Saturday, February 26, 2011

Trying to Feel Positive

I broke my ankle on Monday, February 7, and went to the Emergency Room. (Well? I couldn't freakin' WALK! And it really hurt!) At the hospital, they said they do accept my health insurance company. That's hopeful, isn't it?

Yesterday, I got a letter from my insurance company, brief and chilling:

Date(s) of Service: 02/07/11

We have received an expense for the claimant listed above. As soon as our review is complete, we will promptly process the claim. Thank you for your patience in this matter.

Claims Department

Oh lordy, oh lordy, this is just the Emergency Room visit! This isn't even the surgery!!!

Oh lordy.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday, February Twenty-Fifth

Doggone it, I’ve never had a computer virus before, but there’s a first time for everything, huh? I guess I should consider myself lucky that I’ve surfed this long, the last few years virtually unprotected, and not “contracted” anything, but there you go: My preferred computer for working on the Op Op is in the shop.

Fortunately, I have two computers; unfortunately, it was my laptop that got sick; fortunately, my desktop is fine; unfortunately, the desktop is upstairs, and with my foot in a cast, getting up there isn’t very convenient. (Hell, with one foot out of commission, nothing can be convenient.) But fortunately, I’ve decided to crutch up and down the steps, anyway.

Unfortunately, I had a number of posts in the works—ready to put online, in fact!—that existed only on the laptop. I have high hopes that they’ll still be there when I get my laptop back. (Knock on wood; touch metal; toss salt over my shoulder.) Meanwhile, you are treated to the lameness of this-here post.


More than ever, I have to admit, getting out of the house is becoming extraordinarily exciting. (Yes, I could drive, but I know I had better not—cops and insurance companies wouldn’t think it was very funny.)

Yesterday, for instance, I rode with Sue to Columbia and got my hair cut! Wow! Such excitement! And I spent the morning on campus at the Museum of Art and Archaeology! They’ve got a really good show going on right now, of a summer art colony that existed in Ste. Genevieve during the thirties.

The ride to Columbia, the art museum, the haircut—that was some doin’s, I tell ya, and I would have done more, if the weather hadn’t gotten all crappy on me. (N.b.: Crutching in snow, sleet, and slush is only better than crutching on smooth wet tiles or on ice.)

Saturday was another big outing—Sue got us tickets to see the final performance of a stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility at the Stephens Playhouse, and we met my folks there.

Each time I go to a Stephens performance, I’m impressed and greatly entertained. They do things so well there! And every time, I come away thinking, “We need to go to more of these. This is art; this is real; this is the kind of thing that makes me proud to be human. We should do this more often!”

Okay, let’s make this perfectly clear: I’m not saying that it’s a good thing to be gimped up. But I have to admit that it sure makes you appreciate simple things a whole lot more.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Orchids Vicariously

Hi there! Remember a while back when I told you about the Missouri Botanical Garden's annual Orchid Show (which is going on now)? (Click here to see that post.)

Well, as I mentioned then (it was before that big snow we had), our plan was to drive to St. Louis to see the show once the roads were clear--and we were intending to drive there with two good friends from Boonville, who are very interested in photography.

What a great day it was gonna be! Great conversation during the drive; a chance for photography of both the orchids and the garden's wintertime grounds; and of course, any trip to the Missouri Botanical Garden is a treat.

But then I busted my ankle and had surgery the day before we were going to go, so I had to bow out of the plan. Thankfully, though, our friends went ahead without us, and one of them has been posting her pictures from that day on her Flickr page, under the name "Shotaku."

She takes incredible pictures of flowers, perfectly focused, and with an excellent sense of composition. I almost drool over them.

Below, I show you a few samples of her photos from the orchid show.

To see her many other tasty photos of orchids and other flowers, brilliant shots of birds and other wildlife, plus many neat photos of Boonville and Central Missouri subjects (and much, much more), click here to visit her Flickr page.

Here is one labeled Cymbidium Red Beauty 'Carmen':

Cymbidium Red Beauty 'Carmen'

And here is Brassolaeliocattleya Liese Pigors:

Brassolaeliocattleya Liese Pigors

. . . I would love to show you lots more of her photographs, but then you might not actually go visit her Flickr page. So: leave my blog right now and go look at her pictures!

Here's the link to Shotako's Photostream again.

Another reminder: The Orchid Show at the Missouri Botanical Garden runs through March 27. For more information, here's a link to their Web page. (Hmm. Maybe we can still make it to the show, even if I am on crutches for another month . . .)

Friday, February 18, 2011

New Wheels!

No, it’s not what you think—settle down. I’m only talking about handicap-mobility accessories.

It might seem like a small thing, especially when you consider that I didn’t have much of a “learning curve” in crutching (this is more like a “refresher course”), so crutching isn’t a big problem—but this little baby enables me to have my hands free!

This is the same kinda gadget I used when I broke my foot three years ago and had to be non-weight-bearing for months and months. Here is a picture Sue took of me at Christmas 2007:

As before, we rented it from D&H Drug Store in Columbia—it’s $75 a month. I actually had a prescription for it from my doctor, but D&H doesn’t accept my insurance company. Which reminded me of why I now order my prescription medication online from a Canadian company.

