Saturday, July 9, 2016

Jaki Jean on making a pie . . . and wishing I could create text outside the written word

Today I decided to make a blueberry pie.

Now, there are many things I can do in the kitchen.  I can make a soufflĂ©, I can make a mousse, I can make a fabulous country pate. 

I can create a scrumptious rack of lamb, fierce ribs, amazing sauces.  My tamales are to die for, my chili rellenos are without equal.  I can make a moist turkey.

My challah bread is wonderful & was always a huge hit.  I am really fabulous at muffins & cookies. 

My gingerbread cookies & gingerbread houses are legendary.

But I cannot bake a pie.

My sister Janet Ettinger Douglas is the pie maker in our family unit.  My friend of over five decades, Sue McLauchlan Faulkner, bakes pies as gifts.  My friend Andres M. Dominquez bakes delectable pies for his family.

I cannot bake a pie.

Since Sam Luciano, a really cool English professor, posted about an Italian pie kind of thing that one could serve for breakfast, I have been obsessed with blueberry pie.
A pie with nothing but blueberries.

So, the Food section of the New York Times posted this: 

The Perfect Imperfections of Blueberry Pie

I do not follow instructions well.  This has been a problem for me for over sixty years.  (One only has to speak to my family & former teachers & professors to verify this).

But I follow a recipe the first time.  Except (there is always an exception) that I cannot be trusted to create a worthy pie crust.  So I bought Pillsbury.

The recipe calls for 8 cups of blueberries.  So, since I was used to buying blueberries in six ounce containers, I went on Excel & decided how many six ounce containers constituted a cup.

I then went to the store that was selling blueberries at a much lower price than my nearest store.  The containers were pint containers.

No one told me that a pint is two cups.  I bought eight pints.  All I needed were four.

I kept following the recipe, except for the crust.  I put the crust in the pie plate in the freezer for the required minutes.

(I really do want to follow instructions – I am just not always adept at it).

Eventually the pie came together – even with my refusal to make a homemade pie crust.

In Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, Lily Briscoe remembers Mr. Tansley, who, by the way, is an ass, whispering in her ear: 

“Women can’t paint, women can’t write ...”

I cannot knit, I cannot sew, I cannot create a quilt – I can do none of the textile things so connected to the written word & to my concept of text.

But, I can paint.  I can write.

And today, I baked a pie. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Jaki Jean on the Color Purple, the Color, not the novel . . .

A few days ago, my friend of five & a half decades, Sue Ann McLauchlan Faulkner, posted about the color purple.  The mix of red & blue color, not the wonderful novel by Alice Walker, the amazing film by Stephen Spielberg or the Tony award winning musical on Broadway.

I told her I had a story about the color purple.

During one of the times I lost my mind in my youth & got married when I was not even a month old 20-year-old, I shared a young niece with my husband.  I think she was four when we got married & one of two flower girls at our wedding.

She was fiercely possessive of her uncle – calling him “My Donnie.”  She called her parents by their first names, because that was how they addressed one another when my brother-in-law was not referring to his wife as “Clyde.”

Because she was blue eyed & blonde haired like her beloved Donnie & her parents had much darker hair & eyes, she insisted that Donnie was her real daddy.

The first time I met this little girl, she was in her purple room.  My sister-in-law was a talented interior decorator & her only child’s favorite color was purple.
My future niece crossed her four year old arms over her chest & confronted me:

Do you like frogs?  I like frogs.

When I assured her that I was very fond of frogs, she uncrossed her arms & declared, without words, a truce between her fiercest rival for her beloved uncle’s attention.

At some point, after our marriage, my brother-in-law presented his wife Clyde with the deed to a new house, a house she had never seen.  Using her natural & cultivated talent, she turned it into a showpiece.

With a purple room for their daughter.

When our niece was six or seven, her mother Clyde’s talents were displayed in a national magazine – “Better Homes & Gardens.”  Her daughter’s purple room was not part of the photo shoot.

