Archive for January 2007

Julie Totes a Wad

January 30, 2007


My friend Julie drove five hours, all the way from Cleveland just to hang out and spend the night with us this weekend. She came bearing gifts, from Christmas ornaments to vegetable totes. And best of all she brought this picture of her brother David that she normally keeps on her mantle. I love David, and I always enjoy this photo when we are at Julie’s house. Now that he’s all growed up with his own youngin’ I hardly ever get to see David in person, so she just popped him in the car and brought him with her. I love everything about this picture.


We had big plans to go to a movie and church, etc., but our only trip out of the house was a lame visit to the T-Mobile store to get a phone for me that works. (My fourth attempt this week and we still didn’t have any luck–the only reason the salespeople don’t hide in the stock room when I show up is because they work in a kiosk in the middle of the mall).

Actually, Julie and John did make a trip to Mass Avenue Knit Shop (his favorite) while I cleaned up. The rest of the time on Saturday we sat around and talked about Julie and Taboo’s wedding plans, watched Legend of Boggy Creek (Julie needed to brush up on her Arkansas history), and threw around house design ideas. Julie made the most perfect batch of homemade popcorn I’ve ever had–not one kernal left unpopped. No lie.

As John taught Julie to crochet I fiddled with my laptop, frustrated because my Mac was not compatable with any of the phones T-Mobile was selling. Poking around on the Internet I found the video of Steve Jobs presenting Mac’s new cellular phone. We ended up watching all two hours of it (kind of sad, this). But that phone is incredible. We all decided to get one. I’ll get mine when our T-Immobile contract runs out .

Sunday was frigid, so we fired Sam up and sat next to him drinking hot tea, then mimosas (John remembered he’d bought a bottle of Champagne for my birthday) and then more tea. We meant to go to church, but didn’t get around to it. Instead, we ate John’s perfect soft-roasted eggs and cut up some vegetables for snacks and made some dip to go with them.

When we cut the bottom of this bunch of celery we were amazed at how pretty it was.


Julie, who is planning a wedding inspired by a fruit and vegetable garden (love it) in the walnut orchard at her parents’ home, shared with me that her mother, Miss Pat, had expressed concern about her walking down the aisle holding a “wad of vegetables.” I told Julie we should send her mom this picture and tell her it was the bridesmaids’ bouquet. We decided Pat had enough to worry about at the moment.

David (G, not Julie’s brother) dropped by to berate us for not going to church. I took it in silence because I could see he also brought a bag-o-presents with him, and I didn’t want to ruin my chances of getting to open them. I’m glad I played it cool.

Time got away from us (funny how that can happen even when you are doing nothin’). Julie took off around 3:00. It was so fun to have some homefolk come by for a visit. As always I was a little sad to see Julie go.

A Great Gift from My Mom

January 26, 2007

Okay, I promise this is the last post that will focus on me for awhile, but my mom sent a package with a bunch of pictures from some of my birthdays past. You must behold how unkind the 70s were to hairstyles.

1 Year

Ok. Still in the late 60s here. Look how sharp my dad looks with his mighty thin tie.

Two Year

Me establishing dominance over my cake.  Cake, cake, cake. Loved it then, love it now. Karen made me a great one at work by the way, homemade white cake with lemon curd filling. It was outstanding.

In the Truck

A birthday in the back of my grandfather’s truck. My sister laughing with chains draped around her neck is hilarious to me. And I’m totally digging the wizard sleeves on my cousin Kara’s mini-dress. She’s always been so hip. Don’t know where Howard was. He was proabaly a’ skeart o’ them chains. We never stopped laughing when we were together, even though it looks like I’m getting a little nap in here.


I’m no trekkie, but sign me up for more blue velour with gold metallic stitching. I got this shirt for my birthday–and loved it! Wore it all the time. In retrospect this kind of surprises me. I’m not big into logos.