(And yes, my insurance company is indeed very mainstream; it’s one of the biggies: it rhymes with “Beholden Fool” and is the individual-insurance branch of rhymes-with BlightedWealthcare—it’s not a small, fringe insurance company, but whatever.) (Oh, don’t get me started on the subject of how awful private, profit-motivated insurance companies are to individual buyers! Trust me, the government can surely do no worse than these profiteering medical insurance fatcats.) (Ahem. But I digress.)

Back to the TLC—the “Turning Leg Caddy.” Here’s the website for the company. Made in ZhongShan City, China! This model is called “The Pathfinder”! How exciting, huh? But seriously, although it’s not exactly a Cannondale or a Schwinn, I was literally clapping my hands with joy when we got back home with this thing.

Trust me, it’s just a bad idea to try to simultaneously crutch and carry a cup of hot coffee. You do that, and you’re asking for trouble. And if spilling is bad, then you have to crutch around on a wet floor, looking for paper towels . . . no fun.

This “knee scooter” also allows me to “stand around” without having every bit of my weight on just one leg. (You’d be surprised how tiring that gets—I mean, try it sometime!)

Carrying things, standing around . . . it sounds like cooking, doesn’t it!

This means I’m starting to be able to contribute again. Doing the dishes. Carrying my own pillows around (“keep it elevated”). Making my own sandwiches.

It’s not helpful with stairs, it’s clumsy to carry, and I have to help it on and off of carpets, over thresholds, and around many tight corners. It scares the cats. But having my hands free, and taking some weight off my good leg, is mighty, mighty fine.

Okay; that’s all for now. —Gotta go!

(Addendum: yeah, after looking at the website for TLC, I saw that the guy at D&H turned the two cushions so they are opposite how they are supposed to be--he did it while I was standing there, and I thought it seemed odd--so the smaller cushion is supposed to go in BACK! So if you are reading this to learn about leg scooters, please don't use the first picture above for assembly instructions!) (Blah, blah, blah, blah.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Sorry to be going on and on about the ankle, folks, but since it’s been so hard to get around, there’s not a lot I can “do.”

Maybe it’s the lengthening days, or that the weather’s warmed up so dramatically, and all that damned ice melted, but I’m surprisingly not in the sour or depressed mood I would have expected with this second round of having a foot in a cast.

But more than that, I chalk it up to the knowledge that this situation isn’t anywhere near as problematic as when I had that Jones fracture, which by definition means “takes an eternity to heal.” Nope, once it was clear this wasn’t any kind of messy ankle-bones fracture, or a horrific tendon injury, the prognosis has been comfortingly “routine.”

Lord, here it is, not even a week after the surgery to fix the lower portion of my fibula with a mending plate, and except for some incision ouchiness and the fact I’m effectively casted up, I feel like I could walk around on the damn thing.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, I’m extremely gratified to discover that my hard-won talents for getting around on crutches hadn’t disappeared. Perhaps this is one good thing about posttraumatic stress—having lived through a trauma once before, you realize you can handle it again: I know this scene; I don’t like it at all, but I know I can do it.

Indeed, three years ago after three months in crutches, when I was crying about the hopelessness of my situation, someone much more knowledgeable about human nature than I suggested that someday in the future, I would be completely recovered, and that I may even be grateful that I had gone through this difficult time. I didn’t laugh at that suggestion (outright), but I couldn’t take it very seriously, either.

But perhaps I’m starting to see the truth of her statement.

There is another gift I’ve received from these experiences, too. This gift takes the form of the many friends and family who have offered supportive and comforting words, Facebook notes, phone calls, and food. During the time of the surgery, my Facebook peeps offered a steady stream of stuff like “we’re thinking of you” and “stupid ice! I sure hope you recover quickly!”

Within only a few minutes of my mentioning my injury on Facebook, my sister-in-law had told my brother of it, and he was on the phone to me immediately. What a nice thing, huh?

I’ve already told you my folks brought over pumpkin bread on Valentine’s Day; they also spent the day after the surgery with me (wow, that must have been boring), so that Sue could go to Columbia for work. They bought some groceries for us, and fed me lunch. My uncle and aunt, on Valentine’s Day, brought a rose and candy, a container of the best split pea soup I’ve ever had (outside of Grandma’s), and (hooray!) some much-needed bran muffins.

And then, too, soon after the surgery, we got a call from Sue’s family up in Ohio—the whole Berlin Heights gang, her mom and dad, and her sister’s whole family. They had positioned their speaker phone in the center of the room, and we all had a great chat. Yes, it was Sue’s dad’s birthday, but they stressed that they were calling to find out about me. I was genuinely touched by this.

And then there’s Sue, who was going, “Oh, no, not again!” as much as I was. You couldn’t ask for a more thoughtful or attentive partner in the world. I won’t bother to list the hundreds of ways she has patiently helped me this past week, ranging from “can you come outside and help pick me up off the sidewalk” to “can you bring me my [book-coffee-mountain of pillows-icepack-briefcase-telephone-lotion-etc.-etc.]” to doing all the chores, to being The One to sit waiting for me at the hospital, to drive me home, and help me up the steps.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s not like I’ve been thinking of this injury as a way of gaining people’s attention and sympathy—not at all! Instead, all this support has given me an opportunity to be reminded that there are so many people in my life who love me. This accident has put all my loved ones in the spotlight; it’s reminded me how brightly my true treasures shine, and for that gift of awareness, I feel the most gratitude.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


It wasn’t very extravagant this year, seeing as our past whole week has been disrupted. Having one foot in a cast, I’m unable to be very useful about much, and Sue has been busy doing all the cooking, cleaning, and cat boxes. And much, much more.

