W X Y Z ZOOMS TO A CLOSE – PART ONE

Life definitely has a habit of getting in the way of best laid plans and it certainly did for Laura so our last posts of the alphabet will be a little too Barbara heavy. Hopefully things even out next month.

Reading Challenges: (luckily there were no X or Z challenges)

W: Pick at least one word from your book that appeals to you and use while talking to friends.

Barbara – I recently read an article by Susie Dent at the Guardian who talked about words that are no longer in our daily usage such as cacklefarts (eggs), snottingers (hankies) and others but the one word she wants to bring back into usage (and it should be) is respair: fresh hope, the recovery from despair. 

Laura and I have both always been fond of special words. When we didn’t live in the same city, many years ago, she used to call me at work and assign a word to me and we’d both have to use it during our work day. I wish she had given me cacklefarts; now that would have been a challenge. But for this challenge I particularly liked the word jubilant, chiefly because of the definition given it by a character in a book I was reading: “jubilant: makes you feel you finally possess everything you’ve always wanted, you were that happy.” I suspect that is how I will feel if I ever hear I’m going to be a grandma. Another word I liked is in the book I am currently reading, “Young Jane Young” by Gabrielle Zevin. The word is “peeve” as in pet peeve. The reason I liked it so much is that the character in the book hopes to get a pet so that she can say “this is my pet, Peeve.” Boy, do I want to do that!

Y: Challenge yourself to read one book that was nominated or a finalist for any literary award the year you were born.

Barbara: I haven’t done that one yet since I’m in so many book clubs and my to-be-read list is huge, but I’ve got one on my list (you’ll just have to guess at the year)!

New Movie: Val

Laura: The 2021 documentary Val is a compilation of more than 40 years of Val Kilmer’s documentation of his own life and craft. Val and his two brothers had thousands of hours of footage from 16mm home movies they made. Those projects, together with scenes from many of the movies Val was in, present a montage of his life and an insight into the man and the actor. Yes, he comes across as a vain and self-absorbed person but an interesting and intelligent one as well. It’s sad that we now see the results of his bout with throat cancer: he has to press a button on his throat to speak and his voice is unsettling and robotic. (The film is mostly narrated by his son.) But it doesn’t stop him from public appearances, where his fans continue to show him love and respect. I enjoyed this documentary and felt admiration for his spirit. And…I just found out that Val Kilmer used voice AI to speak in the current hit movie Maverick. They were able to dub him with his own voice. When I see this movie, I’m definitely going to pay attention to that remarkable technical achievement.

New Author:  Yara Zgheib

Barbara: I’ve read several books revolving around eating disorders but “The Girls at 17 Swann Street” was the one that affected me the most. It is a heart wrenching novel, more impactful than the movies I saw because it went into more detail about all the different ways it affects the body and your loved ones. The author had anorexia so that could be the reason it was written so realistically and had such an impact.

New documentary – Wrinkles the Clown

This is one that both Laura and I watched together. OMG, talk about disturbing! Wrinkles is a clown that wears a horrible and freakishly scary mask but the thing that makes this story so horrifying is that parents call him to come to their homes to scare their children who are misbehaving. Who would do that?! You can hear how scared the kids are when they play audio of the parent making the phone call to Wrinkles. A child psychologist stated that he thought it was a form of emotional abuse and we agreed with him. Also disturbing were the people, including some kids, who found it “cool”; one preteen made a similar mask and was aspiring to be like Wrinkles. We don’t know about you, but we’ll be checking under our beds for the next couple of days!

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WRAPPING UP THE ALPHABET

Things just got away from us in May so we have decided to use June as a month to wrap things up by finishing U V W X Y and Z all in one month, after which we will come up with some new rules for our next round of A-Z and the ABC Life.

Reading Challenges

We did U and V reading challenges and, in addition, forgot to post our completed T reading challenge so we will list the three of them now.

T: Watch a book made into a film or television series.

