Paladini Potpie

Adventures within The Crust!

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What do singer Bree Noble, radio announcer Marty Lancer, and resource teacher Ron Freitas have in common? All three are blind.  I read their stories, and the stories of fourteen other blind people in “The Little House That Cares”.  I was stunned and inspired by their courage and fortitude.  They were honest about their struggles and jubilant about their victories. I read that book in humble admiration.  I’m always griping about my 20/400 eyesight, and bemoaning the fact that I’m “blind”.

I’m not a complete stranger to real blindness though. For some years now, my mom has been legally blind due to macular degeneration. I travel to visit her once or twice a year, and I’m amazed at how well she does with very limited eyesight. And I’m grateful for the resources available to her through the “Arizona Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired”  She is always showing me some little helpful gadget she got from the “VIPS”

Catchy name – VIPS. I was thinking about my mom one day when I was out for a walk. I was making a mental note to call the Arizona Talking Book Library, and put some books on mom’s list. Suddenly I noticed the cutest little house set back from the street. It had a nicely landscaped yard, wheelchair access, and a big sign on the front near the peaked roof: VIPS: Visually Impaired Persons Support.  Right here in my own neighborhood.

I made up my mind to pop in one day and just chat with the people there; maybe get some tips for mom, or how ideas of how I can support her.  But time got away from me…

Then one day my friend, Ruth McKinsey, came to my house and showed me the book she had helped edit for the VIPS.  What a surprise! I’ve known Ruth for years, and I knew her daughter was blind. But somehow I had never really put it together, or thought about her possible involvement with VIPS.  The main thing I know about Ruth’s daughter, Bree, is that she’s an amazing singer.

I eagerly bought a copy of “The Little House That Cares”.  Some of the accounts are better written that others, but every one of them had a story that held my interest. I read straight through the book.

What would it be like to be completely blind?  The question haunted me.  How do you suddenly learn to read Braille or walk with a cane if blindness overtakes you quickly, as it did with a couple of the people in the book?  I stood up from reading and closed my eyes and tried to walk into the kitchen to get a drink of water.  But I couldn’t do it.  I immediately got disoriented and nervous.

It gave me an idea though. I would buy some of those eye patches and make myself blind for a day – or an afternoon.  I really wanted to see what it would be like.  I decided that I’d stop by the VIP house, and see if I could get some tips or ideas from one of the people who had written stories in the book.

I told John about my upcoming experiment and he urged me to wait till he was home so he could help me.  Most of the people in the book have faithful helpers or caregivers.

I was really excited. We went to Wal Mart and got the patches. John’s vacation was coming up.  But I still needed to talk to a blind person and get some tips.

Then the phone rang one Friday afternoon.  “Hello, Andrena? My name is Ron Freitas. I got your name from Ruth McKinsey…”

“Oh my gosh, I know who you are!  It’s so nice to talk with you! I loved the story you wrote in the VIPS book.”

Ron told me he’s considering a more in-depth book, and he wanted to talk to me about editing and publishing help.

I told him I’d be glad to look at his manuscript, and I told him about my planned day of blindness. A former resource teacher for the city schools, Ron was almost as enthusiastic as I was.  “Come over to my house for a couple of hours,” he offered, “and I’ll give you some tips.”

I was nearly dancing around the kitchen in excitement.  A completely unsolicited offer of just the kind of help I had been wanting!  John had been listening to my side of the conversation from his office, and he stuck his head out the door with the most flabbergasted grin on his face.

So Ron and I made plans to meet the following Monday…

To be continued


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Paladini Pepper Jelly

This post is dedicated to my sister Patti Ann, who tasted my hot pepper jelly when she was visiting our brother, Brian. She asked me for the recipe, and when I went to write it down for her, and figured it would be a good thing to share with all of our  gardening, heat-loving friends.

Now, during the hot summer months our gardens might be producing more peppers than we know what to do with, but here’s a wonderful way to enjoy them all year long.

This recipe is super easy and fast. Seriously, about 20 minutes from garden to jar.

And in months to come (Think Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays) it will be so yummy on crackers with cream cheese!

1 cup chopped hot peppers (I usually use red and green jalapeños)

1 bell pepper, chopped

1½ cup white vinegar

6 cups sugar

8 ounces (2 packages) Certo

Chop peppers and place in blender along with vinegar.

