Sunday, December 27, 2009

Storms of the Past

Several days have passed since the Christmas Eve Blizzard of 2009 but there is still ice and snow on the ground, another snowstorm predicted for later in the week. When I first moved to Oklahoma City, cold weather and snow was common. This year’s snowstorm is a rare occurrence and reminded me of some of the storms from my past.

After divorcing my first wife, it took a while before we sold our house. I wanted to move into an apartment complex called Woodlake that featured multiple swimming pools, tennis courts, both inside and out, racquetball courts, weight rooms and many, many singles. Not unexpectedly, it was full and there was a waiting list so I moved to another complex.

The apartments where I moved still exist. When I was there, the name was Chandalaque. I lived on the bottom floor of the two story complex and soon learned that it had little, if any insulation. Not only was it cold and drafty, you could almost hear a pin drop in the neighboring apartments. The winter that I lived at Chandalaque, snow covered the ground for what seemed like months. I remember because the complex sat off the road in an incline and I would have to help people get out of the icy parking lot every morning.

Chandalaque was across the street from Deaconess Hospital and many nurses lived there. My bedroom wall abutted the bedroom wall of one such nurse. She was blonde and pretty and had lots of male friends. At all hours of the day and night, her bedstead would begin banging against the wall, rocking my own bed, her moans of pleasure awakening me and usually preventing me from returning to sleep – at least quickly. I don’t know if she knew that I was an unwitting participant to her sexual activity and doubt that she cared even if she did.

Fresh out of my marriage, self esteem began slowly seeping back into my body. In the days of disco and before AIDS, easy sex and one-night-stands were common and I soon had female company of my own, giving the nurse a taste of her own medicine. I only lived at the complex for six months. I never met the nurse but she always frowned when we passed on the sidewalk.

No matter how deep the snow, it always melts when spring arrives. When my lease expired, I learned there was an apartment available at Woodlake. Renting a U-Haul truck, I backed up to my door and began loading, not worrying how I would extricate my couch and bed without help. Before I got that far, my close friend Mickey arrived. Maybe it was ESP because he knew I needed assistance and I had not called him – at least by phone.

Years have passed since that snowy winter spent in a drafty apartment complex behind the world’s horniest nurse. As I glance out my kitchen window and see the two feet of snow still on the ground in my backyard, I think about Chandalaque and it makes me smile.

Eric'sWeb

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Pully Bone Memories and Mama's Fried Chicken

Growing up in northwest Louisiana in the fifties, money was scarce but chickens were cheap. One of the meals my mom prepared at least once a week was southern fried chicken served with fresh-cut fried potatoes. Although I never thought about it at the time, the meal now ranks as my favorite southern comfort food.

My brother Jack and I both liked the wishbone, the piece of the chicken we called the “pulley bone.” He was older and usually ended up with it. Whichever one of us got it we would have a contest, each grabbing an end of the vee-shaped bone and pulling. The one of us ending with the biggest piece of the pulley bone could then make a secret wish guaranteed to come true.

The recipe is simple, with only a few basic ingredients, and the preparation straight forward. Still, no one could fry chicken like my northwest Louisiana mama. If I had a pulley bone wish today, it would be for a bite of her fried chicken and potatoes.

Ingredients:

1 chicken, e.g. wings, thighs, etc.
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ cup flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 ¼ cups milk
Preparation:
Combine chicken, salt, pepper, and the flour on large plate; toss lightly to coat. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until golden on all sides, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove chicken, pouring off excess oil.

Return the skillet to the heat and add milk, scraping pan to loosen any brown bits. Add chicken, skin side up. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until chicken is tender and juices run clear, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Eric'sWeb

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Haunting Caddo Lake Pictures





Marilyn and I visited Vivian, Louisiana in 2007 and took a few pictures around the Louisiana side of Caddo Lake. Caddo is like no place on earth, as you can see by these haunting pictures taken in late fall.

Eric'sWeb

Cheese Grits Casserole - a weekend recipe

When corn is ground, the resultant fine powder is corn meal; the coarse remaining product is grits. I grew up eating either grits or fried potatoes for breakfast and I don’t recall my Mom cooking hash browns.

I recently ordered a birth certificate for my Dad and learned that his real father, a person that neither of us ever met, was from Maryland. Dad always liked sugar in his grits, a preference normally observed by people from north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Having a father from Maryland may explain this anomaly.

My second wife Anne, even though from Oklahoma, loved grits as much as I do. On a trip to Massachusetts to visit Cousin Angela, we stopped at a restaurant for breakfast and were happy to learn they served grits. When we ordered our side dishes, the young woman waiting on us got a big grin on her face.

“I’ll be right back,” she said. She returned with six other restaurant employees. “Say grits again, “she said. They all cracked up when we complied.

Yes, it’s a fact that the word grits has at least two syllables - if you are from the south, that is.

Here is a recipe for an Oklahoma version of the tasty North American polenta:

Cheese Grits Casserole

1 ½ c. grits
3 eggs, beaten
1 ½ sticks butter, softened
1 lb. cheddar cheese, shredded
3 tsp savory salt
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. paprika
Tabasco sauce to taste

Cook grits in 6 cups boiling water, in a saucepan, for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Combine remaining ingredients in bowl, mixing well. Stir into grits. Pour into casserole. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour.

Makes 8 – 10 servings

Eric'sWeb

Monday, December 07, 2009

Disbelieving Parents and Backseat Sex

My parents bought a new two-toned blue and white Chevrolet station wagon in 1959. It had a V8 engine but it wasn’t particularly fast, nor did it get very good gas mileage. Still, it was the car in which I learned to drive, had my first wreck in, and the place where I engaged in backseat sex for the first time.

The old Chevy was horribly unreliable. It had the habit of dying and then not starting again for thirty minutes to an hour. Funny thing, it never happened to anyone else but me. When I came home late, my parents would reprimand me for using car trouble as an excuse. It seemed I was in a no win situation.

This went on for about a year, the car dying on me unexpectedly at least a dozen times. It never happed to anyone else and it was apparent my parents considered me a bald-face liar. Whenever I told them about the car dying and then failing to start, they would just frown and shake their heads.

This all changed one day as my mom and dad were on their way to Shreveport. Dad always had a lead foot and couldn’t bear to follow behind a slower moving car. The road from Vivian to Shreveport is narrow, hilly and has many curves.

On a short straightaway, Dad yanked the Chevy into the passing lane and stomped the gas pedal. A car was approaching from the opposite direction but Dad’s passes were always close. This time, halfway around the car he was trying to pass, the engine died. With heart in throat, he braked hard, let the car he was trying to pass pull ahead, and then got off the road, narrowly averting a head-on collision.

My mom and dad sat on the side of the road for thirty minutes until the car finally started again. They stopped at the Chevy place on the way home and left it with the mechanics, the problem diagnosed and cured a few hours later.

Carbon instead of wire filled the spark plug wires. One of the carbon conduits had a crack in it. When it got hot, the spark would fail and the car would die. When the wire cooled, the car would start again.

“I’m happy to find out you haven’t been lying to us all this time,” my mother told me.

I had mixed feelings about Mom admitting that they may have been wrong about my honesty. I never thought of myself as the dishonest sort, but when your own mother doesn’t trust you – well, it makes you consider all your other possible faults.

As I think about the old Chevy, I miss it. It wasn’t a perfect car but it always got me where I wanted to go, eventually, and managed to teach me a few lessons about life and human nature along the way. Hey, it was the car I learned to drive in, had my first wreck in, and the place where I engaged in backseat sex for the first time.

Eric'sWeb

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Oklahoma Butterflies





Here are two butterfly pictures, taken a few short months ago, to remind us, despite December's cold weather, that spring can't be too far away.

Eric'sWeb

Monday, November 30, 2009

Meeting the Southern Death Cult

Available on BN.com
Chicken Fries recounts an episodic ten days sitting a drilling oil well in Grant County, Oklahoma while staying in Wanda Jackson’s former RV.

Part of the story deals with the drilling of the well while another part expounds on many of the strange happenings going on in the area at the time – happenings that included cattle mutilations, crop circles and a County sheriff that seems to know all about it.

The story includes a midnight meeting with Ralph and Goldie, two people Anne and Eric suspect of Satanism. The reality is something quite different but still quite unusual. Here is an excerpt from the story Chicken Fries:

Hearing the throaty exhausts of a Harley pull to a stop outside the RV, we waited, listening to someone scrape their boots on the stair ramp leading up the door. Then footsteps –

Anne made a face as I opened the RV’s door. “Come in,” I said.

Ralph was not alone. A woman he introduced as Goldie his soul mate accompanied him.

Goldie had long blonde hair decorated with pink, azure and purple beads, and had big expressive blue eyes. She wore a leather-fringed jacket beaded with the same colors, along with American Indian totem signs. She seemed like a sixties flower child that had put on twenty pounds in the seventies to become the quintessential earth mother.

Ralph also wore a matching leather-fringed coat. For the second time since meeting him, I saw him without a hat or helmet. His dark hair was also long, draping almost to his shoulders and I could see that he was much younger than I had previously thought. Pointing to the built-in seating around the stationary table, I invited the Sonny and Cher look-alikes to join us.

“Would anyone like a beer?” I asked.

Ralph and Goldie both nodded so I brought a round of Coors from the RV’s little refrigerator before sliding in beside Anne. The lighting was dim. When Goldie began rolling a joint on the tabletop, the atmosphere became suddenly surreal.

