Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Soup, Soup Everywhere

Is the soup pot half-empty or half-full?
A family member recently morphed from foodie into a devotee of the Cabbage Soup Diet. Like all followers of extreme diets, she cycles between exhilaration, “I lost another pound!” and despair, “Can I sniff your salmon? One sniff will get me through the next hour.”

If I don’t sneak off to eat my breakfast in a closet and serve dinner so al fresco it’s behind a hedge, I feel as if I’m sabotaging my daughter’s efforts. Then again, we’re talking extreme diet. Isn’t it a mother’s job to model a sensible eating pattern for her children, even the grown ones who should know cabbage soup for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner doesn’t offer complete nutrition? By eating three square meals a day, I’m setting a positive example, right?

My family’s ancestors would have been grateful for all the cabbage soup they could eat, but I want to slip my girl a little protein. And calcium. Meanwhile, I'm eating more sensibly than I like because I’m doing the role-model thing.  The sacrifices parents make! Au revoir to cheese and crackers before dinner. Hello, handful of almonds. Goodbye, frozen yogurt at eight p.m. Hi there, half-cup of blueberries.

My daughter’s extreme diet could result in modest benefits for me IF I resist the temptation to sneak off for a BLT.

Right now, though, a sandwich is calling my name, and there’s not a leaf of cabbage on it. Quick, where are my car keys?

Have family members roped you into their diet regimens? If you’re the one who tried an extreme diet, how did it work out?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Once upon a Turkey Sandwich

It took five years and many Houston-Austin round trips via Texas State Highway 71 before I “discovered” the Hit the Spot Café in Garfield. What took me so long to find out about a place that’s garnered positive reviews on Yelp and Foursquare? The café hides inplain sight inside the Garfield Community Library.

How many times did I marvel at the packed parking lot of the Garfield Library? I’d glance over from my spot behind the wheel or in the passenger seat and chalk up the library’s popularity to story time or ESL classes. A librarian would have shushed my speculations and insisted I research the place.

As it happens, the East Travis Gateway Library District, to which Garfield belongs, offers story times, ESL classes, and karate classes in its Learning Center. The draw in Garfield is different.

The charming library features portraits of the presidents, a bead board-covered counter, and welcoming vibe. It offers food for thought, and thinking frequently leads to hunger. That’s where Hit the Spot comes in. The restaurant offers breakfast all day, daily specials (beef tips on Wednesday; fried catfish on Friday), plus friendly, efficient service.

Hit the Spot fills a dining void in the 71 corridor north of Bastrop and south of Austin Bergstrom International Airport. The cafe is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week and for dinner Friday nights. 

What’s more, the restaurant/library combination teaches lessons in peaceful co-existence. At lunchtime, the wait for a café table can range from five minutes to twenty, and would-be diners are welcome to browse library books or work on a communal jigsaw puzzle. There’s a display of books by a spotlighted author and a table of freebie books.

If you like books, biscuits, and chicken-fried steak, the Garfield Community Library has you covered.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Gather ‘round, friends, and learn from my mistake.

Like me, you may be low-tech and sentimentally attached to an old but familiar and easy-to-use computer operating system and device. You know which shortcuts buy you an extra few minutes per day and which keys require a firm tap.

Even as I upgraded to a newer device and operating system, I couldn’t bring myself to ditch my venerable desktop computer with Windows XP. Why? I liked XP and the oldie-but-goodie version of Word that ran on it. It was ideal for first drafts, letters to friends, and lesson plans.

In life, there’s a place for sentimentality. When it comes to the Internet, reserve mushy thoughts for photos of kittens opening their eyes for the first time. Don’t let nostalgia for an operating system blind you to the fact it may put out the welcome mat for hackers. Use outdated devices as word processors if you want, but detach/cut/unhook them from the Internet.

On April 8, 2014, Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP with the patches and safeguards necessary to keep the system free of malware. That’s when I should have cut my desktop’s Internet connection. I didn’t. Why? Laziness, overconfidence in the anti-malware program I used on the device, and the certainty no one in the universe cared about me, my writing, vacation photos, or the quizzes and tests I’d created over the years.

Low-tech, sentimental types are easy pickings for hackers. One morning, my husband and I found this message on our old computer’s screen:

Wait? What? Hackers encrypted our data and are holding it for ransom? They want us to buy a “key” to decrypt it? Oh, and we must purchase this key via bitcoins within three days or our data would be lost forever?

With my newer device, I Googled “hackers holding computer data for ransom” and discovered we were far from alone. Police departments, lawyers, and small companies have fallen prey to these faceless, voiceless thieves. Read this and this

Hackers may gain access to up-to-date computer operating systems via seemingly innocuous emails advising users to update software. Click on the embedded link, and the hacker’s in. My outdated Windows XP system would have been even easier to penetrate.

Hubs checked with computer-savvy friends who advised us to cut our losses and put our chances of receiving the “key” from the hackers at less than fifty percent. What’s more, even if we paid and obtained a key, there’s no guarantee the same thing wouldn’t happen again. After all, people who pay a ransom once are likely to pay it twice.

Fortunately, I had back-up copies of my writing and Hubs had back-ups of our photos.  I wonder how many people buy bitcoins in hope of retrieving baby photos and kids’ school pictures?

The hackers gave us a deadline, and we watched it pass. Once it did, we removed the hard drive from our desktop computer and smashed it.

Learn from our experience.  Use old devices and old software at your risk and sans Internet connection. Back up everything and store your backed up data on a stick, on another device, and in the cloud.

Let’s be careful out there.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Could I Be Part Norwegian? That Explains a Lot.