We were able to do this with books written by Harlan Coben. Actually, there are at least 6 Netflix series based on his books and we loved them because each episode ended with an OMG moment that made us want to go to the next one. We think there are still a couple of series we haven’t seen and we will be sad when they’re gone.

V: Visit a new-to-you library. Wander the stacks. Attend one of their programs. 

We had never explored the Allen Library so this was the time to do it. This library is actually quite big, and aside from literary programs, they also have an auditorium in which they hold performances and lectures. The one we attended was OnStage @ APL: Brasuka. This was described as “Let Brazilian Fusion group Brasuka take you on a musically diverse journey! From samba to reggae, jazz fusion to funk, fiery frevo to tender ballads, this world music ensemble explores multiple Brazilian rhythms and stories.” Having been to Brazil (one of our all-time favorite trips together) this performance hit the mark. It reminded us of our experience at a Samba school in Rio de Janeiro. How nice to find something like this at a library! We will definitely search Allen’s schedule each month. Thank you, ABC Life!

U: Undertake reading a sequel to a book you enjoyed.

Barbara: I had the book Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee on my bookshelf for several years and figured this was the perfect opportunity to pick it up and read it. Having loved To Kill a Mockingbird  I was highly anticipating a great read but unfortunately “you can’t go home again.” There was something lacking in this book and it almost felt like Ms. Lee had not written it. I hate to admit this but I had to put it down before the end.

New restaurant: Jeff’s Vegan

As hard as it would be for us to be vegetarians, eating Vegan style is a step harder. Laura had experience with that when her daughter was younger and went through a period of eating vegan. So, we were skeptical about going to a vegan restaurant. What a surprise! The food at Jeff’s Vegan was wonderful. We tried the Passion Balls which were crispy protein balls with a sweet and sour sauce. They were quite good, and one portion is definitely enough for two. But the star of our lunch was the Health Burger, one of the best non-meat burgers we’ve ever had. If that was what we had to live on we might just be able to live a vegan life. (Of course, we’re writing this as we have lunch at Liberty Burger so what does that say about our will power!)

New Movie: My Father’s Violin

Barbara: I’ve got season tickets to a chamber music group and had planned to go to the last performance of the season, featuring the violin. How upset was I that I had written the date down incorrectly and we were a week late for the concert. So home we went and to make up for it slightly we put on “My Father’s Violin.” This Turkish film did have some nice violin woven through the film but the film itself was, in my opinion, trite with very amateur acting so the evening as a whole was quite disappointing. I’ll have to play Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on my Spotify all week to make up for it. Not a bad punishment at all.

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COMBINING U AND V

Learning Center: UV gotta love these UNUSUAL small-town names

We were searching for a town close by that started with either the letter U or V. While there was, indeed, a long list of names, most were not within a short driving distance of Plano. We finally found one – Van Alstyne – which we’ll talk about below but in doing so we learned about some unusual town names.

Texas has a lot of cool names for towns. (In fact, there even is a town called Cool.) For instance, the town of Venus was originally called Gossip, Texas. NO other information was given about why it had been called Gossip. How could they leave us hanging?! So, we had to make up our own explanation: Since the closest town to Venus is Lillian, TX we think that Lillian and her sister were big gossips but since the town was small and everyone knew everyone else’s business, they would drive a few miles out to an open square of land and tell all the gossip they knew. Eventually that square was incorporated and named Gossip, after the sisters.

Then there’s the town of Uncertain, Texas. According to tradition, when the original residents filled out the application for township they put “Uncertain” in the blank for the name. When the township was given, it then became “Uncertain”. Can you just imagine filling out job applications and where they asked you the name of your city, you could write “Uncertain”? Would you get that interview??