The hallucinatory odor of burning pot permeated the RV as Goldie lit the joint, took a deep drag and then handed it to Ralph. After taking his own pull from the joint, he passed it to Anne. She took a hesitant puff and quickly passed it back to Ralph. Ralph shook his head and nodded in my direction.

I’m a non-smoker and no fan of the effects of marijuana, but I could already see the big picture. If Ralph and Goldie were going to impart their knowledge of Satanism and cattle mutilations to us, they first wanted us to join them in a simple illegal act.

Anne’s eyes grew large as I took the pencil-thin joint, drew a deep lungful of the smoke and held it for a long moment before blowing aromatic smoke rings toward the RV’s ceiling.

“Like it?” Goldie asked. “Home-grown from our own private patch.”

Goldie was grinning, as was Ralph and Anne. I soon realized that so was I. When I arose to get us more beer from the refrigerator I almost fell on my face.

“Creeper weed,” Ralph said. “It takes a while to catch up with you, but when it does –“

Anne lit a candle, put it in the center of the table and turned out the lights. Along with the pungent odor of marijuana, rising smoke and flickering candle light, all we needed was a little heavy-metal music. We made do with the chorus of crickets and tree frogs outside the RV. Finally, Ralph spoke.

“Word is going around that you’re meddling in things that aren’t your business.”

“Is that why someone tried to kill me the other day?”

“No one tried to kill you. That was an accident.”

It unnerved me that Ralph knew what I was talking about, even if it were an accident. The pentagram and dead chicken weren’t accidents,” I said.

“The boys was just trying to warn you to mind your own business.”

“Or?”

“Or nothing. They didn’t mean nothing by it,” Ralph said.
“We wouldn’t turn you in, even if you are Satanists,” Anne said.

Goldie laughed and rolled her eyes. “We’re not Satanists,” she said.

“Sheriff Arch called you Satanists. If he’s wrong about that, then what are you?” I asked.

“We worship the moon, the stars and the cycles of the earth and planets,” Goldie said. “Some people call us pagans.”

“Pagans?” asked Anne.

Warming to the conversation, Goldie spoke up and said, “It’s the oldest religion in Oklahoma, and maybe the world.”

It was my turn to ask, “How could you possibly know that?”

“Because of the excavations at the Spiro Mound sites in southeastern Oklahoma. The site was the hub of religion and government for prehistoric Indians for thousands of miles. The religion is connected to the Druids and Stonehenge and is likely the world’s oldest religion.”

Ralph droned in. “Like the people at Stonehenge and Spiro, we still celebrate the cycles of the earth and stars.”

“You worship cycles?” Anne asked.

“We worship the universal pulse that controls everything,” Goldie said. “We call ourselves the Southern Death Cult, after one of Spiro’s branches. Some of the followers are part of the Buzzard Cult.”

“How many followers are there?” asked Anne.

“Thousands likely,” Ralph answered. “No one exactly knows but there are branches all over the world.”

“And what about cattle mutilations?” I asked.

“We naturally get blamed for lots of things we don’t do. Sometimes coyotes kill cows in these parts.”

“What about the removal of udders and sexual parts with almost razor-like precision? How could a coyote, or any other wild animal, do that?” I asked.

“Bacteria,” Ralph answered. “It’s a proven fact that if you leave a carcass outside in these parts, bacteria will remove those parts in a matter of hours.”

Anne caused my heart to skip a beat when she asked, “Yeah, if you aren’t Satanists, then how do you explain your use of human sacrifice?”

The looks on both Ralph and Goldie’s faces told me that Anne had offended them. Like experienced diplomats, they both took deep breaths before speaking. Before answering, Goldie rolled another joint.

After making a production of lighting it, she took a deep drag before passing it to Ralph. Ralph took his own deep drag and I could see by the expression in his dark eyes that Anne’s comment had not made him happy. This time, when he passed the joint to Anne, she also took a long toke, as did I when she handed it to me.

As a Vietnam vet, I am far from a virgin when it comes to drugs. I like beer, but that doesn’t mean that I have never sampled the weed. This weed was different. By my second puff I was stoned. I stifled a giggle when I observed the hurt expressions on Ralph and Goldie’s faces.

“The Southern Death Cult doesn’t practice human sacrifice,” Ralph finally said. He giggled himself when he added, “maybe a chicken or two, but nothing more.”

At this point, Anne began laughing uncontrollably and Goldie, Ralph and I soon joined her. I staggered up to the refrigerator and got us more Coors.

When I returned with the beer I asked, “If you don’t practice human sacrifices then why have a name as ominous as the Southern Death Cult?”

“We couldn’t have made that one up if we’d tried. Southern Death Cult is the original name the Indians used. No one really knows why.”

“So why all the secrecy if you’re not really Satanists?” Anne asked.

“Oklahoma is the hub of the Bible Belt. The only Southern most of our neighbors understand is Baptist. What we came to tell you is you got a problem with the well.”

“What kind of problem?”

“The spot you are drilling on is hallowed, an old Indian burial ground.”

“Are you sure? I never found anything in the literature. How do you know?”

“It’s been passed down and there’s a curse against anyone ever making use of that spot of land. You’re drilling almost the exact location.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and neither could Anne. “What should we do? We’ve spent too much money to quit now.”

“This ain’t about money. It’s about sacred land. You got to make amends.”

“Or what?”

At this point, Goldie’s facial expression went from a pretty smile to an angry frown. Standing from the table, she said, “Seems like we’ve done all we can, Ralph. Let’s get the hell outa here.”

“Now wait a minute,” Anne said. “My father was a Baptist minister. You can’t just come in here and tell us that you’re members of a cult called Southern Death and that you are descended from Indians that believe in cycles of the universe and expect to convert us in one fell swoop! Tell us what it is you want us to do. At least respect us enough to give us a chance.”

Anne’s tirade caught them both by surprise, as well as me. Goldie and Ralph exchanged glances and Goldie resumed her place at the table. I went to the refrigerator and got us more beer. Then I said, “Now, please tell us what to do.”

Ralph drank some beer and leaned forward in his seat. “All right,” he said. “If you’re really serious, this is what you need to know.”

I know now that Ralph and Goldie are not Satanists - they’re Pagans. Pagans exist everywhere, even here in Edmond. It’s been many years but, since it is autumn again, a mystical time of the year, maybe I’ll just take a drive to Blackwell and see if they’re still around.

Eric'sWeb

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Edmond Ghost Creek - Picture



Here is a picture I recently took of the creek that runs through my neighborhood. I call it the Edmond ghost creek because skunks, foxes, possums, and possibly ghosts and spirits use it as a conduit for moving around, undetected, through the housing developments.




Monday, November 23, 2009

The Place You're Meant To Be

I plan to winterize the dog’s shed early this year because I think we’re in for a cold winter. I also cranked up my hot tub because it’s always great to sit in it when the wind is blowing and the mosquitoes have disappeared for the season. It all reminds me of an exceptionally cold winter, some years ago.

I’m not sure of the year but I think it loosely coincided with the first Gulf War. Anne and I were at low ebb financially, but we were somehow managing to eke out a living. We were renting a house in an Oklahoma City neighborhood called Summerfield. The house was small but had a small pool and a hot tub.

Our house backed up to a creek with water and many trees. Because of the creek, we had critters visit us every night – skunks, possums, foxes and armadillos. They became so tame that I could open the sliding glass door and actually feed them out of my hand. My vet had a fit when I told him this.

“They could get rabies. You want them to bite your cats?”

I didn’t but I apparently had a better opinion of my cats’ intelligence than did my vet. They would never back up from a fight but, likewise, they weren’t much for starting one either.

A large unfixed stray tom lived in a drainage pipe near our house. He was wilder than the wildest skunk or fox, and he wouldn’t tolerate a human coming near him. Well, at least at first. Soon he was lying on the couch on the back porch and would even let me pet him – once or twice maybe.

The winter grew so cold that I draped plastic sheeting around the back porch to keep out the wind. Big Cat liked it and would lie out on the porch all day, but at night, he would disappear to chase field mouse, squirrels, or whatever. He didn’t bother my other cats and they seemed to feel safer because of his presence.

Leon and Dan, two trivia friends had dropped by one Friday night. A cold front had moved through the previous day and there was ice on the pool. I had the hot tub cranked so that it wouldn’t freeze, and Dan, Leon and I decided to take a dip.

When I say it was cold, I mean gray cold, a wind blowing so hard that it would freeze the moisture in your eyebrows.

“I’ll jump in the pool if you two will,” Leon said.

“You’re crazy,” I said.

“I’ll do it,” Dan said. “A quick cold dip will be good for us.”

Dan was smart; a PhD candidate in economics from OU, but it didn’t stop me from raising my frozen eyebrows.

“You’re both crazy as hell,” I said. “You won’t last thirty seconds.”

“We’ll be fine,” Leon said. “Our body temps are elevated because of being in the hot tub. I can’t believe you’re such a pussy about this.”

By this time, it had begun to sleet, the wind whipping like a proverbial banshee, the wooden deck around the spa rapidly growing slick.

“Who is the pussy?” I said, pulling myself out of the hot tub and racing the short distance across the slippery deck, to the pool.

“Geronimo!” I yelled as I hit the icy water.

Dan and Leon followed me into the pool. Dan was correct. Our body temperatures were elevated to the point that contact with the icy pool didn’t cause us to have instant heart attacks. That didn’t mean we could stay in the frigid water for very long. We hurriedly climbed out and immersed our bodies in the hot water of the hot tub.

We repeated the plunge into the pool at least two more times before rushing into the house, toweling off and then sitting in front of a roaring fire for at least half an hour.