Some of you who read my blog also check out Trim and Fashionable and Gunstream Girl. Well, here’s a picture of these girls when they were three. Does “cute” get any cuter than two angels in pink pajamas, and you know they were footie pajamas. I love that Lori is getting ready to snap Julie’s hat down on her head, and I see so much of Chuck’s sons in this picture. David’s oh-so-large glasses and roomy grin, however, take the cake. Seriously, if I’d known how much joy I would get from this photo 27 years later, I would have picked that cake up, turned around and just handed it to him right then and there. He was (is) so sweet and fun all of the time, and man does that show here. McClains always have been a party waiting to happen.

Thanks Mom!

Born to Be Alive

January 25, 2007

Today I’m officially 40 (the party was on the 13th). Yes, friends and family, I greet you from somewhere near the beginning of the last part of my life while eating my birthday breakfast– three eggs, instead of two, and toast, with butter(!). Please indulge me as I consume this opportunity for cliche’d reflection along with my extra helping of cholesterol.

My dad always said he never thought he’d live past 30 (he’s still kicking around down here) and my mom always says life gets better every year, so I tend to think of each new birthday as a bonus. With every passing year, I’m more aware that while many things matter, people and for some unshakeable reason, God are the only ones I can’t seem to be happy living without. Thankfully, the older I get the more folks I know and meet. I’m so grateful for my family and friends. I wish I were better at communicating this more often.

So I want to say thanks to whoever is reading this, whether you’re a family member who’s known me since birth or someone I’ve not even met face-to-face (yet) for being a part of my life. In your honor, I’d like to give you a gift–the recipe for what I WOULD be having if I were celebrating my birthday at my mom and dad’s house–Chocolate Gravy and Biscuits (it’s fabulous-trust me on this.).

Miss Katy’s Chocolate Gravy

No other recipe I know elicits more skeptical looks when described than this one. Nearest I can tell it is most common in the Ozarks of Arkansas and the western parts of Mississippi. But if you are someone who likes a muffin or doughnuts in the morning, you’ll like this. As a kid, chocolate gravy served over biscuits was our birthday breakfast.

1 cup sugar
3 tbs. cocoa
3 tbs. flour
2 pinches of salt
1 cup water
2 tsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix dry ingredients in a medium saucepan. Add water. Cook, stirring frequently, really well over medium heat until thick, about the consistency of honey. Mixture should be hot and bubbly while cooking. If it gets to thick, add a little milk. Once thickened, turn down heat and add butter. Once melted, turn heat off and add vanilla.


(Cooks Illustrated recipe. Pillsbury Frozen Biscuits are pretty good, too. )

2 ½ cups all purpose flour (plus 1/3 cup for work surface)
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp soda
2 tbs shortening, cut inot ½ inch chunks
1 stick cold unsalted butter, lightly floured and cut into 1/8 inch slices
1 ¼ cup cold lowfat buttermilk

Adjust baking rack to lower middle position. Heat oven to 450.

Stir dry ingredients together.

Add shortening to dry ingredients. Break up chunks with finger until only pea-sized pieces remain.

Working in small batches, drop chunks of butter into flour mixture, coating with a little flour. Pick up pieces and press between floured fingers into nickel-sized pieces. Repeat until all butter is pressed, then toss to flour mixture to combine.

Freeze mixture in bowl for 15 minutes (Note: mixture can be frozen at this stage for several weeks).

Spray work surface with cooking spray, spread with paper towel until evenly coated. Sprinkle 1/3 cup flour over sprayed area, spread with palm until area is evenly coated.

Add all but 2 tablespoons of buttermilk to flour mixture and stir with fork until ingredients ball up and are no longer dry (dough will be shaggy, but should still pull away from sides of bowl). Add additional buttermilk if needed.

Transfer dough with rubber spatula onto work surface. Sprinkle flour over dough surface and use hands to bring into a ball.

Pat dough into about a 10-inch square. Roll into a 18 by 14 inch rectangle about ¼ inch thick. Dust dough and rolling pin as needed.

