Old But Still Worthwhile

Early last spring, soon after the city parks department installed these benches (a corresponding pair were placed on the other side of the park to take advantage of the morning shade), we held our own “dedication” ceremony.

Some of the park "Regulars"

Some of the park "Regulars"

Time for a Little Talk about Christianity and Reality Shows

1) TV is really bad these days, especially all of these talent-type reality shows. If these people were really all that talented, they would already be in show biz. Moreover, why do we have to have all these Brits and Australians judging and MCing these shows? I like an accent as much as the next person, but do they have to come with all that attitude? You can get a green card to work in the U.S. if you have some special skill, but I don’t think having an accent is any kind of skill at all. We’ve got so many Americans who can judge well, host well, and even be nasty if that’s what’s necessary to get viewers. I think we should just throw Simon Cow (Cowell? Cawell?) et al in Boston Harbor just like the tea!

2) If any of you reading this are still trying to use the bible and leviticus to maintain your prejudices against gay people, you shouldn’t be doing any work on Sundays, don’t be touching any pig (let alone eating any pork), your preacher better not wear glasses, and, oh, yes, go out and get you a few slaves because you can have some (well, somebody else could have you as a slave too, for that matter). After all these years, people just saying, “but the bible says . . .” just makes me sick. If you are one of them, you’re just a big ol’ hypocrite.

Hamburger Gravy

Skillet Gravy

Skillet Gravy

Last night for supper, I made pasta with meat sauce. As I was draining all the grease off of the ground beef, I remembered something funny that I hadn’t thought about in many years.

When I was in college, I lived in the dorm for three years. Then my last year my dorm roommate, two other guys–brothers–and I decided to get an apartment together. The other three were basically useless at cooking, and I didn’t mind it, so I ended up cooking most of the evening meals. For lunch and breakfast, we each did our own thing, either eating on campus or putting together a sandwich at home.

I grew up on a farm, but by that time my parents had basically retired, so we no longer had any cows, but while I was growing up, we had had both milk cows and cows we raised for beef. We always had all kinds of roasts and steaks in the freezers, along with hamburger, and I had learned to cook all of them.

In the apartment, the two roommates who were brothers still lived on a farm where the family raised their own beef, so they frequently brought meat from home. We usually made the hamburger meat up into patties and froze them. Then we could easily take out the number we wanted and cook them. Even my “non-cooking” roommates could fry a hamburger.

One time, though, they asked me if I could make hamburger gravy. Growing up on the farm, I had learned to make gravy from my mother. I knew how to drain off the grease from fried chicken, brown a little flour with the tasty bits that were left from the chicken, add some milk (sometimes water if there was no milk), put in a little salt and pepper, keep stirring while it thickened, and take it off the heat at just the right time for great tasting, fried chicken gravy. I could do the same if it was fried steak or pork chops. I also knew how to make tuna gravy and chipped beef gravy by making a white sauce and then adding the tuna or chipped beef. And yes, we even did make hamburger gravy. (See recipe here.) All of these–the tuna, chipped beef, and hamburger gravies, we loaded onto a slice of bread on our plates and ate.

So I told my roommates that I could make hamburger gravy.  (See link to Hamburger Gravy Recipe below.)  But their idea was to make gravy after you fried the hamburgers–not to make gravy with hamburger meat. They said their mom didn’t drain off the grease. I was doubtful, but they were hungry for the hamburger gravy that their mom made.

I tried it. To make it work, I was sure that I would need more flour, which I tried to brown into the hot grease. There was just too much grease to make the nice little tidbits of meat morsels and browned flour. I can’t remember now exactly what it looked like, but I decided to go ahead. The moment I poured the cold milk into the rest, it all became a big, congealed glob. This glob, of course, wasn’t the gravy my roommates’ mother made.

The rest of the time we all shared an apartment, they never asked me to make hamburger gravy again.

(So the socio-linguistic and/or cooking question is: Why can you make skillet gravy, but you would never make frying pan gravy?)


Would you like to know how I make gravy to go with steak and other meats? Go here.

If you like this one, you might also like, “Puddin’ Meat–Good Food for a Cold Morning”, Hamburger Gravy Recipe, and “Coffee Milk and Hopalong Cassidy”.


Re: Jury Duty

Someone commented that they were really dreading having to do jury duty. I think if you go with the attitude that you’re going to be doing something different for that day, it will be a positive experience. I live pretty close to downtown (when I originally wrote this post), where the courthouses (of all levels of government) are located and work downtown too, so I’m always interested in meeting people from the outskirts of the city, who usually don’t have a clue about much of downtown, so they don’t have any idea where to go to eat or even what most of the buildings are.