I loved the little house but it had a structural defect – its foundation had split in the middle, something we geologists call a down-to-the-basin fault. The prognosis was dire and Anne and I began looking for a new place to live. Like the first Gulf War, winter ended and I somehow managed to sell a prospect, allowing us to move into improved digs.

I couldn’t find Big Cat when it came time to move because I don’t think he wanted me to find him. I did see him one last time. He stood a hundred feet away, looking at me, not coming when I called. He finally turned and walked away - stopping before disappearing into the drainage pipe that he called home. He seemed to dip his big head toward me, as if saying, “We had a good run, but this is where I’m meant to be.”

There’s a warm breeze blowing tonight, a big golden moon in the sky. My dog Lucky just died and I’m missing him, and thinking about that last cold winter and that old big cat. It saddens me, and makes me think that the only real thing we actually have on this old earth is the here and now, and maybe the only place you’ll ever be happy is that drainage pipe in your heart that you call home.

Eric'sWeb

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pascal's Manales Bread Pudding - a weekend recipe

I have used Pascal’s Manale as a setting for two stories, both featuring Mama Mulate, my fictional voodoo mambo/Tulane English professor. In the short story Conjure Man, Mama visits Pascal’s during a hurricane to visit her much younger boyfriend/bartender. In my novel Big Easy, Mama and Wyatt Thomas seal a partnership that sets the stage for the stage for the French Quarter murder mystery.

There is no better place on earth to eat a few dozen oysters and drink cold Dixie Beer while waiting on a table to dine on Pascal’s signature barbecue shrimp and finish up with what may be the best bread pudding in all of New Orleans.

Below is the recipe for their bread pudding straight from the Pascal’s Manale website.

Ingredients:3 Loaves French Bread
15 ozs. Raisins
½ Gallon Whole Milk
½ lb. Sugar
10 Eggs
½ Pound of Melted Butter
3 ozs. Vanilla Extract

Directions:
Cut French bread into cubes. Pour milk on French bread. Let milk soak into bread. Add the remaining ingredients to French bread mixture. Mix with hand until blended evenly. Pour mixture into ungreased pan.Pre-heat oven at 350 degrees. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Makes 15 or more servings.

Topping3 ozs. Brandy
1 lb. butter
8 ozs. sugar
2 ozs. vanilla extract

Let butter sit at room temperature until very soft. Add the remaining ingredients and blend with mixer until smooth. Pour over bread pudding.

Eric'sWeb

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Big Black Dog Named Chuck

Several years ago when my stepdaughter Shannon was living with Marilyn and me, she brought home a big black Rottweiler. She is a sucker for animals and according to Marilyn, was always bringing home a stray dog or cat, or bird with a broken wing when she was young.

The dog’s name was Chuckie. He was big and black with white and tan markings. He was around ten years old and had belonged to an old woman that was going to a nursing home. There was no one else to take the dog and if Shannon hadn’t come along the only other option was the pound. Shannon moved to other digs shortly after bringing Chuckie home. Even though she dropped by regularly to take care of him, much of the feeding fell upon Marilyn and me.

Chuckie was old but he was an imposing animal, weighing in at well over one hundred pounds. We have a large pen on the north side of our property and Chuckie took to it right away. I was a little afraid of him and we got off on the wrong foot. The first week that he was here, I went into his pen to fill his water bucket with the hose. It was after dark and I’d had a few toddies. After filling his bucket, I turned to leave the pen only to find my way blocked by the big dog, his teeth barred as he emitted a low-throated growl.

I thought that I was a goner but walked slowly toward him and said, “No Chuck, you sit,” as sternly as I could muster.

Chuck didn’t sit but he did stop growling and let me move past him without tearing my arm off. I learned the next day that Rottweilers are territorial, and that before the old woman adopted him, Chuckie had lived with a man that often beat him when he got drunk.

“He doesn’t like men,” Shannon told me the next day as she arranged his food bowl and water bucket closer to the fence so that I didn’t have to go into his pen.

“Thanks for telling me,” I said.

From that point, I was determined to make friends with the giant dog. Every morning when I went for my morning paper, I would stop by his pen and give him treats. Every day when I got home from work, I would take him treats. Soon, he would jump up on the fence and let me rub his ears

The first time it rained after he moved in with us, I looked out the window and saw him standing in his pen, getting soaked. Considering the time that I had spent in the rain, in the boonies of Vietnam, I decided that he needed shelter – the sooner the better. I had a six-foot length of wooden fence in the yard so I lifted it over the fence and made a quick and dirty lean-to. I covered the structure with black plastic sheeting to shield it from the rain. Within minutes, Chuckie got under the lean-to as if he had lived there all his life.

When Shannon visited, she would let him out of the pen and allow him to run around in the back yard. During these times, I improved Chuckie’s lean-to by adding cedar chips. Before winter arrived, I got him a big doghouse and he loved it.

Soon, I was comfortable enough with the big dog to let him out of his pen even when Shannon wasn’t there, and I was happy to learn that he was just a big overgrown puppy. When I sat by the pool, he would rest his large head on my knees and let me rub his ears. He also liked to swim in the pool.

Shannon often took him with her during the day. He loved riding in the back of her truck, hiking with her and swimming in the nearby lake. Chuckie had found a home but that is not the end of his story.


Chuck had lived with us a couple of years when we noticed that he had a tumor on his belly. We watched it for a while and could tell that it was growing. Shannon’s vet finally told her he needed to remove it. He did and Chuckie was in horrible pain for what seemed like hours. He wouldn’t lie down because of the pain in his belly, despite the efforts of Shannon and Marilyn to soothe him. Finally the pain killers kicked in and he fell into an exhausted sleep.

The operation worked, at least for a while. Chuckie was more energetic and responsive during this time and I have little doubt that it was the best days of his life. The tumor stayed gone for around two years before recurring. This time it was much worse, Chuckie had grown quite old for a Rottweiler and suffered from hip problems (a common genetic trait of Rottweilers).

Chuckie’s health soon began degenerating at a rapid pace and it was obvious that he was in constant pain. One day, Shannon took him for his last ride in the back of her truck to their favorite hiking trail by the lake. The old dog could barely walk but it enjoyed lying in the shallow water one last time. Finally, she took him to the vet, gave him one last ear scratch and had him put to sleep.

My big Lab Lucky is also getting old, now eleven. He lives in a large pen (quarter acre) on our property with Velvet and Patch. Marilyn and I were considering putting him in Chuckie’s old pen so we had it cleaned out last week and reseeded with grass. Yesterday, I strolled through the enclosure with my Pug Princess.

The pen is large – twenty by thirty feet, at least. Several large trees provide plenty of shade, although there is enough sun to lie beneath on a chilly day. One side faces the road and honeysuckle vines cover the chain link fence. What I found at the end of the pen was a very healthy clematis plant with eight purple blossoms growing amid the honeysuckle. The essence of their beauty reminded me what a wonderful dog that Chuckie was and what a pleasure he was.

The big black dog was an abused castoff, neglected most of his life. He was intelligent, had a wonderful personality and had probably dreamed doggie dreams of having a real friend someday. I am so thankful for Shannon and her soft streak. Because of her, he got his wish.

Even though Chuck and I got off to a rocky start, I came to love that big black scary-looking dog, and I miss him now.

Louisiana Mystery Writer

Friday, September 04, 2009

Ghosts, Spiders and Blood-Warm Water


As I walked to the swimming pool last night, a spider web caught in my hair and shoulders. It didn’t scare me but it reminded me of a section in my novel Ghost of a Chance. Buck McDivit is lost on eerie Caddo Lake at night near the place where he has recently seen a ghost. Here is a short excerpt from Ghost of a Chance.