My niece was furious – a precocious child (to say the least), she wanted her space in a magazine shoot.  Her mother explained that if she wanted her bedroom to be in a magazine, she would need to consent to a different color theme.

I suppose in the seventies, purple as a color theme was not an interior decorator’s ideal.

My niece consented to a change & sure enough, her bedroom was featured in another magazine a few months later.

But that precocious child had not given up on the color purple. 

Not long after Clyde created a stunning showpiece out of a dated house, my brother-in-law went into partnership with & invested in some jewelers.

He was already a successful player into the oil industry in a big way – investing in land oil rigs & reaping the profits.  I am not sure if his new jewelry partners created the Texas shaped belt buckle he wore – with a diamond marking the location of each of his wells. 

It drew a lot of attention – where ever he went.

The new partnership emphasized customizing Rolex watches.  Lot’s of diamond bezels & custom faces were involved.  The jewelers made my niece a necklace spelling out her name – with a diamond over the “i”.  Like most adults who encountered the bright, precocious little girl, the jewelers were fond of her.  She was very charming, in a seven year old way.

They also had Rolex create a special child’s watch – with a purple face.

My niece opened the gift, thanked the jewelers & asked, her enormous blue eyes displaying disappointment & confusion:

Where’s my diamond bezel?

The precocious, privileged child, who received so many Christmas gifts every year that every new Christmas season her mother Clyde opened a closet piled with unused toys & games & explained it was time to share with children who had very different Christmas memories, grew up to be a lawyer like her father. 

I always wonder if she still has that watch with a purple face.  And when she got her first diamond bezel.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Jaki Jean on Kris Kristofferson & my friend Caryn

This post is dedicated to Caryn Jaetzold, who was both my & Jean’s hairdresser for decades.  And a treasured friend.  Caryn used to discourage me from highlights when my hair turned mousy after the birth of my first son.  “God has only made one mistake – you should be a redhead.”

Almost twenty seven years ago, when I was living in DC & home for a visit, Caryn agreed to take care of my hair, after hours.  I took two bottles of champagne. 
The next day, I woke up a redhead.  Complete with eyebrows.

Caryn should know that many people in my life now only know me as a redhead – including my youngest son.  And that one day a few years ago, as I was working our local voting site during a crucial city election, one of the volunteers distributed sun screen & said to me:

This is really important for you, with that skin & red hair.

I laughed & as I lathered on sunscreen, I responded:

The pale skin & freckles are natural – the hair is Preference by Loreal 7LA.

And Caryn, our friend Jayne Pride commented:  I did not know that.

All of that is not the subject of this post.  But I wanted to introduce Caryn.  She is amazing & her talents & passions are not limited to choosing the right color for a skin type.

This particular post is about something Caryn shared on Facebook.  About Kris Kristofferson.

And I told Caryn I had a story about Kristofferson.

I am not sure when Kristofferson came under my radar.  It might have been when my cousin Suzanne Willimon Borgese took her baby sister Laura Newsom & I to see “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea”.  

Eventually, before the Internet, I learned that Kris Kristofferson was not only from Texas, but a Rhodes Scholar & a song writer.  A man who had a BA & Masters in Literature, who went to the Army’s Ranger school, & wrote songs. 

And what songs he wrote – the best were recorded by the best:   Sunday Morning Coming Down, Help Me Make It through the Night, Once More with Feeling, For the Good Times, Me & Bobby McGee. And so many more.

Over forty years ago, I lost my young & too unformed mind & got married.  My husband became a Christian (at my urging) & eventually, after we settled on a church (South Main Baptist here in Houston), he decided after a few years that we should take training classes to become Sunday School teachers.

Now, my friends, I was not then, nor am I now, a suitable candidate to teach Sunday School.  Because we were young, we ended up teaching 15 year olds – in separate classes.  I taught girls, he taught boys.

