White chili


White chili

My wife has been trying new recipes lately. I don’t like cooking, although my wife wishes I would. She also wishes I would cook with her. However, I will always try everything she dishes up.

Anyway, her latest recipe was White Chili. She was so proud that she cooked it up without any problems. With great fanfare, she announced that dinner was served. Then she waited for my verdict after my first spoonful.

It tasted good. Not great, but good. With a name like White Chili, I expected it to be white and to taste like chili. Failure on both counts. Not one ingredient was white. If you look at the bowl in the picture, you will observe that in no way does it resemble chili. My expectations for chili are much higher.

My wife was disappointed not only with the appearance of the resulting dish, but also the taste of it. And, as my wife usually does when she cooks, she prepared enough for a family of six–even though my wife and I live alone.

Well, I ended up heating and reheating this dish for about week until it was completely gone. I must admit that I dreaded the thought of eating non-chili white chili. The next day, it still tasted okay. And the day after, too. By the third day, I decided not to even think of it as chili at all. Suddenly, this bean soup tasted much better!

And so, it went as I ate bean soup every day until I had finished it alone. My refused to eat anymore after the first serving. The taste improved with age!

I told my wife that it tasted great if I didn’t think of it as chili, which it never really was. The last bowl certainly tasted the best. However, my wife will never prepare White Chili again.

DDR

South Side Story


Holy Cross Church

I learned a lot about Chicago when I attended Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson, Indiana. For example, in my World History class, we went on a field trip to Chicago to visit the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in Hyde Park. My father had taken us to what I thought were all the museums Chicago had to offer. Mr. Gibson, our history teacher merely told us were going on a field trip without any further explanation.

As we approached Chicago, I was surprised we were going to Chicago for our field trip. Even though we had visited the Museum of Science and Industry many times, I had no idea the Oriental Institute was nearby. I was very impressed by the museum. I was surprised by the many things I learned at the seminary. None of them relating to becoming a priest.

I learned that people in Indiana were fascinated with Chicago and visited my city quite often. Some of my classmates often asked what it was like to live in Chicago. They wanted details! To me, these were mundane facts, but I told them how I lived on the south side of Chicago, near where the Union Stockyards used to be. I told them how I attended a Lithuanian Catholic church and school, how I used to deliver the Chicago Sun-Times, Tribune, Daily News, American, and Today. I also delivered to Polish newspapers, the Daily Zgoda and the Chicagowski (I’m not making this name up!). These rural classmates of mine were truly fascinated by all these details.

Occasionally, I went home on weekends. The first few times, I took a Greyhound bus from Plymouth, Indiana, to downtown Chicago. And then I would take the CTA the rest of the way home. One of my classmates, Jim, was so curious about Chicago that he offered to have his mother take me to White Sox park, which was close enough to home so my father would pick me up. He lived in Whiting, Indiana, so his mother wasn’t driving that far out of the way. He was so excited to be in Chicago! He enjoyed waiting with me for my father in the stadium parking lot. We did this a couple more times.

One of the activities we did together as seminarians was watch television premieres of blockbuster movies. I remember watching Love Story because the upperclassmen made it sound like the coolest movie ever! I was surprised that many of my fellow seminarians cried at the end. There was a lot excitement when West Side Story was scheduled. I must confess that I had never seen the movie. In fact, I had never even heard of West Side Story. Everyone was shocked by ignorance. They just assumed I had seen the movie. I had no idea what the movie was about, and I was afraid to ask after all the teasing I suffered.

Well, I loved the movie! I loved the movie, the acting, the music, and the dancing. But I especially loved Natalie Wood as Maria. Of course, many seminarians were crying at the end. I couldn’t believe how these supposedly tough guys cried so easily.

Anyway, West Side Story suddenly made me the expert on gang life because I was from Chicago. I was always asked questions about the movie, gangs, and what it was like to be Puerto Rican. I explained that I was not qualified to say what is was like to be Puerto Rican because I was Mexican. That didn’t matter. The questions continued.

The next time we had a holiday weekend, my friend Jim offered to have his mother take me all the way to my house. All the way home, he kept asking if there gangs in my neighborhood. If the gangs were like the ones in West Side Story. If I ever saw anyone stabbed. The questions just kept coming all the way home.

