Away."

"Sweet Baby James."

"You've Got a Friend."

"Way Over Yonder."

"Carolina in My Mind."

"Natural Woman."

"Shower the People."


And the hits just keep on coming. You know them, too.

Thanks, my old friends, for a great time last night. Thanks for continuing to ply your trade and give the gift of your amazing talent.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cheating? Me?

A couple of years ago I became aware of a pretty cool website,

It helps you work your crossword puzzles. You put in the clue and the number of letters and it will give you a number of choices. Most times your options will include the one you're looking for.

Last night I was on the sofa, down to about six words left in my puzzle, and Wife was at the computer. I asked her to pull up one-across and put in the clues for me.

Wife, not a crossword worker, asked with a scowl, "Isn't that cheating?"

Cheating?! Well I never thought of it that way. I only go to one-across when I've exhausted my own brain, then the dictionary, crossword dictionary and thesaurus. I'm proud to say that sometimes I can work the crossword without consulting any of them.

But it's a personal defeat if I put down the newspaper with blanks still in the crossword puzzle. So I go to one-across as my last stop.

But now Wife has got me to thinking that maybe I'm cheating, maybe I'm just living a lie. I never once in my life have cheated at Solitaire. If the cards aren't there, the cards aren't there and I just leave it at that or start another game.

I also never allowed my children to use Cliff''s or Sparks notes as a substitute for reading a book they were assigned, nor did I allow them to watch a movie version in a book's place. If I had ever found out they were getting a canned research paper online, I would have grounded them for at least a year.

Now, if they find out I use a website to help me with a crossword puzzle, will they decide I was just a hypocrite all along and the values I attempted to instill were all for nothing? They might have to go to therapy and send me the bill. All because Wife thinks maybe I'm cheating.

Well I guess I'm cheating myself. I'll have to see if there's some crossword puzzle governing body and see what their rules are. In the meantime, I'll have to give this a little more thought.

A five letter word for taking a shortcut????

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Crazy Times

It's been crazy around here for a couple of weeks. Well, as you can tell from my two previous posts, it's crazy all around us with all of the fallout from the Great Nashville Flood of 2010.

It's gratifying to see our little corner of the world come together and encourage each other. Around these parts, if you weren't affected by the flood, you probably know someone who was. Neighbors, churches and volunteer organizations are being extremely generous in helping. There are fundraisers all over the place. Out of something bad, we are seeing so much good. We are, as a community, rebuilding.


Now please excuse me for being a bit personal. But I have a history of kidney stones. I have had three in the past ten years. The first one I apparently passed, although I wasn't aware of it. I had about 36 hours of this god-awful pain in my back, went to the doctor and was diagnosed, then a couple of days later it was no more.

I was told to drink plenty of water, put lemon in that water, and try to stick to a low-sodium diet. But the good doctor also told me if you've had one, you'll probably have another . . . and another. If you tend to have them, you tend to have them.

The good news is there is no real medical danger from the pesky little things. The bad news is the pain -- oh, the pain. And yes, I'm a typical man and I don't do well with pain.

Kidney Stone number two came along in 2006, right before I was about to go with my family on a cruise to Alaska. The weekend before our departure found me in the Emergency Room. The pain was not as intense as the previous one, but the scan confirmed what I already knew: I had another one and this, by kidney stone standards, was a whopper -- nine millimeters. Probably not going to pass on its own.

My doc loaded me up with pain meds and sent me on my way, and scheduled the little surgical procedure for a few weeks later. You see, these things have a way of moving around and sometimes there is virtually no pain. Fortunately, I had none on our trip.

The surgery is called "lithotripsy" and it involves being put under general anesthetic. The doctors then "zaps" the little bugger with sound waves and it passes out of your body kind of like sand. This little procedure successfully took care of this stone back four years ago.

That brings us to about April of this year when I noticed a little blood in my urine (again, my apologies for the graphic detail). I made a visit to my urologist, who did an X-ray, confirming yet another of the unwelcome visitors. This one was five milimeters and since there was no pain, he recommended living with it and hoping it would pass. So I lived and hoped.

Two weeks ago this Saturday I woke up a little sick to my stomach. I walked the dog and the pain got a little worse, and extended over into my lower back. I was also nauseated.

The day progressed and it got a little better, though I did not feel very well. I went to Younger Son's rugby game and became increasingly uncomfortable. By 5 p.m., folks, I was writhing in pain and just as sick as I could be. Either the kidney stone was giving me fits or there was something else terribly wrong but whatever it was, I had to have some relief. Wife and Daughter accompanied me to the hospital.

