Monthly Archives: March 2010

Popcorn, hummus, cheese, shoofly pie and Scrabble?

Sunday night supper at the Pannabecker homestead always meant popcorn, veggies, fruit, cheese, and once in awhile…lemon cokes or milkshakes. Growing up in the 50s-60s-70s was the era of family-style eating, something that many of today’s family find simply impossible. And yes, that probably ages me. So what?

Anyway, in my family, there were two things that we looked forward to on Sunday nights: having soft drinks (a rarity) and being allowed to eat wherever we wanted. And read while we ate. Oh, that’s three things. When we finally got a tv, I suppose we ended up watching tv and eating. I preferred to read (still do). Nerd.

So when our kids were little, we began following that tradition of popcorn, veggies, cold cuts, cheese, pop, etc. Along the way, we changed the menu from time to time, but essentially, it was usually whatever was in the fridge. These days, Fred often bakes cornbread on Sunday afternoon, and we find an old tv show to watch. Which, actually, we do every night, but don’t tell our daughters. They think we are still the picture of the ’60s, eating at the table every night.

Since daughter number one is home for a few days — it’s Easter break from teaching and studying at Kent State and her teeth demanded a visit with Dr. Jordan, we invited Grandma P. to eat supper with us tonight. Typical of our usual Sunday night fare, there will be popcorn, veggies, hummus (a more recent addition), babybel cheese, flax seed foccacia, Fred’s “No-Fly Zone Shoofly Pie”, and at least one highly competitive round of Scrabble.  This, of course, allows for casual dining, but with a caveat — use lots of napkins. Nothing worse than food stuck to Scrabble tiles.

Oh, one more addition — there will be wine (white, red, and Fred’s favorite — some version of Bailey’s, which is disgusting) — all grown-up versions of pop. Grandma doesn’t get any — she’s driving. Too bad for her.

Just in case anyone wants to try baking today…here are two recipes: Focaccia-style Flax Bread and No Fly-Zone Shoofly Pie. The flax meal bread is especially good for those limiting their carbs. It can be eaten as is, toasted or used for sandwiches.

Foccacia-Style Flax Bread
2 c. flax seed meal
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1-2 tbsp. sweetening power (I use Stevia to keep the carbs/sugar down)
5 beaten eggs (I used 1 whole egg and 5-8 egg whites, depending on the size of the egg)
1/2 c. water
1/3 c. oil
Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare pan (1 10×15 pan with sides works best) with oild parchment paper or a silicone mat
Mix dry ingredients well. Add wet to dry, and combine well. Make sure there aren’t any obvious strings of egg white hanging out in the batter. Let batter set for 2-3 minutes to thicken up some (leave it too long and it gets past the point where it’s easy to spread.)
Pour batter onto pan. Because it’s going to tend to mound in the middle, you’ll get a more even thickness if you spread it away from the center somewhat, in roughly a rectangle and inch or two from the sides of the pan. Make for about 20 minutes, until it springs back when you touch the top or is visibly browning more than flax already is. Cool and cut into whatever size slices you want.

No Fly-Zone Shoofly Pie
(Variation on Mennonite Community Cookbook, p. 380)

1 unbaked pie crust (homemade or purchased)

Bottom part:
3/4 c. dark molasses
3/4 c. boiling water
1/2 tsp. soda

Top part:
1 1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. butter or shortening
1/2 c. brown sugar

Dissolve soda in hot water and add molasses. Combine sugar and flour and rub in the shortening to make crumbs. Pour 1/3 of liquid into unbaked pie crust. Add 1/3 of the crumb mixture. Continue alternating layers of crumbs and liquids — crumbs should be on top.
Bake at 375 F. for 35 minutes.

Optimism trumps pessimism…every time

They say that to be happy and positive, one must surround oneself with happy and positive people. Don’t ask me who “they” are. I only know that I keep reading this — as if the statement was directed toward me. I’m not the most positive person in the world; the optimist in me is frequently overcome by the pessimist.