I told him that, yes, our neighborhood did have gangs, but they didn’t dance like in West Side Story. I did see someone who was stabbed, but the not the actual stabbing. Jim kept prodding me for details. I told him about how a rival gang drove into our neighborhood to challenge our local gang. They shouted from their car as they drove past them as they played baseball in the park. Suddenly, their car stalled. Our gang ran up to the car with baseball bats. They hit the car a few times before it started up again and they took off.

I told Jim all these details, and then some, and he was enthralled by these stories. On the way home, he asked me where exactly I saw the stabbed person. His mother was interested, too, so we drove past the exact spot where I saw the stabbed person picked up by an ambulance. Before they drove me home, I had to show them where the rival gang’s car had stalled and where the other gang was playing baseball. Jim and his mother loved the tour I gave them. They finally took me home.

When I returned to the seminary after that weekend, I felt that everyone looked at me differently. Obviously, Jim had told everyone about his south side tour on the way to my house. To me, my life was just a normal life.

The ghost of Thanksgiving past


A Turkey by Johan Teyler (1648-1709). Original from The Rijksmuseum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel. by Rijksmuseum is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

This Thanksgiving Day, I was reminded of how we have celebrated previous Thanksgiving Days with our family. And by our family, I mean the Rodriguez family. That’s my father’s side of the family, which is very, very big. When my Uncle Simon and Aunt Maricela bought their first house, the Rodriguez family began celebrating Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve at their home. All the family tried to come to celebrate these holidays together. We usually had between forty to fifty people in the house. That included family members, friends, and neighbors for Thanksgiving.

I have many fond memories of Thanksgiving with my family. My aunt was such a great cook. I especially loved her baked sweet potatoes. And all those desserts she baked. I used to go with my parents, my brothers, and my sister until my parents got divorced. Then, my father would take us without our mother. Eventually, just my father and I would go alone.

I especially remember the last time I went there for Thanksgiving. Just my father and I went. That was the most people who went to this Thanksgiving dinner. There were lots of cousins and their friends.

I had just finished Marine Corps boot camp that week. I flew back to Chicago from San Diego on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, which is always a very busy travel day. We flew a circling pattern all the way from St. Louis to Chicago. I was beginning to get nauseous. Luckily, we landed before I got really sick.

The next day I called my Uncle Simon’s house and asked if they were still having the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, they were! I didn’t talk to my Uncle Simon. My cousin Lulu answered the phone. I don’t think their family really knew I had enlisted in the Marine Corps. When I told Lulu I just got back from boot camp, she said, “That’s great! Come on over! Wear your uniform!”

So, of course, I wore my uniform to dinner. My father was so proud to present me to the Rodriguez family in my Marine Corps uniform! Lulu was happy to see that I had listened to her. The dinner went well, but since there were so many people there, we had to eat in shifts. But everyone ate. Then, my aunt brought out the desserts. I remember my Uncle Placido, who is a Roman Catholic bishop, looking at the desserts and saying, “All this and heaven, too!”

After dinner, my cousin told me we were going to Fat City, a bar where she worked. I really didn’t want to go to a bar in uniform, but she insisted. Well, I went, against my better judgment, but people I didn’t even know were happy to see me there. In fact, several people were buying me beers, which I didn’t realize at first. When the waitress brought me the first beer, I told her, “I didn’t order a beer.” She pointed to someone across the room and said, “This beer’s on him! He was in the Marines, too!” I got a few more beers that night.

I must admit that that was my most memorable Thanksgiving dinner. And the very few times I saw someone in a military uniform after that, I bought them a drink.

Confirmation


I actually wrote this on February 12, 2010. I was going through old drafts that I never finished or posted. This is one of them.

February 12, 2010

My son Adam was confirmed today. And I recalled many things past and present about being Roman Catholic.

The holy sacrament of Confirmation is usually the fourth sacrament that a Roman Catholic receives. A Christian baby is baptized soon after birth and then around the age of eight makes his or her Confession and receives his or her First Holy Communion. Then around age twelve or thirteen, usually, he or she makes a conscious decision to denounce Satan and become a Christian, unlike Baptism where an innocent baby has no choice but to be baptized a Catholic.

I am a Roman Catholic (or just plain Catholic). There were times in the past when I told people that I was an ex-Catholic or a lapsed Catholic. I was once hospitalized at St. Anthony’s Hospital and when I was asked my religion I said, “Catholic” just out of guilt. A Catholic priest then came to visit me everyday. I told him that I wasn’t sure if I was still Catholic and he told me that it was normal to doubt. Now, whenever someone asks me my religion, I say I’m Catholic. If I think about Catholicism very objectively, I realize that, once you go through all of my religious training, I will always be a Catholic and never an ex- or lapsed Catholic. That would be the equivalent of saying, “I used to be Mexican.”