Close the lid tightly!

Blend well, leaving seeds and a few tiny chunks

Pour mixture into large, heavy saucepan

Add sugar and mix well.

Bring mixture to a medium rolling boil.

Boil for 6 minutes, stirring.

Remove from heat.

Add Certo and stir well.

Pour into 6 half pint jars and seal.

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Nuggets of Knowledge

“Happy First Day of Summer,” I greeted Marty and Justin, when I dropped my car off at their place for an oil change. “This is the longest day of the year.”

“Oh yeah, I heard something about that…” Justin sounded bored.

But Marty was excited, “The Summer Solstice!  Do you know why it’s the longest day of the year?”  He reached for a piece of paper – one of the mats they put on the floor of your car to protect the carpet. He began to draw a diagram of the tilted earth circling the sun. He explained that on this day we were closer to the sun than any other day of the year…and it’s because of the tilt of the earth, not the direction or shape of the orbit…

Then he stopped, sort of embarrassed. “I guess I got carried away.”

“No, I’m glad to know that,” I assured him. “I’ve been trying to learn one new fact a day since my birthday last week. Sort of keep my brain stretched out. I’m trying to be really intentional about it. So this is my fact for the day.”

The previous day I had learned that the heat of peppers is measured by The Scoville Scale. (Named after Wilbur Scoville, who invented it in 1912.)  The Scoville Scale measures the amount of capsaicin in a hot pepper. Capsaicin is a chemical that stimulates nerve endings in the skin. They use it for pepper spray. Pure capsaicin has a Scoville rating of 16,000,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).

“Well, if you want all kinds of useless bits of trivia, Marty’s the guy to go to,” Justin joked without mercy.

The older man looked a little abashed.

It made me think of an old story I heard about a frustrated teacher. He stopped in the middle of what he felt was a very interesting lecture. The students were not even slightly interested. They were texting and whispering – and some were even dozing.

Annoyed, the teacher walked to the blackboard and picked up a piece of chalk to write a word in huge letters: APATHY.

He stepped back and glared at his class.

They stared blankly at the word on the blackboard.

Finally one boy grunted the question, “Apathy. What’s apathy?”

“I dunno,” grumbled the kid next to him, “Who cares?”

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The Great American Treadmill Trek

We left Modesto on May 6, 1990. We were heading across the country on our DP AirGometer – a fancy new stationary bike that worked the arms and shoulders as well as the legs.  We started east on Highway 132, making our way slowly across the AAA road map.

Every day we jotted down how many miles we went, and every few weeks we added them up and marked them on the map. (This was before the days of Map Quest and other mileage calculating web sites.) I had copied the map’s scale of miles onto a twisty tie (from a loaf of bread). Using it as a flexible little mileage calculator, we followed the curves of the road up through Yosemite and beyond.  John had a red line and I had a yellow. We challenged and encouraged each other, and pretty much stayed together.

When we reached the California-Nevada border we got a Nevada map, and then the following year we got a map of Utah.  Sometimes, just for fun, we did research on the cities and places we traveled through. We often talked about following our route as a road trip one day in real life.

Then, somewhere in Utah in 1995 John had back surgery. Real life. After he recovered we decided to exchange the AirGometer for a regular treadmill. We also decided to start averaging both of our miles and travel together in a single line.

Mile after mile, map after map, and year after year, our journey continued. We counted all the miles we walked on the treadmill and any miles we walked outdoors.

Finally, after 20 years we reached our first destination – The Atlantic Coast!  On our map, and in our mind, we triumphantly arrived in Virginia Beach, home of John’s brother, Mark and his sweet family.

We gave them virtual greetings, but wished we could have stopped by for a visit in real life!

By this time we had 10 road maps – one on top of the other – all stapled to the wall near the treadmill.  Where do we go from here?  I tried to convince John that it was time to have a swimming pool put in the back yard so we could swim laps…across the ocean.  (He just gave me “the look”)

Instead we decided to head north and walk around the perimeter of theUnited States.

We still jot down the miles, add them together, and chart them on the map; but the twisty tie has been replaced by WalkJogRun, a site where I can measure the miles on my computer and then put them on the map.