Use bench scaper to fold rectangle by thirds, like a business letter. Then fold short ends in by thirds as well. Give dough a quarter turn and repeat.

Roll dough into a ½ inch thick square. Turn the square over. Using a sharp-edge biscuit cutter, press straight down in dough to make 9 biscuits (dipping edges of cutter in flour after each press). Invert the biscuits and place them 1-inch apart on a (ungreased?) baking sheet. Gather scraps into a ball. Roll and fold a couple of times until smooth, then repeat above process for 3 more biscuits. Discard scraps.

Brush biscuit tops with melted butter.

Bake without opening over door for 15-17 minutes, until tops are golden brown and crisp.

Using a fork stir in enough milk to make a dough that sticks together. Roll out on a floured board, don’t handle too much or dough will get tough). Brush tops with milk. Bake on a greased baking sheet until browned.

(Note: If you haven’t replaced your baking soda and baking powder in awhile (within a few months) you may want to. I have a theory that inactive soda may cause biscuits not to rise.)

Epiphany on Skates–Of Death!

January 23, 2007

Happy Bouters

I believe in celebrating the “O” birthdays (40 in my case) in a big way. When you celebrate a January birthday in Indiana, a goal like this can be challenging. Weather is hardly ever on your side. We’d been planning an “Epiphany on Ice” party (an ice skating, but not necessarily a birthday party) for January for a few years now.

Then Duane said his sister had started a women’s roller derby team and that their first “bout” would be January 13. Knowing that it would be hard for some folks to resist that no matter what the weather was doing, I asked John if we could make that my party. He said yes, but suggested we fold the ice skating in, too. I loved that idea, and he and our friend Karen started planning.

We ended up with a progressive party–starting with ice skating at the Fair Grounds, then pizza at Marc and Karens, and then back to the Fair Grounds for the first bout of the Indianapolis Tornado Sirens. I wore my kitty hat, which was a big hit with the the ladies (ages 7-13). As I wobbled up the ramp to get on the ice, a little girl gasped in my direction and said “Is that a kitty hat?” I said, why yes it is. “I LOVE it,” she replied.

I think I enjoy being envied by little girls simply because there is no one else who will do it. There were many little girls to parade that hat in front of, since evidently all the ones in Indianapolis have their birthday parties at the skating rink, too. The kitty hat didn’t get me as many looks as the sparkly tiaras I got from Gayle, William, Thistle and Duane, Todd, Daniel and Mari (Yes two tiaras!! One really can’t have too many.).

Skating was a blast, but many of us decided we need to do it more than once a decade to get full enjoyment out of it. Duane, Mr. Practically-perfect-in-every-way, of course, took to the ice like a sobered-up Tara Lepinski. Very fun to watch.

We fueled up on pizza, cake and Twizzlers (my favorite candy) at Karen and Marc’s. John and I had gone to the Dollar Tree the night before to get party favors (my favorite was a video of “The Making of Left Behind, the Movie“). Mike took that one to protect every one else from seeing it. We gave the favors out then since not everyone could go to the Derby.


Let me tell you, this is the real deal. When I say we trounced the Nashville Rhythm and Bruise, I mean it literally and numerically. It was hard to photograph the action because everyone moved so fast. If it hadn’t been for Marc and Karen’s camera, no action would have been captured (I can’t find mine, again!).


Here we are post-victory laps with Lilly Whip (Duane’s sister Elizabeth) in the jersey on the left and her team mate Busty Sanchez (I suspect you can figure out where she is).

Karen and Marc
Our hosts and fellow planners, Karen and Marc, modeling their party favors–fuscia, sequined slippers and plastic arm guards.

My party man and me. John worked so hard to make this a great party, and by any measure it was. I cannot imagine a better way to turn Foh-ty.

Considering Methodism? See Betty’s Message First.

January 20, 2007

(Thanks George.)


January 16, 2007

It may be gray and dead outside, but things are hoppin’ on “the Internets.”

I’ve been meaning to highlight a few bloggers that I find to be worth reading (my life has been way too busy, lately). I know all of them and each has a unique perspective on the world.