Ghost Excerpt


The friendliest of country roads can become creepy as a carnival ghost house after dark. The road to Deception proved no exception. Thick fog wisped up from hot blacktop and danced across the roadway as Buck swerved to miss a darting rabbit. The frightened animal scurried into the forest, oblivious to its near demise.
Buck bypassed downtown Deception and found the boat waiting where he’d left it. The motor cranked on the first pull and sent a swirl of vapor curling up from the surface of the lake. Foggy haze continued to thicken as he adjusted the bow light and motored away from shore.
Heavy fog began rolling in as Buck neared the center of the lake. The boat's tiny light provided scant illumination, even on a clear night. Now it was all but useless. He quickly lost sight of land but, thanks to the continued effects of Richardson's brandy, wasn't immediately bothered by the lack of visibility. His blithe oblivion didn't last long.
Within minutes he'd lost all notion of direction and rocked the fuel tank to reassure him that he had plenty of gas. The heft of a half-empty tank only added to his growing concern. As marauding mosquitoes buzzed his head, a distant rumble interrupted the chorus of crickets and frogs - a non-muffled engine. Another boat was on the lake and Buck couldn't tell if it was approaching him or moving away.
"Hello out there," he called, his cry eliciting no response except for silence in the creatures of the lake.
As Buck listened for a reply his boat struck something in the darkness. The collision sent him sprawling. As he pulled himself off the bottom of the boat, he realized he'd rammed one of the old wood-framed drilling platforms. Luckily, he'd struck it at an angle. When he grabbed for a plank, a sharp splinter pierced his hand causing him to recoil and bang his head against the platform. Worse yet, red eyes glared up from the darkness beneath the platform.
When Buck gunned the throttle the motor raced, along with his heart, but the boat remained in place. The impact had thrown the engine out of gear, sticking the boat in brush trapped beneath the musty old platform. Now the boat rocked precariously amid dank odor of stagnate water and dry rot.
As Buck's little craft floated in a circle beneath the platform, it passed through elastic strands of a large spider web. Claustrophobia chilled his neck as the web encircled his face. Forgetting the racing engine, he grabbed the platform and yanked the boat out from under the planking. With hand and head throbbing he slammed the boat into gear, motoring blindly into what he hoped was open water. Again he heard the high-pitched whine of another boat.
Buck threw the engine into neutral, fear of striking a cypress tree or another platform in the thick fog fresh in his mind. After raking the spider web from his face he called for help again and listened for an answer. No help arrived as he felt something crawling down his shirt.
"Hey out there! Can anyone hear me?"
Buck's cry faded as a powerful light penetrated milky fog. It was attached to a fast boat powering straight toward him. Standing, he began waving and yelling.
"Here I am!"
The boat's approaching wail sounded vaguely familiar to Buck but it was too late to worry about it. As it streaked past, its wake lifted his boat almost out of the water. The little craft remained afloat but rocked dangerously. Then he heard the other boat turning for another pass.
Buck held on, waiting for the swell to subside. The wake had swamped the motor, stalling it. When the boat stopped rocking he yanked the starter cord but the motor only sputtered and died with a sick sounding thump. He had little time to worry about the stalled engine.
The marauding boat's headlight blazed through the fog, powering directly toward him. With little time to react he abandoned ship, diving overboard before the speeding boat plowed into his own craft with a tremendous crash and an ensuing explosion of wood. The wake of the collision sucked him to the bottom of the shallow lake, pinioning him in the murky ooze for a long, terrifying moment. When the wake passed, releasing the suction, he tried to kick toward the surface, his arms flailing against swirling muck and slimy vegetation. But something had his foot in its clammy grasp and refused to let go.
The crooked branch of a submerged tree, part of the rotting mass of vegetation at the bottom of the lake, had trapped Buck's foot. He struggled but his futile attempt served only to deplete what little oxygen was left in his lungs. Despite his efforts, he gained no leverage against the algae-covered stump.
Buck's eyes bulged, his head threatening to explode, his lungs desperate to gasp something, even blood-warm water, into them. Just before losing consciousness he felt icy fingers encircle his ankle. Ephemeral hands freed his ankle from the sunken tree and pushed him toward the lake’s surface. Stroking upward in near panic, he belched foul liquid from his lungs as he burst from the black water.
The first cognizant sound Buck recognized was the boat returning at high speed for another pass. Ducking beneath the water, he plunged back to the bottom of the lake just as the boat passed directly overhead. This time no sunken vegetation entrapped him and he bobbed to the surface, coughing up water but in no imminent danger of drowning.
Fog cloaking the lake showed signs of lifting and moonlight illuminated the silky sheath with a pulsating glow. It left Buck with the sensation of being trapped in a giant Lava Lamp. Having no better plan, he dog-paddled toward what he hoped was the shore. It wasn't. Only rotting vegetation impeded his forward motion, tangling him in scummy tentacles. Tearing loose, he back-stroked into open water.
A dozen or so strokes brought him to the edge of the lake where his feet finally touched shallow bottom. Neck deep in lily pads, he remained in stagnate water until he'd caught his breath, his thoughts turning to poisonous snakes and prehistoric fish with mouths full of razor-sharp teeth swimming around him.
A breeze began blowing fog off the lake and the moon soon poked a small hole in its gossamer shroud. What he saw frightened him more than the thought of an alligator swimming between his legs. Through the underbrush, not more than twenty feet from where he stood, were Humpback and Deacon John floating silently in their boat. Both carried automatic weapons.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Kansas Dirt Cake - a recipe

Here is a recipe I found on the web. The author (unknown) suggests that you serve it in a flower pot complete with gummy worms and artificial flowers. Sounds gummy, I mean yummy!

2 pkgs. vanilla instant pudding
2 ½ cups milk
1 8 oz package of cream cheese
½ stick of butter
¾ cup powdered sugar
12 oz. Cool Whip
1 pkg. Oreo Cookies

Mix the vanilla pudding and milk in a medium size-mixing bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Mix cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the vanilla pudding and mix until thoroughly blended. Add the carton of Cool Whip and mix until blended.

Line 9 x 13 in. pan with Oreo cookie crumbs. (I use 2 Oreo crusts and mash the crusts up with a fork. You need one crust for the bottom of the pan and one to put over the pudding mixture.) Pour pudding mixture into the pan and spread the rest of the Oreo crumbs on top. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Eric'sWeb

Friday, August 14, 2009

Oven Baked Caramel Corn - a recipe

My mother loved peanuts, pecans and popcorn and was always searching for recipes to use these ingredients. Here is one of her recipes for a dessert that combines all three ingredients. I loved it then and I think you will too.

Oven-Baked Caramel Corn

· 6 quarts freshly popped corn
· 1 cup unpopped corn
· 1 cup dry roasted peanuts
· 1 cup pecan halves or pieces
· 1 cup margarine or butter
· 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
· 1 cup sugar
· ½ cup light corn syrup
· 1 tsp salt
· ½ tsp baking soda

Combine popped corn, roasted peanuts, and pecans in a large roasting pan. Melt butter in a large saucepan; stir in sugars, corn syrup, and salt. Bring to a boil; boil 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat; stir in soda.

Pour sugar mixture over popped corn and nuts; stir well. Bake at 250 degrees for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool and store in an airtight container. Yields 6 quarts.

Eric'sWeb

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Barbecue Shrimp - a recipe

Earlier, I told the story of my first visit to New Orleans, and to the Court of Two Sisters on Royal Street in the French Quarter. Here is a recipe for Barbecue Shrimp (one of my personal favorites) that I found on the restaurant’s website.

Barbecue Shrimp
Ingredients:

48 large shrimp, heads on
4 tbs. Ground black pepper
½ tsp. Cayenne pepper
½ lb. melted butter
1-cup water
½ lb. melted butter
(DO NOT add salt)
French Bread

Procedure:
Select 48 (approximately 2 ½ lbs.) 16-20-count shrimp with heads on and place in a shallow baking dish large enough to contain shrimp in a double layer. Add water and one half pound of butter. Sprinkle shrimp with black pepper and cayenne and cover with second half pound of butter.

Place in a hot oven (375 to 400 degrees) and roast for ten minutes. Turn with a large spoon and roast for another ten minutes until shrimp are an even robust pink. Serve with extra loaves of French bread to mop up the delicious liquor created by the butter and roasted shrimp. Serves 4.

Eric'sWeb

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fading Memories and Watercolor Dreams


A creek runs through the area where I live and trees, ferns and creepers grow thickly around it. As I walked past it today, I had to step around a tree that had fallen across the sidewalk. Long dead, it had shattered when it hit the cement. One protruding branch looked like an arm, extended, perhaps, in a last attempt to break its fall.

The fallen tree reminded me of the bony remains of an old man. It also reminded me of an email I got from longtime friend and fellow North Caddo High graduate Clarice White Stephenson. Clarice grew up in Oil City, ten miles down the road from Vivian. She asked me if I remembered something. She has a poetic gift with words and this is part of her query:

“I dreamed about "old" Oil City last night, in particular the Chester Hotel that used to sit next to the Ford dealership. It was on the way home from school on the rare occasions my mother allowed me to walk with a friend. The unpainted frame hotel was never open while I remember it. It sat on the east side of the "old highway" and railroad tracks, and there were usually old men sitting on wooden benches under the porch overhang.”

I do not remember the old hotel so I asked my Aunt Dot. Her husband Bert grew up in Oil City, his parents the owners of the Pourteau Hotel and Café. She didn’t remember the Chester either but reminded me of the proximity of Bert’s hotel to the train tracks. The same track continued through Vivian, Myrtis, Rodessa and Bloomberg, and there were similar train tracks that ran through Belcher and Hosston.

These little Louisiana towns are only ghosts of what they once were - no longer the boomtowns that king cotton and big oil built. Some vestiges, like the fallen tree across the sidewalk, remain but many of the buildings and people that populated them are now little more than a close friend’s fading memories and watercolor dreams.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Softball, Pizza and Red Bikini Briefs

With the temperature approaching triple digits as I began my walk today, my thoughts regressed to a time when my then business partner John and I sponsored a men’s slow pitch softball team. We did not win many games but we drank lots of beer, and the team was great for PR.

Most of the players on the team were geologists, or at least married to one. John and I traded off pitching duties. Neither of us could claim to be either a great pitcher or wonderful athlete, but since we footed the bill, we took advantage of our power. No one complained because we also picked up the tab for the beer and pizza after the games.

We usually went to a now defunct pizza chain called Shotgun Sam’s because they were kid, and obnoxious softball player, friendly. It was a common occurrence for the rowdy members of the team to become even rowdier after a few pitchers of beer. One night, they became more boisterous than usual.

The evening started with an unexpected win on the softball diamond. Our exuberance began with lots of rah-rahs and high fives, and continued as the entire team and their families gathered to celebrate the win at Shotgun Sam’s picnic-style tables. What started out as rowdy soon became even noisier.

The management was usually tolerant because we always spent lots of money, and the pizza place served as a haunt for many other loud softball teams. Things would have been fine, except for one of the players dancing exhibition.

Terry was a geologist and single at the time. Caught up in the revelry, he stood on the table and began dancing to a Creedence Clearwater Revival record blaring on the jukebox. Even that might have gone unnoticed, had everyone at our table not began chanting, “Take it off.”

Terry was no shrinking violet. Except for my friend Mickey, I have never known another male that liked to take his clothes off in public more than Terry. He quickly stripped down to only his red bikini briefs when the stunned manager could take no more.

