GOING NUTS FOR F

2 Points – Activity – Aubrey Peanut FESTIVAL

This month Texas is chock full of Festivals so we are going to three of them! Our first one was in Aubrey and should have been called the NON-Peanut Festival. We went expecting to see vendors that sold peanuts, peanut brittle, peanut butter, etc. but there was one lone

vendor with roasted peanuts. What a disappointment. We asked him why he was the only peanut vendor and he explained that Aubrey no longer grew peanuts. Exploring further, we found that in the 30s peanuts were a cheap and profitable crop to grow but by 2009 horses and houses replaced the peanut crop. We did not have enough saliva to enter the peanut spitting contest so we went on to our next stop in Aubrey….

 

2 Points – Activity – FORTUNATA Winery

Just a few miles from the festival we came to Fortunata Winery for a wine tasting. The server was very friendly and talked about the wines they grew and the tasting was quite reasonably priced. We found three in particular that we liked, one red, one white and one rosé so we supported the winery by buying a bottle of each.

 

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ENDING E

2 points – Two EVITAS

Barbara: I thought I was lucky to have found the play EVITA for E month, but never expected to find two Evitas. They were both a little disappointing though. I love the song, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” and the acting was quite good, but as a play it wasn’t my favorite. Especially disconcerting was the actor who played Juan Peron and looked like Ben Stiller in Zoolander. We found the second Evita at an exhibit in the Art Center of Plano. They were showcasing several female artists, including Evita Tezeno. Laura and I both liked her paintings but the exhibit itself was disappointing in that it was very small and there wasn’t any information about the artists to be found.

2 points – Book – American Housewife by Helen ELLIS

 Laura: In its dozen short stories, American Housewife paints a sarcastic, humorous and clever picture of contemporary American housewives of either the South or those residing in New York City.  Ms. Ellis is a master at giving voice to quirkiness and since I am a big fan of quirky characters, I absolutely loved the first chapter, “What I Do All Day.” Unfortunately, it set the bar too high, because, for me, none of the subsequent stories lived up to the promise of the first. However, I liked her writing well enough to check out her earlier work: “Eating the Cheshire Cat: A Novel” (the title alone is intriguing).

Learning Center

1 point – Learning Center

Barbara – Three Letter E’s

While looking up my usual one phrase origin, I came upon 2 ear related worms about which I knew nothing.

The expression I started off with, “eat crow”, came from an incident during the War of 1812 when the Americans invaded Canada. A hungry New England soldier who strayed across enemy lines had shot a crow for food when he was discovered by an unarmed British officer who managed to get hold of the American’s rifle by pretending to admire it. He then turned the weapon on the young man and forced him to eat part of the crow raw before letting him go. Therefore, when someone is humiliated we say they were forced to “eat crow”.

The other two words were EARWORM and EARMARK. I had never heard the word earworm before. According to the Merriam-Webster website, in the late 50’s the Germans applied the term to those songs that seem to crawl into your head and you can’t get them out. Since I have found that I can’t listen to the radio after 7 p.m. or the last song I hear will be in my head all night and will be the first thing in my head in the morning, I can definitely relate.

I tried to guess what the origins of earmark were. I was sure that I’d discover that centuries ago, before people started using candle wax for their seal on a document or envelope, they used the wax in their ears to stick the envelope closed. Yucky, I admit, but I was so proud of myself with coming up with what MUST be the right explanation. Alas, it came from the practice of making a cut or mark in the ear of a sheep or cow to signify ownership. I still prefer my theory.

Laura: EPONYMS

We all know about synonyms and antonyms but what about their distant relative “eponyms”?  I was delighted to come upon this intriguing “e” word and discover that eponyms are words that are named after people. Sometimes this is a compliment or tribute to the person, while other times it’s definitely displeasing. Here are a few examples of both:

Pleasing:

*Saxophone, after Adolphe Sax, who invented the instrument in 1846.

*Caesar Salad – after Restaurateur Caesar Cardini.

*Sandwich, after the Earl of Sandwich (some claim this is just fork lore)

*America, after the Italian map maker Amerigo Vespucci.