Today, I tried to compare Adam’s confirmation to mine. But I couldn’t remember my confirmation because I was baptized in México when I was about two months old. When it came time for my class to get confirmed at Holy Cross, my mother told me that I was already confirmed. That was news to me! Whenever we had confirmation classes, Sister Cecilia would just look at me with disdain and shake her head. She couldn’t understand how Mexicans could confirm babies. That was so contradictory to the whole concept of confirming that one voluntarily and willingly wanted to be a Catholic. Well, I was an outsider during the whole confirmation process. I had to go to the Confirmation, but I couldn’t sit with the class because I wasn’t getting confirmed. I didn’t feel very Catholic that day. Or today when I tried to compare my confirmation with my son’s.

I was happy for my son, but this was an awkward day for me. Since the divorce, we no longer celebrate anything as a family. But such is life.

Haircuts


“Did you get a haircut?
“No, I got them all cut!”

Photo by Mati Mango on Pexels.com

I have been getting haircuts my entire life. For as long as I can remember. I’m sure I even got haircuts before I could remember them. My mom was my first barber. I am reminded of my haircuts now, because I just got a haircut.

Most of my barbers have been Italian, except for my mom, of course. I had two Italian barbers who were both named Aldo of Italy. I patronized both for about ten years each. My next Italian barber was at UIC, but I cannot recall his name right now. My present barber is Vincenzo who has an enthusiastic sense of humor. My mother’s name is Carmen, and although she’s not an Italian barber, she does have an Italian name–except in Italian, it’s a man’s name.

I found my barber Vincenzo because of my present wife Beata, who also is not an Italian barber, nor does she have an Italian name. I was complaining to Beata about the long wait at the UIC barber shop because the two older barbers had retired and the youngest barber, but not so young anymore, told me after he hired a couple of twenty-something barbers, “I remember when I was the kid of the barbershop!” Tempus fugit!

Anyway, my wife has a half-Yorkie, half-Shi-Tzu dog named Pluto that needs regular haircuts at the dog groomer. So, one day, she comes home after dropping Pluto at the groomer and tells me, “I found a new barber for you!” The barbershop was right next door to the dog groomer. Since I didn’t like the wait at the barbershop at UIC, I went longer intervals without haircuts, which annoyed my wife because she liked me better when my hair was short.

The next time Pluto needed to be groomed, Beata took Pluto and me for a ride. We dropped Pluto off at the groomer and then she walked me next door to the barbershop. This was a real barbershop, a man’s barbershop for the macho he-man. Vincenzo didn’t introduce himself to me, nor did I. He swept his open palm invitingly to the barber chair where I sat down. My wife sat right across from me, as if I would try to bolt out before getting my unwanted haircut. Vincenzo asked me, “How do you want your haircut?” I pointed to my wife and said, “You have to please my wife.” Without missing a beat, Vincenzo said, “No! You have to please your wife!”

My wife laughed, I laughed. Vincenzo laughed. Vincenzo has been my barber ever since.

Warming up


Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

The first step is always the hardest. That applies to just about everything in life. Some days, starting a run is extremely difficult. Some days, I have trouble putting on my running clothes and getting out the door. But once I’m outside and I start running, I know I will complete my run. Once I warm up, that is.

Warming up is very important to me. I never stretch before a run like I once did. I reached an age when the warm up alone seemed so tedious that I didn’t want to run afterwards. So, now I never stretch before a run, but rather start out running slowly and gradually settle into my normal running pace. I usually warm up after a mile or two, depending on many factors. But once I’m warmed up, my run is very enjoyable.

When I was younger and I was running a weekly twenty-miler for marathon training, I didn’t always have the motivation to go out and run that long run. Some days, I would feel like quitting at six miles, but I would tell myself that I had to finish my long run if I wanted to improve my marathon time. Amazingly, I could will myself to keep running and then a few miles later I would pick up the pace. Honestly, before I even began some of those long runs, I didn’t think i would finish them. On a few occasions, I felt so good that I ran twenty-six miles. And I could have kept running on those days, but I didn’t want to overtrain.