Out of coins, the jukebox stopped abruptly, and all sound ceased in the large open room as the angry restaurant manager stood glaring at me, hands on his hips. Quickly, I handed wife Anne a handful of ones and nodded toward the jukebox. Instantly getting my drift, she hurried toward it.

My hand was still on my wallet and I extracted a hundred dollar bill that thankfully I had stashed for such an occasion. “We are so sorry for the disturbance. We don’t win many games and this was a special celebration. If you will take this for your trouble, we will calm down, finish our beer and pizza and leave.”

The jukebox fired again at just that moment, filling the room with sound before the man could answer. His expression quickly changed from anger to disbelief as he slipped the Benny into his shirt pocket.

“Fine,” he said. “Just hold it down to a mild roar.”

Duly chastised, we finished our beer and pizza in relative tranquility, but the people present that night, even after twenty years, have yet to let Terry live down his red bikini briefs.

Eric'sWeb

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pugs in the Pool

This is starting out to be one of the hottest Oklahoma summers in years. The temperature exceeded one-hundred degrees more than once in June, an unusual occurrence, and will probably top the century mark many times before September. Because of the weather, I have settled into an after dinner routine.

I usually turn on the backyard lights, fire up a few Tiki torches and then sit by the pool until well after dark. My two pugs, Princess and Scooter, always accompany me. Sometimes I take my laptop and write by the light of the moon, fireflies and torches. I usually swim a few laps in the pool and then sit on the steps at the shallow end, playing with the pups.

Scooter is fearless and loves the water. Princess accidentally fell in once as a pup and is more leery. Tonight, Scooter jumped down into the few inches of water covering the highest step. Feeling cocky about his accomplishment, he jumped out and chased Princess as she watched with curiosity. Close to the edge, he bumped her a bit too hard. She tumbled into the water, he following her. The plunge surprised them both.

They were only a few feet from the steps so I calmly pointed them in the right direction and watched as they scampered out of the pool and began shaking the water off. Thankfully, neither seemed too traumatized by the experience.

I petted them both, removed their wet collars, dried them with a towel and then gave each half a chicken strip. Dogs are like humans. If something scares them, they often go out of their way to avoid the experience again.

Some well-meaning people dunked Lucky, my Lab in the pool as a pup. It frightened him to the extent that he never wanted to go swimming, even though it is in his retriever genes. Something similar happened when my Mother was young. She had a frightening experience in the water and consequently never learned to swim, but made sure that my brother Jack and I did.

I hope tonight’s pug dunk has no adverse effect on them. For Scooter, I am almost positive he has already forgotten about it. I not so sure about Princess, though. Like my Mother and Lucky, she may already have a permanent phobia, further strengthened by tonight’s dip.

Eric'sWeb

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lemon Vinaigrette Grilled Chicken with Arugula

I am always looking for tasty recipes that are also healthy. I found this recipe in an insurance company’s member update brochure, the author or authors not credited. It sounds so good, and healthy, that I am sharing it.

Lemon Vinaigrette Grilled Chicken with Arugula

Ø 4 packed cups baby arugula leaves
Ø 2 packed cups baby spinach leaves
Ø 6 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Ø ½ tsp salt
Ø ¼ tsp ground black pepper
Ø 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Ø 1 lb. skinless and boneless chicken breast, cut into 4 pieces

Heat grill to medium-high heat. If using a ridged grill pan indoors, set over high heat until very hot. In large mixing bowl, combine arugula and spinach. Cover and refrigerate

In small mixing bowl, whisk lemon juice and salt until salt dissolves. Add ground pepper and whisk in oil until combined. Set dressing aside. One at a time, place each piece of chicken breast between two pieces of wax paper. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, pound chicken until evenly 1/8-inch thick. If chicken pieces are thick, turning over several times may be necessary. Coat chicken lightly on both sides with cooking spray. If desired, season lightly with salt and pepper.

Grill chicken until white in center, turning once, about 3 minutes each side. While chicken grills, pour dressing over greens. Using tongs, turn until well coated. To serve, place one piece of chicken on each of 4 dinner plates. Mound ¼ of salad on top of each. Makes 4 servings.

170 calories, 5 g. total fat per serving

Eric'sWeb

Monday, July 13, 2009

Okie-Italiano Pasta Sauce - a recipe

Commercial coal-bearing sediments are located at or near the earth’s surface in many parts of eastern Oklahoma. Coal, first mined in Oklahoma in 1873, resulted in miners from many European nations immigrating to Oklahoma. They brought their culture and cuisine with them.

These German, Italian and eastern European immigrants adapted their culture and cuisine to the lifestyle of eastern Oklahoma, its people and its food sources. They learned how to brew Choc (short for Choctaw) beer from the Indians, and adapted their native cuisine to fruits, vegetables, etc. grown in Oklahoma.

The largest Italian population west of the Mississippi once resided in western Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma, and many wonderful restaurants such as Venetian Inn, Mary Meister’s, Pete’s Place, Isle of Capri and Roseanna’s still serve authentic Arkansas/Oklahoma-influenced Italian fare. Here is an Italian pasta sauce recipe with an eastern Oklahoma/western Arkansas flare.

v 28 oz whole tomatoes
v 12 oz tomato paste
v 1 med onion, chopped
v 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
v ¼ tsp black pepper
v ½ tsp thyme
v 1 tbsp parsley
v 1 tbsp oregano
v 1 ½ c Arkansas red wine (yes, grown from native grapes)
v 2 tsp salt
v 1 tsp sugar
v 1 tbsp olive oil
v ½ c chopped green pepper
v ½ c mushrooms

Use a 6-quart stew pot to sauté onion and green pepper in olive oil. When onion is soft and clear, add remaining ingredients, except the mushrooms. Stir well. Simmer over medium-low heat for at least an hour (longer is preferable). Add mushrooms 15 minutes before turning off heat. Buon appetito, pardner!

Eric'sWeb

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Storyville

I realized there was something exciting and quite different about New Orleans the first time that I visited the city. Today, if you go south on Canal Street you will eventually end up at the Mississippi River. The City is in the process of rebuilding, but if you had followed Canal to the River before Hurricane Katrina you would have encountered many tourist attractions such as the Aquarium of the Americas, the World Trade Center and the Canal Street Wharf. Unlike today’s tourist-driven atmosphere you would have found something quite different had you taken the same journey in the 1950's.

I first visited New Orleans during the Eisenhower Era and remember standing on south Canal Street and staring down the hill toward the Mississippi River. New Orleans is a major international seaport and what I saw was a bunch of seedy bars that sailors from many countries frequented when they were in port. The bars were off-limits to American military personnel, and for good reason. They were dangerous, the women you met there "loose," and venereal diseases rampant.

"Those bars are a good place to get killed," my Aunt Carmol, an ex-marine during World War II and no shrinking violet herself, had told my brother and me. "Don’t ever go there."

The Canal Street bars were long gone before I ever had the opportunity to defy Aunt Carmol’s advice. Still, even as a youngster I felt the potential danger and lingering intrigue present around nearly every corner of New Orleans. One less dangerous but very intriguing place that was eventually cleaned up by the U.S. Navy was Storyville, the Big Easy’s early-day fantasy land that did as much to establish the City’s reputation as a latter-day Gomorrah as anything else in its history.

During the early days of New Orleans there was a shortage of females. To alleviate this situation, street prostitutes were released from French prisons on the condition that they migrate to the new colony. In 1744, the number of bordellos and houses of prostitution prompted a French army officer to comment that there were not ten women of blameless character in New Orleans. City-wide prostitution continued until 1897 when a puritanical city official devised a plan to control the problem. The plan resulted in the formation of Storyville.

Locals called Storyville "The District." It existed from 1897 until 1917, the concept of New Orleans’ alderman Sidney Story. Story’s plan wasn’t to legalize prostitution, but to control it by defining the boundaries within which it would not be prosecuted as a crime. The concept worked for nearly two decades and ironically the District became one of the City’s leading tourist attractions.

Despite the belief of many - likely propagated by fictional accounts in literature - Storyville wasn’t located in the French Quarter. It encompassed an area north of the Quarter, just east of Canal Street between N. Rampart and N. Claiborne. Elaborate bordellos, fancy restaurants and dance halls quickly appeared and flourished, along Basin, the street that became a legend because of its association with early jazz.

Jazz flourished in Storyville, although it didn’t originate there. Each bordello was a place for music as well as prostitution and each establishment generally had a piano player to entertain its guests. The bordellos often hired bands to perform, as did the restaurants and clubs that sprang up in the District. Jazz superstars such as Buddy Bolden and Louis Armstrong often performed there. Storyville was near a train station and many visitors to the City also frequented the bordellos and the clubs to listen to jazz. These visitors, as well as sailors of all nationalities, took this new sound back with them to their cities and countries of origin.

In 1917 the Secretary of the Navy was Josephus Daniels and his nickname "Tea Totaling" perfectly described his tolerance for sin. Daniels insisted that New Orleans either shut down Storyville, or else he would close the naval base across the river in Algiers. The base provided too much income to New Orleans for the City fathers to see it close so they shut down Storyville instead.

A wave of Puritanism swept across the United States during the era of World War I and the residents of New Orleans weren’t exempt from this phenomena. Embarrassed by Storyville, city fathers began systematically dismantling the District. In the years following 1917, all the elaborate bordellos were demolished leaving only a metaphorical scar in place of nearly two decades of irreplaceable history. Even the street names were changed, world famous Basin Street becoming North Saratoga.

