?`s and ANNEswers

Ten minutes to write. Less time to read.

El Rodeo

Last night we had dinner at El Rodeo. We’d gone there recently, and Earl found the Nachos al Carbon much to his liking. Which is why we returned. It’s a very generous serving of nachos, beef, pork, and shrimp all in a sauce. Just perfect for a carnivore who likes fish on the side. Me? I ordered the beef tacos with sides of rice and beans.

It’s true the quality of the Mexican dishes at El Rodeo is growing on me. It’s more authentic than my former favorite restaurant for Mex. The service is very attentive too. But that’s my current complaint.

The host led us to a table away from the door as requested. It was a booth in the back, well lit, warm. Spacious. But we didn’t have a chance to sit down before a server came and asked what we wanted to drink. I usually like to remove my coat and settle in before making such decisions.

But this isn’t a place to linger. So I ordered my drink while fighting with the buttons on my coat. Earl followed suit (No pun intended). And, normally, we don’t order our meal until we’ve enjoyed our cocktail. But as soon as our drinks arrived, we placed our dinner request.

Date Night is our special time together. We don’t always have supper at the same time at home, so when we’re out it’s a special occasion. We like to linger at the front end with a cocktail rather than the back with coffee and dessert.

But if we return to El Rodeo, I’ll know neither will happen. We left our home at 5:06 PM and were back there at 6:07 PM.

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December 7

My stepfather, Ollie, died on this day twenty-five years ago. I checked the fifteen years that I’ve been writing this blog to see how often I’ve mentioned his passing. If you’re interested, go to my website and type “Ollie” into the search field. I acknowledge him again today, but I want to acknowledge someone else too.

Most people think of December 7 as “a date which will live in infamy” according to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech after Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese on this day. Lauren Bruner was one of them.

He was among 334 crew members who survived that attack seventy-eight years ago. He was also the second to the last man to escape the USS Arizona before it sank to its watery grave with 1102 sailors and Marines still onboard and doomed.

Bruner died this past September and had requested that his remains be returned to the USS Arizona to be with the companions who didn’t make it out. According to USA Today, Bruner “wanted to return to his ship because few people go to cemeteries, while more than a million people visit the Arizona each year.”  His wishes were granted a few days ago.

I salute Bruner and remember him this year along with my stepfather, Ollie.

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Cookie Tins

This afternoon I went in search of cookie tins, since I’m having a luncheon/cookie exchange next week and wanted something attractive to store the goodies I plan to make. My search took me to several local stores but I ended up empty-handed. At Party City, one of the staffers said, “Oh we discontinued those at least three years ago.”

My imagination supplied various reasons. Perhaps the stores returned too many tins after the holidays, since Christmas cookie tins don’t play well in June. Perhaps fewer people are making cookies in the first place. Or perhaps there’s a shortage of tin.

Maybe I’ll find some on the internet, I thought and headed to my computer. Wrote ‘Christmas cookie tins’ in the Google® search field and waited.  Sure enough photos that matched the ones in my mind popped up. Target has round and square tins; but they are four and five dollars apiece respectively. And the closest Target to me is at least an hour away. Before venturing there, I’d also want to make sure they were in stock. This was becoming too much of a project . . .

There were also round cookie tins advertised on the Dollar Tree website, but the catch was you had to buy at least eight. If you wanted rectangles, the minimum quantity was 24.

Maybe you think I’m giving up too easily, but I’ve decided to buy regular plastic airtight containers with red lids and call it a day.

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On My Own

Today was the last book club meeting of the year. Since I’m in two different clubs, this means I have no more assigned reading until January. I’m on my own.

So I plan to tackle (not literally) the stack of unfinished books which has doubled as a side table near my couch. They range from a work on how the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, that doesn’t seem so relevant anymore, to short stories by Jeffrey Archer, a novel by Ann Patchet, and a non-fiction account of how the current President became President by Naomi Klein. Each book is half-read, but likely I’ll have to start at the beginning again.

Then there is the stack of magazines that isn’t as tall as a table, but close. It is as eclectic as the books with poetry periodicals resting with cooking mags and NY Times Sunday inserts. There are also back issues of Sojourner and Rain Taxi.

It’s a good thing the sun sets early, and I can spend the long winter evenings with my nose in good reading material. This isn’t to say that book club books aren’t good reading material. But there’s something freeing about reading whatever I want whenever I want, rather than reading to a deadline.

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Houndstooth

There’s a new restaurant in Benton Harbor with an odd name: Houndstooth.

In my sewing days, houndstooth was a checked fabric, often black and white, that resembled a plaid with jagged edges. It was most sophisticated back then.

I don’t know how the restaurateurs – a brother and sister act — chose the name for their establishment; but I suspect sophistication had something to do with it. Benton Harbor or St. Joseph hasn’t seen anything like this for a long time.

I knew it wouldn’t be something Earl would like; and my dining companion, D, knew her live-in wouldn’t like it either. Because there is nothing on the menu that yells “Bar food.”

Instead we savored grilled bread with French onion butter. Seven dollars was added to our bill for it; and no penny went to waste. Next we shared a small plate of Wagyu tartare embellished with some kind of gentle eggy thing and shoestring potatoes. I think there was a truffle or two in there as well. Finally, the roasted carrots were to die for.

You might think those were all appetizers before the main course. But we were full when the last carrot was consumed. We didn’t even order a dessert to share. Most unusual for us.