Over this past winter, I had a few days when it was extremely cold and snowy that I wanted to quit even before I ran the first mile. But, I recalled my youthful determination and willed myself to keep running, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, until I ran nine miles. All I had to do was warm up. Once I was warmed up, running was easy. Well, maybe not easy, but easier.

Warming up also applies to other things I do. For example, I didn’t feel like writing a blog post this morning, but I would not have felt good about it. So, I started putting one word in front of the other until I reached the end. Once I was warmed up, I finished this post.

And now it’s time for me to go running. I hope I warm up quickly.

Sightseeing


Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Yesterday, I had a good run. It was the easiest run, but I was sightseeing while running. I always sees new things when I run and that’s why I enjoying running without the distraction of listening to music. Running through Glen Ellyn is very interesting because of the old buildings from the 1800s. I enjoy looking at the expansive mansions and fantasize about what it would have been like living there. Or what it would have been like living in that era.

Yesterday, when I had to wait for red light at Main Street and St. Charles, I decided to check out Stacy’s Tavern. I always run past it, but I never really saw it until yesterday. Just by chance, I saw that the museum for Stacy’s tavern would be open that day from 1:30 to 4:30. So I returned later that afternoon for a visit. I really enjoyed the guided tour. I also felt grateful to live in our present age with all the modern conveniences.

Well, I’m off to run and see what new sights are in store for me today.

Treadmill


Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on Pexels.com

One thing I hate more than running laps is running on a treadmill. I had always been curious about treadmills and stationary bicycles. For the longest time, I thought I would be interested in riding a stationary bike during the winter when I didn’t want to run in the snow and ice. It would be nice, I thought, to get an aerobic workout without braving extreme winter weather. I often thought about buying a stationary bicycle until I heard about treadmills. Then, I wondered what it would be like to run on a treadmill indoors instead of running through the snow, slush, and ice on a wintry day. I suppose I could have joined a health club instead of buying a stationary bicycle or a treadmill, but somehow, I thought I would use the stationary bicycle or treadmill if I owned one.

The more I ran outdoors, the less I thought about buying either apparatus. I hate the repetitiveness of running laps because I keep seeing the same scenery repetitively. However, running and cycling in one place would be even worse because of the lack of change of scenery. But I never actually ran or cycled in one place.

A few years back when I was in México, my cousin suggested that I go to the health club with her. I have never been a fan of health clubs, but I was curious to see what a health club in México was like, so I went with her. Well, it didn’t look much different than a health club in Illinois or California. Anyway, I decided to run on the treadmill just to finally see what it’s like to run a treadmill. I had not run for about a month prior because of constant pain in my right foot, so I wasn’t sure how fast or how long I could run, but I was running alongside my cousin Jaqueline. She was happy that she didn’t have to miss her workout on account of my visit. I told her I could handle running even though I had not run recently.

So, I felt a little pressure to show her that I was a real runner. I set a goal of running for thirty minutes, which I was confident I could complete. We were able to watch TV while we ran. It had never occurred to me before to watch TV while I ran. I don’t even listen to music when I run.

Well, running on a treadmill did not seem like real running to me. I jumped in the air and the belt beneath me moved my foot back. So, I was running without going anywhere. It seemed absurd to me. I sped up the belt slowly, but it still didn’t feel like real running. My cousin was enjoying her workout. She kept asking me how I liked it and I would just say it was great and smile back at her. Then I thought of increasing the incline that is supposed to simulate hills. Well, running on a steeply inclined treadmill is nothing like running hills. All I had to do was raise my foot a little higher and the belt would move it backwards. When I run up a hill, I can feel my legs carrying my entire body weight up the hill, not so with the treadmill.

Well, I managed to run for thirty minutes comfortably, but I didn’t feel like I really exerted myself very much. The pain in my right foot didn’t bother me at all. After that, I lost all desire to buy a treadmill. I’ll just stick to running on the road and running hills without watching TV or listening to music. Well, I must run now.

Running laps


Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

Ideally, I enjoy running one, and only, one lap. However, running is seldom ideal and occasionally we must run more than one lap. Last summer, I found my ideal running course, ideal for me, anyway. About nine miles with gently rolling hills and enough variety in scenery to keep my run interesting. I saw and greeted enough runners on this course to make me feel like I was running with someone else. This course was perfect for me! Especially since it was only one lap long!

