left on walnut

Category: Reflections

pink tulips

Tom gave me pink tulips.

Remembering Texas

I lived in Texas while working on my doctorate. I don’t remember Texas sheet cake. I remember Aggie bonfires, the next door neighbor as beautiful as an Egyptian queen, and the kindergarten teacher in the class where I watched kids write.

I also remember finding a scorpion in the apartment once, fire ants, and getting my first speeding ticket. I remember walking across campus on a day so hot I thought I’d catch fire. Texas sheet cake would be a better memory than any of those.

Cooking Light just named Texas sheet cake one of the best chocolate recipes of all time in their 25th anniversary issue. I made it today. It’s memorable.

Texas Sheet Cake (adapted from Cooking Light)

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, divided
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 15×10 jelly roll pan and dust it with flour.
  2. Stir together flour, sugar, soda, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. Combine water, butter, and cocoa in a saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Pour into the flour mixture. Beat with a mixer at medium until well blended.
  4. Add buttermilk, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and eggs. Beat well.
  5. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Baked at 375 degrees for 17 minutes or until a wooden pick comes out clean. Place on a wire rack.
  6. Combine 1/2 cup butter, milk, and 1/4 cup cocoa in saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Gradually stir in powdered sugar; stir in 2 teaspoons vanilla and the chopped pecans. Spread over hot cake. Cool completely on wire rack.


shower room phone call

The showers at our fitness center are gross. The only good thing is they have two little rooms. A shower stall is in the back. A tiny curtained dressing area with a bench is in the front. I take my underwear to the bench to put on after my shower. Then I return to the locker room to finish getting dressed.

Today in the dressing area next to mine, as I was putting on my underwear and deodorant, a woman called her son’s physics teacher on her cell phone. Apparently Nathan is in AP Physics and she would like the teacher to provide him with extra tutoring. The physics teacher must have agreed, although he or she charges $100 per hour.

“That’s more than a doctor or lawyer!” the mother cried. “Last year, I paid a tutor $45 an hour!”

Finally the mother agreed to the $100 per hour price.

To Nate’s teacher, I’d like to say, “Way to stick to your price!” If Nate tests out of some college physics, they’ll have saved thousands in tuition.

To all teachers, I’d like to remind you of your worth. If $100 per hour is more than a doctor or lawyer (really? is it?), well then, so be it.

To all the people who use cell phones in public places, I’d like to express my appreciation. You make my day much more interesting than it deserves to be.

peter’s boots

Saturday morning, I stepped outside to pick up our New York Times. The wicker furniture was gone. I was surprised Tom would put away the wicker so early. The kids come for a visit next week and if the weather holds, breakfast on the porch would be a summer benediction.

But Tom hadn’t stored the furniture. It was stolen. Both wicker chairs, the table, and the glass I had cut to fit the table. They climbed up on the porch rail and took the two Boston ferns from their hooks. They took my yellow mum that was just blossoming. They even took its plant stand.

The wicker chairs were a gift when I was promoted to the Provost’s office. I bought the table to go with them. They’d graced our porch for years and I cried with defeat.

Later on, I thought to check the side porch. Everything was in place. My old clogs wait for our next gardening day. Ivy still hangs from the eve. Hens and chicks still adorn Peter’s old boots.

The mum can be easily replaced. So can the ferns. Eventually, we’ll replace the wicker. Peter’s boots, though, would come around only once.

the carriage house

Fall is the time for cleaning out the carriage house. We scrub clay pots and empty gasoline from the garden tiller. We clean garden tools. Tom sweeps cobwebs down from the ceiling and leaves up from the floor.┬áMy dad’s spade hangs from its nail on the wall, in perfect peace, the long, curved blade oiled, ready to churn the soil for new beds.

my toast

My daughter gets married in a week. I’m giving a toast on Friday, the night before the wedding. We’ll go to the rehearsal, then to supper, and then to a fire pit in the park. Brad will bring his guitar. We’ll roast marshmallows. Parents will give toasts.

I’ve always been shy about public speaking and I’m a bit nervous. Sarah’s dad died a few years ago, or he would probably be giving the toast. I needed to step up.

Here’s what I’m saying:

When Sarah was little, one of her first favorite books was The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. It’s the story of a little boy and his very first snowfall. He goes outside and makes tracks in the snow, he makes a snow angel, and he builds a little snowman. He sees some big boys. They’re having a snowball fight. He wants to play with them, but he knows he’s not big enough yet. So, instead, he makes a snowball and puts it in his pocket to save it for tomorrow.

This is Sarah. Always saving for tomorrow. She could save Jelly Bellies until they petrify. Now, our tomorrow is here.

Sarah, you have grown to be a strong, independent, and ethical woman. Yet somehow, you have managed to maintain your sensitivity and innocence, and, you look quite beautiful tonight.

Eric, I could look forever and not find a better father than you are, to Liem, and maybe to another baby someday. I will be honored to call you my son-in-law. No, my son.

Ann and Peter, I look forward to grandparenting with you. (No pressure, kids.)

Liem, just when I thought my heart was ready to burst, you come along, and teach me that Lego’s have “pieces” not “parts” and that “old people can have adventures, too.” I’ll always be ready for adventures with you, if we are biking, or swimming, or even playing basketball.

So, here’s to Eric; his soon-to-be wife, my daughter, Sarah; to our friends, our family; and, to tomorrow.

keeping a pledge

Summer is busy at our public library. Kids out of school means library traffic picks up, with moms and kids dodging in and out of traffic with canvas book bags. Parking is chaos. Kids at the library in summer is a wonderful chaos, though.

My library visit needed to be quick today. I had groceries in the hot car. So when I saw two high school kids doing some survey on the library steps, I could only think about the delay. As I headed up the steps, the girl approached me. She asked if I’d sign a pledge to help stop the bullying against gay and lesbian students. I signed, ashamed that I’d tried to rush past without making eye contact.

In that moment, I was sure of myself. I was brave, certain I’d speak up against discrimination and bullying. But the braveness is not always within me. A few years ago, I witnessed a discriminatory act resulting in someone being passed over as a Dean at my university because of his race. An administrator, who chaired the search committee, came out of her office carrying one of the files. She began to make fun of his name. His name was Asian.

I did not speak up. I did not call Human Resources or Affirmative Action. I did nothing. A few months later, I left that office.

Yet, now I have a pledge. A quiet pledge to myself, and more importantly, to the girl with a pixie haircut, standing hopefully on the steps of the library on a hot summer day.