Displeasing:

*Lynching – after Captain William Lynch and Colonel Charles Lynch, two Revolutionary War officers from Virginia

*Boycott, after Charles Cunningham Boycott, an English estate manager who was known for his unfair rent practices and evictions in Ireland.

*Dunce, after John Duns, who back in medieval times loved wearing pointy hats, which later came to be regarded as symbols of dimwits and dopes.

 

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EAGERLY EARNING E POINTS

2 points – Movie Theme

Barbara – EATING DISORDERS

I didn’t realize quite how disturbing these movies would be. I watched three of them: Thin, To The Bone and Eating: A Very Serious Comedy About Eating and Food.  I don’t profess to be an expert on eating disorders and I still don’t understand what brought some of these girls to that point, but the movies were heart wrenching. To hear someone say she wants to keep to 209 calories a day or that she wants to be thin so badly that if it takes dying to get there then so be it is extremely moving. While Thin was the most upsetting, I was also disturbed by Eating as it is a movie showing women in their 30s and up still obsessing about food. Some of things they talked about were that food was the only thing they could count on for unconditional love, that food was like an abusive lover, food is control, a silent companion. How did we go from the time period when the ideal woman’s form was more curvy and voluptuous to this point? Something to research at another time, I guess.

Laura – EUTHANASIA

When I think of the topic of EUTHANASIA, immediately Dr. Jack Kevorkian comes to mind as the doctor who championed a patient’s right to die by physician-assisted suicide. However, the film “You Don’t Know Jack” clearly showed me that I definitely don’t know jack about this topic or Dr. Death, as he was commonly called. For starters, he:

*Performed more than 125 assisted suicides – on patients who weren’t necessarily terminally ill (but they passed Jack’s criteria).

*Provided the lethal drug but had the patient push or flip a device that delivered the euthanizing drugs intravenously.

*Was tried but not convicted four times for assisting suicides, but the fifth time brought about a 10- to 25-year jail sentence for second degree murder when he, not the patient, actually administered the drug to one patient. (He served 8 years.)

Driven by his belief that intentionally ending a life to relieve suffering was everyone’s right, Dr. Kevorkian took a wrong turn when he allowed his tremendous ego and disregard for the law to cloud his judgment. A lot has happened since Jack’s first injection, but Euthanasia will continue to be a hot topic, since there is nothing tepid about ending a life, no matter what viewpoint you hold.

2 points – Activity:  EGG Art

When you are not particularly crafty or artistic, it’s a bit daunting to try out a project where your eggspectations for decent results are low. But that didn’t stop us! And, since nothing says art more than EGGS, we were set on our task. We scrambled to boil some eggs, poached a few waterproof paints and brushes from the grandkids’ toolbox and our eggceptional talent produced the eggstraordinary results pictured below.

 

WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN

 

2 points – New Restaurant –EGYPTIAN STREET FOOD – MUBROOKA

This restaurant reinforced our love for the ABC life. We never in a million years would have found it and tried Egyptian street food had we not been in E month. But we did and are so glad. The place was clean, the server was friendly and helpful, and the food absolutely delicious. We shared a dish of chicken over some great rice with a side of Egyptian falafel and also a traditional dish called Koshari, made of rice, macaroni and lentils mixed together and topped with a tomato sauce and garlic vinegar and garnished with chick peas and crispy fried onions. All we can say is YUM and we’ll be back!

 

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EDGING OUR WAY INTO E

2 points – Activity – ENCHANTING ESSAYIST EVENT

Barbara – I’ve heard about Salman Rushdie in connection with his Satanic Verses and the threats to his life after writing it, but had no idea that he has written so many novels, mostly magical and otherworldly, nor that he was so humorous! I went as part of the Arts and Letters Live Series to hear him talk about his new book, Quichotte, a different take on the Don Quixote and Sancho characters of Cervantes’ work. The Quichotte of his novel is an eternal optimist, a salesman living in a world where “anything goes.” He falls in love with a TV host and starts off on a drive across country to prove his love and win hers. Mr. Rushdie is a delightful speaker and I can’t wait to read the book, which I imagine will highlight his personality and the magical worlds he creates in his works.