But at this point I’m fairly comfortable with my new/old handicap, able to get around okay, able to take care of myself, as long as it doesn’t involve carrying things around or standing up for more than about ten minutes at a time.

But there was no time for shopping for or making cards, or even for hitting the grocery store for special delectable foodstuffs for a “special evening.” And it’s not like I can drive myself anywhere.

But then, it’s amazing what you can do with the stuff in the fridge. Look what Sue made me for breakfast! I had asked for toast.

As she prepared it, she kept calling to me, from the kitchen, asking if I didn’t want any strawberry jelly or anything; “No,” I replied, “just some ‘I Can’t Believe’ is fine.”

In the afternoon, my folks came over, and look at the pumpkin bread they brought us!

Isn’t that nice? (And yum!)

Uncle Richard and Aunt Carole joined us all for lunch, and they brought us some candy and a rose. My only regret is that I couldn't reciprocate, except with a smile and heartfelt gratitude for their thoughtfulness.

Sue’s and my usual Valentine’s treat usually begins on Halloween night, when we stuff all the mini Hershey’s chocolate bars leftover from trick-or-treaters into the freezer. There, we forget about them until Valentine’s Day, when we break them into small pieces and heat them gently (as in a double boiler) and stir in some half-and-half, to make a chocolate fondue for strawberries, bananas, pieces of cake or plain cookies, or whatever. (Hey, that pumpkin bread!)

We’re quite proud of our brilliant idea! Alas, we didn’t have any half-and-half last night, and we weren’t about to drive to a grocery store just for that. But Sue stirred in a little Cointreau, and that thinned it a bit. (Well, not like it was going to sit around for long.)

We also had a bottle of sparkling Catawba grape juice, which we shared—I know Sue would have preferred actual champagne, but she was kind enough to share with my non-alcoholedness—so we sipped that sweet pink liquid out of some beautiful little goblets that had been Grandma’s. Indeed, these were the same glasses we’d used ten years ago on a Valentine’s evening spent at this house, while we were considering buying it.

The only thing to complete our little at-home date night was a movie—and Hulu to the rescue! We found the movie Charade (1963, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, filmed in Paris) on Hulu for free, and naturally that was incredibly romantic and thrilling. We saw some places in that movie, including the American Express office, where we had been when we were in Paris in 2006.

So there you go. Ten years into this homeownership, and a second broken foot, another fondue of melted Halloween chocolate with strawberries and a fun movie, and seventeen years together. Not the most extravagant Valentine’s we’ve ever had . . . but indeed, it was one of the sweetest.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday the Thirteenth

Usually, the "thirteenth" of anything is supposed to be bad luck, but I'm feeling pretty optimistic today. It's been a very slow morning. (And why not? my foot is best kept up in the air, higher than my heart, so there's not much to do besides read. Thank God for Jane Austen.)

I've been posting little updates on the foot situation on the Op Op Facebook page, so those of you who have "friended" the Op Op on Facebook already know what's been going on. But here's the summary.

Monday morning (Feb. 7th) I slipped on the ice on our sidewalk and broke my left fibula (the bone just above my ankle, on the outside of my leg). In the ER, they kept asking me "how I fell," and for the life of me, I couldn't tell them. However, upon reflection, I think I have it figured out, working backward from my first clear memory after falling (it happened so fast, and my immediate reaction was to roll over onto my other side).

It was just a small patch of ice--only a few feet wide. My feet slid sideways toward the right, and my left foot must have gripped the good concrete as soon as it ran out of ice to slide on, so that my left foot got turned too much toward the left, with my weight coming down on it.

After I landed (and yes, I heard a "crunch" in my ankle concurrent with the onset of pain), I rolled over onto my right side and stuck my hurt left leg into the air. The foot was bent too far to the left (though I wasn't consciously bending it). (Gross.) I reached down and moved it back into position (another "crunch"). (A few days later, the orthopedic surgeon told me I'd done a pretty good job of setting it.) (I wasn't quite aware that that's what I was doing. Now, I'm kinda proud of myself.)

Here comes the advertisement for cell phones: Mine was in my back pocket. I called Sue, who was just inside the house, and she came out, helped me into my car, near where I fell, and drove us to the Emergency Room.

Pain medication; X-rays; diagnosis (fractured fibula); splinting; an orthopedic surgeon recommended.

The ER doc said he didn't think it very likely that I'd need surgery; it seemed in good position; he guessed only 4-6 weeks in a cast.

So it was a surprise on Wednesday when the orthopedic surgeon told me he strongly recommended surgery--a cast, he said, wouldn't be able to hold it stationary enough for it to heal properly.

And so it was all set up right away; surgery on Thursday morning, preoperative interview and testing at the hospital that very afternoon.

Boom, boom, boom.

Thursday, naturally, was mostly a blur. For all the amazing things that surgeons can do to help us to heal better, perhaps the most remarkable miracles are performed by the anaesthesiologists and narcotic pain medicines, that they can drill on bones and you be up and about within a few hours, without screaming.

Like the last time I had orthopedic surgery, I had a nerve block, but this time, it absolutely worked. (I won't go into the fascinating/gruesome details, which reminded me of the eighteenth-century neuro-electrical experiments that inspired Mary Shelley to write her novel Frankenstein.) It made my lower leg and foot completely numb--indeed, paralyzed--for over twenty-four hours. No pain medicine needed all that time. It was noon the next day when I discovered I could move my toes a little, and three when I started to feel the incision. Pretty awesome, huh?