During that ill-advised teaching episode & equally ill-advised marriage, Kris Kristofferson did a remake of the Judy Garland classic “A Star is Born” with Barbra Streisand.  The girls in my Sunday School class were beside themselves.  They all saw the movie, more than once.  And each of them fell in love with Kris Kristofferson.

So I planned a field trip – I would take them to a Kristofferson concert held in what was once the Summit (home of the Houston Rockets) & now Lakewood Church. 
We went to the concert – Willie Nelson came out at the end for a duet.  

I dealt with the girls’  reaction to a smoke filled arena that was less about tobacco than marijuana.

After the concert, on the way to take them home, they were uncharacteristically very quiet.  So I asked, Did you like the concert?

They all maintained they did.  But one of them said what they were all thinking, because for them, Kris Kristofferson was John Norman Howard, the self-destructive & tragic male lead of a movie.

Jaki, he sings country.

I tried, in my twenty something way to explain that Kristofferson was not John Norman Howard, but a songwriter, a very interesting man with a difficult past.
That he was not the character he played in the movie. 

I am quite certain that they did not get it.  As I said, I was too young to deal with a group of five fifteen-year-olds.

Although my Sunday School lesson on birth control became legendary.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Every Memorial Day since the advent of social media, I am struck by the confusion between Veteran’s Day, created to honor all of those who served & still serve, & Memorial Day, created to honor all those who lost their lives fighting in the U.S. Military.

Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” after the end of the Civil War, to honor those who died in the nation’s internal conflict. 

Officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. *

The date of Decoration Day, as Logan called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

Southern states were not impressed & refused to participate, each state choosing its own special days to commemorate the fallen of those who lost the rebellion.

It was not until 1971 that “Memorial Day” became a national holiday under an act of Congress.

This day is about remembering the great cost of war, on all sides, in human lives & in the lives of those whose loved ones died.  It is about not forgetting that price & honoring those who paid it.

In families all across our country, there are generations who served & died.  It is those we remember today, those we thank & honor.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

About Forestry Supplies, GOP Surveys, Pink Hard Hats & my Friend Kim’s Birthday

Often I receive mail that makes no sense to me.  A magazine about bass fishing for my eldest son, who has not shared this address in years & as far as I know, has no interest in fishing for bass.  “Wired” magazine made more sense for my techno guru son.  “GQ” made about as much sense as bass fishing.

The most difficult for my Liberal bent have been the  missives from the Republican party.  Including a survey during this election from the RNC. 

Years ago, a much loved & admired young friend not only sent me a two year subscription to the National Review, but filled out paperwork in my name & donated to the Republican National Committee.

Little did my young friend know that William F. Buckley was a secret pleasure of mine, for the pure joy of his command of the English language & its nuances.  The RNC less so.

After months of phone calls & a myriad of requests to both the Fort Bend County Republican Party & the RNC, I thought I was finally removed from their mailing lists.
Until the survey.

But that is not what sparked this particular post.  It was today’s inexplicable catalogue from Forestry Supplies Spring Sales & New Products Specials.  Addressed to me.

I tried to decipher what I could have done to prompt Forestry Supplies to send me their spring catalog.  I have no need for increment borers, aerosol boundary paint, dibble bars, log grabbers, duckbill earth anchors or chain & bar oil.

The “rite in the rain” mechanical pencils appealed to me, but it has been decades since I felt the compulsion to write in the rain.  While outdoors, that is.

Then I turned the page of the catalog & spotted the hard hats – orange, yellow, royal blue, navy blue & white.

And I remembered the pink hard hat & slip on steel toed boots stored in a tote upstairs.

Both of which I wore in shipyards & walking through rigs under refurbishment.

Which, I realize, after writing over 300 words, is what led me think about Kim & her birthday.

I first met Kim as the CFO of a rig management company my employers, the owners of the rig being refurbished, hired to manage the refurbishment.  I was the assistant controller & Kim represented our most important contractor.  