Toward the end of World War II, city fathers made yet another planning blunder. Soldiers were returning home from war and needed a place to live, so the Iberville Housing Project was built on the site of Storyville. Never spoken about in travel brochures or in tourist information, the low-cost Iberville Housing Project quickly became dangerous and crime-ridden. Close to the French Quarter, the Project was a place to avoid at all costs instead of the tourist attraction that the District had once been.

Even with the dismantling of Storyville, prostitution never left New Orleans. It simply spread out across the city to places like the seedy bars frequented by sailors on south Canal. Unlike south Canal, transformed now into a tourist attraction rather than a city blight, the area around Storyville remains largely unknown and off limits to tourists.

New Orleans’ city fathers made a colossal blunder when they demolished the historical District. They compounded their error when they covered up their mistake by building the infamous Iberville Project. Finally realizing their horrible error in judgment, they did return the name Basin to the famous street that was home of legendary jazz and fabulous bordellos.

New Orleans still exudes a well deserved aura of danger and intrigue and there are still more than enough historical sights to see, even though one of the most famous is forever gone. Few vestiges of Storyville remain, yet like the tang of Tabasco Sauce on the palette, its memory remains long after the last spicy bite of Etouffee has been consumed.

Louisiana Mystery Writer

Devilicious Cheese Balls - a weekend recipe

I love cheese balls and found this recipe on the back of an Underwood Deviled Ham wrapper. I haven’t tried it yet but the recipe sounds yummy, and Marilyn promises she’ll whip up one for Father’s Day. I can hardly wait!

2 cans (4.25 oz. each) deviled ham.
1 (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 package (.04 oz.) dry ranch style dressing
½ cup diced tomato
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded Cheddar cheese
½ roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds

Directions:
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except sunflower seeds. Refrigerate until firm enough to handle. Form into a ball and roll in sunflower seeds. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes one large cheese ball.

Eric'sWeb

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dave's Sausage Balls - a weekend recipe

My wife Anne, like myself, was a boxing fan. When she was alive, we often hosted fight parties for many championship-boxing events. There was always lots of beer. Our friend Ray immortalized in my story Chicken Fries would always bring brownies.

Dave, my friend who sold me my first motorcycle would bring his famous sausage balls. Later, when times were tight, just Anne, Dave and I would get together for a fight. One fighter we never missed was Mike Tyson.

Tyson, at the time, was still young and going through opponents like an Oklahoma tornado. When scheduled to fight a no-name boxer, Buster Douglas, no one wanted to watch the likely one-round event except the three of us.

I do not remember much about the evening, or the fight, except that Buster Douglas connected with Tyson’s jaw and knocked him clean out. I also remember Dave’s sausage balls. This week, Dave was kind enough to send me his sausage ball recipe. Here it is and I hope that you enjoy them as much as I did.

Basic Version

3 cups biscuit mix (Bisquick or similar type mix)

1 lb. bulk sausage

½ lb. grated Cheddar cheese

Combine the sausage and cheese first, then add the Bisquick mix until the mixture will hold together, mix thoroughly with hands (or spoon, easier with hands), mixing is easier if the sausage is warmed slightly in a microwave first. The amount of Bisquick mix used to hold the whole thing together will change as you change the type of sausage used. Now, form mixture into balls (about a ping-pong ball size), a perfect ball shape is not important, in fact it is better if formed into odd shaped imperfect balls. You can freeze you balls for baking later or bake now. I like to bake now and freeze for heating later in microwave.

Place balls on non-greased bake/cookie sheet and bake in over at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, but check after 12 minutes.

That is the basic recipe, now for the Cajun version:

Cajun Version

3 cups biscuit mix (Bisquick or similar type mix)

1 lb. bulk sausage (sausage can be any type you like, as long as it can be broken up and mixed with the other ingredients, I sometimes use hot sausage)

½ lb. grated Cheddar cheese (extra sharp cheddar cheese is the best to use)

From now on, you are on your own to add what ever floats your boat, some of my favorites are:

1 nice sized onion - chopped

Several cloves of garlic - chopped

I sometimes put several drops of Tabasco sauce on each ball before cooking. It leaves a very nice red color on each ball and adds a good kick. Note: If while mixing, you are having drinks, or whatever, the Tabasco sauce goes on the Sausage Balls. Enough said?

Then mix, bake as above and enjoy.

Eric'sWeb

Monday, June 15, 2009

Nutrias, Yashicas and Warm Pots of Gumbo

I visited New Orleans for the first time when I was eleven. My Aunt Carmol was an elementary school teacher, and she made sure my brother and I saw every historical site, museum and park in the City. Having grown up in rural northwest Louisiana, New Orleans was the first cosmopolitan area I ever visited. It was not the last, but it remains in my mind as the most unique city in the United States and perhaps the world.

My first visit was not my last. As a college freshman, I marched in the Venus parade during Mardi Gras, experiencing Bourbon Street and the French Quarter for the first time as an adult - or at least close. Most of that particular visit was spent in a drunken haze, much in the manner of college students today visiting the City and savoring Mardi Gras for the first time.

I worked in the City once during summer break from college. My job title was assistant micro-photographic technician seismologist. From my salary of two dollars per hour, you can tell the description was just a bit overblown, but it did look good on my resume. I bought my first camera that year - a 35 mm Yashica range finder, and New Orleans provided a plethora of scenic opportunities.

Shortly after that sweltering summer I married a girl from Chalmette, a city separated from New Orleans only by name. My marriage to Gail did not last but during our seven years together, I learned to love her French Acadian parents, Lily and Harvey, and her entire family. It is a shame sometimes that you cannot divorce a wife and keep her family.

Gail had two brothers, six sisters and many aunts, uncles and cousins. Most were wonderful cooks but none better than Gail’s mother Lily was. No two pots of gumbo are ever exactly alike. I know because I have consumed my fair share. Taste, as I guess just about everything else, is subjective. That said, Lily’s gumbo was the best I ever tasted and, in my opinion, the best in the world.

Harvey, Gail’s father, was a cattleman and fur buyer. During trapping season, raw fur filled the shed behind Harvey’s house. He gave me a lesson once on how to grade a nutria pelt. Like calculus and religion, the lesson did not stick. One short story - Harvey and Lily once found six-hundred dollars in cash in their deep freeze. They did not have a safe and trappers do not take Visa or MasterCard.

Eric's Web

Monday, June 08, 2009

Dr. M's Louisiana Cattle Ranch

Harvey, my former father-in-law raised cattle and had a small pasture behind his house in Chalmette where he ran a few head. Harvey had an old friend, a doctor that had a large cattle ranch in the eastern Louisiana town of Vidalia. Dr. M became very wealthy when a company found oil and lots of it on his ranch.

Shortly after the discovery of oil, Dr. M retired from medicine and spent his days trading stock and traveling. A devout Catholic, the Pope granted him and his family a private meeting during a visit to the Vatican. Dr. M was also a member of the Krewe of Rex and had once paid a million dollars for the privilege of being King of that Krewe during one Mardi Gras season.

Wanting to experiment with different breeds of cattle, Dr. M hired his old friend Harvey to oversee the operation. Relishing the challenge, Harvey and wife Lily began splitting their time between Vidalia and Chalmette. On a trip to Chalmette, Gail and I stopped along the way for a visit to the ranch.

Dr. M and his family rarely visited the ranch any more so Lily and Harvey had the main house all to themselves. The living room, I remember, had a large mirror on one wall made of one-way glass. Dr. M was apparently a voyeur and liked watching his guests through the one-way glass from an adjacent room that most knew nothing about.

The ranch was two full sections of land and abutted the levee on the west side of the Mississippi River. Harvey and Dr. M were trying to establish a new breed of cattle for the area - Black Angus. The weather turned out too hot and humid for this breed and the experiment ultimately ended in failure.

The ranch had a bunkhouse large enough to accommodate a dozen hired hands, if needed. During our visit there was no seasonal help and Gail and I had the bunkhouse to ourselves. We spent the day touring the ranch, examining the barns, stalls and cutting pens. Lily seemed unhappy when we left the following morning and I am sure she missed her large family in Chalmette.

Perhaps Harvey was also missing Chalmette and his own cows because shortly after our visit, he quit his job as foreman and he and Lily moved back to their own home. Gail and I were glad to see Lily happy again, but I am also glad that we had the chance to see Dr. M's large working cattle ranch before Harvey finally quit.

Eric's Web

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mother's Fresh Blueberry Pie - a weekend recipe

There are three blueberry bushes in my parent’s backyard in Vivian, Louisiana. Each year, blueberries fill their branches and my mother provided Brother Jack and me with countless jars of blueberry jam, and fresh blueberries for pies, etc. When Jack and I cleaned out the house last week in anticipation of selling it, Marilyn gave me one specific order.

“Bring home a cutting from one of your Mother’s blueberry bushes.”

Inclement weather accompanied us to Louisiana and back again. The tarp used to cover the bed of the truck ripped in the wind long before we made it to Atlanta, Texas, our cuttings whipped and torn by the wind by the time we reached Oklahoma. I transplanted my cuttings into Oklahoma earth, damp from days of rain. Will they survive? I am keeping my fingers crossed.

While sorting through a box containing numerous cookbooks and many individual recipes, I came across this recipe for fresh blueberry pie. I hope that you can find blueberries as tasty as Mom’s. If you can, you are in luck.