Seagulls don't talk. I like that about them.
Before we boarded the from-the-airport train in Oslo, Norway, Younger Daughter, who currently lives in one of the capital city’s outer neighborhoods, whispered advice.

“Norwegians don’t make eye contact with strangers and won’t strike up conversations. If you attempt to chat with strangers, they’ll think you’re weird.”

I found that information comforting rather than off-putting because I dread getting stuck with a chatty seatmate who plays a version of Twenty Questions. If you’ve spotted me on a plane, train, or bus, you know I favor the window seat and my gaze seesaws between my Kindle and the view outside.

Maybe I’m Norwegian. That would explain a lot.

While waiting on the T-bane (Oslo’s rapid transit), I surreptitiously observed commuters. Men and women wore no-nonsense shoes, toted backpacks, and sported no-fuss hairstyles.

Maybe I’m Norwegian. That would explain a lot, especially my love for of clunky Merrell shoes.

Before I could tell my daughter about our likely Viking ancestor, a man eager to enter the arriving T-bane elbowed me aside. He said nothing in the way of apology, and I shrugged it off. Later, a commuter let a door smack me in the face. What the heck?

In the privacy of her apartment, my daughter told me Norwegians rarely apologize for bumping into others and don’t hold doors. “Men and women are equals, so men don’t hold doors for women. And Norwegians figure they’re bothered you enough by bumping into you, so they don’t bother you more by apologizing.”

Since I’m the kind of American who says, “I’m sorry” when someone crashes into me, I began to doubt the existence of a Viking forebear.

From my daughter, more insights followed: “The resumes of Norwegians tend to be brief and factual. They don’t brag.”

I’d rather stick a pencil in my eye than puff myself up, so I put the Viking back into the family tree.

“Generally speaking, Norwegians are tolerant. You won’t hear them criticize people.”

Hey, I’m tolerant.  I try to guess the name of my Viking ancestor. Leif, Harald, Nils?

“There’s no real word for “please” in Norwegian,” my daughter says.

Whoa. Leif's days are numbered. “Is there a word for thank you?” I ask.

“Takk,” she says.

I’ll work with that unless someone far younger pushes me out of the way to snag a seat on the T-bane. If that happens, Leif’s toast. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Fine Print

I own multiple readers. Got a problem with that?

Me, I think Bush misplaced his reading glasses.

Reading glasses are all too easy to misplace. Those of us over forty put them on to peer at the computer screen, skim a newspaper article, or read a text message, then take them off to talk to a colleague across the room or across the building, and forget where we left them. People my age buy non-prescription multiples at the drugstore, Costco, or Sam’s and squirrel them away for peace of mind. No matter what happens: natural disaster or zombie apocalypse, we’ll be able to read the small print.

Jeb Bush’s identity may not have fused with his wife’s, but I bet he’s borrowed her readers. Ever been at a restaurant and seen one pair of reading glasses shared by a table full of middle-aged diners?

Unfortunately, Bush won't be able to borrow his wife’s reading glasses for much longer since everything about the appearance of presidential hopefuls is scrutinized. That scrutiny will keep him from wearing readers on a lanyard, tucking them into a pocket protector or hooking them over the neck of a tee shirt. If he peers at people over them, he risks looking professorial—a turn-off for some voters; if he attempts to read the printed page without them, he’ll either appear cross or cross-eyed.

Some eye doctors advise patients who are both near- and far-sighted to wear one contact lens to correct myopia and the other to correct presbyopia. Bifocals without lines or progressive glasses are another possibility, but I have no clue whether these options fit Jeb Bush’s situation.

I own several readers, and if Jeb ever has to fill out forms in my vicinity, I’ll lend him a pair. If you see me squinting at small print because I've misplaced my magnification, I hope you'll let me borrow yours.

Your turn. Do you wear readers or do you consider 10-point type easy on the eyes? If you use readers, how many times a day do you misplace them?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring? When Did That Happen?

Oh, redbud, how I love you.
I hit “print” on my last blog post just after Groundhog Day. That’s right, all of six weeks ago. Unlike Punxsutawney Phil, I didn’t plan to hole up in a burrow until spring arrived. Nevertheless, that’s what I did.

Happy spring. The view outside my burrow is green with pops of pear-blossom white and redbud pink. Still, I wonder where I misplaced February. And why is March racing past like a lamb chased by a lion?

I did go AWOL from the burrow a time or two. Most recently, I accompanied my mother to an appointment she’d made with an ENT--ear, nose and throat doctor—and an audiologist. She’s interested in hearing aids.

Unlike eyeglasses, hearing aids don’t provide instant gratification. They amplify volume but don’t do much to improve clarity of sound. That means wearers have to work at “active listening,” that is, listening to fill in for missed words while ignoring background noise. As long as a person wants to hear, the task is doable.

When the ENT asked my mother why she was interested in hearing aids, she answered, “My children think I need them.”

Oh, no.  That statement, while crystal in clarity, didn’t say she wanted to hear and would do what it took to adapt to aids.

Neither the ENT nor the audiologist pushed her. They’d heard what I did. Fortunately, the offer of a thirty-day trial appealed to my risk-averse mom, plus it posed a challenge.  She likes challenges.

Overnight, she decided to try the aids. “I don’t want to be isolated,” she said.  Fair enough. Hearing loss cuts people off from conversation, particularly from the asides, off-the-cuff comments, plays on words, and comebacks that help us understand the speakers' personalities and temperaments.

My mother will make her best effort with the aids, and I’ll come out of my burrow. It was cozy in there, but, like my mom, I don’t want to be isolated.

Your turn:  Is the weather in your part of the world spring-like or still wintry? Does warm weather propel you out and about, represent allergy season for you, or make you long for your puffy jacket and mittens?