Our positions & our companies’ interests often set us at odds against one another.   I represented the source of the project funding & too often Kim had to represent an opposing interest.

But she always handled each situation with grace & discretion & well thought analysis.  

My superiors were often outrageously demanding & too often encouraged me to follow their lead.  There were too many times when I went to Kim & demanded that she produce something that I knew she could not possibly guarantee.

To Kim’s credit, she never lost her poise or composure or her center of gravity.
And most often, delivered.

More importantly, & this is the center of this post, Kim & I became adversarial friends.  
And over the time of the doomed project, friends.  

Kim listened & gave me feedback I could not obtain from my own supervisor, who was consumed by building her dream $450,000 house.  Or her next vacation or plans for her family’s next holiday.  Or pictures of her children from the last holiday.

Kim came to see me when I was in the hospital (although I was still asleep) & left a lovely, thoughtful gift.  Kim sent flowers to my brother’s memorial service – casa blanca lilies with bear grass, my favorite.

We shared many lunches & many hours of talking things out.

The doomed project that brought us together ended up in bankruptcy & distanced us as law suits & court orders dominated my landscape.

But I found Kim on Facebook & I have been following her & her beautiful family for years.  When I first met Kim, she had two very young children, Ivan & Laila.  

Ivan is growing into the same handsome man as his father.  Laila is destined to be a beauty. Their two little sisters will no doubt become beauties like their Madre & sister.

I do not always like the woman I was during those pink hard hat & slip on steel toed shoes period.  I try to let her be, to forgive her, to let it go.

But I do like are the remnants I was able to salvage from that doomed project.  From that life.

Kim is more than a remnant.  She is a treasure I managed to reclaim.

Happy Birthday, Kim.  With love, Jaki Jean.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sometimes looking to the past does not bring resolution . . .

When I was not quite twenty, I got married.  To a man who was, like me, a virgin, a Democrat, a lover of ballet & the theatre & old black & white movies.  He also loved to grow mushrooms & gardening & camping (I did not share his affection for camping.)  

And he had a hairy chest.

I have always been a sucker for a hairy chest.

He was a graduate of the University of Texas (a finance major) who believed that UT gave one a liberal education, Texas A&M gave one a conservative education & the University of Houston was an amazing happy median between the two.

Our courtship & engagement were all too brief, & ill advised.  Even then, there were warning signs that would have caused an older & more experienced Jaki Jean to flee for self protection.

His mother, who was, in her way, an amazing survivor of a difficult childhood, called me “Peggy” – his ex-girlfriend’s name.  For a long time.  I feared she would call me Peggy at the wedding.  His parents were older – married older, waiting seven years for their first son & seven more for my husband.  They were already retired, their lives revolving around golf & bridge & Sunday brunch at the Country Club & their granddaughter. 

And for my mother-in-law, around her youngest son.

The warning signs that the too young to get married Jaki Jean did not decipher began to manifest themselves.  I choose not to relate the details – I believe my ex-husband has children & I think the details would hurt them if they ran across this post.

For me, those details made our marriage unsustainable.  So I called my friend Susie Morley, who was living in Austin & she handed the phone to Elizabeth Bacon, her friend & co-worker, who told me she would call her lawyer mother Mary Bacon to assist me in getting a low cost, uncontested divorce.

Mary Bacon, who later became a judge, handled my divorce for $250.00. 

Yesterday, frustrated by the elections & Brussels & all the terrorist attacks the media does not report, I ran across an old journal from my five year marriage.

Every Christmas, my husband would give me a Kahlil Gibran journal, blank pages with quotes from Gibran.  I picked one up out of a box & did not recognize the young Jaki Jean who wrote about a man she loved.  Planning a meal with candles.

So, I goggled my ex. 

He died recently at 65. 

He was four years older & would be 66 at the end of June (he was born a few minutes after  midnight on June 30, but his mother insisted the doctor backdate the birth certificate so that she could have a June baby.)

