Category Archives: happiness

ghost

My dad’s ghost came to visit on Saturday, in the form of his younger brother.

We live in the Louisville, KY area. If you aren’t from around here, your town probably doesn’t celebrate the Kentucky Derby as if it were a two-week national holiday, but we do. As part of the festivities, vast numbers of people who don’t choose to fight the madness at Churchill Downs hold Derby parties, instead. For as long as I can remember, a household from my church has held a Derby party and welcomed any and all of the congregation who want to socialize, eat a lot of good food, watch the races on TV, and place $1 bets.

Also for as long as I can remember, until he died in 1999, my dad was the Official Taker of Bets at the church Derby party. He always arrived at the hosts’ house before the first race on the first Saturday in May (usually around 10:00 a.m.) and stayed until after the end of the last race in the evening. Equipped with business-card-size betting tickets on which he wrote the race and horse numbers, he accepted dollar bills and divided up winnings throughout the day. Being a betting man and a lover of most sorts of gambling, he also placed his own bets and generally did well. He was A Fixture at the party.

Some number of years ago (I wish I could remember how many), the party needed to find a new home base, and we took over the role of hosts. Every first Saturday in May, we open our house to any and all church friends who want to come. My husband is now the Official Taker of Bets. It’s a fun, laid-back day.

Saturday morning, as we were getting the house ready for guests, we got the news that my uncle and aunt would be coming to the party. No big deal, right? Except that they live in Minneapolis and we haven’t seen them for at least 3 years. She’s a flight attendant, and he’s semi-retired; so when she was asked to work a flight to Louisville that had open seats, she suggested that he come along. Only when they were on their way to the airport and he was on the phone to my mom with the news did they realize that it was Derby Day. (The Twin Cities are clearly outside the borders of the Land of Derby Madness.) It was a little surreal for me to anticipate this completely unexpected visit from some of my favorite relatives when my mind was so firmly entrenched in the normal rhythms of Derby.

They arrived in mid afternoon. And my dad came with them.

My dad was 16 years older than this, his youngest brother. They didn’t look terribly alike, although they shared a body type and a fair skin tone. My dad’s voice was a little lower, and after years in southern Indiana he had lost his Wisconsin-born accent. But when you were in the room with them both, you knew immediately that they were brothers — they shared an indefinable essence of Miller Guy.

And so, on Saturday, when my uncle greeted me, I heard my dad. Not his voice, no, but the same pattern of speech, the slight clipping of words. I found myself watching my uncle closely when he spoke, because in the movements of his face — the planes of his cheeks, the shape of his mouth when he smiles, the way he opens his mouth only as far as absolutely necessary to release the words — I saw my father. Their eyes were very alike, and so were their gestures and their general body language. They’re not what I think of as big men, but when a Miller Guy is in the room, he is A Presence. You’ll hear him talking and laughing, and he’ll come over to get to know you.

When it came time for Derby bets, my uncle (who had already cashed a ticket for several earlier races) decided to buy tickets only on the 4 or 5 horses that were 50-to-1 long shots. My mother, following her standard practice to guarantee a win, bought a ticket for each of the 19 horses in the race. I chose 3 horses based on their history of running on a muddy track; and, because my mother had mentioned a couple of times that a jockey named Calvin Borel was winning pretty much every time he sat on a horse — and she is an extremely lucky woman when it comes to winning things and picking horses — I threw in a dollar on Mine That Bird.

The race was the most exciting I can remember, with the jockey threading his horse at afterburner speed along the rail and out to a 6-3/4 length victory. The horse was Mine That Bird — a name I hadn’t thought of or heard mentioned at any point during the race call, because he began in last place and charged to the win in the last quarter mile. When the caller announced the winner, I cheered — and then realized that I wasn’t hearing any cries of “I won!” from the crowd of people in the other room. Out on the deck, on the other hand, I saw my uncle and my mother celebrating. We were the only 3 people with winning tickets.

The total pot was $129, so we each won $43 for a $1 bet. Most years, even when we’re dividing the pot among 10 or 20 winners, our payout beats the payout at the track; but this year the odds were so massive against Mine That Bird that Churchill Downs paid out $103 for every $2. It was nonetheless the largest win at our church party for a great many years — we think no one has won so much since Gato del Sol made a surprise winning run in 1982 and only 2 people split the pot.