Potterdad is just that and a whole lot more. Duane is a ceramicist (painter, all around arty guy) who lives on a great farm with his partner and two kids, a dog, a few chickens, turkeys and some horses. He and Todd have encouraged John and I on many levels.

Watching From the Rafters belongs to our friend Don, who is a keen knitter/storyteller. He started a group at our church called Clicking for a Cause that knits/crochets burial clothes for babies that die at birth (turns out nice things aren’t made in such small sizes. They are now.).

Another amazing knitter has started her own blog–Sally at Big Sky Mind is literally just starting out.

Finally, a former museum colleague and book fiend, Laura over at South of the Loop has a literary bent and I really like her style. I feel in the loop when I read her stuff.

A House That Inspires

January 11, 2007

I’m inspired by a lot of homes– homes that work visually when they shouldn’t as well as homes that just repeatedly attract my eye. 

 If I find that I can’t stop looking at a house every time I drive by it, I’m not above pulling over and asking the residents if I can schedule a time to come look around. Anytime I’ve ever done it (only four times since I was 20) the owners just invite me in on the spot no matter what shape the inside of their house is in, which is probably one reason why their homes are so welcoming in the first place.


I drive by this house on 62nd St. here in Indy all the time, and I sort of have it in the back of my mind as I puzzle through our newest house design.  My curiosity finally got the best of me and I decided I would take some pictures of the outside.  Dave was with me and nearly freaked when I pulled into the driveway.  I think he thought I wouldn’t ask first (I did, but I didn’t ask to see inside.)

The owner was very sweet.  Their family has been there since the 1970s, but the house was built in the late 1800s. 

 Why does this house work?  For me:

  • Deep and generous eaves (the part of the roof that sticks out past the house)
  • The contrast between the red window trim and the butter-cream exterior paint (vinyl siding, btw!)
  • Asymmetrical/Symmetrical plan–Provides order and intrigue simultaneously.  Lets me know there are some surprises inside.
  • Generous number but human-scaled windows.  You know that plenty of light gets in, and that the ‘just right’ size of their frames provide picture-like views of the landscape, which is also nice.  Ironically, ranch-style “picture windows”, large pieces of plate glass, are often too big to provide a “frame.” The notion I think is that these larger windows “remove the barrier” between you and nature, which is fine if you live in a national park (or even on a ranch), but that’s not where I see most ranch houses.  Picture windows also look like black voids on a house if they are out of scale with the structure.   (Wow, I’m really coming down hard on plate glass.  Believe it or not, I actually like many ranch houses, and their windows.)
  • I love that you can enter this house from all four sides.  The front entry (see first picture above), with its Greek columns fronting a folk Victorian cottage is a little weird, but I consider that just part of its quirky, long life and personality.  Besides, the scale seems to work, which is where columns most often go wrong.  

 The house is well-loved.  The owner said it has hardly any closets, and she wasn’t thrilled that vinyl siding was put on before they bought it.  Still, every time they think about moving, they change their mind.  I don’t blame them.

Marriage in Massachusetts? Maybe not for Long

January 4, 2007

Who should decide if your family is worthy of the same protections as others? And what if your family always will be part of a minority, never more than 1-10% of a population?

Now, what would you do if some families like yours were protected, but it was illegal for yours to be?

This is the direction the religious right is pushing in Massachusetts.

It is legal for families like mine to be married in MA, but for how long? Back in 2004 the MA Supreme Court said there was nothing in the state constitution that prohibited any two consenting adults from being married and that MA gay couples could be wed.

So did the fundies decide to do? What a bunch of other states have done, namely to make their constitution discriminatory after all. Yes, the legislature decided to let the majority vote on the civil rights of a minority. If an amendment banning gay marriage passes, weddings that happened prior to the amendment will remain legal, but future gay marriages would be illegal.

How’s THAT for twisted?