I won't put a link into my blog, but if you Google on "Youtube fibula fracture," you can find an animated video that shows, I think, pretty much what they did to me; it's basically a contoured mending plate with two or three screws into the sound bone on either side of the fracture.

[Addendum: I didn't know it until some weeks after I wrote this post that he also put a longer screw through the bottom of my fibula and into the tibia, in order to hold in place the ligament that goes between then, which had torn when I broke the fibula.]

After the surgery, the doctor told Sue it went very well and that I have good strong bones. I was amazed to read the postsurgery instruction sheet where the doctor had checked "weight bearing as tolerated"--wow!

[Addendum: That was a total mistake on someone's part; I wasn't supposed to be weight-bearing at that point at all! Good thing I didn't put any weight on it until I'd double-checked about this point!]

You have to understand: I don't have much experience with broken bones, casts, and what-not, and my one experience with it was nightmarish. No one in my immediately family ever had fractures; my brother and I both made it through childhood and adolescence without any broken bones. I never saw what was involved in keeping the cast dry, bathing, getting around, learning how to use crutches, and so on.

So in October 2007, when I broke my foot, my had no hint of what was involved, what to expect, how to do things. It was rude.

And what made it even ruder was the nature of that infirmity--the Jones fracture is notorious for slow healing, and my hopes and expectations for regaining use of my foot were constantly jerked out of my grasp: "No, it's not healed yet; let's see you in another month." So I got pretty dang good at using crutches.

We had to modify our house. We moved furniture. We outfitted the clawfoot tub, using plastic hose and packing tape, for use as a handicap "shower." I learned how to go up and down steps without falling and eventually did it with confidence. I learned that, given a wide, clear, dry sidewalk, my crutching could easily outpace the non-crutching friends I was walking with. I developed respectible callouses on the heels of both palms.

So now, all that stuff is coming back to me. Having been "through this" before, it's not nearly so traumatic. Even when I was lying on the sidewalk, thinking, "oh, shit, my ankle or something's broken," my disbelief was mixed with a sense of resignation instead of a wild, frantic fear of the unknown.

The "been there, done that" aspect has helped tremendously.

The hardest part, all along, has been my fear of what "my" insurance company won't do for me, or will do to me, in response to these claims. They don't like it when you have claims. Now that I've had a big claim, it's certain that I will have to shop for a new insurance company when this one's year is up. (If you don't think there's anything wrong with the health insurance industry, I can say with confidence that you are not having to purchase your policy as an individual.) Indeed, I was crying in the ER, and the nurses assumed it was because of the pain--but instead I was thinking of my deductible. And there's no pill for that. (If there was, my insurance wouldn't cover it, and I probably couldn't afford it.)

One thing that's occurred to me several times in the past few days is that I'm truly grateful that "crutching" is a skill I have already learned. Much of the trauma of my previous fracture was caused by the handicap to my lifestyle. And so I keep thinking, "It would be a terrific idea for everyone to voluntarily spend a week or so on crutches--while they're able-bodied." Yeah: learn how to crutch forward and backward, left and right (like I've had to do on narrowly shoveled sidewalks), up and down stairs. How long can you stand on one foot at a time? Long enough to brush your teeth?

Indeed, it could be something they teach in P.E. classes--an incredibly useful skill. Not that you'd necessarily need it during your life, but hey, if you ever do, you'll be grateful you know how to get around without falling. Much better to learn it when you're feeling good, than to have to learn it when you're in pain or are loopy with pain medications. It would be more useful than knowing how to do a cartwheel, which they tried like crazy to teach me how to do.

So, here's the outlook: At the end of this month (two weeks after the surgery), I'll see the surgeon again. He'll remove the stitches and put me in a cast (I think--or maybe a walking cast?), and then I'll have another four weeks on crutches.

Thus, I'm looking forward to the end of March, when life might get close to normal again.

Sorry this has been a rambly diatribe; it's a sunny day, the first truly "warmish" day we've had for months, and I think I'm going to go to sit outside for a while.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Well, Here We Go

Just a brief update this morning--you know how I said the ER people had said, "simple fracture, probably no surgery will be required"? Well, I had my appointment with the orthopedic surgeon yesterday, and he said, "A cast won't immobilize it enough for it to heal properly."

(He also complimented me on setting my own fracture--he said I got everything pretty much lined up correctly. I wasn't aware that's what I was doing at the time--I just couldn't bear to look at my foot being bent at such an unnatural angle . . .)

So, though I wasn't expecting it, all of a sudden I'm having surgery--today--this morning--in about three hours.

They're going to put a plate in it. If you want to see what I think they're going to do, search on YouTube under "fibula fracture," and you'll find a smooth, clean, tidy animated medical video.

So, let's see . . . by midday, I'll be done with surgery and feeling fuzzy and hopefully-not-too-terribly queasy from the anaesthesia, and my ankle will undoubtedly be going, "boom-boom-boom," with little invisible lightning bolts and stars flying out of it. Let's hope the pain medication does its job.

Will I have to spend the night in the hospital? They don't know. I guess it's a wait-and-see thing.

So, as I'm writing this, I'm propped up in bed, warm and comfy, with very little pain, anywhere. I really, really don't want to get out of bed today.