This year, we kept the winning in the family. We hugged a lot, and I thanked my mother for her outstanding tip, and we talked endlessly about the amazing, the unbelievable, the astounding race we’d just witnessed. We took pictures of us with our fistfuls of dollar bills. And we agreed that my dad would have been ecstatic to have been there and watched Mike Miller, Anne Miller, and Tiffany Miller Taylor claim the prize.

I don’t believe in ghosts, or an afterlife, or angels. But I do believe that my dad was here on Saturday. My uncle and aunt brought him along and made him alive again. Some days it’s hard for me to remember much beyond the very hard time at the end of my dad’s life; but seeing and talking with his brother brought back bits and pieces of happy memories that had been hiding.

My dad was here with me, two days ago. And thanks to that, I have a much stronger, better sense of him with me now.

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I love Home Depot

Our generator is almost but not quite exactly like this one.

Our generator is almost but not quite exactly like this one.

So I was driving home this afternoon and spotted a big hand-painted sign by the road outside our local Home Depot: “Do you want a generator? Come inside!”

Nah, I thought, too good to be true. But when I called, they said yes, they had lots of generators for sale right at the front of the store. A little while later I headed down to check them out. They had received a shipment of about 200 this morning, and thanks to the sign and radio announcements, they had about 30 left by 3:00 p.m. As I stood talking to the clerk, people bought another 5.

Doug made a couple of phone calls and learned that they hadn’t jacked up the price. A little while later, after some discussion, we became the proud owners of a 5,000-watt generator.

It’s running now, safely tucked away behind the house, well out of range of windows and doors. We have hot water. A cold refrigerator. A working computer (and working internet — I’m still not sure how the cable is functioning, but who am I to argue?). A working lamp. We’ve been made incredibly happy by these comparatively small things.

Even if we only use it for one day, it’s worth it, because of the peace of mind we’ll have during future power outages. (And living in a wooded area like we do, there will be future power outages.)

Thanks, Home Depot, for making my week.

400

400: That’s how many meals I prepared this weekend, with considerable assistance from my family.

The Louisville Contra Dancers hold an annual dance weekend at O’Bannon Woods State Park, and this is the second time I’ve catered most of their meals (3 meals Saturday and all-morning brunch Sunday). The event sold out, with 100 participants coming to dance, attend workshops, and enjoy an absolutely beautiful spring weekend in the Indiana woods.

Here’s the easiest way to express how much food it takes to feed 100 people for 4 meals: 1 Saturn Vue full. The shopping took 4 hours, and at the end my car was full. As in, stacked to the roof everywhere except the driver’s seat. My husband came home at lunchtime to help me unload and locate storage places for all the food for the 2 days until the event. Fortunately my mother has an extra refrigerator in her garage; Doug emptied out all the soft drinks and filled the fridge and freezer with salad, vegetables, lunch meat, and more. Our upright freezer in the garage was full to overflowing with garlic toast. And our refrigerator brimmed with 20 pounds of butter, 4 gallons of milk, and 8 dozen eggs.

I spent much of Friday making cookies, brownies, and chocolate chip cake. Saturday morning the kids and I got up at 5:00 a.m. (an hour that I don’t normally admit exists) and headed out on the scenic 45-minute drive to the park. They both volunteered to go out early with me, rather than coming a few hours later with their dad, and I was delighted. They were a huge help, and having them there made everything more fun (and much easier!). Talk about quality time with my children: this was it.

The kitchen at O’Bannon Woods State Park’s group campground is … eclectic. For one thing, you have to bring with you absolutely everything you may need in the way of cookware, utensils, storage, and cleaning supplies. I’ve made a list for next time, because this year I forgot to take measuring cups and a whisk, and we could have used more knives. And then there’s the stove. I’m sure it’s the ultimate in unbreakable, low-maintenance appliances for high-use group facilities, but it’s a pain in the ass. It has 6 burners, 2 of which didn’t work. The burners aren’t gas, and they aren’t standard electric coils or the newer flat burners. I can’t find a picture online: Envision a metal disk about an inch thick and the diameter of a standard burner. Sounds fine, but there are two problems: 1. Any pan you place on the burner must have an absolutely flat bottom, so it makes contact with the disk at all points. If the pan is slightly curved or warped, you can’t boil water in it. 2. The disks stay hot approximately forever. I’m used to turning a burner off or to a lower setting and having it cool relatively quickly. These take a very, very long time to adjust downward.