2 points – Movie Theme: ETHICS

Laura: The Rainmaker, a 1997 film starring Matt Damon and Danny DeVito, follows a young lawyer who, in his first court case, encounters ethical issues by the handful as he tackles a large insurance company for a bad-faith denial of insurance claims for a young man dying from leukemia. From the unethical practice of ambulance chasing to solicit clients (which also entails hanging out at hospital cafeterias and approaching patients in casts) to greed, shady dealings and heartless corporations, the film hammers home how quickly one’s ideals can become tainted, leading to the inevitable corruption of both lawyers and judges. Clearly, the legal profession is not admired by John Grisham, on whose book this film was based. My daughter is an attorney, so the constant negativity against the legal profession got on my nerves. Aside from taking the hits personally, I was also disappointed that there wasn’t a more insightful message. Sometimes when we view films from the past, they might seem a bit trite, perhaps due to the passage of time and the changes that 22 years can bring.

2 points – Book – Bohemian Flats by Mary ELLIS

I’ve never been as keen on historical fiction as I am on straight up fiction but I found this book on my book shelf so gave it a try. I’m really glad I did. The author paints a very vivid picture of the area called The Flats in Missouri circa 1890 and through WWI. I knew nothing about this place, populated by many different nationalities of immigrants forming a tight knit community. The characters drew me in as well through several generations. I’d rate it highly. Just goes to show me that I sometimes need to step out of my comfort zone and may just get a pleasant surprise.

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DONE WITH D

2 points – Activity – DOCUMENTARIES

Laura – I don’t typically watch Documentaries (hey, I am a fiction buff), but I wanted to branch out and widen my viewing choices. So I picked three documentaries whose subject matter appealed to me: 306 Hollywood; Life, Animated; and Jiro Dreams of Sushi. According to the experts, there are certain elements that make a documentary worth watching. It must be compelling, giving you a glimpse into the heart and soul of people’s lives and reminding us that every life has many elements. It needs to share a fresh perspective or exclusive access, showing you people, places or ideas that are new to you. A documentary must have depth, and its story and message should linger with you for days. And finally, it must have creative elements: be visually imaginative and often use animation that is artful and playful.

Here’s how the three documentaries stood up:

Life, Animated. At the age of 3, Owen Suskind suddenly stopped speaking and was diagnosed with autism. Salvation came from an unlikely source: Disney animated movies. They helped him understand the world and taught him to read and eventually to speak. The film follows Owen’s childhood and brings him to present day, where he is now living on his own and making a contribution to helping others understand what it’s like to be autistic. Pros: This hit all the marks of a good documentary. Compelling story, exclusive access, creative storytelling and animation that showed Owen’s own stories. Cons: None for me. Really enjoyed this documentary and how it enriched my understanding of autism.

306 Hollywood. When their grandmother dies suddenly at age 93, siblings Elan and Jonathan Bogarin decide to “excavate” her house and its contents in the hopes of portraying her life. After all, the objects we leave behind can tell a story of how we spent our time, what we found important and what we loved. Pros: The photography and visual images were extremely creative and the true strength of this film. For days after, I thought about what my “stuff” would say about my life. Cons: I don’t want to sound harsh, but she wasn’t my grandmother so I really didn’t need to know that much about her. It was only 95 minutes but it felt much longer.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi. This is a film about the pursuit of perfection and the pleasures of mastering your craft. It showcases 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered to be the world’s greatest sushi chef and whose Tokyo restaurant earned three Michelin stars. Food lovers will enjoy this documentary, while everyone, regardless of culinary skills, will benefit from the interesting viewpoints on Jiro’s philosophy: Pros: I gained a new perspective and exclusive access into a very specific culture. It made me think about the pros and cons of having a passion for what you do loom so large that everything else takes second place. Cons. I felt a bit removed from the film. Maybe it was because Jiro was a guarded personality.