Since our arrival on the East Coast, we’ve walked north along the beach when there was a beach road. We walk along the highway when it runs near the coast.  We have almost reached another goal. Today we stand at Whiting Bay, the most eastern edge of Maine. (There must be a lighthouse around here somewhere…)

Habakkuk 2:2 says “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.”  (Okay, so we’re making it plain on maps instead of tablets.)

It may be silly, but each goal we come to really feels like an accomplishment. Our imaginary destinations have created tangible victories, and encouraged us to keep on walking. We’ve walked thousands of miles.  Someone has said “Success is not a destination. It’s a journey.” So now we’re getting ready to journey inland, up along the Maine-Canada border, to the farthest northern corner of our country. Who knows what adventures await!


Travels With Charley

In 1939 John Steinbeck won The National Book Award for The Grapes of Wrath, a truly American novel.  But about two decades later he felt that he had lost touch with his country.  He wrote “I, an American writer, writing about America, was working from memory, and the memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir… I had not felt the country for twenty five years…So it was that I determined to look again, to try to rediscover this monster land.”

It was 1960, a time before the elaborate campers and motor homes we have today, but Steinbeck had an idea. He wrote to the head of a truck manufacturing company and specified his needs. He wanted a sturdy three-quarter-ton pick-up truck with a “little house” built on the back.

And in this “rig” he would take to the road, in search of America.

On the side of the camper, in sixteenth century Spanish script, Steinbeck painted the name, Rocinante.  This was the name of Don Quixote’s horse, which he rode on his great quest. And so John Steinbeck set out on his own great quest.

And just as Don Quixote took faithful Sancho Panza as his traveling companion, John Steinbeck chose his own traveling companion with care. He would travel with “an old French gentleman poodle known as Charley…He is a very big poodle, of a color called bleu, and he is blue when he is clean…If he occurs at length in this account, it is because he contributed much to the trip. A dog, particularly an exotic like Charley, is a bond between strangers. Many conversations en route began with ‘What degree of a dog is that?’ ”  

And Charley was indeed the ice-breaker in many conversations with people they met over the next three months, as the exotic dog and his master traveled more than ten thousand miles through thirty-four states.

Our family read this book for the first time about 15 years ago, and it gave us the dream of taking our own Rocinante Trip some day. Steinbeck talks about this; the longing he saw on the faces of so many people he met on his journey. So many people with a desire to get up and go. Somewhere. Anywhere.  The Paladini Rocinante trip is still being planned, and still far in the future, but in the meantime it has been fun to travel again with Steinbeck and Charley, through the pages of their journey across America.

From their home in Long Island they headed north just after Labor Day, traveling through the beautiful New England fall colors. Then, avoiding major freeways, they drove across the northern states towards Oregon, and turned south to follow the coast down to Salinas, where Steinbeck grew up.  John and I listened to the audio book recently, and John said he felt sad when finally, leaving California, Steinbeck turned east and headed homeward across the southern states. My husband had been so involved with the story that he personally felt the journey was coming to a close.

It would be hard for me to say what part of the book was my favourite. The last time I read it I put at least twenty pink stickies on pages to mark passages I like. But there were even more than that.

The book is filled with really lovely stories about the people Steinbeck met along the way, and although not all of the people were lovely, every story has a point.

But not only does Steinbeck share personal experiences related to the people he met, but the book is full of thought-provoking essays about intangible things, both serious and funny.

Describing the various states, their nicknames, and their highway signs, Steinbeck writes: “We know, of course, that each of our states is an individual and proud of it. Not content with their names, they take descriptive titles also – The Empire State, the Garden State, the Granite State – titles proudly born and little given to understatement. But now for the first time I became aware that each state has also its individual prose style, made sharply evident in its highway signs. Crossing state lines one is aware of this change of language. The New England states use a terse form of instruction, a tight-lipped, laconic style sheet, wasting no words and few letters. New York State shouts at you the whole time. Do this. Do that. Squeeze left. Squeeze right. Every few feet an imperious command. In Ohio the signs are more benign. They offer friendly advice, and are more like suggestions. Some states use a turgid style which can get you lost with the greatest ease…Nearly all have abandoned the adverb for the adjective. Drive Slow. Drive Safe.”

There’s also a wonderful monologue – I guess it was actually a dialogue since he was probably having a discussion with Charley.  He took some pages wondering about what people think about when they drive?  I’ve never really thought about what I think about when I drive. But it made me think.