Yes--the only reason I'm looking forward to today is technically, because it's in the future.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Well, Yesterday Sucked

Allow me to serve as a reminder for you all to be careful on the ice.

Seriously. You could slip and fall, just like that!

Especially if you’re walking on concrete—I think that you fall faster on concrete than you do on grass.

Yep, this was going to be my coffee yesterday morning, but I didn’t get to drink it.

Long story short—I slipped, fell, broke the bottom part of my fibula (it amounts to an ankle wound). Fortunately, this time, it’s a simple fracture, with no healing problems anticipated. They said four to six weeks, probably, and I’ll be back on both feet.

Also fortunately, we still have the plastic cast protector (for the bath), plus various other accessibility implements, from my previous trouble, and it’s been relatively easy remembering how to “do things.”

Also, I seem not to have lost my memory of how to get around on crutches (although my strength and callouses for crutching have eroded in the past few years). I’m not sure I’m good to do steps again, yet.

Meanwhile, since this time the break is in my left foot, my crutching and gettin’ around feels all backwards—it feels like driving in Great Britain.

So just remember—watch where you step, and be very careful wherever there could be a patch of ice.

UPDATE: "Simple fracture," my *ss. Read the next post to learn about my surgery! *Sigh.*

Sunday, February 6, 2011

State Capitol on Fire!

Jefferson City residents awoke this morning to the grim knowledge that the Missouri capitol has burned overnight and is a total loss. The fire started last night around 6:15, when lightning from yesterday evening’s thunderstorm struck the building’s dome. The fire spread rapidly along dry pine boards of the roof.

Firefighters from all nearby districts were called in, including the negro firefighters from Lincoln Institute and the German immigrants from the Muenchberg community just south of town. A group of firemen from Sedalia loaded their water pumps and other equipment onto railroad cars and made it to Jefferson City in record time—just over seventy minutes—but they were too late. By the time they arrived, the water main had broken, and there was nothing for anyone to do but simply witness the disaster. And the statehouse burned all night long.

. . . This, of course, is history, and the reason I’m mentioning it is that last night, February 5, 2011, was the one-hundredth anniversary of the disaster.

Sue and I went to the commemoration ceremony last night, and I want to tell you about it. If you weren’t there, you missed a pretty cool event.

Jim Dyke, a local artist and cartoonist, was one of the chief organizers, and what a wonderful thing he did for the community.

It started with a reenactment that had a twenty-first-century twist. At 6:15 p.m., church bells all over started ringing like crazy, and fire trucks, with lights flashing and sounding their horns, drove around the capitol’s circle drive, then parked in front of it, lights blazing, blasting out all the chords of “emergency.”

And, true to history, they represented many local departments—Jefferson City, Cole County, Russellville, Lynn, Osage, Columbia, and several more.

I’m sure that people driving by on High Street, the river bridges, or anywhere else within sight, were shocked by what must have looked like a tremendous emergency at the capitol!

Then, when this stage of the event was concluded, everyone convened in the beautiful rotunda of the capitol for a commemorative presentation.

What good fortune to have Bob Priddy there to tell the story of the 1911 Capitol fire!

In case you don’t know him, he’s one of our favorite historians of Jefferson City and Missouri. He’s a professional journalist with a distinguished career, and for years he did a radio show called Across Our Wide Missouri (and published books based on those programs).

He is one of those people who can relate history in a way that makes it gripping. By the time he’s done, you understand not only the story, but all the enriching context, as well. (More Bob Priddys, please!)

He didn’t just tell the story of the night of the fire; he described the decade or so before that event, when it had become clear that the old capitol was a musty old tinderbox and needed replacing, and when others in the state were trying to relocate the seat of government to their localities. With all the arguing in the legislature, no progress was made in preventing the disaster.

So the capitol fire in 1911 brought those issues to the forefront. And—after much more legislative and journalistic discussion—we all know how it turned out: Jefferson City remained the state capital, and the old capitol was replaced with one that far, far surpassed it, in strength, size, and beauty. Priddy pointed out the strange irony of that devastating fire: It was one of the best things that ever happened to Jefferson City.

I should also mention that he concluded his speech by pointing out that our beloved state capitol presently needs some millions of dollars in maintenance and renovation. And you know, considering that it functions not only as the seat of legislature and symbol of our state’s greatness, but also as a history museum and art museum holding priceless treasures, we really owe ourselves such renovation.

Mayor Landwehr issued a (very fun) proclamation, juxtaposing the situation of a hundred years ago to our lifestyles today. (For example, in 1911, a group of Boy Scouts volunteered the night of the fire, helping to keep people safe; in 2011, it would take at least a week to get all the parental consent forms signed!) He also recognized Mayor Elaine Horn of Sedalia, who was there with representatives of the Sedalia Fire Department.

Sedalia, by the way, was one of the strongest voices wanting to relocate the seat of government away from Jeff City—they believed they would be a much better location. Yet on the night of the disaster, there they were, rushing to get their firemen on the train, to help fight the blaze. Their efforts to acquire the seat of government would continue after the fire, but on February 5, 1911, such discussions were set aside.

Artist Jim Dyke spoke at the end, inviting everyone to proceed to his gallery a block away, as he had assembled a group of artifacts from the old capitol, along with posters and other displays about the fire. As an added incentive, he offered wine and cheese! (There were also sugar cookies shaped like the old capitol, iced with a conflagration of yellow and orange, and lightly dusted with sootlike black sugar sprinkles. I thought that was clever!)