The E.R. is a colorful place on the weekends. It takes 30 minutes to an hour just to get processed. I guess if you were dying, they would have a way of knowing, and would give you some kind of priority, but if you're just the run-of-the-mill bellyache as I was perceived to be, you wait your turn.

About four hours, an IV and a scan later, it was confirmed that this stone had moved (I'll spare you the details) and that's what was giving me such intense pain. The E.R. doc gave me some wonderful drugs and said I should see my urologist first thing Monday morning.

I saw my urologist and, thanks to the great technology we now have, he had all the records from the E.R. By this time I was in very little pain and he suggested that I give it two more weeks, then come back and if I haven't passed it we'll schedule another lithotripsy.

To my knowledge I haven't passed it. I've had some discomfort but nothing major. We'll see what the doc says Monday.

More detail than you ever wanted to know but hey, I appreciate your stopping by. I'll keep you posted.


In the midst of this, Wife and I are in the middle of a little renovation project here at the house. We have put off getting new floors for nine years and after deferring and deferring, and saving, we finally scheduled it for this year.

We got new carpet upstairs which was installed last week. This week we're having hardwoods put in the kitchen and den which will, after everything is finshed, match the ones in the entry hall, living room and dining room. This is a messy procedure and we're pretty much living in a construction site.

Next week we have to move out while the stripping of the old floors, sanding and staining is done. We're imposing on some friends by moving in with them a few days, then making a little trip over Memorial Day weekend.


We have also chosen this time to try and crate-train an approximately 12 or 13-year-old-dog. Ralph, a 20 lb terrier mix, came to us from the Humane Society in 1999 and we were told by our vet he was 1-2 years old.

Ralph is a great dog. Weeks after coming to live with us, he attached himself to me. According to what I have read, dogs looks for a "pack leader" and he picked me. Bless his heart.

Anyway, in 2005 I took a job that requires that I travel to Memphis and I am out anywhere from one to three nights most weeks.

This freaks Ralph out. Even though he loves everyone else in the family, he is most attached to me. And I love Ralph, make no mistake about it.

Ralph has taken out his frustrations on area rugs for sometime now. He'll go a while just fine but then he'll start doing it again. We clean it up but after a while the smell is just intolerable. We have lived with it and had the rugs cleaned repeatedly. But with the new floors coming, we decided it was time to try a crate for sleeping at night (early mornings seem to be his worst time) and for when we're gone from the house for more than hour or so.

It's not Ralph's fault. We should have done this a long time ago. We're having mixed results but after two weeks, he's doing pretty well. All the reading Wife and I have done indicates that you CAN teach a dog new tricks.

Please pray for Ralph.

Friday, May 7, 2010

See it to believe

To illustrate (literally) what life has been like here in Middle Tennessee this week, I was able to lift some photos off of some friends' Facebook pages (no small feat for me). Below are a couple of shots from downtown Nashville, courtesy of Older Son's girlfriend who took a walk down there early this week.

Here is Older Son working at his friends' house in nearby Bellevue. The couple have been married two years and they lost almost everything inside.

And here is the Cottonwood neighborhood in Franklin, just south of where we live. Amazing.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere

As my sweet mother used to say, "Lord have mercy!" What a week it has been!

I left home last Saturday a little before 7 a.m., on my way to South Arkansas, to the town where I grew up, for an annual reunion with a group of my old chums. (You can see photos over at Kelly's blog).

I had heard the forecast for Nashville for Saturday -- really hard rain, maybe up to several inches. Not a bad time to get out of town, I thought, even though I hated to be leaving Wife and Younger Son behind. But with Daughter hitting town Monday, and Younger Son with a playoff rugby game on Saturday, Wife just couldn't make the trip. (We decided once we saw our first rugby game that one of us would ALWAYS be in town when Younger Son was playing. It's rough out on that field). Wife was, however, kind enough to make butter gooey cake and key lime pie for me to contribute to our pot luck dinner.

Just as I pulled out of the driveway it started to rain. As I proceeded west down Interstate 40, it only got harder. I was thankful for modern technology as Wife and I stayed in close touch by cell . She was following the storm and told me things were getting ominous. Pull over if it gets too bad, she told me.

Just past Jackson, TN, after I had gone about two hours, I came to a virtual standstill. The rain was coming down in torrents. Wife was following the track of the storm on the Internet and I managed to find a local radio station, the announcers of which were telling people to stay off the roads, many of which were being closed. Flooding was threatened all around me and there were tornado and severe thunderstorm watches.