But I live with an optimist. He can find the brightest spot of the gloomiest situation. Here’s an example. Winter in Ohio can be tough. Dark, cold and often gloomy, especially as we move toward spring and the cold rains seem to overtake our lives. But try taking a walk with my husband on one of these days. Inevitably, his comment will be “Gee, what a nice day”. As my adopted third daughter would say, “Meh”.

So…with this idea of surrounding myself with happy, positive beings, I have this little routine. I sit and think of the funniest, sunniest, brightest bulbs in my life. These are the individuals who can simply make me laugh and/or smile by appearing in my thoughts.

Okay, so there’s my coworker, Coral Naylor. She’s 25, married and due to deliver her first child in a little more than a month. Given the realities of the third trimester, she should be exhausted, dragging herself to work, and cranky all day. But no. Instead, her lilting, “Hi! How are you?” greets me the minute I walk in the door. It’s not a fake greeting; it’s real. One look at me tells her I need a hug, which she gives me, huge belly and all. I can’t help but laugh.

Next in line is my old friend, Lester Lute, a Bluffton University graduate who I haven’t seen in years but with whom I have regular contact through e-mail and Facebook. Lester has faced down a frightening, threatening form of cancer, undergone several surgeries and follow up treatments, yet through it all, his reports have remained upbeat, cheerful and always focusing on the positive side. One of his first photos after surgery was accompanied by “Yes, the dimples are still there.” Anyone who knows Les thinks immediately of those gorgeous, huge dimples — always in evidence because he is rarely not smiling.

Most young children can lift my spirits in a second. My little cousins, Seth and Kate Pannabecker, never fail to make me laugh. We sometimes meet up on the way to school and their usual comment is a happy rendition of “We’re going to school!!!!” Compare this to college students I pass on their way to class, faces down, feet dragging. I’d rather run into the younger generation.

S and K’s little sister, Mia, isn’t old enough for school yet, but she wishes she were. But just one look at her and I laugh. How this tiny blond imp with chubby cheeks does it, I don’t know. But she’s a giggling, smiling elf — even when her sister is spinning her around so fast you’d think she’d upchuck.

Then there are those at the opposite end of the age scale, but filled with similar optimism. My favorite Spanish teacher, Sally Reeder, greets me as she heads out on her daily BFR walk — sound system in hand. She and I know what the grin is about — at the top of her playlist is bullfighting music. 

And Claude Boyer, a retired pastor who is a double for Colonel Sanders…I can always count on him for a joke, the best kind — better known as “groaners”. Always. Every time.

But the best, absolute best mood lifter — always cheerful, always happy to lick my ear…is that four footed sidekick. Ike, the mini Schauzer. There is nothing more cheering that coming home to that happy face peering out the window, tail wagging. And then he’s all over me. Never fails.

A blog especially for Brendon Matthews

Lest anyone think I’m making fun of my husband, I should clarify a few points. I’m not. I think he knows that but hmmm…maybe not. I think he’s a pretty cool guy and can’t think of anyone I’d rather share my bathroom with.

This blog doesn’t always involve my family, but when it does, there’s always some part of me that worries that the three I love the most will feel as if I’m talking too far out of turn. So…just for the record, I’m not making fun of anyone, except maybe myself. And the cat. She doesn’t count. But don’t tell her that. She thinks she’s the Queen.

Anyway, often when I write about my husband, I’m doing it for the sole purpose of entertaining Brendon Matthews. He told me recently that he only reads my blog when it involves my husband. So since I want to keep Brendon happy, I have to throw out some “Fred” comments from time to time. After all, he’s (a) a banker and I might need to borrow money from him someday; (b) he’s on the board that employs my husband; and (c) he’s my husband’s friend. Far be it from me to insult him by not entertaining him with Fred stories.

So Brendon, I hope you’re reading this. And keep reading because on April 9, there will be a pop quiz at 7:30 a.m. You know where. Here’s one of the questions.

What attorney with banking expertise and who writes books on banking will celebrate his 57th birthday on April 9?

