Monday, December 8, 2008

"Big Bad John" was a Bulldawg (aka Boxer)

I can remember the day as if it was yesterday. It was a long time ago though, circa 1960. My Dad rolled up in the yard in his 1954 Ford. Riding shotgun was the biggest, slobbering Boxer bulldog anyone could imagine. Three beaming, excited kids fell all over ourselves getting out the front door to meet him.

"Daddy! Daddy! What's his name?"
"Well, they call him John, " He said, "But his registered name is Big Bad John. Just get him some water for now, and I'll bring food for him when I get back from town...and leave him tied up until he gets used to the place or he might run off."
He spoke as he chained him to the tree in the side yard and never looked back as he jumped in his car and sped off toward the poker house...and the firewater. He never heard my brother's question, "Is he OURS?"

The answer came from an angry voice on the porch. "No, HELL NO! He's NOT OURS!" Mother yelled. "That dog is not living here!"

She ordered us in the house and dared us to touch the dog. We couldn't get him water and much less food. He'd never leave if we fed him. She spent the next hour in a tirade mumbling about him "always bringing her more work to do" while he "went off and got drunk," and "no sirree Bob" it wasn't gonna work this time. That dog would be gone when he got back just as soon as she figured out a way to be rid of him. Being the oldest child and about fourteen at the time, I knew what she was ranting about. Dad was famous for going off to play poker (and drink) with other farmers. Sometimes they had poker money, and sometimes they didn't. Lack of money didn't stop animals were legal tender, and they played for them too. Mother had her fill of bucket feeding his poker winnings of 3-day old calves. It gets worse. She would raise them to healthy yearlings and he would haul them off to the cattle sale. He pocketed the money himself...or just as likely, pitched a two-week drunk on it. The fruits of her labor never made it home. By that age, I could easily understand her anger.
But...I wanted that dog!

About the time I realized how bad I wanted him, Mother had decided how she was going to get rid of him. She marched outside, took him off the chain and commenced to throwing gravel out of the driveway at him, trying to run him off. John had other ideas. He thought he'd like living on the farm, and decided to stick around in spite of having to dance around dodging rocks. The fact that he wouldn't run away just frustrated her more. She was picking up gravel by the handsful and chucking them at him to no avail. John just danced and dodged on the outer perimeters of the yard until she finally wore herself out and came back in the house. I doubt she hit him with the first rock. If she did, John was none the worse for the wear. He sneaked up on the porch, checked all his perimeters, yawned, and settled in for a nap. He was home. He just had to convince HER!
John seized his golden opportunity to worm his way into my mother's cold heart about 3 AM when Pop came home...quite inebriated. He didn't smell like he did earlier in the day, and John wouldn't let him out of the car. He tried several times, but each time he opened the door, John lunged at him. The door shut quickly. He was trapped in his car and my mother was falling in love. Finally, he resorted to blowing the car horn until she opened the door to see what he wanted. He yelled through an inch wide crack in the car window, "Tell this SOB who I am!"
"YOU tell him!" She yelled back as she slammed the door. The next thing I knew, she was pulling slabs of bacon, sausage, and eggs from the fridge. She put on a pot of grits and made homemade biscuits and gravy like there was a dozen or more coming for breakfast. I looked at the clock and had to ask, "Mama, why are you making all this food in the middle of the night?"
"For me and MY dog," she said, "And anybody else who wants to eat."

Indeed, John was ours.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What Not to do for the Grieving...

I really don't know where to begin this post, except that I feel compelled to address it for my own heart's sake. It's been six months since my beautiful daughter died in a grinding automobile crash. Not a day goes by that I don't think about her. I miss her in a most profound way that's different from any other person in my life who has passed on. There are no words for it, just the feeling that half of me is gone and I must somehow survive without an important part of my very soul. I'm having to re-invent myself because I am no longer the mother of a lovely young woman who should have had her whole life ahead of her. If I'm not her mother, then who am I? (The picture is Angie with her son, Nathaniel).

Grief is one thing, but a whole identity crisis is something I thought I figured out back in the 70's.

Most days, the tears are "just behind my eyes" (to borrow a phrase from the friend who first used it.) It's such a fragile balance, and I have worked so hard to achieve it. That delicate edge is the difference between being a functioning human being and a total emotional breakdown.
Today I learned that I not only must survive this grief, but I must also survive well-meaning people. I'm learning to live with the grief, but I'm convinced that well-meaning people just might do me in. I've been a train wreck since the mail came, and I know she would never intentionally hurt me. She's my friend. She's done a lot for me over the years and I love her very much. She would be hurt to know that I spent my day screaming and crying like I'd just got the news of Angie's death...over the package she sent me today.