Finally, at the end of the presentation in the rotunda, Mr. Dyke urged all the firefighters present—I think there were at least forty of them—to come stand with him before the audience. Thus there was a procession of uniformed and nonuniformed, professional and volunteer firefighters, who stood together in a line. This, naturally, garnered a standing ovation for them and for all the past-present-future heroes they represent.

It was a memorable evening, though it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to that night a hundred years ago. If you haven’t been to our state capitol, you really should see it. Of the top ten tourist attractions in Jefferson City, the capitol comprises numbers one through seven. And it took a major fire, a hundred years ago, to clear the way.

A Special Thank-You to Susan Ferber, who took these (and numerous other terrific) photos, of moving objects, in poor light, at all distances. Danke schoen, Sue! (The historic photo, at the top, appears on scads of Internet sites.)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Peet-za, United States, 1949

Another treasure from my beloved copy of the Good Housekeeping Cook Book of 1949!

I’ve told you about this book before; the more I cook out of it, the more impressed I am with its recipes. It must have been one of the last thorough, general-use, make-it-from-scratch cookbooks to be published before “instant” this and that, and all kinds of needless shortcuts, came into vogue.

I was reading it recently and discovered a recipe for pizza! Curiously enough, it was in the “Vegetables” section, under “Tomatoes”! Huh?

Well, what was the American version of pizza in 1949? I mean, what constituted the basic, no-frills pizza that a generalized cookbook would offer for the standard American cook? Pizza! It has garlic in it! That’s ethnic! That’s Eye-talian!

Another thing that caught my eye was the subheading under “PIZZA,” informing the reader that it’s “pronounced peet-za.” Yes, pizza was that novel in the 1940s. (Anyone remember when Taco Bell, and thus Mexican food, first came to the Midwest, and the menu boards coached us in pronunciations like “buh-REE-toe” and “TAH-co”?)

Well, guess what: This pizza recipe is dang close to the real thing, the traditional pizza napoletana. And the one variation for toppings that is provided—for Anchovy Pizza—is very close to pizza marinara, which has no cheese, plus the added anchovies (which is a very traditional topping). I was surprised to find such authenticity, when I was expecting something frightfully, embarrassingly Americanized.

I guess what happened was this: The Good Housekeeping Cook Book (“copyright 1942, 1944, 1949”) completely preceded the births of Pizza Hut (1958) and Shakey’s Pizza (1954), whose presence would play a huge part in establishing the “norms” for the American idea of pizza. And before the arrival of chain pizza joints (and not counting various regional versions of pizza that emerged in big cities like Chicago), the only kind of pizza most Americans knew was the authentic kind—made by immigrants, or tasted in Europe.

And yeah, a lot of Americans had been introduced to authentic Italian pizza during and after World War II!

So I suspect that there was a window of time, post–World War II and pre–Pizza Hut, where the only pizzas available were ones made by ethnic Italians and available to other Americans only in big cities, and those made to be as close as possible to the traditional Italian pizzas.

So this recipe must be one of the latter. Yes, there are clearly adaptations for the limitations of the typical midcentury American pantry (note the use of “shortening” in the dough), but even then, the recipe is strikingly authentic. It doesn’t say to use a rolling pin, and it calls for olive oil. (Just Google “authentic pizza recipe,” and see the Wikipedia article on “pizza,” to see tons of examples of what I’m talking about: rolling pins are verboten, and olive oil is a requirement.)

I was so curious! I had to give it a try. I’ve retyped the recipe below. My changes and comments are noted at the end.

(Pronounced peet-za)

It’s like a huge pancake, topped with a tomato-cheese mixture, and baked until crust is crisp and golden brown. Hot out of oven, it’s cut into wedges. You fold a wedge; eat it with your fingers. Use as appetizer, bread with dinner, main course for lunch, or evening snack.

Pizza Dough:

1 pkg. dry or compressed yeast
2 tablesp. lukewarm water
1 cup boiling water
2 tablesp. shortening
1 1/2 teasp. salt
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

Sprinkle yeast in lukewarm water; let stand 5–10 min. to completely dissolve. Pour boiling water over shortening and salt in a large bowl. Cool to lukewarm; stir up yeast, then add. Add half of flour; beat until smooth with spoon. Then add remaining flour; beat smooth. Divide dough in half for 2 thin pizzas such as are served in restaurants. Or use all of dough for 1 thicker pizza. Place dough on floured board; pat gently with hand into 2 11” rounds or 1 13” round; have edges slightly thicker (this keeps filling from running over during baking). Place on greased cookie sheets. Let rise in warm place (85° F.) until double in height. Then proceed as directed in Tomato Topping.

Tomato Topping:

Pizza Dough
1 tablesp. olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 lb. sliced Italian mozzarella cheese or process American Cheddar cheese
2 cups diced, peeled ripe tomatoes, drained
1 minced, peeled clove garlic
1/2 teasp. salt
1/8 teasp. pepper
1/2 teasp. dried oregano or thyme
1 tablesp. olive oil

Heat oven to 450° F. After the round or rounds of Pizza Dough doubles in height, brush with 1 tablesp. olive oil. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese; then arrange 1/3 of mozzarella cheese on top; sprinkle with diced tomatoes combined with garlic, salt, and pepper. Arrange rest of mozzarella on top. Sprinkle with oregano; then drizzle on 2 tablesp. oil. Bake in hot oven of 450° F. for 25–30 min., or until crust is golden brown.