No fair asking Fred for help. He probably doesn’t know anyway.

Bobo Brazil and Dick the Bruiser in Bluffton?

There is but one full bath in our house. Which — depending on one’s perspective — can be a good thing or a bad thing. Most of the time it’s not a big deal…except when two girls and their guys are visiting, or when two of us are vying for the sink at the same time.

On the other hand, given the statistics that spouses speak to each other only 11 minutes a day, a single full bath per household might increase those numbers. Might increase the divorce rate too.

Anyway, today while wrestling with my husband for dibs on the sink, I learned that big time wrestling might have appeared at Bluffton High school some time in the 50s. My husband denies that this is a fictitious account created by either his mother or brother, both of whom have (had) a penchant for “telling” stories.

This discussion began by my husband declaring himself to be Dick the Bruiser. Gotta say my reaction was not very complimentary; in fact, I snorted. Couldn’t help myself. He appeared insulted for a moment, but came back to announce that no, in actuality, his hero was Bobo Brazil.

Okay, here’s the thing. I’m seven years younger than my husband. Sometimes I’m only six years younger, but I prefer the seven. So when he started in on Dick the Bruiser, The Sheik, Bozo Brazil…I had no clue. In fact, I was skeptical.

Apparently, Bobo was the one to perfect the “coco butt” (as in “headbutt”), which the husband demonstrated for me using the door as the “buttee”. Which considering his less-than-full head of hair, might not have been a wise move. But hey, who am I to interrupt a lecture on the biggies of big time wrestling.

It was about this point when he informed me that this is where he learned why he was just a half Nelson. (His father was the full Nelson.) Looking at me somewhat skeptically, he said, “You do know what a full-Nelson is, don’t you?”

Moi? Of course. I was schooled in the world of wrestling as a BHS student, thanks to that hunky math teacher/wrestling coach Sam Bello. He introduced BHS to wrestling. The boys wrestled their hearts out. We girls watched (the coach) with great seriousness.

So I could honestly tell my husband that yes indeed, I do  know what a full Nelson and a half Nelson are. I know what cauliflower ear looks like (thanks to my friend, Tony), and I know I’m supposed to cheer really loud when my guy pins the other guy.

But Bobo Brazil? The Sheik? Dick the Bruiser? In Bluffton? And now in my bathroom? Still contemplating that whole picture.

Thanks for the memories, Bill Houchen

There are people who are a part of our lives, often just at the perimeter, but still an important part for so many reasons. They slip in and out over the years — again, for a number of reasons.

Bill Houchen is one of those individuals in my life. Bill and his wife, Dorothy, first entered my life — albeit at a distance — when my brother married their daughter, Jan. She was very close to her parents and brother, Eric, and they all immediately accepted Phil as a part of their family.

Jan and Phil got married in Denver; I was living in Florida at the time and touring with my high school choir so didn’t get to the wedding. So it wasn’t until a few years later that I met them in Denver.

While we were there, I developed an allergic reaction that resulted in hives over much of my body. Bill worked for a large manufacturing firm that had its own health clinic on site. He was able to get me in to the clinic immediately; I saw the doc and with meds, the hives disappeared. My parents were amazed that the clinic extended its arms beyond its own employees, and pleased that Bill had the foresight to suggest this.

My sister-in-law, Jan, was pregnant at that time — probably about four months. We all went up to their cabin in the mountains outside Denver. We had watermelon for dessert. Bill had a penchant for teasing. As Jan began to eat her watermelon, Bill made some crack about her “stomach being bigger than her eyes”.

When the baby, Ginny, was born, Jan wanted to keep working. She found the perfect babysitter — Granddad. Bill had retired and was happy to become a fulltime caregiver for his first grandchild. He and Ginny have always had a special relationship because of that time together.

After Dorothy died, Bill continued to live in Denver. In more recent years, he spent summers in Wisconsin with his son, and winters in Tucson with Jan and Phil. I continued to get regular updates on him in the way one would hear about an older relative living at a distance.