In one article I saw a protester who is against changing the constitution carrying a sign that said, “Start Acting Like Christians.” I look forward to the day when these folks start thinking and acting like Christ instead of pretending to speak for him.

Make ‘Em Light

January 3, 2007

I took Claire for her afternoon walk on New Years Eve. When we got about a half-mile away from home the skies opened up and rain hurtled at us like it was running from something causing me to imagine someday comforting a worried child by telling him that a thunderstorm is just the angels hurling water balloons at us.

I was proud for remembering to carry an umbrella until Claire shook her third load of rainwater on me.  As I wiped the rain flying up at me from my eyes I heard a voice call out from across the street. An ancient woman, stooped and gray, was yelling something. I strained to hear her, but the rain falling on my umbrella made too much noise. I motioned for her to wait for me to cross the street so I could hear her better.

When I got closer I realized it wasn’t just the rain that made her difficult to understand, but the relative scacity of teeth in her head.  She flashed a friendly grin and asked me if she was headed in the direction of Washington Street. I told her she was, that she just had two more stop signs to pass and she would be there. She had a big umbrella with her. While she looked a little ragged, she didn’t seem particularly helpless. I tried to imagine my grandmother walking in this weather.

“It’s pretty wet out here today, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yep. Hey, that’s a perty dog you got there.” She turned to walk away and then swung back around like she’d remembered to tell me something. “Hey, spell ‘dog’ backwards.”

“G-o-d,” I said.

“Think about it,” and with that she proceeded purposefully toward Washington St.

“That’s something to think about, alright,” I hollered after her. I thought about asking her how she knew that my dog operates under the delusion that she is God, but I opted for a “Happy New Year” instead. She returned the wish with a backward wave and kept moving.

My conscious kept trying to make me feel sorry for her—old, missing parts, walking in the pouring rain—but I couldn’t manage it. All I could muster was respect and a faint desire to turn around and go wherever she was going. I probably didn’t have enough information to do so, but I put her in the category of happy-tough women that I have always loved.

My first experience with women like this was when I was a 15 year-old working as a sack clerk for Town and Country grocery store. Two women, sisters, came in nearly every day. Their names were Marva and Melvita (sounds like Velveeta).

Marva and Melvita were in their late seventies. They had broad and constant grins that folded in over their toothless gums. Their skin had the kind of wrinkles you get from a hatless life lived in the sun. Their hair was dyed a shade so black that light had a better chance of escaping from a black hole than reflecting off of it.

They came in the door every day in their cotton print dresses, smiling, cackling, and patting people gently as they passed. I think they are the only people I’ve every actually heard cackle. By the way, don’t pass up a chance to hear a really good cackle.

Their lack of teeth made it nearly impossible to understand a word they said. It didn’t matter though. I quickly learned that Marva and Melvita were endlessly engaging because they had mastered one of the key principles of southern conversation: if you smile and laugh in a way that is at all humorous as you say something, whomever you’re talking to will automatically say something in reply, typically with a similarly light inflection. Such exchanges frequently lead to lengthy laughter-laced conversations in which very few, if any, words are understood. Though comprehensibility is a desirable feature in conversations, it is hardly a necessity.

In fact, every day, all over the south many perfectly pleasant conversations happen in just this way, with no thought being exchanged other than the passing recognition that everyone is having a good time. Of course, for a conversation like this to succeed the hope of entertaining your companion is a requirement. Without a sincere concern for another’s interest, the Sermon on the Mount could easily be turned into a State of the Union address.

I’m sure Marva and Melvita didn’t have an easy life. They cleaned several homes for a living, including that of a friend of mine (she never understood a word they said either, but loved being around them just the same). The only words of theirs I was ever sure I understood were “May‘um wight. Wewh waltin,” which after the third time I sacked their groceries I eventually figured out meant “Make them light. We’re walking.”

And walk they did. To work, a half-mile from their home to the store, and I’m sure lots of other places, every day. And they carried their groceries by themselves, too. But whenever they turned to walk away, they were always smiling and laughing and talking. And I always wanted to go with them.