Since I travel this route at some point most every week to go to my office in Memphis, I have all the exits memorized. I decided I would turn back at Exit 60 and head back home. I was creeping along and had gone maybe two miles in two hours. When I finally got to Exit 60, it had been almost three. Wife had just called and said she wasn't so sure turning back was a good idea, that it had started raining so hard between Jackson and Nashville that part of the Interstate had been closed.

When I got to Exit 60, traffic was moving just a bit faster. I knew the next exit would be 56, just four miles further, so I decided I would give it until then and if things had not broken up, I would definitely turn back. I was seeing a number of cars that had just pulled over to wait things out. Mysteriously, I was noticing that there was hardly any traffic on the other side of the Interstate heading east back toward Nashville.

I called my friends in Arkansas who would be hosting dinner Saturday night and warned them that things were not looking good and I might have to turn back. I hated the thought of not making it but was also beginning to be a bit fearful.

At Mile Marker 59, I learned the reason traffic was so slow and why I had been seeing so few cars on the other side. The road dips ever so slightly at this juncture and water was pouring into that dip and covering both sides of the median. There was a police vehicle stopped in the middle of the east-bound lanes. Vehicles were still passing through going west though. There was a pickup truck in front of me that made it through. I was driving my Honda Pilot SUV and knew I had as much height as the truck, so I proceeded slowly and I would guess I was in water up to my doors for about 100 feet or so. I prayed, and about half-way through I was a little frightened. Soon I was at the other side, though, and there was no turning back. As I said, the east-bound lanes were now closed.

I called Wife and told her I had made it and was proceeding at a normal pace, and would not be returning home. Pray for us, she told me. Tornado sirens were sounding and the rain was getting harder, she said. I called my friends and told them I should arrive about "party time" after my three-hour delay.

Wife and I stayed in close touch throughout the day. Younger Son's rugby game had been canceled, as had most activities around town. She told me water was beginning to seep into our basement and garage (downstairs on the same level as the basement) but everything else looked OK. She said she had never seen such rain.


I arrived at my friends' house and soon our group was all together. We had a great time, as we always do, talking, laughing and eating, starting hundreds of conversations that never get finished because one topic makes someone remember another and we have to talk about that, and then we forget where we started. We laughed to the point of tears many times.

I tell you, I love these people. Some of us go back close to (gulp!) 50 years! We were all in the same graduating class. When we get together like this, all early 50-somethings, we are suddenly 17 and 18 again. (No, we don't look it, but we feel it). I am so incredibly blessed to still have the connection with these folks. Thanks to all for another great time.


We stayed up until well past midnight so I did not call Wife. I tried to reach her once during the evening but she didn't answer.

She called at 8 Sunday morning to tell me that things were disastrous in Nashville, that it was being called a 500-year flood. She and Younger Son were fine but were without power and water. I could sense the anxiety in her voice and I so wanted to get in the car and go home. You won't be able to get here, she told me. The Interstate between Memphis and Nashville was closed.

I was able to get on the Internet and see some photos of the devastation. I couldn't believe it. I saw some photos of areas very near my house. Fortunately we were spared any major damage. Wife called back about mid-afternoon as I was heading toward Memphis, and said power had been restored to our neighborhood and that made things much better. A water main had broken in our little suburb and that had caused the water shortage. Fortunately she had gotten some bottles of water before things got too bad on Saturday.


It's Thursday night and I just came home this afternoon after working in Memphis since Monday. Wife assured me everything was OK and I had a full week scheduled over there, so I just stayed as I had originally planned.

It's rather surreal here. We're on the national news. Anderson Cooper from CNN is broadcasting from here tonight. The Cumberland River crested at 51.5 feet Monday night, but not before it went over its banks and into downtown Nashville. The downtown business district has been pretty much shut down all week with no power. Our beautiful symphony hall was flooded as was the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The Opryland Hotel, one of the iconic landmarks, is under about 6 feet of water, as is the Opry House. (Note to self: when it's back up and running I will finally attend a performance of the Grand Ole Opry!)

We have been declared a disaster area. Older Son has friends, a young couple, who lost just about everything. He helped them all day one day this week to salvage what they could Their house is ripped down to its studs and they did not have flood insurance. Seems that's the case with a lot of folks who, apparently, figured what are the odds?

We are changed by events such as this. We see this kind of things on TV in other places but now we are living it. We understand.