Anchovy Pizza: Make Pizza with Tomato Topping, omitting all oil and all cheese in Tomato Topping. Dot tomatoes with 2 oz. can fillet anchovies, finely minced; drizzle on oil from anchovies. Garnish with a few slivers of green pepper. Bake as directed.

My Changes and Comments

The recipe gives you the option of making one large or two smaller pizzas; I chose the latter. However, I made one pizza be the standard type, and one the anchovy version (halving various components as necessary). Why? Because variety is the spice of life!

Another thing I changed is that I used diced, drained canned tomatoes instead of fresh. Why? Because it’s February, and even the tomatoes that look ripe taste pretty lame (especially given the price). (But see my note about salt, below.)

Also, as you can see in the pictures, I didn’t have any green bell peppers, so I used the yellow one I had on hand.

Finally—and I think I wasn’t giving enough credit to the writers of the cookbook—I used a plain old bouncy-bouncy rubbery brick of grocery-store mozzarella instead of the fresh kind I know is authentic (and much better). Why? Because I assumed that’s what people had access to in 1949. Now, however, I’m not sure about that.

Indeed, the recipe calls for “3/4 lb. sliced Italian mozzarella cheese”—and I’m betting that in 1949, anyone with access to any mozzarella at all probably knew where to get the good stuff. In fact, Kraft might not have even been making the rubbery kind back then. I’ll bet that’s why the recipe calls for “sliced” mozzarella, and names the alternative (for the truly limited grocery shopper) as “process American Cheddar cheese.” (Yuck!) Next time I make this, I’ll go for a ball of genuine, fresh mozzarella. (Or else, if I use the rubbery kind, I’ll be sure to shred it, so it melts better.)

Hopefully I don’t need to tell you this, but use real Parmesan cheese, and not the dusty stuff from the green can.

Finally, if you try this recipe, I recommend cutting the salt way back for the tomato mixture, especially if you’re making the anchovy version and using canned tomatoes (which are already salted)—heck, even the cheese is salty enough. In fact, you probably don’t need to put salt with the tomatoes at all.

I kept a close eye on the pizzas, and I found that they only needed about a third of the cooking time recommended—ten or twelve minutes was plenty! Trust your instincts, check the pies, and the crust will turn out fine.

And yes, these were really good! I was kind of worried about whether I would like the anchovy pizza, since there was no cheese (whine, whine!), but I didn’t miss it at all. The saltiness and richness of the anchovies and their oil completely made up for the lack of cheese.

As an added bonus, the Good Housekeeping Cook Book includes the following variation, as well:

Kitchenette Pizza: For 2 people, or a few guests, use 4 English muffins, split in halves, instead of Pizza Dough. Top with 1/2 recipe for Tomato Topping. Bake at 450° F. 20 min.

How about that! I thought the kid-friendly English-muffin pizza was a relatively recent invention/bastardization, but here it is alongside fairly authentic recipes, made for an American audience that had never even sampled Jeno’s! I’ll be darned.

The recipes on this post were published in The Good Housekeeping Cook Book, ed. Dorothy B. Marsh (New York: Rinehart and Co., 1949), 418–19. It’s long out of print, but it’s truly worth hunting for! See this blog post for more on this book.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My Superbowl Predictions!

I have an astonishing success rate for my Superbowl predictions! Every year, I get it perfectly right! Here, let me gaze into my crystal ball . . .

—There will be a lot of potato and tortilla chips eaten.

—A lot of Velveeta and Ro-tel mix will be eaten, too.

—Lots of men will sit in front of the television. They will yell.

—Professional football players somewhere will clunk into each other over and over again, the ball will be passed and intercepted, kicked and caught, and whatever.

—Serious-faced coaches will talk into their little headsets.

—Scantily dressed cheerleaders will bounce around on the sidelines, grinning despite the cold.

—People wearing coats at the stadium will stand up to yell and clap and stuff. Some will hold up signs.

—And lots of beer (and football fans) will be drunk. Don’t forget your suitcase of Bud Light!

—There will be commercials that rival the game for entertainment value.

—But since we’re not football fans, we’ll be doing something else.

And those are my predictions for Superbowl 2011.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Update on the Snow, 9 p.m.

Just an update on the snow. In my previous post, I showed you pictures taken at around 7 a.m., 10, noon, and 2 p.m.

Here's a picture I took of the same view, at 9 p.m. tonight.

That's my Honda.

The snow's supposed to continue through the night and taper off by tomorrow at noon.

We debated the pros and cons of trying to shovel it today, to "stay ahead" of the accumulation, but we decided against it since it was blowing and drifting so much. So we're going to have a lot of digging out to do, once the wind dies down.

Hey, and don't forget to feed the birds! We've been putting it out, but it gets buried rather quickly. I wish we had one of those feeders with the little roof over it.

We were surprised to get mail today! I know there's that saying about how they deliver it no matter how bad the weather, but considering that the mail nowadays is mostly junky ads and stuff, they could have begged off today. But here the mailman came, early afternoon, and stuck our junk mail (and, alas, a few bills) in our door. Fortunately, I saw him coming, raced for the kitchen, and got down to the front door in time to hand him a baggie full of cookies!

