Jamie’s Homemade Fries Seasoning

When I was dating my first husband, we loved to go to the A&W Root Beer stand on 16th Street in Merced.* I, in particular, loved the fries, because they had this fabulous seasoning. At some point, I talked the owner/operator into telling me what was in that seasoning salt (salt, sugar, garlic, paprika), though not the actual ratios. I’m sure he thought I was just a kid and I’d forget about it and that would be that.

But no. It was me he was talking to. 🙂 I have been home-making a version of that seasoning ever since. Ever since.

So you can imagine my surprise when I visited the Salt Sisters to order a couple spice blends I can’t live without (Dragon’s Breath Rub and also Steakhouse Seasoning) and found this. Admittedly, it has a couple extra spices in it—most notably turmeric—but it was close enough to try, and I’m pleased with it. Needs a smidge more sugar, IMHO, but it’s a timesaver.

It’s now the H&W Family Drive-In; 121 W. 16th St.


Midsummer Comes …

And a young robin—probably born in this back yard early in the year—is hanging around the fountain. He’s still a bit scruffy, still getting those breast feathers sorted. He eats at the bird table, too, but he really likes the fountain. We run it year-round (an aquarium heater works wonders in the winter) for this very reason.

A Force To Be Reckoned With

Gini Gerbasi, a rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown (Washington DC), wrote a lengthy report on her personal Facebook page on 2 June 2020, right after the events in Lafayette Square.* She was shook up, having one minute been serving snacks to peaceful protestors and the next being driven violently from the park by tear-gas–wielding police. In the moment, she and the others had no idea what was happening.

(Not long after that, it came out that it all had to do with an awkward photo op for the fake president. You can read more about the events as reported by others in the Washington Post, New York Times, NPR, and the BBC.)

I loved her last lines: “… I got too scared and had to leave. I am ok. But I am now a force to be reckoned with.” And I said so on Facebook, finishing with “Pass it on: #aforcetobereckonedwith.” One of my friends left me a message that brought tears to my eyes: “Her last lines evoked you for me. <3” I just turned sixty-seven last weekend, I don’t have the stamina for walking city blocks anymore and can no longer keep up with anything like a peaceful protest (crowds make me uncomfortable), but by golly I can write, right? I’m trying to get my thoughts down as they happen, in the moment. In these historic days and weeks.

That very night a US senator** said on national television something like that: he’d been taking care of legislative business and wasn’t able to march in a local protest, and he acknowledged that at this time, for whatever reason (COVID19 not least among them), not all Americans who feel strongly about this cause can take to the streets. “The least we can do, though,” he said, “is not remain silent.”

And I will not.

* In which peaceful protestors had assembled and were just kinda taking it easy. With snacks. Until the cops arrived.
** Cory Booker, of whom I think very highly. Keep your eye on him.


The Farmer(s) in the Dell

Dell: a small secluded natural hollow or valley usually covered with trees or turf

Rutherford County’s farmers market is located on a beautiful piece of property covered in turf, surrounded by trees (which keep the busy roads bordering it from sight), with a small pond in the center of it. That pond is the resting place of different water birds at different times of the year.

Suzy and Gerry in the dell.

And when the market opens in early May, Suzy visits the pond every Friday morning until late October, while I shop the market.

I knew it was going to be different this year, what with the coronavirus lurking. But I’d heard—I have friends who are farmers—that the market managers had set up protocols. Hm. They do keep an eye on things, but when I was there—our habit is to arrive just before 7am—it wasn’t crowded, so there was plenty of room for social distancing. With the added distraction of, you know, the clueless folk (non–mask wearers, non–social distancers). So it was a bit of an adventure in isolated moments, but I didn’t find it stressful.

Except maybe this moment. I’d been running back and forth between the halls and out to the car (vegetables are heavy, y’all; when my bag fills up, I take it to the car) and my neighbor texted me to ask me to pick up tomatoes. Well, one farmer there had tomatoes, probably trucked in from somewhere south of us. (Or maybe greenhouse grown but I only know of one farmer—actually, the farming students at Tennessee Technological University—doing that with tomatoes and this wasn’t them.)

So there was a line for this one farmer with tomatoes. A social distancing line, right? And the one customer currently at the table had to handle every tomato on the table, no joke, while the rest of us sighed and shuffled our feet, waiting waiting waiting. She was completely oblivious. And while we were waiting, another old couple came by and they were too unaware to see there was a line and they just walked up to the table. OK, maybe a socially distanced line isn’t totally obvious, but …

I was second in line and the lady first in line turned and looked at me with her eyes wide open. Well, that did it. I’d been waiting seven or eight minutes already, wearing a mask, my glasses all steamed up, and I’d had it. I said, very loudly, “Excuse me, the line forms to the rear.” Like a pair of cows, they both turned and looked at me but did not move. I raised my arms, gestured at the four customers waiting behind me and said it again: “The line forms to the rear.” Why, yes, apparently I am the farmers market bitch. But seriously, there’s only so much cluelessness any one person should be asked to put up with before 8am, and there was a lot of it on offer this morning.

