Monthly Archives: October 2020

Macaroni and Cheese, Everybody?

My grandson loves football and macaroni and cheese.

Today, Hubby and I will cheer for our grandson’s football team. Afterward, he’ll want to eat the house.

To spare his family’s abode — and to celebrate victory or comfort in loss — I’m baking this special player’s favorite macaroni and cheese.

An all-American dish, right?

Nope. Historians believe a 14th-century Italian cookbook, Liber de Coquina, contains the first written mention of pasta and cheese. Americans can thank Thomas Jefferson, who brought a macaroni and cheese recipe and pasta maker home from Europe.

My football player probably isn’t interested in mac ’n’ cheese history. He simply wants to fill that huge emptiness inside. Grandma boasts two recipes: his great-grandmother’s, plus one recently discovered on the Internet.

Unlike many 1960s homemakers, Mom didn’t cook the 19-cents-a-box food made popular during the Depression. Instead, she boiled spaghetti, then added inexpensive margarine and whatever cheese had escaped five-kids-in-the-house foraging.

Her recipe proved invaluable during my Hubby’s medical school years. I’ll never forget one spaghetti-and-cheese supper, when he’d lost sleep several nights. After saying grace, I looked up to see Hubby facedown in a plateful of our entrée.

Fast-forward several decades, when he invited students for a cookout. Would they consider my spaghetti fetish — and me — weird? Risotto or gnocchi might boost my sophistication ratings, but food costs would skyrocket.

Cheap won. For the first time, I prepared mac ’n’ cheese — not only popular with students, but later, with our grandson.

Not everyone welcomes different versions, especially as cheese enthusiasts rarely compromise. Some insist on American or cheddar. Discerning palates may require brie, smoked Gouda, or goat cheese.

Others, if stranded on a desert island, would refuse the stove-top version, as real mac ’n’ cheese demands an oven-baked crust.

A recent San Francisco macaroni and cheese contest’s entries might raise Midwestern eyebrows, with additives like nutmeg, mustard, and even cinnamon and sugar. Vegetables took center stage: mushrooms, tomatoes, brussels sprouts and that darling of the veggie world, kale.

Some even added fruit, such as figs.

The judges, including Smithsonian Magazine writer and cheese merchant Gordon Edgar, awarded first place to macaroni and cheese featuring aged Vermont cheddar.

The cultured audience, however, chose a different entry — and were shocked to silence when the winner revealed his main ingredient.


This dish, even in its many variations, has and will endure. When my football-playing grandson needs comfort or celebration food, mac ’n’ cheese will be there for him.

Americans’ political views are even more diverse than our versions of macaroni and cheese. But acknowledging differences, can’t we lean on the basic recipe, our comfort and celebration for almost 250 years?

I want that to be there for my football player, too.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Changed My Mind

O Lord, You know that as a tall middle-schooler, I sneaked Mom’s coffee, trying to stunt my growth. Gag! It tasted awful! Yet decades later, a steaming mug of coffee blesses my day. OMG, maybe Your gifts to us are often an acquired taste? 



A Plunker’s Piano Lessons

I started piano lessons at five. I stopped at the ripe old age of nine.

Statistics indicate I’m not alone; 6,761,141,370 of the world’s 6,761,141,379 people have taken — and quit — piano lessons.

My early days at the piano.

I blame my parents. Neither had musical training, yet Dad’s big hands overran the keyboard like a spring storm. Mom, though partially deaf, could listen to a song, then play a full-fledged accompaniment in any key.

At five, I, too, picked out tunes. Why bother with notes? Neither did I (shudder) count beats. Mixing music, God’s gift, with arithmetic (eww), appeared one more weird complication adults demanded. My brother also deemed piano lessons unnecessary.

Mom tried to explain. If only she could have taken lessons as a child!

I would have remained unconvinced — except for strong capitalistic instincts. Mom paid Mrs. Snyder 50 cents a lesson, but she always refunded a nickel to me. With yellowed books and sheet music piled everywhere, her musty house smelled mysterious and musical. Thousands of former students’ photos adorned her walls, as Mrs. Snyder had been teaching 200 years.

My grandson played piano at a holiday concert Christmas 2019.

I played my first piece using three keys, then colored the page’s fun pictures. I liked Mrs. Snyder, I liked nickels and I liked Mom’s shining eyes when I practiced.

Sadly, Mrs. Snyder passed away. My new teacher handed me practice sheets instead of nickels. No pictures. I played songs like “Gavotte in G” and “Requiem for a Student Who Didn’t Practice.” Mrs. Mozart made me (choke!) play duets with my brother. We bowed and curtsied at stiff, scary recitals. The longsuffering teacher assured our reluctant mother we weren’t destined to play at Carnegie Hall.

Mom finally let us quit. Free at last!

Not until I attended college did I realize my loss. There, I met people whose fingers blurred over the keyboard. One blind friend played as if a single organism — part instrument, part human. Her music rippled up and down my backbone, joy unleashed.

Why are mothers always right? Especially when they preach, “What goes around comes around.” My own children blossomed with initial interest, but only one persisted into high school. As they plinked and plunked their first practices, I wondered, for the first time, if Mom had enjoyed mine as much as she’d claimed.

Still, my kids learned to read music, and piano background fueled interest in many other song forms.

Our piano — the first purchase my husband made after medical school graduation — often sits silent now, though I try to play daily. My fingers itch to exchange my laptop’s tippity-taps for music. Soon, I’ll touch the piano keys and listen to less-than-perfect love.

Even if nobody gives me a nickel.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you taken piano lessons?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Definitely Outclassed

O Lord, thank You for grandsons whose energy output could light Chicago. You know that not too long ago, I easily outraced them. Now, however, my slow legs and weighty derriere always bring up the rear. OMG, even the two-year-old — especially, the two-year-old! — leaves me in the dust.