If you know someone who is grieving, please don't try to make it better. For one thing, you can't. For another, you can very easily make it ten times worse for the person you are trying to help. Most especially, don't send a grieving mother poems written in the first person like a "letter home" from Heaven. Only God knows what I would give to get a real letter like that from Angie. All my neighbors know (now) how loud I can scream that it's just not possible. The name of the poem is "My First Christmas in Heaven." I'm sure it was intended to help someone who is going through the first Christmas without their loved one. I'm sure she thought it would help me. The truth is...if I were to read it again, I'd not survive another day, much less through Christmas. It has the total opposite effect on the grieving and should come with a warning label. It's a tear-jerker on a good day. For someone walking that fine emotional's total overwhelment. I don't need any help to cry. I got that one down-pat. I need LAUGH.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Flower Power in Fourth Ward

Even at the end of the season, there were these beauties in the park.

Fourth Ward Renovated homes

I could have stopped in front of every house and taken a picture. They were all spectacular!

Bird Houses in Fourth Ward park

There's just no words to explain these
artistic creations. I love them, but thank God for pictures! Enjoy!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Day in Fourth Ward

Frog Friend Gail is a personal assistant to my elderly aunts who are 92 and 93. Thanks to her, they are able to continue living in their home. She cooks for them, runs errands, keeps their medicine straight, name it. If they need it, she does it. Gail has another client in Charlotte two days a week. They scheduled in other support help in on those days, so it all works out. Things get a little hairy though when the Charlotte client goes on vacation. He has two dogs and two cats in his condo that have to be cared for. The dogs must be walked in inner city Charlotte several times a day. The area is known as Fourth Ward, near the Bobcats arena and Discovery Place. Fourth Ward has a historical heyday in the Gay Nineties...that would be the 1890's and early 1900. Most of the houses built during the turn of the century in that area were huge Victorians. After 80 or 90 years the area had fallen into disrepair. Entre Urban Renewal! It's so gorgeous there now. They're becoming Charleston and Savannah wannabes complete with carriage horses. (And I have a picture of one!)

My aunts live about 20 miles north of the city near Lake Norman. Poor Gail has kept her Chrysler cruiser in the wind, back and forth between the two places all week. Today we took the old girls to meet up with the dogs. We spent the day in Fourth Ward wheelchair pushing. Both dogs and oldsters had a great time. The cats? Well they're they just don't give a darn!

Sammy the dog is kinda cute don't you think? He loves Aunt Ruth and tries to "protect" her from the other resident house dog. It was so funny to watch him.

A good note to end on for tonight. Tune in tomorrow for more pictures of Fourth Ward.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fall Has Fell!

It's all over my yard! It makes an old farm girl's thoughts turn to sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and mulled apple cider. I can still smell those spices!

Life has been a little crazy these last few weeks. There's been so little time to update the blog.

But the holidays are coming and I'm already gathering ingredients for the baking seige that will definitely take place in my kitchen. My theory is to collect all the stuff and the time to bake will appear...simply because it has to! It will happen, you just watch! It will be different this year without Angie. She was my biggest fan during the holiday cooking. I miss her so much. Getting through the holidays will be an emotional challenge, but my heart has been on my sleeve since June 10. I can probably withstand about anything by now. If not, I know where the Kimberly Clark aisle is.
Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ten Hearty Meals for the price of ONE!

I believe I've said this before; I love to cook! I have no children at home anymore. Thus, cooking for one can be a bit of a challenge. Buying for one at any grocery store is impossible! The smallest package of almost anything feeds at least four. Last but not least, to get the best prices, you have to buy in bulk. I couldn't cook for one without generating a lot of wasted food--so I stopped doing it.

I cook for 10 or 12 instead; eat one, and freeze the rest in individual meal containers. Tonight's menu: country style pork steak, mashed potatoes with gravy, and green beans times ten. The cubed pork steak was the deal of the week at the store, $1.98 per lb. The total cost of the ten meals was under $15...or about the price of one conservative dinner out.