And finally, there is Valentine. Yes, Valentine. How cool would it be to live in Valentine in February! The story goes that a railroad crew had finished laying tracks to where a water and fuel depot would be and the day that they finished was Valentine’s Day, so they named the depot Valentine. In February the Valentine Post Office is “busier than Santa’s elves on Christmas Eve.” because they receive thousands of cards to be re-mailed bearing the Valentine postage stamp. The cards come from all over the U.S. and as many as 30 foreign countries. So, you can actually send your Valentine a Valentine card from Valentine. *(thanks to The Texas Standard article by W. F. Strong for these Valentine facts)

Activity: And now on to the city we visited, Van Alstyne.

We’re not sure how vibrant this city was before the pandemic but there sure were a lot of closures in downtown now. We went into a couple of small stores and Barbara bought some delicious homemade preserves, plus we ate some very delicious pizza (marinara, mozzarella, spinach, mushrooms, chicken and cashews – an unexpected treat) but the thing that really surprised us was that there were 5 or 6 hair salons in that small downtown area. Do the people of Van Alstyne have very challenging hair? Everyone we spoke to was very friendly so all in all we enjoyed our outing.

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TWO TOTALLY DIFFERENT ENDS OF THE SPECTRUM

From beauty to possible ugliness – this month both were experienced.

TEXAS BLUEBELLS

We must be the only people left in Texas to never have gone into a bed of Texas wildflowers or bluebells to take a photo. This year we corrected that omission. Combined with a nice walk through the trail at a dog park and the day felt beautiful and satisfying.

ACTIVE SHOOTER TRAINING SCENARIO

Barbara: Now on to the ugly. We hope no one ever experiences a real active shooter situation. But I was able to volunteer to help with police and emergency medical personnel in a training scenario. After receiving my “wounds” (red paint), I received first aid and was transported to a Fire Department’s ambulance. It was so interesting to see how our first responders were trained to handle a possibly fatal situation and I earned a renewed respect for the men and women who do this.

WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES IN YOUR COMMUNITY.
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TOTALLY UNEXPECTED “T” TREASURES

Sometimes we enjoy heading back to a place we’ve previously discovered on our ABC Life journey. So last weekend we revisited the Coppell Flea Market. We were happy to find out that it was still a good one but the real “treasure” was across the street at a store called TATTERED STYLE.  We met one half of the lovely couple running this store, filled with unusual hand-crafted items. It’s actually two stores: one with the new and some vintage items and the other with antiques. The antiques side had “not so perfect” on their window.

Was Laura feeling “not so perfect” that morning?

What had caught our eye and drew us to the store, were the two 50s style gas pumps. The owner told us that they never were real gas pumps but the store had initially been a Farmers Life Insurance office and they wanted to give it that “nostalgic” appearance. Barbara found a beautiful bowl at the first shop. At first glance we thought it was lightweight like some of the wooden bowls we have seen but it actually was carved from stone and is quite heavy.

On the way home we stopped at another farmer’s market we had been to, this one in Richardson. We were a bit hungry since we started out early, so we noticed a restaurant in the shopping center called TACOS Y MAS. Since its tag line is “Home of Street Tacos” we needed to know what makes a taco a street taco. Street tacos are smaller than the other tacos and usually double stacked to hold the toppings in place. They are almost always open faced and consumed in a few bites (whoever wrote that has a bigger mouth than we do!) They were considered a working man’s lunch. These were yummy and we definitely will return to this particular treasure.

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SOUTH OF THE BORDER

Little did we realize there were so many varieties of Latin American foods in the DFW area, other than Mexican. So, this month we decided to explore a few varieties and “traveled” to El Salvador, Peru and Columbia.

Our first stop was at Salvadorian Cuisine in Richardson.

Our thought was to get a sampler plate, but in retrospect a better way to do this would have been to research the signature dishes of each country beforehand so we would know what to order. The sampler plate here was starch, with a side of starch and a starch chaser. It included a corn tamale, a sweet potato tamale, and a pupusa which had primarily corn or potato in it. Plantains broke it up a bit but this was not our favorite stop.

Next we went to El Portal in Carrollton for some Columbian treats.

