Sunday, February 24, 2013

Placenta Lady

Childbirth was not such a bad thing. It was dramatic enough that I was the center of attention for a few hours. Then when things got really bad, events sped along and finished up, and somebody offered me a hearty breakfast afterward.

I understand, of course, that your mileage may vary.

It gets even better on the spectator end, because your party troops along to the hospital knowing something exciting is going to happen that day (or the next). You get to cheer the mother on, and shout out when you see the baby's head. You get to run out of the room after the baby's born and call everybody you know, then run back in and watch the little guy look around the room, taking it all in. You get to watch big brother and little infant face off for the first time.

So I can imagine why Peggy Vincent fell in love with delivering babies. In her memoir, Baby Catcher, she takes us along as she runs out of the house, sometimes in her flannel nighty, sometimes deep in Bay Area fog, and attends to her patients right in their homes. Vincent's births are scenes of siblings with their elbows on the bed, watching raptly, of women swaying, moaning or singing away the pain (whatever works), and of kittens playing with her shoelaces while she waits out a particularly long labor. Sometimes she takes a tea break. Sometimes she calls an ambulance, riding along as she holds the emerging baby's head in just a little longer.

This being Berkeley, she considers buying some Birkenstocks, just to fit in with the other midwives. But Vincent's face is as round and wholesome as the 4-H fair's prize squash judge.

Her husband accommodated her crazy schedule. Her children took it in stride when she came to school and showed placentas to the middle-school sex ed class. And Vincent herself rode the waves of a career she was passionate about, logging each of the 2,000+ births in her little book and flooding with memories every time she read her patients' names.

If it were me doing all that midwifing, I would would want somebody to whip up some Bacon 'n Egg Wraps  as soon as the baby lay safely in the mother's arms. I guess everybody's hungry when all the drama concludes.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bad Day for Granny Panties

You can't always believe those Amazon reviews. Some people read Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists and decided it was just a bunch of stories about unlikeable people who do nasty things to each other.

Well, I don't know. I once read that an author doesn't have to make us like his characters. But he has to make us understand them.

I must have understood as well as liked Rachman's American expats, toiling away at a newspaper in Rome, because I eagerly picked up his book all week long, hungry for the next story.

It was the small crises in these lives that captivated me. Rachman wove stories about missing things--an office chair, a laptop, a Rubik's cube--that framed these ink-stained wretches' larger predicaments. There was the Italian matron who faithfully read every word in every paper. Trouble was, by 2007, she was only up to the 1994 issues. There was the Accounts Payable maven who flew to a board meeting at the Atlanta headquarters and, suffice it to say, should not have worn her granny panties that day.

So take those Amazon reviews with a grain of salt. And get your books from the library where, just in case you don't like them, you haven't sacrificed your lunch money.

Now, if you need a dinner break between stories and you're reading about Rome, you can whip up something vaguely Italian like --

Ravioli Primavera

We tried this once with the Italian vegetables and it did not sell well (lima beans anyone?). So tonight, I tried a frozen mix consisting of french-cut green beans, carrots, zucchini and yellow squash. Looked to me like that pasta bowl emptied out pretty fast, and not just because people were eager to get to the luscious, bakery-decorated chocolate cake they had spied earlier in the kitchen.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Red Badge

Lets talk about your high school. Was it one of those fine institutions where you came out ready to quote great books in your church talks and your letters to the editor? When people drop names like Jo March or Count Vronsky or Lucy Manette, do you nod smugly, knowing exactly what books these characters come from?

Let's talk about my high school. Let's ask how I got my diploma and tassel and went out into a world where people talk about Jo March or Count Vronsky or Lucy Manette and I have no idea whether these folks are their neighbors or the anchors on the local news or what-all.

(Actually, I know these are characters in books. I just looked them up. But I'm already straining to remember which books, except for the Jo March one.)

So, you probably read Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter ages ago, but I just got around to it last week. I'll bet I can't tell you anything that you don't already know about it.

But let me just say that, around this house, we have threatened to fine people that use unnecessarily big words to say something so simple as, "That bird scares me." To wit:

"With the customary infirmity of temper that characterizes this unhappy fowl, she appears, by the fierceness of her beak and eye and the general truculency of her attitude, to threaten mischief to the inoffensive community . . . "

I would think paper and ink would be hard to come by in Hawthorne's day, but he seems to have used up plenty.

Next, Hester Prynne (who commits adultery, but you knew that), refuses to name her partner in crime. And I don't get why. I should think she would want him to share in the infamy. But a good author, as we know, holds back the best stuff just to keep us reading. Except that he drops so very many hints that we know who it is quite before the child he has fathered --

"[W]ith strange rapidity . . . arrive[s] at an age that was capable of social intercourse." (Learns to talk.)

I guess The Scarlet Letter stands firm in the canon of great books because it explores the question, "What is just punishment? When does it become unjust?"

So, since you've probably already read Hawthorne's classic, I think I'll just recommend the Mormon scarlet letter, Carroll Hofeling Morris' The Broken Covenant. It's a few years old, but it kept me up nights, mourning the downward spiral of the heroine, if you could call her that.

Meanwhile, here's a great soup that gives me an excuse to buy one of my favorite foods, flour tortillas, and eat up all the extras not needed for Chicken Tortilla Chowder

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bash, Ram and Destroy

Oh, you thought we were cheering for That Other Football Game?

Sorry. I'm digging further down in the pile of fame by reading H. G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights.
Bissinger spent a year in Odessa, Texas, following the fortunes of the Permian Panthers, a team that grips the passion of its hometown so thoroughly that one fan, who had to miss a game because of his heart bypass surgery, refused his post-operation painkillers. After frequent phoned-in updates from his son-in-law, he finally consented to the drugs once he knew the game was secure.

A few of you may be far ahead of me in your Friday Night Lights fandom. Maybe you've watched the TV show. I hope to catch up with you (thank you Netflix).

But anyway, the hero boys of Permian High School all hope to be the boys in That Other Football Game. But first they need to round up scholarship offers from some big state college. And before that, there is the Friday night pressure to perform, which makes some of them vomit, or tape up that broken ankle and play anyway. There is the psyching up, the readiness to bash, ram and destroy the opponents, especially if they happen to come from Midland's Lee High School. Oh, yeah, and there's something about keeping grades up too. The author catches the team's biggest star in one of his classes, hard at it over a worksheet on the 95 uses for a microwave.

The Permian Panthers attracted 20,000 fans to their weekly games. Odessians lived for Friday nights, sadly because there was nothing else to live for. Odessa sits far out on a sandy plain. There is absolutely nothing to look at. There is oil to drill but, at the time Bissinger wrote his book (1988), Odessa's high times were over. Yards full of oil rigs sat idle. Bankruptcy and foreclosure ran high. If I were stuck in all that bleakness, I too would show up at the stadium every Friday night and stuff myself with nachos.

An especially poignant chapter checked in with Permian's yesteryear stars. "So, what was it like to be a prince all senior year and then adjust to real life?" Hint: It's a sad thing to peak early in life.
A few cow patties. Football boys ready to bash, ram and destroy don't talk like ministers.

And as for your recipe, how about what I call the Sunday Nap Meal? Throw it together, then crawl under the electric blanket and snooze. Wake up, slide the enchiladas in the oven, and catch up on Facebook while they bake.

Cheddar Beef Enchiladas

Creamy Corn