At first I did not know how I should feel about his death.

But 65 is too young to die. 

The failure of our marriage molded my relationships for the next few decades.  As my friend & lover Philippe once remarked:  “Your need to be free is inherent in your being.”

Philippe may have been on target – but I think my need was molded by the unsustainable problems in my marriage.  I was never again willing to take that leap. 

And there were offers.

Of course, as Kristofferson wrote for Janis Joplin:  “Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose / Nothin', don't mean nothin' hon' if it ain't free.”

It is difficult for me to mourn for him – in the sense that I mourned over the years for the man I thought I married..  I mourn for anyone who dies so young.  I mourn for his children & his family & friends.  I mourn for the young Jaki Jean who would have been devastated.

I find no resolution, experienced no closure.  Just incredible sadness.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Jaki Jean & Jean & Grandma Luna & Burning Books

This evening, as Jean & I watched Charlie Rose interview Marley Davis, the amazing 11 year old who collected over 1,000 books in which black girls were the main characters, I told Jean a story.

I told her how my high school friend Rachel Halperin introduced me to Andres & Amy Dominquez & how Andres introduced me to the writer, Angela Cervantes.

As I told Jean what I knew about Angela’s story, how a young Angela read books under the covers at night using a flashlight, I confessed that I did the same.

After I explained that Angela writes books designed for middle school readers, featuring Latina characters who were so absent from the books available to her in her childhood, I told Jean about “Gaby, Lost & Found,” & Angela’s new book, “Allie, First at Last.”

Jean asked Why didn’t you tell us?  About reading under the blanket?

As I tried to remember why, I faltered.  What did a young Jaki Jean think my parents Jack & Jean were going to do if they caught me?

In retrospect, Jack & Jean never would have caught me reading under the covers with a flashlight.  They never caught me leaving my bedroom at midnight to watch “Dr. Who” & they never caught me leaving the house before daylight, climb the stone fence, cross the desert & climb a hill to watch the sun rise over the mountains.

So I told Jean what I thought a younger Jaki Jean felt.

Because it was after my bedtime.  And there were rules about bedtime.  Because I did not want to stop reading under the covers.  Because I imagined it was forbidden & sometimes the forbidden is enticing. 

Looking back, I understand that a  younger Jaki Jean did not know how to tell Jack & Jean that she required more reading time.

Jean listened & then replied:

My mother once burned a book.

For a moment, I was stunned.  Not the same mother who read Jean “Pollyanna” or took her to the library.  I wondered what triggered this memory.  Had Jean been caught reading under the covers?

Was this memory triggered by watching The Book Thief (a fine book, a poor film adaptation) about a little girl who stole books from the piles burned by the Nazis?

So I asked Jean to tell me the story.

Jean told me that her brother Mansel & his first wife Pearl came to visit from their home in Australia.  Pearl left a book in the house on the farm when she & Mansel departed.

My grandmother Luna Sims burned that book.  Because, Jean tells me, Luna said it was unfit for Jean or anyone to read.

At eighty, Jean no longer remembers the title of the book.

But I went to the school library & checked it out & read it. Without my mother knowing.

Naturally, I asked Jean what she thought Luna found so offensive, and she said:

There were married characters having affairs.  Very mild in comparison to what we read today.

My mother Jean never forbid or burned a book.  She did censor me from watching certain horror movies until she came to realize that what I imagined from listening to my uncensored friends who watched the movies was worse that the reality.

Jean did, however, keep certain books on a high shelf in the bedroom closet she shared with my father Jack.  It was there that I discovered Harold Robbins novels & David R. Reuben M.D.’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex: But Were Afraid to Ask.”

I told Jean, after she relayed the story of how she kept reading the book Luna burned from her mother, that it is no wonder I am a bit of a rebel.  

And she smiled.

Which is about as fine as it gets, when your eighty year old mother smiles at the rebel she helped create.