Country Style Steak recipe:

4 lb. cubed steak (pork or beef)
1 Can Beef Broth
Salt and Pepper to taste
TBSP Kitchen Bouquet
Flour for dredging
Oil for frying

Salt and pepper steak pieces on both sides. Dredge in flour and fry steak in small batches until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Pour grease off the frying pan through a strainer to save the browned bits. Add browned bits back to pan. Turn heat to high and add can of beef broth and a can of water. Bring to a rolling boil. Transfer the meat to a dutch oven or stock pot and pour the boiling pan drippings over. Add Kitchen Bouquet and just enough water to cover the meat. Simmer on low until steak is fork tender and gravy has thickened. Prepare mashed potatoes and green beans while the steak is cooking. Tonight I'll freeze them with the lids on the containers. Tomorrow, I will remove the lids and pack them in gallon vacuum ziplocks. Where can you get a good home-cooked meal for a buck- fifty a plate and 3 minutes in a microwave?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Do you see anything wrong with this picture that a 50K kitchen
renovation couldn't cure? I don't either, and I really really would LOVE a new kitchen. It's on the dream board, but I've not won the lotto yet. That's not what I meant anyway. This kitchen is too clean. It looks like food could happen here, but nothing is...yet. I'm going to trash it and FINALLY, yes FINALLY!, make CHICKEN PIE!

We need pie crust! You can get it at the store, or you can do like me, make your own from scratch. It's really not that hard to do with a foolproof recipe. I happen to have access to one of those. You'll find it on Suzanne McMinn's blog, Chickens in the Road, at Suzanne is a romance writer and she lives on a farm in the hills of West Virginia. Check out her Foolproof Pie Crust recipe, and don't turn your nose up that it has vinegar in it. Vinegar is the "foolproof" secret and you'll never taste it once it's baked. Once you get your dough into a ball like this, it must be wrapped in plastic and put in the fridge for at least 15 minutes before you attempt to roll it out. Did I mention that I make little pies and freeze them? I'm an empty-nester, so making a whole pie would be a lot of waste. I make them in small individual sized cake pans. The batch makes a dozen small pies, or three regular sized pies.

You can put vegetables in the pies if you like, I just prefer my vegetables on the side. Usually the night before pie-making I rotisserie two chickens and take the meat from the bones.

Filling Recipe:

Meat from two cooked chickens, chopped
2 Cans Chicken Broth (or homemade stock)
1 Can Cream of Chicken Soup
1 Cup whole milk (I use half and half)
2 TBSP Flour
2 TBSP butter
1/2 Knorr Chicken Bouillon cube
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp crushed rosemary

In a large stockpot, melt the butter and make a roux with the flour. Do not brown the roux. Once the flour is dissolved in the butter add the chicken broth, soup, milk and bouillon. Simmer until smooth and thickened, add cooked chicken and seasonings. Keep in mind that the broth (if you used canned) and the bouillon have lots of sodium in them. Taste before you add salt. Otherwise, you may get it too salty!

Here we go, finished pies ready for the freezer, with a ball of pie crust left over. I freeze them solid on the cookie sheet first, and then package them in ziplock freezer bags. They're so handy to have around and so good!

As you can see, a couple of these didn't make it to the freezer!
After craving chicken pie for weeks now, I just couldn't freeze them all. Yum!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Eat Your Heart Out Paula Deen Chocolate Mousse Cake

Don't get me wrong. I love Paula Deen. Everything about her makes her a hero to me. She's a home-town Georgia girl success story, and I've only had one of her recipes to bomb on me. That would be the one pictured on this cover, her (more likely her magazine's) version of the "Chocolate Mousse Cake." The picture alone would sell magazines, but I didn't like the recipe. To be fair, perhaps I just don't like bitter devil's food cake. That's the base of the recipe. Neither the texture nor the taste was pleasing to me. Sorry, Paula, but I dumped the whole thing in the trash. The picture was a visual my mind would not let go of. Someday, I thought, I'll make that cake MY way...and just filed it away for future reference. I think I unconsciously gathered ingredients if you want to know the truth.

How else could it be that when Gail (whom I'd hired to help redeem me from housewreck hell) wanted "something sweet" I had 3 bars of German chocolate holed up in the cabinet? "You cook," she said, "I'll clean."

What a deal! Thus, "(Eat Your Heart Out Paula Deen) Chocolate Mousse Cake" was born on the fly. It's my original adaptation that has never before been published, and I'm going to share it now with my readers.