However, during the fall, the days became shorter, and darkness covered the course much earlier than I would have liked. The first few runs of shortened daylight, I ended my run in darkness. When I lived in Chicago, this wasn’t a problem because of the streetlights. However, in Glendale Heights and Glen Ellyn, there were no streetlights anywhere except downtown. I was running in the dark. And I could barely see where I was running. I was also blinded by the headlights of oncoming cars. I had to adjust my starting time so I could finish my run by dusk when I could still see.

Then in addition to the shortened days, I also had to contend with one of the wintriest winters of my life. The first snowfall, I was able to run my usual course as the snow was fluffy and fun to run in. However, as the snow melted and refroze into ice, it became a slippery hazard, especially on the downhills. The first time I encountered an icy downhill, I re-pulled my already pulled left hamstring. I had only run about a quarter mile, but I had to limp back home at a slow trot, even slower than my already slow pace. I was able to run my course a few more times until repeated snowstorms struck. Not only was my running course dark by 4:30 P.M., but it was also at least ankle-deep in snow in ice in most places. Not everyone shoveled their sidewalks.

I was just getting into the groove of running, so I didn’t want to slow down during the winter. Before I started running this nine-mile course, I was running laps around our housing complex. Each lap was about 0.9 of a mile. I ran five laps as many times per week as my body would allow for 4.5 miles. I’m quite sure the lap was 0.9 of a mile because I measured it with my iPhone 2, my car, my Samsung Galaxy Note 2, and my car again just to confirm the distance. So, I was sure I was running 0.9 of a mile with each lap. And the reason I was running laps in our complex was that I lacked the self-confidence to go out and run on an out-and-back course. I was afraid I wouldn’t have the endurance to finish, and I would be stranded miles from home.

Anyway, once the snow and ice accumulated on my running course, I began running laps again, out of necessity. What I hate about running laps is that they’re repetitive, but because they’re repetitive, I also find comfort in running laps. Despite the snow and ice outside of our complex, snowplows cleared the street of our housing complex, and the street was salted so I had a good running surface on most days. I ran ten laps on most days last winter. I didn’t run on the coldest day of the year because my wife was told she didn’t have to go to work because of the extreme cold and so she was home to forbid me from exiting our front door. Otherwise, I would have run that day, too. Don’t get me wrong, but I enjoyed not having to brave the elements that day. Thank you, wife! Especially, for the hot chocolate you made me that day.

One thing I learned from running laps is that life is also about running laps. We do many things repeatedly in life and running. In running, it’s left foot, right foot, repeat. And I keep repeating putting one foot in front of the other until I finish running my desired distance. Or, until I can’t run any longer, for whatever reason, extreme weather, or lack of desire or endurance. In life, we repeat many things such as education: grade school, high school, college, graduate school. I have run many laps in my life, in many different areas, but it’s all repetition. I choose to enjoy the repetition of these laps because of the comfort they provide. I enjoy the comfort of life’s laps.

However, when I run, I still prefer to run only one lap!

Schedule


Photo by Andrey Grushnikov on Pexels.com

In order for me to run regularly, I must schedule everything around my run. My daily run determines what time I go to bed, what time I wake up, and when I eat. All these activities revolve around my run. Since I run about nine miles per day, I must time my meals so they don’t adversely affect my run. I can’t eat a full meal and then decide to go out and run nine miles. I must prepare my body to run and fully enjoy my run.

My preferred time to run is early in the morning, usually after I wake up and drink some black coffee. With no cream or sugar, which would change my blood sugar and negatively impact my running. I know that if I eat and drink too soon before a run, I feel a little dizzy and my legs feel heavy, like lead. Running with a full stomach slows me down now, although when I was younger, I could occasionally run on a full stomach. Now, I prefer to eat dinner in the evening, have a light snack before going to bed, and then wake up in the morning early to have a cup or two of black coffee. Somehow coffee helps me run. Not only is it a stimulant, but it’s also a diuretic, which helps avoid bowel problems on the run. And you know exactly what I mean if you’re a runner. Only then, after following my morning ritual, do I feel ready to run.

Lately, I’ve decided, since I’m on summer vacation from teaching, to wake up, drink coffee, write a blog post, and then run. So far, it’s working out well. During the academic year, I usually run after school, but running in the morning is better for me because then I feel as if I have the rest of the day for myself. Working a full-time job really takes up much of my day, so I enjoy my summer vacations!

Well, I finished my coffee and this post. I’m off on my run!

DDR