We made a date then and there to return to Houndstooth the beginning of January and make our way through the other menu offerings in 2020. Maybe we’ll even learn how the restaurant got its name.

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Outlet Mall

The closest outlet mall is about thirty-five miles away as the interstate winds. The last time I was there it felt like many other malls do: on its last leg.

Today A and I went to Lighthouse Mall in Michigan City, and I was distinctly surprised. It’s Cyber Monday, and I think that means people are supposed to get the best deals shopping online. So there were plenty of empty parking spaces and no lines at the registers.

Still, we managed to find Talbots, Chico’s, Eddie Bauer, Lindt’s Chocolates, and Starbuck’s when we needed to warm our insides. There weren’t a lot of customers, so I hope Black Friday was good for the mall. I hope the entire Thanksgiving weekend was good too.

But even without throngs of people, the stores felt alive. Selection was great. Staffs were friendly and helpful. Sale pricing was abundant. It made me think the mall is not only surviving but possibly prospering.

With the exception of Banana Republic, which had “Going Out of Business” signs in its windows, and the Kitchen Store, which is closing this January.

 

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Aaarrgghh!

I believe the above guttural sound is attributed to pirates as they charge forth in battle. My take is that it is a cry of panic acknowledging that Christmas is twenty-four days away. That’s less than four weeks.

I wrote last month that I don’t plan to do anything holiday-oriented that doesn’t “call” to me. But as time passes, I’m still feeling the press of a schedule.

I’m having a cookie exchange luncheon. That won’t happen unless I make cookies and offer food. I want to decorate my home for the event, which is twelve days away, but I just now got the boxes with all the decorations down from the attic.

The pre-Christmas schedule is filled with various gatherings; and we’re grateful to be included in others’ celebrations. Still, there’s a time commitment.

We have also solidified our plans for the Big Day, and they require arriving in Nashville, TN, on December 23. Have to plan and pack. Want to bring some ornaments and other items for the season from our home to make the VRBO more like our home.

It’s a busy time, even though I’m cutting back. Which makes me wonder how I’d manage if I weren’t.

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Random Stops

We have driven from our home to the family Thanksgiving holiday untold times. Years ago it was a nightmare when drivers both north and south on Indiana 31 were required to go through Kokomo and its unending stoplights. That was after having already stopped-and-started through other small towns first. But several years ago, a by-pass was completed that made the trip shorter and more enjoyable, although I doubt the merchants in Kokomo think that.

Still, we’re now under three hours and fewer stoplights from family. Instead of whining about the drive, we now look for interesting places to visit along the way. We had two in mind on this trip.

Wilson’s Amish Store has a well-placed billboard several hundred feet from the road where you turn into its parking lot. Given this beacon of light in a really gloomy day, we slid smoothly into the right place. We’ve been here before, but this time we did the shopping we might have done at the local supermarket closer to home: homemade chicken pot pie for an easy dinner, tomatoes (Yes, really good ones!) pretzel bread, Amish cheeses and meats, The only drawback is that restrooms for guests are porta-potties that are really uninviting.

Our next stop was to be Pie Place for dessert. But there was no billboard, so we flew by the entrance at top speed and decided not to make a U-turn.

Which only shows the value of advertising.

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Crown Hill

Earl and I spent a couple hours at Crown Hill with Grandson Alex this afternoon. Crown Hill is a magnificent cemetery in the heart of Indianapolis and Alex is a funeral director. The company he works for is responsible for managing Crown Hill.

You might not think the day after Thanksgiving would find us at a cemetery instead of at shopping malls. But Earl and I have an affinity for final resting places and jumped at the chance to see a jewel in the crown of cemeteries with a knowledgeable guide.

Crown Hill was dedicated in 1864, the year before the end of the Civil War, and is noted not only for its size (555 acres) but also for the miles of paved roads (25) and its species of plants and trees. The number of internments (over 200,000 graves and counting) is impressive as are some of the dignitaries who came to rest here.

Most notably are poet James Whitcomb Riley, President of the United States Benjamin Harrison (twenty-third incumbent), and Public Enemy #1 John Dillinger, the most visited plot in the entire complex. There are also two Vice Presidents, several Indiana Governors, and an equally impressive number of Indianapolis Mayors.

Perhaps the most striking area, however, is the one that houses a group grave for the 1,616 Confederate soldiers who died, not as rebel sons of Indiana, but as prisoners in a Union camp in the city.

None of this acknowledges the architecture of the front gate, the waiting room, the mausoleum, or the myriad of monuments (Truly monuments and not just gravestones), that stand as sentinels to everyone’s final act. It’s not that we need reminding, but Black Friday is not the Great Leveler. Crown Hill is.

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Giving Thanks

What hasn’t been said about this national holiday?

There’s the story of the first Thanksgiving, most likely much of it apocryphal. There’s the planning that goes into the special dinner, often centered around turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. Pumpkin pie too.

There are best wishes from one person to a myriad of friends on Facebook and other social media. And free dinners for those who are alone or homeless. And turkey pardons from the White House. All in the name of giving thanks.

Personally, I’m thankful for all the usual things: family, health, being together, a comfortable life. But this year, I’m truly impressed by the twenty-two large retail merchants who are bucking a trend and will not start Black Friday early. Instead, their employees will be at home for Thanksgiving.

If you wonder who these merchants are, according to Mental Floss, visit https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/514358/stores-closed-thanksgiving. Even with their shuttered stores, I’m sure they’ll do well financially and we shall all purchase what we need.

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