For the layer cake:
From inside the box of Baker's German Chocolate, prepare the traditional German Chocolate Cake recipe according to package directions.

For the Mousse:
1 packet of Knox unflavored gelatin dissolved in a TBSP of very warm water. Cool to room temp.
1 pint whipping cream
1 box instant chocolate fudge pudding
1/4 to 1/3 C sugar (to your taste)

Add cream to mixing bowl and start to whip at a medium-low speed. Add gelatin and sugar while whipping, then gradually add the chocolate pudding continuing to whip until it sets up in a nice mousse texture. This makes an impressive mousse to be so easy, AND there's no raw egg worry.

For the chocolate frosting:
Prepare the traditional cooked coconut/pecan frosting (also inside the box of German chocolate)...but leave out the coconut and pecans. We're going for pure chocolate decadence here. As soon as it comes off the 12 minute cook on the stovetop, add a full bar of German chocolate and stir until melted. Cool.

Assemble the layers with the chocolate mousse between the layers and the frosting over the outside. Decorate the top with chocolate curls from the third bar of German chocolate.

To make chocolate curls: Microwave the chocolate at 5-second intervals. About two 5-second turns in the nuker makes it just right. Draw a vegetable peeler down the length of the chocolate bar and heavenly curls roll right up just like magic. (In the magazine are detailed instructions for making chocolate curls.)

Enjoy! Trust's wonderful even if I do say so myself. :)

How a day turns to.......

You’re always on your way somewhere. The key is: find a way to be happy wherever you now are on your way to where you really want to be. (We’re speaking of the state of being you want.) It does not matter where you are; where you are is shifting constantly—but you must turn your attention to where you want to go. And that’s the difference between making the best of something and making the worst of something.

Excerpted from a workshop in Detroit, MI on Saturday, September 27th, 2003

Our Love,
Jerry and Esther

Visit Us Online | Modify Details ©1997-2008 Abraham-Hicks Publications.

(I managed to truncate the message above and it made no sense. Here is the complete text of the quote:)

"Your're always on your way somewhere. The key is: Find a way to be happy wherever you are on your way to where you really want to be. (We're speaking of the state of being you want.)

It does not matter where you are; where you are is shifting constantly--but you must turn your attention to where you want to go. And that's the difference between making the best of something and making the worst of something."


It's a bit coincidental that this message turned up in my "thought for the day" email this morning. It's a day late. I should have had this to reflect on yesterday morning and my day may have gone better. The short sentence is simply: I let a series of little things get to me yesterday morning. Later in the day when asked how I was doing with the grief thing, I had a major meltdown. Before I hardly knew what was happening, I was crying and couldn't stop.
The end result of my day was exactly the opposite of what I'd planned. I'd gone to see my elderly aunts (each 92 years young!) to give them a fun and exciting day...and they were consoling ME!

"FrogFriend" Gail and I intended to push their wheelchairs all over downtown Charlotte, feed them a nice lunch and return them home tired and ready for bed right after the evening meal.
Those old girls were up, bathed, dressed and waiting on us before 8 AM. It was not to be.

Gail had to go a different direction. Her brother had a massive heart attack and she had to go to Mercy Hospital instead. My heart and my thoughts are with her. This morning's news is that there is nothing they can do for him and it's "just a matter of time." That event, and knowing what my friend may be experiencing in the next days, brought my own grief to the surface and it went downhill from there.

The series of needling events was just that...little aggravations that, on a good day, would get no more than an exasperated sigh out of me before I continued on with the program. When I went to make my morning coffee, I noticed that the kitchen and den smelled like dog pee! Thank you little rescue babies for these "presents." No problem, I'd get the mop water ready and mop/disinfect my way out the door. (You have to admit, I gave keeping the GOOD attitude the old college try!)

When I got the call to go pick up the rescues, I was in the middle of making chicken pies for the freezer. I had the filling and the pie crust made, but no assembly had taken place yet. I put it all the fridge and jumped in the van to pick up the three whizzers. The next night was another van trip to meet their transport. Chicken pie foiled again, so I moved the bag of filling to the freezer. While mopping floors I thought, well...maybe this is chicken pie day at the old folks since our other plans didn't work out. Good idea. I grabbed the bag and the pie crust and we were good to go.