Despite the distance, it seemed that he was always a part of our family even though it was only by marriage. So when my brother called me yesterday to tell me that Bill had died Saturday night, sadness settled in.

I know how much Jan will miss her dad. It’s hard to lose a parent — no matter how old they were and how old you are. It hurts. When my dad died, a friend told me that his dad had died 10 years earlier and some days he still felt the pain. Sometimes the only way to deal with that is to cry…and then remember the good stuff.

Like Bill pushing Ginny in the stroller. It was hard to say which one had the bigger grin.

On supermarket tabloids and why there is one in my house

There’s a joke that three things sell newspapers: sex, Elvis and UFOs. This is true. Just read the headlines of those tabloids that are located in the checkout lanes of supermarkets. There are always REAL photos of celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt — together again. In the lower left is a photo of Angelina Jolie looking like a poor, skinny waif left out in the rain.

There are alway stories about aliens landing in obscure towns like Kouts, Ind. They know these little guys landed because early one morning all 10 residents find a mysterious saucer-shaped burnt area in the middle of the field that serves as the town square.

And then there are the amazing weight-loss stories, like Kendra Quasimoto lost 50 pounds in 10 days. Turn to page four for her diet and exercise secrets so you t0o can make an amazing transformation in little more than one week.

So…ever see anyone  brave enough to take one of those rags off the rack to turn to page four? No? Well, hey, just stand behind my husband’s cart for awhile. Actually, you won’t have to wait long. He immediately grabs one off the rack and settles in to read while waiting. This is why he doesn’t care how long the line is. The longer the line, the more he gets to read. When he does this, I do my best to pretend as if I don’t know him.

This, of course, does not work. He immediately begins laughing and insists that I read whatever story has caught his attention. It’s usually the alien story. After 30 years, you’d think I’d understand him, but nope. I don’t know what it is about these stories that entrance him so. Just between you and me, I think he believes them.

One day he actually bought one. Actually twice. The first time was probably 10 years ago and he planned to use it in his high school Sunday school class, much to the delight of our daughters. The second time, I assume it was for entertainment since he no longer teaches SS. Anyway, he bought it. Really. Laid it right there on top of his grits. As the cashier picked it up, she looked at him, then me. Hey, don’t look at me. I’m the one with the Real Simple magazine. They shared a chuckle over it. 

That night as he ate his once-a-week Hostess cupcake, he snickered, chuckled, and laughed uproariously over it. Honestly. I have no idea what was in it. Weeks have passed. And yet, it remains tucked away at the bottom of the magazine basket. I know better than to suggest it be disposed of. It will reappear on Easter Sunday…not, mind you, that there is any connection to the resurrection. Or maybe it does. For all I know, there’s a story on someone who claims to be Jesus.

No, the magazine awaits its next owner. My son-in-law shares my husband’s fascination for tabloids. After all, you know what they say. Daughters marry their men that remind them of their fathers. I should have warned her.

Zen and the art of cleaning house

I’m supposed to be cleaning. But hey, what’s-his-name said he was going to clean and then disappeared to the basement. Which means that he’s not cleaning.

But I will. Really. I have this thing about cleaning on Friday nights. This started long ago when we were first married, living in the palatial duplex that overlooked the railroad tracks. That was one heck of an apartment and no amount of cleaning ever really produced anything other than what it was. An ugly apartment with a view of every train that passed through town. 

Anyway, the deal was that I cleaned and he did the laundry. This was really a good deal since doing the laundry meant going to the laundromat since that wasn’t a part of the $100/month apartment deal. Well, maybe it cost more than that, but not much. Whatever. I didn’t like going to the laundromat because I had this thing about sharing washers and dryers with others. My paranoia did not lessen with the knowledge that the hot water and detergent would kill germs.