By this time Gerry was texting me, wondering where I was.

You know, about a month ago we ran into the little bakery on the square, quick, because they had their fabulous baguettes. A father and his little son were in the shop already, and as we entered, Gerry reached out and grabbed my sleeve and stopped me, because I was walking right up to them—as one does. Or did, in the pre-coronavirus days. But it clicked for me that day, and I haven’t been walking up on top of people since. Clearly I need to calm down. Hi-ho, the derry-o

At home, a quick photograph for friends who enjoy these things and have told me so.

Farmers market haul from upper left corner: spinach, spring onions, mini Romaine lettuce, carrots, fried pies (apple, blackberry), sample cookie, broccoli, some kind of miniature lettuce. Not shown: broccolini, eggs, grain-finished tri-tip beef roast.

And I had broccolini and spring onions for breakfast.


The House in Yorkville

I loved that tall, gothic house with its wraparound porch
So many doors
And stairways
And rooms opening into other rooms, secret rooms
—a maze for us kids.
We lost ourselves in it.
It’s only now I realize it was my mother’s childhood home
And when we were there—for long, lazy summer days—
She was Daddy’s Girl once more.

I understand that now.
Then, it was just a place of freedom and wild childhood.
Gramps and his girls—my adored older cousins—
A house always bursting with activity
Kids running on the lawn, kids pounding up the stairs
Kids wandering in the rose garden
picking strawberries
in the huge backyard.

All I remember is how at home I felt.
How loved, how secure, how at peace, when—
Drowsing, hot, on a pallet upstairs near an open window—
I heard the adults sitting in circled lawn chairs under the trees
Sipping iced tea, talking
The tinkling of the ice cubes in their glasses
Their quiet laughter
A lullaby.

The Wages of Coronavirus: Canceled Travel

I’d heard several stories of friends who, like us, had to cancel long-planned, long-anticipated travel plans. On May first, I asked a question on Facebook: Have you canceled a trip already?

The answer was a resounding yes, and this just from the fifty or so people who happened to see my post. From short weekend trips to destination weddings, lots of travel is not happening, which is a microcosm of the economy in collapse. Because it’s not just flights—it’s hotels and restaurants and tourist shops and museums and other destinations. It’s profoundly affected the life of a friend of mine who has fallen on hard times, but who avoids homelessness by housesitting for people who prefer not to board their pets when they travel. Up to last month, she has stayed booked up. But people aren’t leaving home now. My friend wrote: “My trip up north to sit with my friends Alice (a golden retriever) and Flinder (a black cat at the end of her life) was canceled.” This breaks my heart on so many levels.

Friends whose son is a rising-star singer-songwriter in Nashville were planning to go to London to see him perform this month, but now they’re not. He’s not going either—the show’s been canceled. Other friends have canceled trips to Italy (Milan, Bellagio, Florence and Lerici), to London/Edinburgh (this friend thinks a trip to Greece in October will be canceled too), Sweden (to see grandchildren; maybe at Christmas, she hopes now), a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Portugal (with sisters), and others to Germany, England/Wales, and Paris with a teenaged daughter who is mightily disappointed. I feel her pain. Oh, Paris …

Another has pushed the date of a trip from Rome to Lisbon, Portugal, from this October to next year; still another was planning to go to Rouen, France, in November, but assumes it is out of the question. A friend of mine who lives in the English countryside was expecting friends from Australia—and now isn’t. A British friend who lives here in Tennessee was planning to go home for a visit, but that’s not happening either. Another friend wrote he is still hoping his vacation to St Maarten in June is still a go, while another assumes her trip to Newfoundland this summer is not. Our friends who live in Germany travel to various spots in Europe at least once a month, but all that’s off for now; they’ve canceled trips to Athens, Berlin, England, and Italy’s Amalfi Coast—and that’s just through May, they say.

Grandparents are canceling visits to see their grandchildren. A friend in Seattle says his daughter didn’t bring her son up from California in March, even though the flight wasn’t canceled: “We all thought it was too risky flying into Seattle,” he said. A friend in Colorado routinely hops down to Arizona to see her grandchildren, but not now. An Italian married to an Irishman living in the London area was expecting her mum to fly over from Rome to spend three weeks during the Easter season, but that didn’t happen. And I’ve just canceled our trip to Rhode Island for Sybil’s birthday (and mine!) at the end of May. For one thing, the state requires a fourteen-day quarantine for outsiders—and, well, that’s no fun.

Canceled excursions stateside included a Jersey Shore vacation in September; Montana in August; Boston, New York City (twice!), Tucson, Sarasota, Indianapolis; Napa Valley. A scuba-diving friend was going to Treasure Island (Florida). Another family was planning on Florida during spring break; Easter weekend backpacking in New Mexico went bye-bye for another, as well as a mid-March trip to see the sandhill crane migration in Salida, Colorado. These friends also had a Memorial Day trip to Paonia, Colorado, for a music festival and hiking … gone with the wind now.