Another exciting feature of the kitchen is the walk-in refrigerator. The light within is dim, the walls and shelves dark metal, the air frigid, the overall effect extremely creepy. The large, heavy door sticks just enough that every time you have to go in, you wonder for just a moment whether you’ll be able to get out.

Despite the eccentricities of the kitchen, everything went extremely well. During the course of the day Saturday, the kids and I took turns at napping in the back of the car when we had some downtime, enjoying the lovely breeze blowing in an open door. Once the pasta buffet was set up for Saturday dinner, I left to play with Guilderoy Byrne at the Blue River Cafe, and Doug and the kids cleaned things up. I got home at 11:00 p.m., and yet managed to pull myself out of bed again at 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Doug and I headed back out to the camp to handle brunch; our daughter drove herself and her brother to church (it’s great to have a child who can drive!). We were finished at noon after a very successful morning. At home again, I took a 3-hour nap, and after dinner I went to play at Brendan’s. (Yes, in the big scheme of things it would have been better not to have 2 band gigs the same weekend as the cooking. I’m just glad I had time to sleep.)

It was an excellent weekend all around. We got every meal ready on time; and the attendees, hungry from their dancing, were very happy with the food. I did a better job this year of estimating quantities and ended up with fewer left-overs. It was wonderful to have my family working with me; we had a lot of fun, so despite the long hours I was never stressed. And the money we earned will be a huge help toward our upcoming summer vacation. Who knew that a killer weekend could make me so happy and satisfied? πŸ™‚

Oh — if you’re interested, here’s the menu:

Saturday

8 -10:30 a.m. Breakfast
—————————————

— Assorted cereals & milk
— Assorted Danish pastries
— Bagels, cream cheese, peanut butter, jelly
— Mixed fruit

11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Lunch
—————————————

— Assorted breads, meats, cheeses, and hummus for sandwiches
— Veggie pasta salad
— Black bean and couscous salad
— Assorted chips
— Chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and snickerdoodle cookies

5:30 – 7:30 Dinner
—————————————-

— Spaghetti and rotini pasta
— Marinara, alfredo, and pesto sauces
— Meatballs
— Vegetable lasagna
— Green salad
— Garlic toast
— Chocolate chip cake
— Orange cream fruit salad

Sunday

9 a.m. – noon Brunch
—————————————-

— Biscuits with sausage gravy, jelly, honey
— Cheese grits
— Mini quiches
— Asparagus with lemon butter
— Vegetables and dip
— Mixed fruit
— Left-over sandwich supplies, salads
— Triple-chocolate brownies

junior prom

Last Saturday, my daughter and her boyfriend (both age 16) attended the junior prom. If you’re interested, you can see a variety of pictures here. She had been building up to it for weeks.

http://im1.shutterfly.com/procserv/47b8da06b3127ccea85f51a856a200000056100AauWrdi1bsmMgA month ago, we drove two hours to Indianapolis to shop for her dress and shoes, so no one else would have the same ones. Over the course of the preceding week she applied assorted exfoliants, lotions, and oils to herself to make her legs, back, arms, and face smooth and clear. On Thursday, she got a pedicure so her feet were pretty, with coral nail polish. Friday night, she practiced her makeup.

Saturday morning, we went to get her hair done: an hour-long process during which her long-time stylist crafted a bun from a zillion individual pincurls and braids, using 78 bobby pins and 6 rubber bands in the process. (The preparation process for guys is somewhat less intense: rent tux in style and color of date’s choosing, pick up tux, put tux on.)