So…he washed clothes. I dusted, vacuumed, scrubbed sinks and toilets, etc., while he did the laundry and people watched (his true reason for wanting to be there). Shortly after we married, the husband bought himself some bikini briefs. A couple of high school guys — Greg Snyder and one of his sidekicks — stopped by one night to say hi. Must have been a slow night for sports; I have no idea why else they would appear at the laundromat on a Friday night. Anyway, one of them saw the bikinis and snickered. No amount of explaining would convince them that they were his and not mine. At least that was his story to me. For all I know, he might have lied and said they were mine.

Back to the ranch where I was cleaning. Here’s the kicker. I love to clean bathrooms. I’m one of only two persons I know who actually enjoys this. But when the kids were young, I had to learn to delegate cleaning chores. Bathroom cleaning became child number one’s job. She still likes to do it; in fact, we have the reverse white glove treatment in our family. She now critiques my cleaning skills.

Child number two always did the windows. So for about 15 years, we had the cleanest windows in the world. Then she took off for college and window washing became an obscure chore. They haven’t been cleaned for five years. There’s one clear (or maybe not-so-clear) advantage to this. There is no need for curtains. No one can see in anyway.

Now that the kiddies have gone off to clean their own homes, the husband and I have returned to our Friday night routine of cleaning. This lets us off the hook for the rest of the weekend. Of course, now we have a washer and dryer so no more laundry treks except to do the comforters. He’d probably wash yours if you offer him some chocolate chip cookies.

So…now…he mops the kitchen floor and dust mops the wood floor. Then he dusts the furniture. Do I hear gasps? I know. Heloise would snort at the errors of his ways. Dusting furniture is supposed to be done before the floors. But who am I to complain? I consider myself lucky…far too lucky. He cleans. And vacuums.

And now… footsteps sound on the basement steps. The sound of a bucket being filled…and the faint clicking of the mop in the kitchen. Which can mean just one thing. It’s my turn to face the toilets. Bring ’em on.

Familiar faces, inner voices, and a fear of being wrong

You would think that at my age if, while on an out-of-town trip, I saw someone who looked familiar, I’d be past worrying about how stupid I’d look if I said something and I turned out to be wrong. But no. If there’s one thing age has not done, it has not freed me of my fear of misidentifying someone.

After all, there have been far too many of those times lately where I’ve approached a familiar face with a big smile on my own face only to realize that the blank stare looking back at me indicates my error. You know how that is. You smile and smile, but the other person looks as if you have escaped the nearest prison so you quickly mumble something and pretend to be smiling at the nonexistent person across the street. Or maybe that never happens to you. It does to me. Frequently.

One of my friends used to do that on purpose. We’d be cruising down Findlay’s main drag on a Friday night (in the ’70s Friday night was cruise night) in her mom’s boat-sized Lincoln Continental. She’d hang out the window and wave as hard as she could at some poor unsuspecting soul walking across the street. That person would slowly lift a hand and give a halfhearted wave. She’d turn to me with a big grin and say, “Now that person will spend the rest of the evening wondering who was waving at her.”

So…with that in mind…there we were sitting at a ’60s era diner table in “Melt” — a “quirky, restaurant, friendly to vegans and carnivores alike” (to quote the New York Times). We were patiently waiting for our Sunday brunch to be served, when in walked a young couple. She looked somewhat familiar and the more I stared (openly, I’ll admit) the more convinced I was that she was Pam Stemen, the sister of Joy, my favorite massage therapist and longtime friend of my oldest daughter. 

But come on. Why would she be in Melt in Northside? I knew she was in med school, but couldn’t remember where. But an inner voice stilled my comment. What if I was wrong? Why didn’t Anne or Fred say anything? Well, Fred did have his back to her, but since he can usually see about 360 degrees, I figured he’d seen her. Silly me. I listened to that inner voice, remembering my most recent erroneous identification. Didn’t say a word.

Returning home, I made a comment on Facebook (yes, I spend a lot of time on FB) that I’d eaten at Melt. The aforementioned massage therapist, who is vegan, casually commented that she often eats at Melt when visiting her sister, Pam, in Cincinnati. Bingo! For once, I had been right.