Another friend canceled a June trip to Michigan to visit her sick grandma. Someone else skipped a family/baby shower in LA in March. Another friend reports her sister, who’d planned a three-week trip to Hawaii, has to take the vacation at home, due to stringent work scheduling. Bummer. One California-based friend was in Seattle when the state shut down, and has been there for a couple months now. Lucky he’s retired.

A Nashville-area friend tells me she and her husband had tickets to four concerts, now all canceled. My London-based friend says she had tickets for a music festival in Stockholm to see her fave band (the National) due to play there the 31st May—but a couple weeks ago the airlines canceled their flights. The festival seems to be still on—but now they can’t get there. Another friend tells me he and his wife were due to go from their home in Texas to Massachussetts to see Rage Against the Machine’s reunion concert in Boston. Someone else—a Louisiana native living far from home—is missing JazzFest in New Orleans this year.

Speaking of annual events, a good friend of mine goes home to Louisville (Kentucky) every year on “the first Saturday in May” to celebrate her birthday at the Kentucky Derby—but the race has been postponed to September (for now).

Author friends have canceled trips to writer’s conferences in California, Arizona, and elsewhere. One canceled a research trip to Canada this summer, which was just as well, as anyone entering Canada has to quarantine for fourteen days. Others mentioned foregoing professional conferences or trade shows in San Diego, Chicago, Nashville, and Georgia.

Weddings, of course, are being canceled right and left. Friends say they had a wedding in June postponed, and another wedding in Denver in August they will not attend. Another is disappointed that a September wedding on Vancouver Island has been postponed. A St. Louis wedding in June is still happening, but without guests; the couple have pushed the celebration to their first wedding anniversary next year. (I bet that will be a blast!) A friend’s grandson called off a May wedding in Nashville, another’s son was supposed to wed in Roatan, Honduras, this very weekend. There was a Fourth of July Florida beach destination wedding for a nephew’s wedding, and another had a wedding postponed from late June this year to the same weekend in 2021. Most dramatically, a friend from my California youth had a son set to marry a German woman on the beach at Anna Maria Island, Florida, last month. Thirty of the bride’s family and friends were flying in from Germany, as well as the brother of the groom, who resides in Madrid, Spain. That’s a lot of travel plans canceled there, folks. (They’re doing it next year, now.)

We are all a bit shocked at how quickly this happened to us. A friend who routinely combines business travel with visits to family and friends remarked: “I had been surprised at how empty my travel plans were for 2020; now it seems prescient.” Another notes, “It’s just going to be a stay-home kind of year. We’re trying to decide if we feel safe to do short-range trips to sightsee, hike, and camp, no more than a couple hours from home.” But this said it all for me: “We had a big cruise with Viking for twenty-two days in August. Gone.”

And there’s more—the once-in-a-lifetime events, some of which cannot be re-created. For example, on the day I posted my question, an author friend replied that she was supposed to fly to London that very night to accept a prize for her first published novel. One family has a daughter graduating from med school this month and going straight to the COVID fight; they are proud and worried—and disappointed that there will not be a graduation ceremony. Another proud papa I know was on his way to Chicago for his daughter’s college graduation; it won’t be redone, it’s just … past. And finally, the extended family—children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren—of an adored matriarch who died last year rented “the perfect house in Maine” during their beloved’s birthday week, to remember and celebrate her life. My friend says, “I know there are much worse things in life but we are hugely disappointed.” Of course they are, and my heart aches for them.

When the Coronavirus Wearies …

“When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy,” poet Minnie Aumonier wrote, “there is always the garden.” Truer words were never spoken.

A decade ago, I bought a half flat of lilies-of-the-valley, four little rhizomes, and planted two of them on the far side of the house in what we call the secret garden* and two in another shaded part of the flower bed that winds all the way around the back yard.

They have prospered. They have thrived. And as I sit upstairs in my office writing this, I can smell the bouquet of them on the table at the foot of the stairs.

*Because you had to walk all the way around the deck, which stretches the length of the house, to get to it. The HVAC unit is back there. And the compost bin. But also a beautiful pieris, a potted dogwood, and all sorts of herbs and annuals that I use to scavenge a bouquet with during the summer. Now we’ve installed stairs on that far side, so you don’t have to hike to get there.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus*

Back yard, early morning from the deck.

In spite of the coronavirus, spring—the season of rebirth— is here. We’ve been hunkered down in this house for real since 11 March, the day we were to have left for Germany.

So we walk the dog and watch the news and I have some work I should be doing. Chat with family via texts and friends on social media. Feed the cat. But I love this little domain. I know every lily-of-the-valley in that back yard.

And just now I stood in my kitchen and looked one way—out the bay window on the back of the house to the dogwood—and then the other—out the dining room window to the freshly mown lawn and the giant maples—and said a prayer of thanksgiving.

God bless us, every one.

* With apologies to Gabriel García Márquez.