· 1/3 cup flour
· ½ cup sugar
· ½ tsp. cinnamon
· 4 ½ cups fresh blueberries
· 9-inch unbaked pie shell
· 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
· ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
· 1 cup flour
· ½ cup butter or margarine

Combine 1/3 cup flour, sugar, cinnamon and blueberries. Mix well and put into pie shell. Drizzle with lemon juice. Combine brown sugar and 1-cup flour. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Spread topping over berries. Bake for 30 minutes at 425 degrees, and then cover with foil and continue baking for 20 minutes more. Enjoy.

Eric's Web

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Motorcycles, Fast Cars and Strong Beer

My first wife Gail became a player on a softball team shortly after we moved to Oklahoma. Oklahoma is a hotbed for women’s softball. The kind usually seen on ESPN is fast pitch. Gail played third base on a slow pitch team.

Gail’s new friend Vickie, who played second base, and her husband John, soon became our best friends. Not realizing that Gail and Vickie were already friends, I had met John when we inadvertently sat together at a game. Our wives were losing badly to a much better team. Some of the opposition’s husbands and boy friends began expressing their distain by braying like deranged jackasses whenever our team committed an error, or someone on their team hit a homerun.

John and Vickie liked doing many of the same things as Gail and I. Like us, they were both avid campers, but that was just one of the many things we did together. John, it seemed, liked everything that I liked – motorcycles, fast cars and strong beer. He also had a strong attraction for British sports cars.

When I met him, he had two Triumphs, a TR3 and a TR4 that he was restoring. I badgered him so much that he finally sold me the TR4, and along the way, I sold him my Triumph Bonneville 750 motorcycle that I had grown tired of riding only during the day. In those days British cars, and motorcycles, had electronics by Lucas.

For those aficionados out there, you already know that many called Lucas the “Prince of Darkness.” This is because of the propensity of the lights and wiring of cars and motorcycles using Lucas Electronics to fail at the most inopportune times. When the headlights would abruptly go out while driving the TR4 at night, I was deft at restoring power by manipulating the wiring behind the dash, all the while never removing my foot from the gas pedal.

Our marriages to Gail and Vickie are both defunct but John and I are still friends, even after several decades. I also still have the TR4, now parked in my garage, desperately in need of a new restoration. After all these years, I sometimes have to restrain myself from braying like a deranged jackass when I see someone performing at less than one hundred percent.

Eric's Web

Monday, May 04, 2009

Shrimp and Plum Kebabs - a recipe

I have found a new website that features many wonderful recipes for healthy eating. Please check out eatingwell.com. This recipe for shrimp and plum kebobs immediately caught my attention. Toss quick-cooking shrimp, juicy summertime plums and zesty jalapeños with a simple cilantro-lime marinade for a deluxe meal in minutes. If you like, use peaches or nectarines in place of the plums and red or green bell peppers for the jalapeños.

3 tablespoons canola oil or toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
3 tablespoons lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
12 raw shrimp (8-12 per pound), peeled and deveined
3 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded and quartered lengthwise
2 plums, pitted and cut into sixths

1. Whisk oil, cilantro, lime zest, lime juice and salt in a large bowl. Set aside 3 tablespoons of the mixture in a small bowl to use as dressing. Add shrimp, jalapeños and plums to the remaining marinade; toss to coat.

2. Preheat grill to medium-high.

3. Make 4 kebabs, alternating shrimp, jalapeños and plums evenly among four 10-inch skewers. (Discard the marinade.) Grill the kebabs, turning once, until the shrimp are cooked through, about 8 minutes total. Drizzle with the reserved dressing.

Eric's Web

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Unlikely Results in 134th Kentucky Derby

I love racing, every manner of racing from autos, to bobsleds, to humans on foot. This afternoon, I witnessed a race that people will remember forever – the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby. A 50-1 long shot, a horse purchased for only $9500, won by almost 7 lengths.

Louisiana jockey Calvin Borel brought the winner Mine That Bird home on a sloppy track, hugging the rail and winding through traffic. Mindful of the importance of the victory, Borel paraded Mine That Bird around the track Instead of heading directly for the winner’s circle.

The trainer, Chip Wooley, a relative unknown in the sport and now a first time winner of the Kentucky Derby, had driven the horse from New Mexico, a twenty-one hour drive, with a broken leg from a recent motorcycle accident.

Three heroes emerged from this historic race: Borel, Wooley and Mine That Bird. I watched the event in rapt amazement, wondering how a well thought out movie script could have conveyed more emotion.

Eric's Web

Friday, May 01, 2009

Life's Little Speed Bumps

Still early spring in Oklahoma, the day began as wet and cool. Sometime after lunch, the sun came out and I decided to clean my spa, a task to which I was not looking forward. The problem, I quickly learned, was worse than I imagined.

While Marilyn and I live in the city limits of Edmond, we have no city water. Our house is on a well and septic tank. The water is palatable, yes, even healthy because it is loaded with minerals. Well, healthy for humans, that is.

There is so much calcium in the water that it clogs the pipes and hampers the cleaning ability of our dishwasher. The water is “hard.” Yes, we have a water softener but it never seems to stay ahead of the hardness problem. Because of the minerals in the water, our spa is a nightmare to maintain.

Water evaporates quickly in central Oklahoma making it necessary to add water to the spa almost every day. This means the ph of the water increases every time you add more water. The spa water was dark from dirt, sand and plant debris that had blown into it over the winter, so I decided to drain it and start over. Once the last drop of water drained from the fiberglass shell, I realized I had a larger problem than I had anticipated.

Thick calcium deposits coated the walls and bottom of the spa. My first thought was to throw up my hands in defeat and return to the house for a cold beer. No way, I told myself. I will not let this little problem get the best of me. Grabbing a gallon of vinegar, rags and a stiff brush, I went to work removing the calcium scale.

Commercial vinegar will remove some scale but is woefully lacking when it comes to strong deposits. What should I do? I wondered. My problem, I knew, was a simple lack of chemistry skills. I was not even sure if increasing the ph made things more basic, or vice versa. I was unaware of the fact that I am chemistry challenged until I left home to go away to college.

I had to take many science and math courses to complete my degree in geology and one requirement was twelve semester hours in chemistry. While I like cooking, and creating meals by systematically adding ingredients, I soon learned that the study of chemistry is, by nature, much more precise. Not a precise person, my last chemistry course almost became my undoing.

Advanced qualitative analysis was my last chemistry course; at least I think because I have tried for years now to block it from my mind. I had flunked the course at least once. Maybe it was twice, but I have effectively blocked that little failure from my psyche. This was the only course I had left to complete my degree.

My last semester occurred during the Vietnam War and undergrads deferred from serving as long as they maintained their grades and did not graduate. Because of this, colleges across the country experienced record enrollment. So many young people wanted to attend college that it became necessary to weed many of them out. Advanced qualitative analysis was one of the courses administrators used to accomplish their goal.

Most students completed this course their sophomore year. I was not so lucky. I quickly learned it was my nemesis and likely my undoing. I had a Dee, just barely, going into the final exam. I was far from the best student at the university, but I prided myself in never groveling. As the final exam drew near, I thought better of my pride. Catching the Prof in the hall alone one day, I took the opportunity to plead my case.

“This is my last required course,” I said. “If I don’t pass it, I’ll be drafted. If this happens, I know I will die in Vietnam without a degree. Please, please help me,” I begged.

When I checked the test results, posted on the door outside the chemistry lab, I saw that only twelve out of two-hundred and fifty students that had taken the course had passed. I was one of them. Even though I was last of those that had passed, I felt like the king of the world.

Years have passed since taking that last chemistry course but I thought about it as I pondered how to remedy my spa’s calcium problem. After checking the internet, I realized I needed to lower the ph. Luckily, I had two bottles of ph reducer. Add two capfuls, circulate for thirty minutes and then recheck the ph, the directions said.

I honestly attempted to follow directions, but after an hour had passed, I realized I had done little or nothing to change the high ph of the spa water. To hell with this, I thought as I dumped the entire bottle of ph reducer into the spa. Tomorrow I will check the spa’s chemistry again and hope no one takes a dip before then.

Eric's Web

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cork from a Pig's Ass

Today’s economic crisis is old hat for me; I have lived it all before. Wife Anne and I suffered financially for ten long years after our oil company failed in the eighties. We somehow managed to pay our bills, mainly because we pared our lifestyle down significantly. We went to the movies and out to eat once a week, and spent only cash because we had no credit cards.

Despite our spare existence, money was tight, hardly anyone drilling for oil or natural gas, or buying prospects from an independent geologist. We did not have much in the way of assets, just a huge glass piggy bank filled with coins from years of collecting.

“We won’t raid the piggy bank until we just have to,” Anne said. “I know there is at least a thousand dollars there and it will last us a while if we need it.”

Things grew tight many times but years passed without the necessity of breaking the piggy bank. Finally, the fateful day arrived. The big glass pig had a large cork in its rear. We removed it and poured the coins into a pillowcase.

We had no bank account because we had legal judgments against us as principles in the failed oil company. If we had maintained an account, one of our creditors would have garnished the proceeds and taken them. Because of this, we simply picked a bank at random, walked in with our booty-filled pillowcase and asked a hapless cashier to convert the coins to bills for us.

There was not, much to our dismay, anywhere near a thousand dollars in the pillowcase. The cashier showed us the printout from the coin counter and handed us two-hundred-fifty-two-dollars and fifty-two cents. I felt like someone had kicked me in the gut and Anne almost started crying as the cashier counted out the money.

We had no health insurance for years and could not afford to go to the dentist. If we had a toothache, we just suffered. It was not that we weren’t making money. When I was lucky enough to sell a prospect, we were the recipients of lots of money. Problem is, you never knew how long you had to make it last. Still, we always seemed to do better than minimum wage.