We ordered the recommendation of the waitress, which was Bandeja Paisa. This has become so popular in Columbia that it is known as its national dish. According to the Uncover Columbia website  “Traditionally, a Bandeja Paisa consists of two types of Colombian sausage, ground beef, rice, red beans, a fried pork rind called chicharrón, an arepa, a plantain, a slice of avocado (you know, to be healthy) and a fried egg to top it all off.” The sausage we had was quite delicious as were the beans. We didn’t much care for the chicharron and the tiny, tiny steak tasted okay but was definitely not a show stopper. The arepa is a corn patty and should really have been filled with something; on it’s own it’s quite plain. So a mixed review from us.

Our last stop was our absolute favorite.  We went to Peru and visited Lima Taverna in Plano.

We split two appetizers: beef empanadas and chicken skewers. Both were absolutely delicious.  After eating we chatted with the waiter who told us they have been open for 5 years. He was very friendly and brought us a complimentary sample of their “tiger’s milk,” which is what their ceviche is made with. Ceviche is what they are known for and seafood is extremely popular there. We will definitely want to go back, preferably in the evening as they have Latin dancing at night and that would be great to watch.

AND JUST SOUTH…..

Though this is not south of the border, the sampling wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t stop at Southern Recipes down the row from Lima Taverna to sample their pies. We had one coconut meringue and one lemon meringue. Barbara was curious to see if the lemon would come close to the one at S&D Oyster House in Dallas, which is the best she’s tasted. Ironically, when we were kids our mom was known for her wonderful lemon meringue pie but we never tasted it as the thought of meringue was “yucky.” As it turns out the coconut was okay but the lemon meringue had a little too sweet lemony of a taste. As a side note, we were amazed at the pricing on their menu. You wouldn’t know inflation was at work as they were charging a good 50% less for breakfasts than any of the other restaurants we’ve been to lately. So we do intend to come back and see how they fare.

NEW AUTHORS:

Barbara: Matthew Sullivan and Jason Rekulak

I read Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan. I love books that take place or revolve around either a bookstore or a library, so this book fit the bill. It kept me interested and wanting to go to the next chapter, with characters that were appealing. Aside from a character study there was also a mystery in it. Highly recommend.

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak is a YA book. I find that when a YA book is good, I just love it and find it charming. This book, while not amazing, held my interest and the two main characters were both awkward and found common ground. It was about friendship and opportunities, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

REVISITING

Last month, we decided that we needed to revisit a few of the places and restaurants we really liked that we had discovered via “the ABC life.” Since we were already heading to Carrollton, we stopped off at A Honey of A Deal. We both thoroughly enjoyed this boutique shoppe and remembered they had unique gift items and great looking clothes. The prices on the clothes have really jumped from a year or so ago, but we each found an item that called our name. Barbara loves her new dish towel and Laura totally relates to her new wooden block sign. And yes, those two were a “honey of a deal”.

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SIPPING AND SAMPLING

New activity – Eat There or Be Square McKinney Food Tour

We always enjoy a good food tour and this month we were lucky to go with our Newcomer Friends of Greater Plano on a Food Walks of Texas tour in downtown McKinney on the square. Tour leaders always make or break a tour and ours was a definite “make it.” He called himself Tall Paul (and yes, he was). With his amazing memory, he was able to regale us with interesting historical facts and figures as we ate our way through the day. A couple of items we found particularly fascinating were the story of the origin of the name Squeezepenny, Texas (wouldn’t you love to live in a town named Squeezepenny?) and the mystery behind a tiny little door, big enough for a mouse to get through, on the bottom outside of a shop on the square.

We stopped in seven places, where we sipped gin martinis, guava infused mojitos and a delightful drink called a Beehive that was a marguerita with jalapeno salt on the rim and sampled a sandwich with peach chutney, a Cuban sandwich, pork and bacon, a fresh oyster on the shell, pie, cookies and truffles.

We stopped in seven places, where we sipped gin martinis, guava infused mojitos and a delightful drink called a Beehive that was a marguerita with jalapeno salt on the rim and sampled a sandwich with peach chutney, a Cuban sandwich, pork and bacon, a fresh oyster on the shell, pie, cookies and truffles.