Life with a View

The view from our Florida hotel room in January 2020.

A cushy chair faces a wall. A rear-paralyzing seat looks toward a captivating view.

I always choose the latter.

My brain, tethered to computer screens for hours, needs one-minute vacations — or five-minute — or fifteen-minute bits of visual refreshment to help me remember my name by day’s end.

Azaleas abloom at Taylor University.

Even my claustrophobia bows to passion for a view. When we moved, my husband (who could work in an appliance box) raised his eyebrows when I selected the smallest bedroom for my office: “You’ll run out of space.”

But I couldn’t see out the larger rooms’ high windows. My office boasts spectacular views of sunrises and neighbors’ lovely yards.

Soon, though, I ran out of space.

Hubby recalled my New Year’s resolution to shovel out my office.

Why, when my laptop and I could move to a spot with a better view?

This issue has surfaced even in instructions regarding my burial. When I rise on Resurrection Morning, I don’t want to take in the back of a strip mall. Or a first glimpse of fake blue and orange roses or tacky plastic angels on my grave. These views, in my view, should not precede the heavenly ones I anticipate.

I blame my mother for this idiosyncrasy. Mom generally prayed with eyes open — possibly because of five children. But she treasured views, too, riveting her gaze on spreading trees outside; a rare, uncluttered corner; or red tomatoes, green pickles and golden peaches she canned, too amazed at God’s goodness to shut it all out.

Mom’s passion for a view didn’t always lean toward the spiritual. In a restaurant, the hostess had better not seat her facing the kitchen. Or at a window near a dumpster. Or by a wall whose color she disliked (she’d spend the meal discussing what color she’d paint it, and if not restrained, would start the process). As a child, I thought it normal to change tables four times, trailing after Mom with my siblings like ducklings. Dad followed, in stiff, silent protest, as she cased the establishment for the best view.

Still, she remained surprisingly unfussy about some spectacles. As a three-year-old, I recall her sitting in a rickety lawn chair beside our trailer court home, staring.

I said, “Whatcha looking at, Mommy?”

The rusty back of trailer A? The wind-mangled TV aerial on trailer B?

“I’m watching fluffy clouds,” she answered. “God changes them every day. What a wonderful view.”

Even in restaurant quests, Mom never objected when seated near people less attractive, less healthy, or even less polite. Maybe she saw them as God does — more important than the scenery.

I guess it all depends on your point of view.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite view? Your least favorite?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: For Me, Remembering is a Miracle

O Lord, reading about Your feeding 5,000 people with a little bread and fish, I’m amazed by Your kindness. Your miracles. Yet, an ordinary mom or grandma probably baked those loaves. OMG, aren’t You glad she didn’t forget and let them rise way too long, unlike … um, some people You know?


Mad About Camping

You initiated an end-of-the-season campout,” my husband insisted. “To celebrate your completing a novel.”

Crazy. I would never—

Wait. After months in the writers’ cave, I do recall blurting something about an October campout.

Exactly what a weary writer needed — extra laundry. Debates whether to pack heavy coats or light. How could I jam this carrot bag into the cooler? (Though the cheesecake fit fine.)

All for a campout in October, when Mother Nature frequently forgets to take her Prozac.

What word-fogged madness had seized me?

Hubby should have conducted an intervention: “Let’s go to a ritzy hotel where they golf cart you to the hot tub.”

Instead, he gleefully hooked up the camper and condemned me to a weekend in the wilds.

The campground teemed with campers struck with similar insanity, determined to experience one final outdoor inconvenience. Perhaps they’d all written books, too, and succumbed to brain disappearance?

Adults, as well as kids, competed in a never-ending, kamikaze bike race around the campground. For pedestrians on hasty nighttime hikes to restrooms, a headless horseman could strike no terror so profound as that caused by breakneck night riders with glow-in-the-dark decals.

Better to stay by the campfire, especially as temperatures dipped to 39 degrees.

Fall camping does have positives. With no devices or cell phone service, we retired early. Once my foggy mind realized a nighttime noise wasn’t a hair dryer left on, but the camper’s heater, we spent snuggly nights in sleeping bags.

Mornings, we consumed yummy breakfasts with enough cholesterol to supply the state.

No global warming occurred, so we couldn’t swim or kayak. We left bike rides to the kamikaze crazies. But we could hike.

We strolled through gorgeous woods, stopping to admire lakes, trees, and tough little flowers that braved autumn’s temperatures. Unable to translate bird language, we assumed a fervent chorus of welcome. Along with soaring hawks and eagles, even buzzards appeared graceful. We encountered a beaver lodge and a gobbling flock of wild turkeys.

Why, on these jaunts, do we persist in seeking deer? I’ve seen them in neighbors’ yards. Deer devour my tulips and tomatoes, yet we found this park quest entertaining — also part of the insanity.

If hikes cause rubber legs and aching feet, they also inspire the best naps ever taken by humankind.

We found ourselves lingering that last, lovely afternoon, breaking down camp at the last minute.

Arriving at home, we hauled in suitcases. Bags of smoky, dirty clothes. The cooler, with its highly questionable contents.

We recovered our Internet. Tons of emails awaited us. Tons of work.

What madness possessed us to come home?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you like fall campouts?

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: I’m in the Mood for … Pizza

O Lord, You know that for millennia, singers and writers have celebrated Your moon’s romantic beauty. Others, though, likened it to cheese, croissants, and cookies. 1950s singer Dean Martin even viewed the moon as a “big pizza pie.” OMG, it’s difficult for a dieter to stay starry-eyed when her stomach’s growling. …