2 points – Activity – DINNER DARE

Both of us are addicted to cookbooks. You would think that would mean that we both cook up a storm, right? Wrong! We each have a bookcase filled with cookbooks and overflowing with recipes we have ripped out of magazines to potentially make at a later date. Out of this insanity comes our Dinner Dare. We have dared ourselves to each month take one of our cookbooks and blindly choose a page. We can take either that page, the page before, or the page after and we have to cook one of those recipes. We will then rate from 1-5 the recipes on three criteria: taste, time, and ease.

Laura: Pasta with Baby Spinach, Herbs and Ricotta

Taste: 3.

Time: 4

Ease: 4

I would not make this again, but I might “reinvent it.” The dish was too bland, so I would add more veggies to the pasta and more seasoning than the recipe called for. But it did make me more aware of how I can use up leftover ricotta. I occasionally make a Healthy Lasagna Skillet dish and always have leftover ricotta and spinach. This dish calls for both so it might be worth my time to improvise.

Barbara: Crab Cakes with Tartar Sauce

Taste: 1.5

Time: 3

Ease: 5

This recipe fell short on the taste category. The cakes were mushy and needed something to punch up the taste. I discovered that crab is not my favorite seafood and we wasted a lot of money because no one in my household was interested in saving the leftovers. Not to be repeated.

2 points – Activity – DENTON

Barbara: Laura and I were planning on a day trip to Denton but it wasn’t meant to be. But I was able to squeeze in a last minute activity there – James Hood’s Mesmerica which showed at University of North Texas in Denton. Although the people with me did not enjoy it, I was mesmerized (which I guess was Hood’s intention given the name). I’ve always loved kaleidoscopes and this was like being in one. It was held in a planetarium setting so the audience leaned back and watched the images. Boy, if this was around in the 70s, my fellow college students would have packed the room!

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We are still planning on returning to Denton to explore the town because it looked DELIGHTFUL.

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ANOTHER DIVE INTO D

2 points – Book

Laura – Matchmaking for Beginners: A Novel by Maddie DAWSON

This book is totally charming and just the escape I needed. It was a welcome change from heavy themes or dark passages. Instead, it was easy and fun to read. Predictable, yes. But that’s okay when you are “visiting” with interesting, yet eccentric, characters. The author created a magical story with mystical overtones about two women from different generations (a 20+ and an 80 year old) who have matchmaking skills – one who knows it and the other who doesn’t. An unlikely duo but a very likable pair! Lucky for me, Maddie Dawson has written several other books, which I will definitely check out when the mood strikes. Discovering new authors is just one of many reasons I’m loving the ABC Life.

Barbara – Ireland by Frank DELANEY

I’ve been to Ireland and loved it so when I saw this book I was eager to read it. One thing I found in my travels to other countries is that people overseas seem to be much more familiar with their country’s history than we are. If someone came to visit me, I could show them around my city but I couldn’t tell them the background or history of Dallas. Yet every B&B host/hostess or even people we’ve met casually can talk about theirs or the significance of a monument, etc. That is why the theme of Mr. Delaney’s book was appealing. It is the story of Ireland from the voice of an old Storyteller who travels from town to town and gathers the townspeople around to tell them the tales of how their particular town came to be. What a wonderful thing that would be! While some parts were hard for me to get through since I’ve never been good reading historical books, just visualizing a wizened old man – almost unearthly – coming to Plano to tell the story of how it was settled makes me wistful. Anyone want to volunteer for the position?

1 point – LEARNING CENTER – Laura: DECISIONS

As a true procrastinator, I have a bit of difficulty making decisions. I waste too much time on the small ones and on the big ones – well, I just procrastinate. So I decided (wow, a decision made) to check out how others do it and learn something in the process. Decisions fall into three categories: small (they account for roughly 150 decisions a day), medium and big! Small decisions have a small impact, usually affecting only one day: what to wear that day, what to eat for breakfast. So make them quickly and move on. Some people turn small decisions into routines, such as Steve Jobs who wore black turtlenecks every day and my Aunt Jo who ate oatmeal and bananas every morning. Medium decisions can impact your life for a year or so, such as deciding which apartment to rent, whether to go back to school, etc. whereas big decisions are even more important since they can have lasting consequences. Think of big decisions as forks in the road – and take an active role by choosing the road you take. Don’t be random: align your big decisions with the goals you have in life for better success. Research the facts, check out the alternatives, list pros and cons and think about whether the decision fits in with the way your want to live your life.