Don’t expect to eat dinner when you’re done with this tour! (Although embarrassingly enough we eventually did.)

Learning Center

The story behind the origins of the word “quiz” is so good that we really wish it was true – but it probably isn’t. Legend has it that a Dublin theatre-owner made a bet that he could introduce a new word into the English language within a day or two (the amount of time differs in different tellings of the story), and that the people of Dublin would make up the meaning of the word themselves. So, he wrote the nonsense word “quiz” on some pieces of paper and got a gang of street urchins to write it on walls across Dublin. The next day everyone was talking about it, and it wasn’t long before it became incorporated into everyday language, meaning a sort of “test”, because this is what the people thought the mysterious word was supposed to be. According to the telling of the story recorded in Gleanings and Reminiscences by F.T. Porter (written in 1875), the events of this humorous tale unfolded in 1791, and this is where the story becomes less convincing. The word “quiz” was used earlier than this date, to refer to someone who is eccentric or odd (hence the word “quizzical”); it was also the name of a yo-yo-like toy popular in 1790. That said, it’s still difficult to find a compelling explanation for the origins of this word, so perhaps there is an element of truth in this excellent story after all.

If you had to introduce a new word in this way, what would it be?

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TWO SILLIES AND A SERIOUS

LEARNING CENTER

Laura: Raining Cats and Dogs

The expression “raining cats and dogs” is commonly known to mean that it is raining extremely hard. It’s quite a popular expression – in fact, there’s even a kid’s joke about it:

— It’s raining cats and dogs!
 —I know. I just stepped in a poodle.

As with most phrases, this one has several different origins, two of which are the most often cited. The first explanation claims roots in Norse mythology, where cats symbolized heavy rains and dogs were associated with Odin, the god of storms. The second version originated in 16th century England, where houses had thatched roofs and served as one of the few places where animals hid to get warm. Sometimes, when it would start to rain heavily, roofs would get slippery, and cats and dogs would fall off. Thus, if someone were looking, it would appear that it was raining cats and dogs. There is even an illustration in the previously-unheard-of-by-me- but-now-I-must-read children’s book: Raining Cats and Dogs: A Collection of Irresistible Idioms and Illustrations to Tickle the Funny Bones of Young People by Will Moses.

Activity – Song Silliness

Barbara: I enjoy almost every genre of music and I always listen to it in the car. The other day I heard a song “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen” on a country music channel and thought wouldn’t it be fun to listen to a lyric and in my day- to -day life make that lyric happen? (Those of you who know me would not think that was odd).

So that is what I set out to do. And of course, the first one I chose was the chorus from the song above which is “Sittin here, drinkin beer, talkin God, Amen.” While keeping my intent a secret from Laura, I went with her to have pizza and suggested we have a beer because it goes really well with pizza. Then I started talking about the book I just read, “Stranger in a Lifeboat” by Mitch Albom which led to a discussion of what we would do if someone claiming to be God actually showed up. And voila! There we were, sitting here, drinking beer and talking God, Amen! It really tickled my funny bone and I’m going to see if I can repeat the experience with more songs.

Movie or Series Theme: Rwanda

Laura: Black Earth Rising is a political thriller about the modern repercussions of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where up to 1 million members of the Tutsi community were killed by Hutu extremists. Produced as an eight-episode limited series on Netflix, it focuses on Kate (Michaela Cole), a genocide survivor who was adopted as a young child by an international lawyer. Kate now works as a legal investigator with her mother and a lead prosecutor played by John Goodman, and it is Kate’s quest to discover everything she can about her past, no matter the emotional cost. The series is a tough show to watch, as it deals with atrocities, the brutal nature of political arrangements, raw emotions and complex relationships. Although this series was perhaps a bit too melodramatic at times, it deals with a subject that is all too often overlooked and, therefore, understood by far too few. For that reason alone, I’m thankful I watched it, although Michaela Cole’s and John Goodman’s performances are definitely worthy of attention as well.