The result was worth all the time and effort:

http://shim1.shutterfly.com/procgserv/47b8da06b3127cce98548a73765c00000027100AauWrdi1bsmMg

They had a wonderful, wonderful time: they ate dinner with a group of friends, danced the night away, had a late-night snack at Steak & Shake, and then came back to our house, where they and 3 other friends put on casual clothes, took showers, and crashed about 3:00 a.m. (girls upstairs, boys downstairs). Sunday morning they slept in and then ate a vast quantity of warm cinnamon rolls. The rest of the day was spent in lazy relaxation (for the kids and for the mom who stayed up way past her usual bedtime to be sure they got home OK).

This weekend my daughter was as happy as I’ve ever seen her — which made me very, very happy, too. It was exactly the way the prom should be!

the joy of cooking

https://i0.wp.com/jacketmagazine.com/02/px/girlcook.jpgLast evening, after the summer hiatus, I returned to the church kitchen to cook dinner for our Wednesday Chalice Night program. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.

I started at about 1:00 p.m., first making the filling for 60 black-bean burritos, and then preparing 4 large pans of banana pudding. I gathered up the ingredients for enchilada sauce, packed my car full of food (and my kids), and headed for church at 4:00. There we were joined by my husband, Jack, and Rita, and we had the usual excellent time as we filled and baked burritos, cooked enchilada sauce and Mexican rice, and dished out pudding. We were ready to serve at 5:30.

In looking for art to accompany this entry, I found a wonderful cartoon of a church kitchen. It reminds me very much of my church’s kitchen, which has signs everywhere: instructions, warnings, reminders, threats, you name it. My favorite is the brand-new fine print that someone has added to the signs labeling our storage bins full of paper plates and plastic utensils: It goes into detail about the energy and resources used to produce paper/plasticware and the space those items will subsequently take up in landfills, and suggests that people think twice before actually removing anything from the bins and using it. As Jack pointed out, when it comes to things like environmental issues, we UUs can be just the teensiest bit holier-than-thou…

I love putting together the list of what I need and going on the big shopping trip every week. I love coming to my stopping time for work on Wednesday and moving from computer to kitchen counter to start preparations. I love the cooking, and the serving, and looking out into the church social hall to see tables full of people talking and enjoying themselves over a home-cooked meal. It’s as close to spiritual as I get.

If you’re near downtown Louisville on a Wednesday from 5:30 – 6:15 p.m., come by and eat dinner for $4.00 ($2.00 for a small portion; kids under 10 are free). You’ll enjoy friendly company and good, homemade food, and it will truly be my pleasure to greet you at the serving window.

pie time

Last night we went to a free sneak preview of the movie Waitress. I highly, highly recommend seeing it, if you’re lucky enough that it shows where you live; otherwise, be sure you watch it later on DVD. It’s a small, charming, quirky movie; the SRO crowd at the theater was enchanted throughout.

The lead character, Jenna (played by Keri Russell) is a “pie genius”: Throughout the film, as situations occur, she invents appropriate pies (“Falling in Love” pie; “I Don’t Want to Have Earl’s Baby” pie; etc.). When she thinks up the ingredients, you see a pie pan filmed from above, and her hands placing the fruit, or pouring the custard, or spooning the chocolate. Pies are on endless parade throughout the movie — I dare anyone to finish the film without 1) being hungry and 2) wanting to go home and bake a pie, even if you’ve never made one before.

My son really wanted to make a pie last night, but it was too late. He got up this morning raring to go (he’s now officially on summer vacation), and with some minor guidance from me on techniques, invented his own pie: homemade crust with fresh pears, peeled and cut up, plus a few sliced strawberries, covered with chocolate filling made from baking chocolate, sugar, and cream. He even made a lattice top. He’s calling it “I Shouldn’t Have to Go to School and Help Dad Clean Out His Classroom” pie. πŸ˜€

https://i1.wp.com/farm1.static.flickr.com/217/513481339_50e5d24ac3.jpg

Isn’t it beautiful? What an excellent way to spend a morning with my son: conversation, food, and happiness.

world’s happiest Golden Retriever

Want to make your Golden Retriever happy? Take her for a ride in a convertible. Even better, take her for a ride that ends at a park where she and your Black Lab can cavort in a creek. Sure, on the way back, my son and I were in the back seat with about 120 pounds of damp dog lying on and around us; but it was all good. πŸ™‚

https://i0.wp.com/farm1.static.flickr.com/200/498103208_40d76e913f.jpg

Photo of Lily by my daughter