He talks about immigration, taxes, labor unions, politics, and law-enforcement. To name a few. In the South he meets head on, the issue of civil rights; which was red hot when this book was written.

Throughout the book he does quite a bit of lamenting about the so-called “progress” of super-highways, automation, and all the plastic-wrapped self-service that had come on the scene in the last twenty five years. I had to laugh at that. Since the book was published 50 years ago some of his commentary was, shall we say, dated.  Here in 2012 I find myself thinking, “I wonder what Steinbeck would say if he could see the way it is today?”

But whether his comments were dated or timeless, the book itself is timeless and classic. Steinbeck went “in search of America” and he captured it!



Egg Foo Daddy

You might recognize this recipe as something like Egg Foo Young. (It’s a young cousin to that dish.) None of us remember when it became known as Egg Foo Daddy, but for as long as we can remember that’s what we’ve called it. John has always made it with the kids when we have leftover Chinese food. And we’ve even been known to order more than we’ll eat just so there will be leftovers.

Here’s how to make it:

Use leftover fried rice or chow mein – just about anything works. And in our opinion, the more savory the better!

Mix in 1 egg for each 2 cups of Chinese food, adding about a tablespoon of flour. Mix well.

Heat about  ¼” oil in a heavy frying pan. Drop mixture, by heaping tablespoons, to make patties. Fry until they’re golden brown and crispy.

Immediately drain the patties on a paper towel when you take them out of the frying pan.

Serve with a few fresh veggies and your favourite dipping sauce.

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Summer at Tiffany

It was the summer of 1945. Cashing in soda bottles, and saving every nickel they could get their hands on, Marjorie and Marty scraped together $40 for their round-trip train fare toNew York City. They were leaving Iowa, in search of a summer job and adventure!

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart was Michelle’s choice for the June book club read. In the past I’ve talked about our Ladies’ Literary League (Lalas).  This month was our 17th anniversary.  Over those years members have come and gone, but a couple of us have been in the group the whole time. Recently, to our delight, some of our daughters and daughters-in-law have joined us. The little girls who watched their mommies head off to book group are now reading mommies themselves.

It’s been interesting to see the difference in taste between our two generations.  The older women didn’t appreciate The Maze and the younger women were bored with Sea Glass. We all pretty much enjoyed Hunger Games, but the daughters liked it more than the moms. With those lines drawn, I was happily surprised when Summer at Tiffany got enthusiastic thumbs up from everyone.

“I just love that time of history,” Michelle gushed,  prompting a discussion about how individual and national values have changed in the last half century.  We were meeting at Michelle’s house, and she had decorated with Tiffany boxes and teal plates. She had sprinkled wedding confetti all over the counter, and strings of pearls decorated the coffee table. The pearls were our keepsake gift from the meeting, but, she told us,  unfortunately they were not real.

Summer at Tiffany is a straightforward memoir.  In simple, girlish language – “omygosh!” “HolyToledo!” – Marjorie Hart reminisces about that eventful summer. Some parts made us laugh so hard.

She talks about the frustration and disappointment of searching for a job, and hoping against hope that they would be able to find an affordable place to live. She talks about the thrill of being the first girls ever hired to work the floor at Tiffany’s; and the excitement of waiting on very famous customers who came in to buy china and jewelry. She tells about the morning an airplane crashed into the Empire State Building, something none of us even knew about.

The nation was at war. She writes about the moral quandary she experienced, knowing that so many Americans were making sacrifices for “the war effort” while she had opportunities to go “out on the town.” She writes about falling in love with a handsome sailor, and the heartbreak of losing loved ones killed in battle. One of the most exciting parts was the partying and pandemonium of Times Square on the day the war ended.

The book didn’t require very much of the reader. It was like a lovely, slightly thought-provoking, walk in the park.  It has some wonderful drawings and pictures of New York scenes and memorabilia.  We all cracked up at the picture of Marjorie’s W2 from her summer of work at Tiffany & Co.  She earned $220.00 and paid $24 in federal income tax.

My only complaint was that the author sometimes brought new people into the story, or referred to events that had no background.  It kind of left the reader hanging briefly, but as the story picked up again nothing was lost.  I was impressed that an eighty-three old woman could remember so many details and pull them together so charmingly. Definitely thumbs up all the way!