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QRS READING CHALLENGE

We feel productive getting back into the ABC Life and are moving forward with our reading challenges for Q, R, and S:

  • Jot down favorite quotes from the books you read this month. (Remember – one of each of our Resolutions was to read a book per month). That should be sort of easy as both of us are drawn to interesting quotes.
  • Read through a cookbook and choose at least one recipe to try from it. Decide to keep or donate the book.
  • Make a spine poem or saying.

Laura:

Quote: I jotted down a quote from the book I am currently reading: When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal. It’s not the most profound thought and it definitely doesn’t cause deep contemplation, but it lined up perfectly with my feelings and so it made me pause and smile: “I saw a Starbucks on my travels, but it seems kind of pathetic to visit a brand I know perfectly well when I’m seven thousand miles from home.”

Recipe: I love this challenge – mainly because I have so many cookbooks that I couldn’t possibly use them all. And let’s face it: can every recipe for a crockpot pot roast be that different? Well I decided to tackle this challenge by trying two recipes from a cookbook that I haven’t picked up since I bought it two years ago: Stress-Free Family Meal Planning by Kristen McCaffrey. Kristen is the founder of the much admired website Slender Kitchen. I chose a recipe that used chicken sausages because I had a package and needed to use it pronto. The Ultimate Breakfast Scramble was great – easy, tasty and quick. It’s the kind of recipe that you do once and you’ve got it. Plus I intend to try her Cheddar-Apple Chicken Burgers which uses lean ground chicken and grated apples to see how the flavor of start-from-scratch compares to store bought.

Spine Poem: This challenge, while fun, was quite challenging for me. Few of my books have a verb in the title so it was difficult to put something together. Fortunately I had several library books that I was able to use to complete the little silliness below:

Barbara:

Recipe: I picked one of the many seldom used cookbooks off my shelf, Foolproof Fish, and tried two recipes. Both of the recipes (Roasted Snapper and Vegetables with Mustard Sauce and Roasted Cod with Artichokes and Sun Dried Tomatoes) came out quite deliciously so back on the shelf the book goes!

Quote:  One of the 6 books I read in January contained a quote that I liked: “I’ve often wished I could turn back time and do things differently, but maybe it’s better to start anew than to go back in time, and hope you have the courage and wisdom to make different choices.”  I think I agree with that; so many other things could change based on changing your bad decisions from the past that I wouldn’t want to risk it.

Spine Poem: Making a spine poem was a lot of fun. Luckily, I have a bunch of books on my bookshelves to choose from. I found just the combination to create odes to the two men in my life:   Steve, My Late Husband of 32 years, and A.D. who brought romance  back to my life:

ODE TO STEVE

ODE TO A.D.

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Quite Raring to Start back up

It seems like every time we try to get back on track with the ABC life something gets in our way. This time it was Covid preventing us from doing the things we wanted to do and – on the other end of the spectrum – travel plans kept us from doing things together. But we’re back in business and catching up by making three or four letter months (Q, R, S then T, U, V and finally W, X, Y, Z) until we reach the end of the alphabet for this abc round.

Barbara: Q is for Quarantine 

Whenever I watch television shows about prison, I can’t help wondering what that would feel like. I now have a new personal definition for prison and it is quarantine. After having a wonderful experience in Norway doing so many things that were out of my comfort zone – ice fishing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, etc – I wound up testing positive for the dreaded COVID-19. Luckily I had no symptoms whatsoever but because of the positive test had to spend the rest of my vacation and five days more quarantined in a small room – first on the ship and after that on land. I couldn’t leave my room, couldn’t have any visitors, no one could even come in to give me something, and once on land I was completely without any people I knew in a strange country. I know that doesn’t really compare to prison but it was amazingly isolating and if not for the frequent calls and well wishes from my friends and family I don’t know how I would’ve made it. Needless to say it will be a long time before you’ll hear me say “leave me alone“

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