Turns out, Pam says she saw me but “I didn’t know why you’d be in Cincinnati so figured I was  wrong.” Anne later admitted she too had seen Pam and thought it was her, but since I didn’t say anything, she figured she was wrong too.

Moral of this story and my much-belated resolution for 2010: Get over my fear of being wrong. After all, I’ve passed 50. I’m allowed to make mistakes.

Benny’s or Whippy Dip…whatever…tis the season

It takes something fairly spectacular to drag my attention from Lady Gaga singing “Poker Face” on my headset at 6 a.m. on a warm March day, but Bill Marchal did it with a simple statement.

“You know what. March 19.”

Say no more. But dang. That’s still a week away — seven days too many.

Those of you who live where soft-serve ice cream (and all the related foodstuffs that accompany it) is available year round won’t understand what happens when Bill Marchal opens his Dari Freeze for the season. Marchal’s ice cream palace — the “Whippy Dip” to a certain crowd, but “Benny’s” to those who know the history and have been eating there for at least 30 years — opens every year in mid-March and the hoardes literally come out to feast.

From all directions they come…by foot, on bicycle, motorcycle, stroller, car, truck…some at a run. It’s as if Marchal invited everyone to a party, which — in a way — it is. A party to mark the end of the cold, snowy yuk that is Ohio.

There is nothing quite as wonderful as that first cone of the year, the ice cream swirling in little puffs toward the pointed tip. Ahhhh…spring has come and the livin’ is easy…at least while indulging in a favorite sandwich or ice cream fantasy or…my all-time favorite — fried dill pickles. Hot, sour and crispy…yum.

It’s a busy place much of the time. At noon, those who have been eating at their desk all winter — toiling away — come out to play. And eat. In the summer during Little League and swim team season, there are longggg lines at the windows.

Even pets are welcome — it’s one of the few places one can eat with a dog panting or snoozing underfoot European cafe-style. In fact, a puppy cone is on the menu; it comes topped with a dog biscuit. There’s even a large water dish — imprinted with tiny pawprints — that is filled upon request.

And Marchal? He’s in the middle of all the mayhem, cleaning tables, picking up trash, and doing what he does best — making sure his customers are happy.

And boy, are we happy. How could we not be?

Two of a kind

About 24 1/2 years ago, a baby girl was born. Well, probably a lot of baby girls were born at that time, but this one in particular made an impact on me…for a variety of reasons, not the least of which that she was my daughter.

Somewhere along the way, she developed an interest in music, dance, and created a repertoire of odd characters — each with his or her own personality and accent. Daily, these individuals would wake us up in the morning or bid us goodnight. Throughout the day, they’d pop up at the least expected moment.

I’ve always assumed other parents are entertained regularly by their children, but I can’t be sure of that.  Rarely did a day go by that our mornings did not begin with a vocal solo of some slightly errant version of a well-known ditty or a comedic turn with the male parental unit joining in.

The older daughter sometimes joined in, but more often rolled her eyes and tuned out. After some 18 years, said child moves off to college. Mornings were quiet. Too quiet. So quiet, in fact, that we welcomed the phone calls at odd hours just to get our daily fix.

Quite honestly, in all my dreams, I never expected her to find her match. There could be no one out there with a similarly warped sense of humor and silliness. It was not possible.

I’ve been proven wrong. Yesterday, as I helped said daughter and son-in-law pack up their belongings for a move across Bearcat country, I learned the truth. She has met her match in her husband, an equally vocal sort well-versed in Anneisms and who has developed his own solo — and often falsetto — performances. 

Here’s an example. You try driving through the unfamiliar back streets of Cincinnati and Newport, KY, up hill and down, passing a dizzying array of bars, community centers, restaurants, all the while searching for the street address that does not exist….all this, while your two passengers carry on a conversation that is a mixture of song, international accents, musical argument and faux karaoke. It’s not easy.

But alls well that ends well. Somewhere in this world are two other parents who are equally happy that their son, who kept them entertained for years, is now keeping company with my kid, his perfect match.