But even more importantly, I think you have to feel good because you are doing a service for your city, state, or country, which really is the basis of what the judicial system of this country was founded on: that even though we can be charged by law enforcement for a crime, it is really a group of our peers who decides whether we are guilty or not. This system is a rarity in the world, even in countries that we consider “free countries”. In most countries, one judge or a panel of judges decides the verdict. Think how bureaucratic that must be, when day in and day out these same judges are deciding the fates of people. Here in our country, each jury is fresh and unique, making a decision about another citizen’s innocence or guilt. (Think if you or your husband or wife or child were the defendant in a case. Would you rather have a judge who hears cases day-after-day-after-day decide your fate? Or would you rather have a group of fellow citizens who are listening to your case and only your case decide your fate?)

Something that was explicitly told to us, even before we were even put into a panel from which the final jurors were chosen: that the defendant is innocent until the state (or in this case, the city) proves beyond a reasonable doubt, that he is guilty.

That is also something different in many other types of judicial systems around the world–in some, the defendant must prove his innocence!

Fortunately, the process of what we would be doing that day was explained to us very clearly before anyone was selected for a panel (the larger group from which the actual jury is chosen).

What is unfortunate is who actually shows up for jury duty. The law says the defendant’s fate will be decided by a jury of his peers. Houston is a very multi-cultural city, and I would guess that the average age of all the residents is around early 30s. I’m also of the understanding that all residents who are citizens receive a jury summons from time to time. So who shows up for jury duty? The morning I went, there was a small group who appeared, less than20. The most surprising aspect was the age; the average age was at least 50, if not older. More than half of the group were white (non-Hispanic whites make up about 1/3 of the population of those who live inside the city limits), about 30 per cent were black, with the rest a sprinkling of Hispanics. Then when we were selected to be in a panel and went to the courtroom for the final jury selection (there were 14 of us), we were interviewed and had to tell our occupation. Twelve of the fourteen were either white-collar professionals or retired white-collar professionals or housewives (elderly housewives at that–nothing against their age, but how many others had decided not to show up?). In the end, six of us were picked for the jury, and the defendant in this case was an 18-year-old Hispanic guy. Of the six of us, there was one young woman, whom I estimated to be around 32 to 35 years old. As far as the rest, at 58, I’m sure I was the youngest of this group; as far as ethnicity, 3 white, 2 black, and 1 Hispanic. But I don’t think in the end, any of us felt as if were a peer to this 18-year-old defendant.

It’s a shame that others won’t go. It’s understandable in some sense because people who are self-employed or work by the hour probably will lose a day’s pay if they go to jury duty–you get $6 for a day of municipal court duty in Houston, Texas.

But it’s also what makes our system of government work. I think if those people who avoid going would just go, they would understand that better. It’s really part of the system that we say we believe in–as Americans–we say we love our democracy. Jury duty is really where we can truly be part of that democracy. We citizens make decisions that help make the whole system work. Think about that the next time you avoid going to jury duty by making some excuse.

Jury Duty

Today I had municipal jury duty. I’d been several times before, and so I expected it was going to be a long wait, just read my book, get really bored, and finally get let go to go home. Actually, it was part of that, but today I was chosen for a jury. I also learned some new things, the most interesting that Texas is just one of seven states that still allows those being charged with misdemeanors with only fines (not jail time) to ask for a jury trial. I really saw that it serves its purpose too. Knowing that expectant jurors are waiting pushes everyone–prosecutors, court officials, and defendants–to move along and get finished with the cases one way or another. Though there are some strange aspects of Texas law, I think this one is a good one.


This is my dog, Annie, a 5-pound (mas o menos), 2-year-old Papillon, who at this very moment has forced me into a game of fetch (she’s fetching–not me). She’s probably one of the best dogs that anyone could meet. And, by theway, I made the quilt that she is lying on.

Fishing on the flooded Smoky River

I never saw the Smoky Hill River flooded like that. It probably is an old photo taken in the very early 1900s near Dorrance, Kansas, where I grew up. (That’s where not when.) The Cedar Bluff Dam was built in Trego county in the late 1940s or early 1950s, so I doubt if the Smoky ever flooded like that afterwards. However, a lot of water could come from Big Creek up near Hays, Victoria, and Gorham, and that could add a lot of water to the river. Even though our house was just a quarter of a mile from the river, it sat high enough up that it never got flooded, but I remember our own little creek getting wide and flooding down into our barn, which sat on lower ground.