March 2008

Written on February 20th on a flight from Grand Rapids to Dallas

There is a young man in 13C, doughy and pudgy with round reddish cheeks and a youthful shaggy haircut chuckling at something he’s listening to on his ipod. He’s visibly and unashamedly enjoying a private joke the rest of us are missing. I look over my shoulder several times hoping to lock eyes. I think he would really like to share his private joke with someone, but we aren’t accustomed to making eye contact in public places so even though he looks my direction several times, he never senses that I’m watching him and would gratefully share his laughter. His seatmate is engrossed in a word hunt puzzle clipped from the local newspaper of the last town he visited. I can tell he’s been traveling on business. He has all of the trappings – his computer, an expensive watch, a textured, starched white shirt and well-polished shoes. The woman in 11B is engrossed in a conversation with her seatmate, but I’m not as interested in their conversation as I am in her shoes. They are a shiny-strapped low heel pump, the color of half-dried blood. Sorry if that is an offensive way to describe a color, but they aren’t red and they aren’t burgundy. They are somewhere in between. I am not a shoe person, but I find them fascinating and I’m dying to ask where she bought them.

The young man in 13C has laid his head back and is either sleeping or listening to something less stimulating. His seatmate has either finished his word hunt or given up because he, too is resting his eyes even though we exchanged smiles just before his head rocked back onto those famous adjustable headrests that American Airlines likes to tout.

Red shoes and prematurely balding dude (sorry, but that’s the best way to describe my limited view of him) are still talking. She’s got a copy of “The Mapmaker’s Widow” on her tray, but she seems content with the conversation so the book lies untouched.

Ok, I finally couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to know where she got those fabulous shoes. Timidly, I tapped her on her shoulder and admitted my lust for her shoes. “WHERE did you get those shoes, I have to know!” I braced myself – it would have to be some exotic store in some large city I would never visit. Perhaps she would tell me they are from a high end designer whose creations I could never afford. No story I imagined prepared me for her answer.


“You’re kidding!”

“No,” she replied gleaming. “Every girl should have a pair of ruby slippers at least once in her life.”

Ruby. That’s what they are! Not half-dried blood, but ruby like the jewel. The kind of slipper every girl ought to have at least once in her life. I leaned back in my seat, made a mental note to hit a Payless shoe store as soon as I could, and she returned to her conversation with her seatmate. 13 B & C are fast asleep, mouths wide open. Looks like a good place to be. Think I’ll do the same. Another hour without a toilet and most likely I’ll miss my connection in Dallas. Hopefully, I’ll be able to catch the last flight home. In the meantime, might as well sleep. Looks like a long night ahead.


On this day (March 15, 1965), President Johnson went before Congress and called for legislation that would guarantee every American’s right to vote


On this day (March 15, 2008) President Bush pretended like all of the problems with the economy will be solved by a pittance of a tax rebate that will barely pay down a week’s worth of debt most Americans are facing and ridding the federal budget of Congressional earmarks, another pittance in the economic quagmire (never mind that he’s been one of the largest offenders of the loopholed earmark system). He even managed to put the blame back on the American people who are not responding to the offers of assistance for mortgage counseling.

Forty-three years ago our president stood up for what was right and fought for the rights of those who had no voice. Today our (or someone’s) president pretended like there was no problem, refused to take a stand (much less responsibility) and deflected the blame onto those who are hurting.

You may not care for President Johnson, but he had the balls to stand up for people who were hurting and to take responsibility when things were going miserably. He at least showed up prepared, combative, sympathetic, and repentant  – even sorrowful – when  he was unable to navigate the country out of  a desperate situation.

 It all started when Vickie made Chicken Elegante for dinner two months ago. It’s one of those dinners that is best made a day ahead and reheated. The tarragon in this recipe knocked my socks off. I never thought about tarragon. Hadn’t used it very much and it wasn’t one of the herbs I’ve tried to grow.

But now I’m a huge fan of tarragon and it’s finding it’s way into everything I cook – even canned soup! (Yeah, I confess to the canned soup. But those Campbell Selects are pretty darn good and I don’t always have time to cook from scratch!)

Of course (as is often the case) one thing leads to another. Now that I’ve got a brand new jar of dried tarragon, I’m reminded of how old all of my other spices are. Time to replace them. Who knows what new tastes I’ll be enjoying when I use herbs that haven’t been languishing in the spice rack for years? I may even try growing herbs again this summer!

Chicken Elegante
2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper to taste
2 T. margarine, divided
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 T. all-purpose flour
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can low-fat cream of chicken soup
1 C canned fat free chicken broth
1 C skim milk
1/2 t. dried tarragon leaves
1 (14-ounce) can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
1 bunch green onions (scallions) chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. In a large skillet coated with nonstick cooking spray, heat 1 T margarine until melted over a medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove the chicken and place in an oblong baking pan. In the same skillet, melt the remaining 1 T. margarine and saute the mushrooms until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour, soup, broth, milk, and tarragon. Season to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cook, stirring about 5 minutes. Pour the sauce over the chicken and bake, uncovered, for 50 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven, add artichoke hearts and chopped green onions. Return to oven and continue baking for 15 minutes longer or until the chicken is done.
Servings: 6-8
Food Fact:
Artichokes contain a phytochemical called silymarin, which is believed to decrease the risk of skin cancer.
Calories: 225
Protein (g): 31
Carbohydrate (g): 11
Fat (g): 5
Cal. from Fat (%): 22
Saturated Fat (g): 1
Dietary Fiber (g): 1
Sodium (mg): 577
Cholesterol (mg): 69

I’m at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign for my on-campus session with students in my Civic Entrepreneurship Course in the Graduate Library and Information Sciences program.

It’s always a stressful time for me because they make such sacrifices to be here and I feel pressed to make it a very useful time. Fortunately, I have two things going for me. First, Jill (my GA for one more week) has done a great job organizing a field trip to the American Library Association Archives to research the historical roots of libraries as the university of the people and the center for civic education. Second, I have stayed in the Illini Union so often that it feels homey. It’s not my decorating style and the beds are not nearly as comfortable as my own, but it IS familiar.

Illini union

There is a really cool interactive map where you can see all of the rooms around here. Well, I guess I’ll climb under those scratchy sheets and get some sleep. After a hectic day of packing and then traveling, I don’t think I’ll have any problem sleeping. I’ve got a hectic day AND week ahead of me. If you don’t believe it, check out my calendar!

More later…