I also have to say that the Jefferson City snowplows have been doing an incredibly good job with Broadway, and even with little old West Elm Street. It's so comforting to hear them rumbling by, to know they're out there, making the roads passable for letter carriers, emergency vehicles, and whatever. Angels in trucks . . .


It’s extremely hard to concentrate on work today, since we’re getting, apparently, the first bona fide official blizzard Central Missouri’s ever had in recorded history.

Naturally, this can easily be seen as a sign of the ongoing effects of global climate change, while those who don’t “believe” that climate change is happening will undoubtedly see this uncharacteristically intensely cold weather as a sign that nothing’s changing.

Anyway, it started snowing here before dawn, and at this point—around noon—the strong winds are blowing the snow sideways—it’s supposed to be sustained winds of 35 mph. There’s at least an inch and a half of accumulation per hour, and visibility’s awful. I can’t see anything beyond a half a block away.

When I lived in Montana, this wouldn’t be any particularly big deal. Yeah, I vaguely recall that.

But then, when I lived in Phoenix, one time we got some below-freezing temperatures and some sleet that collected in the cracks in the sidewalks—and that was remarkable, too. All those tropical and subtropical landscaping plants that could freeze.

Obviously, it’s all “relative,” and our homes, our heaters, our vehicles, our city’s snow-removal equipment, and our bridges, roads, and utility poles are designed to handle the bad weather we usually get. But this weather is definitely worse than usual.

There’s been a lot of nervous chatter and laughter among my Facebook pals. We’ve all known it was coming. For a week, the weather forecasters have been talking about a major snow, and for the last few days, they’ve been saying it’s a sure thing that most parts of Central Missouri will get at least 15 inches.

Which, as I said, is a remarkable amount of snow for us, especially considering we’ve already had several good snowfalls this winter.

A lot of folks (including me) laugh at the urge to go to the store right before the storm and buy “bread and milk.” A Columbia newscast showed pictures of empty bread shelves at one of the local Walmarts. One of my friends called this “overreacting.”

But truly: thank goodness people have enough sense to hit the grocery store before the storm. If bread is on the grocery list for survival purposes, it is understandable: in our culture, bread is the staff of life; it is the bare minimum. It is to us as rice is to the Orient, and corn to the Aztecs.

We certainly went to the store yesterday—not for bread and milk, particularly, but for the items we might have purchased within the next three or four days. We were out of eggs; we needed more cheese; we were almost out of lettuce. So laugh all you want, my friends, but I keep having thoughts of the Grasshopper and the Ant.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about Katrina these past few days, as excitement and dread mounts, and I’ve been wondering how much in denial we all are. They knew the evil weather was coming, and for some reason, too many of them didn’t take it seriously enough.

The ice that’s falling just a few counties south of us is going to cause widespread power outages, right before subzero temps. Remember the freezing rain in early December 2007?

I do. It’s more than a memory—it’s practically post-traumatic stress for me. I had broken my foot the October before and was still in a cast; on December 3, since no healing had occurred, I had surgery to repair that Jones fracture with a screw. The freezing rain came on Saturday, December 8. I wasn’t even in a cast again at that point, I was still in the post-surgical splint. Plenty of swelling and pain, and still (of course) on crutches. And yes, I also had a concert to play that weekend, in Columbia! Sue drove us on ice-covered roads, and we ended up staying in Columbia that night.

(By the way, in case you were wondering, trying to walk on crutches on ice is flat-out impossible.)

So, that Saturday night was the night we had no power at our house—it went off after we’d driven to Columbia, and fortunately we weren’t home to shiver all night with the kitties. By the time we got back home Sunday evening (because there was a concert Sunday afternoon, too), the power was back on and the house was getting warm again.

But the power went off again on Monday night, when a tree on our street collapsed and strummed down a set of powerlines. It was a cold night, and a dark morning, and we were grateful for every bit of insulation our house has.

It’s hard enough to bathe with a splint on, much less in the dark in a very cold house. Fortunately, we have our old percolator, and it, with our gas stove, meant that we could have hot coffee that morning.

Our power came on again sometime that day, and life was relatively dandy after that. We decided that when it comes to power outages, we’re very happy to be living in the center of town, just a few blocks from the state capitol, and not way out in the country somewhere and low on the list of priorities. For some of those people, the power was out for a week, and they had to seek shelter elsewhere.

Okay, and so that was just a fraction of an inch of ice that weekend—and I don’t recall any serious winds or additional snowfall with that, either.

But with this snowfall, now, they’re saying that counties southeast of us may receive up to an inch of ice, with additional inches of snow on top, plus 35 mph winds. They will have power outages galore. Then, to have this followed immediately by subzero temps? I feel for them, I worry for them.

How long will anyone’s power be out? Who knows? How do you “prepare” for that, when the roads will be impassable? We here in Jeff City and Columbia can Twitter and text about how exciting our big snow is, we can crack wry jokes about “waiting for the roof to cave in.” We can make up clever, hyperbolic names for this situation, calling it a “snowacane,” and a “snowpocalypse.” And we can warm our attitudes by telling each other about our Crock Pots of beef stew and chili, our KahlĂșa-spiked coffee, our split pea soup and our homemade bread. We can afford to grin and share, feel warm and cozy, because we know we’re just very lucky this time.

But when I look out the window, I can’t tell if I’m shivering, or shuddering.