After finally cracking the piggy bank, Anne told me we both needed to get real jobs. “Except for oil and gas, you’re not qualified to do anything except maybe teach. If we don’t sell a prospect in the next ten days, we need to find a job, even if it’s sacking groceries.”

There was a joke going around at the time that went something like this: When a petroleum geologist applies for a job at McDonald’s, the manager rejects him because, “All our geologists have Master’s degrees.”

I have no regrets toiling in the oil and gas profession. Oil, quite simply, is the most important commodity, with the possible exception of water, on the face of the earth. Life as we know it would shut completely down if we had to rely on wind, solar, water or nuclear energy, even for a single day. Yes, burning oil pollutes the atmosphere and we should stop. We have better uses for the oil anyway – drugs, plastics and so many other things without which we cannot endure. Problem is, there is no substitute now.

People that rail against the oil industry are like vegetarians that wear leather belts and shoes. Do you want to stop destroying the ozone? Quit driving your car. As a person that has worked in the energy business all his life, I feel much maligned, and think of an eighties bumper sticker that said, Please do not tell my mother I work in the oil business. She thinks I am a piano player in a whorehouse.

I was not looking forward to the possibility of having to swallow what was left of my pride and take a minimum wage job, but I was prepared to do so. I did not, as luck would have it, because an oil company in Illinois (go figure) called. Someone we both knew had recommended me for a position as geological consultant. The little company gave me two-thousand dollars a month as a retainer and we settled on a fair figure that they would pay me if they purchased one of my prospects.

Two-thousand dollars a month does not sound like much, but our overhead was low and it was just enough to pay our bills and leave a little extra for unexpected needs. We even had enough for Anne to finish her business degree, and then to enter law school. We were also able to purchase health insurance and get our teeth fixed.

Things were not all rosy. Anne’s teeth, according to our dentist, were “toast,” and she would eventually have to have them all pulled. For Anne, a person that brushed and flossed at least twice daily this was a heartbreaker. That day never arrived because her health was already failing. She first suffered a heart attack and we later learned that she had lung cancer.

Today, as I read the newspapers and scan the internet, I feel the financial pain the people of the world are experiencing. We are all close to the end of our rope, and the President, like Anne and me so many years ago, has already popped the cork from the pig’s ass.

One thing I know for sure - stress can kill you as sure as a bullet through the heart, but you do not have to let it. What do we do? My east Texas grandmother had a saying – “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”

Friday, April 10, 2009

Black Panther in Bones of Skeleton Creek

A mysterious black panther is a principal element in my new novel in progress, Bones of Skeleton Creek. It seems impossible that a large black cat, an animal not native to North America, is prowling rural Logan County, Oklahoma. Buck McDivit learns the impossible is true, and that the supernatural may be involved. Here is a short, largely unedited excerpt from murder mystery Bones of Skeleton Creek.

By now, the rain and wind had reached storm levels. If Buck could have found a way through the fence to the lease line road, he would have taken it back to Clayton’s ranch. He could not. His only recourse was to find shelter beneath the leafy overhang that roofed Skeleton Creek.

Central Oklahoma soils that provide such firm footing when the weather is dry quickly become treacherously slick when rains begin. Buck realized as much as he started the ATV and tracked his path back to Skeleton Creek. The creek’s formerly gentle flow had riverted to a swirling torrent of rushing water. Only a few feet of earth remained above the flow on either side of water turned suddenly violent.

ATVs are sure-footed vehicles, the one Buck drove no exception. Still, when he pointed the front wheels down the slope, he knew instantly that he had made a mistake. The front end slipped sideways, out of control, then flipped over, dumping Buck unceremoniously into the slick mud.

The work someone had done to lessen the slope into the creek had also compromised its integrity. Water poured down the opening, washing away any traction that may have existed. For Buck, it didn’t matter as he tumbled toward roaring water, the heavy ATV tumbling on top of him.

The weight of the ATV carried him into the roaring waters of Skeleton Creek, its rushing force propelling Buck rapidly downstream. He had swallowed lots of water and his muscles felt like warm putty when he finally grabbed a log, lodged against the bank, and pull himself up the slippery slope and out of the water.

Rain continued but the brunt of the rapidly moving storm had already passed over. Buck lay in the mud for a while, spitting up water and trying to catch his breath. When some of his strength finely returned, he found he had another problem.

Mud was so slick that it sucked one of his boots right off of his foot. When he tried to stand, his feet came out from under him and he plunged back into the muck.

Buck’s struggle continued for the better part of an hour. When he finally reached the relative stability of a red sandstone boulder, he stretched out on his back and drew an exhausted breath.

Rain had finally ceased but now it was replaced by darkness, the creek bed almost like the inside of a cave. Using roots and rock, he finally managed to work himself above the rushing water. What he found was a game trail, established by decades, maybe centuries, of wild animals.

Supported by rock and roots, the narrow pathway provided Buck’s first sure footing since he exited the oil lease. Still, all was not well. He was drenched, his cap gone, along with one of his favorite boots, and he had to pick his way along the trail because it was too dark to see. He also had the uneasy feeling that something was tracking him.

Eric's Website

Thursday, April 09, 2009

End of the World - Oklahoma Burning

My business partner Ray and I had a meeting today with a law firm that does oil and gas work for us. They have a new (at least to them) two-story office building in a part of downtown Oklahoma City known as the Deep Deuce.

In years past, mostly black Americans populated the “Deuce” and it was a business and cultural center. Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man, wrote a poem about the Deep Deuce titled Deep Two. It was also the purview of legendary musician Charlie Christian.

The area fell into disarray in the sixties, remaining that way until a decade or so ago when the advent of Oklahoma City’s Bricktown returned the area to prominence. Our attorney’s building is a beautifully restored brick structure that exudes history. As Ray and I left the law office and headed north on the Broadway Extension, we both noticed the gray haze of the sky.

“It’s probably airborne dirt from the plowed fields,” Ray said.

Winds blowing and swirling at high speeds caused our vehicle to sway as we proceeded on our course. I worried about Marilyn, on her way to Ardmore to pick up daughter Katelyn for the weekend. She called, telling me that a fire in the Arbuckle Mountains had shut down traffic on I-35 and she was detoured down Highway 77, through the little town of Davis.

Ron, my son-in-law’s plane, coming in from Kansas City, could not land at Will Rogers Airport because of strong crosswinds. He is spending the night in Dallas. Flames raked Stepson Shane’s farm near Wellston. His horses and dogs survived, the grass on his property cut low, but his wooden fences burned.

I soon learned that the gray sky was not the result of blowing dirt. It was smoke. As I pen this story, fires are burning all over Oklahoma, stoked by high gusting winds. I could not even call Marilyn, or she me because cell phones do not work in smoke so thick. Once again, Oklahoma is burning and it reminded me of the Deep Deuce.

Three years ago, I was writing about Oklahoma burning. The persistent drought ended abruptly with two years of the most rainfall in recorded history for this state. The Deep Deuce fell into disarray but now encompasses some to the most desirable real estate in Oklahoma City. Drought that had plagued Oklahoma for years and that seemed doomed by months of ever-increasing rain has returned.

The scenario reminded me that no matter how fast things change, they are cyclical. Like the rest of the world, we are destined to experience highs and lows, and peaks and valleys. Fortunately, the bads and the goods never seem to happen at the same time. If they ever do, I suppose that would be the end of the world.

Eric's Website

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Collective Consciousness, Subconscience and Cosmic Coincidences

A few nights ago, I strolled into the backyard with my two pugs, Princess and Scooter, and noticed a reddish star in the northeastern sky. At least I thought it was a star at first. The more I stared at it, the less I was sure.

The object seemed too big to be a star and appeared to be wiggling around in the sky as I focused my attention on it. Maybe it is a distant plane, I thought. It wasn’t, but I had it framed by the branches of a tree and my vision told me that it was moving.

It was dark, my eyes probably playing tricks on me. Still, it caused me to think about how our minds perceive what our eyes see. Tonight in the kitchen, I saw a shadow move across the opposite wall and immediately thought that it was my shadow. It was not in the correct spot to be my shadow and when I moved around, trying to duplicate it, I could not.

Going through a box of my Mother’s possessions a few days ago, I found a pillowcase embroidered with the emblem of the 8th Army Division, my Father’s division. My brother Jack visited today. When he saw the pillowcase, he commented that the 8th was the same division that he had served in when he was in the Army, a fact that I had not known.

“Dad’s last days in Germany were probably spent in the same town that I spent my first days in.”

“Funny,” I said. “My lottery number for Vietnam was thirty-eight, the same lottery number Dad had when he was drafted into the Army during World War II.”

The strange things I had recently experienced, and the coincidences reminded me of a review I just read of a book by Diane Hennacy Powell called The ESP Enigma. Far from a tarot card reader, Powell is a Johns Hopkins trained neuropsychiatrist. Rather than pooh-poohing psychic phenomena, Powell documents many stories that defy scientific explanation. The book sounds fascinating and I have ordered a copy.

French social theorist Emile Durkheim used the term “collective consciousness” to explain why societies maintain analogous, if not the exact same beliefs. Carl Jung had a similar, although slightly different concept – the “collective subconscious” that considers all humanity, our minds and memories hardwire into a common collective into which we all tap.

Perhaps they were both right. Maybe the strange things we cannot explain and the cosmic coincidences we all experience are simply a peek into a netherworld that few of us will ever understand.

Eric's Website