Barbara: 

In my favorite quest for learning the origin of phrases, I came upon Don’t Throw the Baby out with the Bathwater. The explanation was the following:

Meaning: Don’t get rid of valuable things along with the unnecessary ones.

Origin: In the early 1500s, people only bathed once a year. (Yuck). Not only that, but they also bathed in the same water without changing it! The adult males would bathe first, then the females, leaving the children and babies to go last. By the time the babies got in, the water was clouded with filth. The poor mothers had to take extra care that their babies were not thrown out with the bathwater. So I guess next time I think “what is this world coming to” when I read an article about a mom who mistakenly leaves her child in the car I’ll realize it’s the modern form of a 1500’s mistake. History does repeat itself.

 

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DABBLING IN “D”

Our situation has improved a bit but we are still not able to do as many outings as we would like. But we’ve kept busy, mostly pursuits that we can do from home. So let’s DELVE into our DOINGS.

2 points each – Movies
Laura – Ordinary People

I chose to watch Ordinary People to cover the theme of Depression. However, it more aptly fits the topic of Dysfunctional families and Denial. This Oscar winning film (1980’s Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Redford), Adapted Screenplay and Supporting Actor (Timothy Hutton) carries you through the disintegration of an upper middle class family who has lost their oldest son to a boating accident and then subsequently experienced the tragedy of their younger son’s attempt at suicide.  I didn’t much care for the film, although the acting and directing were first class. It was tedious and distant, but then again the subject matter was not designed to entertain or uplift. What I took away from the film, however, was that when you can achieve emotional honesty, you definitely better the odds of working through serious problems. Sadly only the father and son made progress, whereas the mother chose to just leave the family rather than confront her demons.

Barbara – Virgin Suicides

Virgin Suicides, while perhaps not about the theme of Depression, certainly left me extremely depressed. I think it is more about repression than depression. Starring James Wood and Kathleen Turner as very religious and strict parents of 5 daughters, all of whom eventually commit suicide (that’s not a spoiler), it confirmed my personal belief that not allowing a child to go through the normal behavioral stages does not bode well for their mental health. I know that the parents cannot always be blamed for their children’s behavior but in this case they certainly were the largest factor. It’s sad, though, that the feeling among the sisters for each other did not allow them to hold on until they could leave that household.

2 points – Experiencing new restaurants

DELECTABLE DESSERTS

Having seen some depressing films, we wanted to balance out our feelings with some sweet and DELICOUS DESSERTS. We chose two of our favorites: cupcakes and donuts.  First place was WOW! Donuts and Drips in Plano. There were four categories of donuts: Classics, Fancy, Gourmet and Boutique.

We skipped over the Classics and went for the more enticing choices. Our choices were Orange Creamsicle (Fancy), Biscoff (Gourmet) and Key Lime Mousse (Boutique). These were about the tastiest donuts we’ve ever had. First, each donut was made to order. Second, the “donut” itself was delicious: not too sweet, yet not too bland – the perfect platform for added toppings. And third, the flavors, design and overall blending was unmatched by any of the other donut shops we’ve been to (and we’ve been to a lot). Our favorite was Orange Creamsicle!

Cupcakes were next. We tried two places: Cake Tales and Smallcakes Cupcakery and Creamery. Cake Tales’s gimmick was that their batter was chiffon and their butter cream icing homemade. We tried Red Velvet, and while the icing was good, the chiffon cupcakes fell a little flat in that they were too similar to a cake consistency. Smallcakes, on the other hand, delivered BIG! Their cupcake batter was moist and their icing was fabulous. We sampled two: plain chocolate with vanilla icing and a variation of the famous “Hostess” cupcake . Both were out of this world delicious: sweet enough to accomplish its purpose yet not overwhelming in the sugar department. All in all, our depression was lifted.

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