Except that as soon as I'd mopped and disinfected pee out of my house, the first thing I smelled when I got in the van...pee. One (or more) of those boys had nailed my upholstery in transport. This, I didn't have time to clean with my favorite old ladies waiting on me. They think you've had an accident if you're a little late. (The odor was really great too after mellowing in the sun for a day or two.) I drove the next hour to their house with all this, shall we say, "negative aroma-therapy" pummelling my senses. In their driveway, I was never so grateful to get out of that van and slam the door!

Inside the house, I was attempting to lessen their disappointment from the nixed outing by feeding them my world-famous chicken pie. That was not to be either. In my haste to get on my way...the "bag" I'd pulled from the freezer was NOT my chicken pie filling. It was the BONES I'd frozen for stock later. (Thank you Emeril, I will probably never freeze another chicken bone. Do you have any idea what I'd like to do with these chicken bones about now ? Here's a tip for ya. Don't bend over in front of me any time soon, now y'heah?)

My Aunt Ruth, aka "Meemaw" could see I was stressing over another foiled chicken pie attempt, and tried to change the subject. She asked how I was doing emotionally over Angie, and I had one of the worst breakdowns I've had since the funeral. The waterworks was on full blast for awhile. My apologies to my lovely sweet old aunts. I sure failed my mission of making their day better yesterday. I just made them worry about me instead.

Today began much better. I had the leisure of my morning meditations and I'm reaching for the better thoughts. There's still the negative aspect of that van though. I think the best way to deal with that is throw both sliding doors and the hatch open for a couple hours before I go near it! :)

Today, I'm back on track. I'm choosing the better way.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Three new Pug rescues all at once!

Three new rescues all at once! They're making themselves right at home, all breathing like a fireplace bellows. You'd think the excitement would wear off in a couple hours. They're still panting.

Our organization has been inundated with rescues this year. I heard someone say we may be approaching the 300 mark before year end.
These guys are young, only a couple years old. It's almost impossible to take a good picture of a black dog, but this fella is really a cutie.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An Awesome Redundancy

There is no better way to end a perfect day than watch a breathtaking sunset.

God pulls the covers over the Earth and tucks us in.

Goodnight everyone.

The Old Mill, Pigeon Forge

From this angle on the bridge, the Old Mill looks like it did in days gone by. But just around to the front of the building is a whole village of commercial gift and craft shops. The inside of the mill building is also a tourist trap. I loved this shot though.

It's a Thing about Frogs

Frog Friends gathering on the deck before our frog-themed dinner table in our matching Peace Frog "angel" Ts. We have the cutest Frog place mats, handmade for us by Barb (thanks again Barb!) for the occasion. Kyle matched the mats with the purchased pink flowers and picked the wild goldenrod from the landscape around the cabin. (Amazing how well he did that!)

Kelli brought the stuffed frog. He was one of Angie's. Even the Saturday Evening Post can Kyle found in the cabin to put that arrangement in had the right month/day date on it...September 20.
If you haven't guessed it yet, Angie was really into frogs. Not only that, she was a heck of a marketer. She took the frog theme and ingrained it so deeply in her persona that anyone who ever knew her will immediately think of her when a frog appears. It was part of her cuteness and playful spontaneity. She would have enjoyed us carrying on her frog theme in her honor.

We had a candle-lit (green of course) dinner of her favorite family meal, prime rib. I didn't get any pictures of the meal. We were too busy stuffing our faces!

Hi to Barb and Richard

Just a jump in here to say hello to my extended family, Barb and Richard, and my grandson, Nathaniel. I have followed Barb's blog for a while and I thank her for giving me the idea.
For you guys, a couple more pictures around our little neighborhood in Pigeon Forge.

It's a New Day in the Neighborhood

I love to get up early, two to three hours before work-thirty if possible. It's more than having the time to mentally clear out yesterday and start the day infused with copious amounts of caffein.
There's something magical about being up early enough to hear the first bird chirp. It's a time to communicate with God and get your direction for the day.

I couldn't miss this time in Pigeon Forge.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mountains Majesty

That last post didn't turn out like I expected. In fact, I didn't even intend to post it yet. I guess there is more of a learning curve here than I first expected. Bare with me...there are pictures to share!

These from the main deck of the cabin. See how redundant they are?
Every time I walked out on that deck I thought I had to have a picture of that! The result of course is that I have lots of pictures of the same view at different times of the day. I chose this cabin for it's spectacular view. It emanates peace and tranquility and I can still feel the relief of it just looking at the pictures.

We stood there in awe of the view, four survivors, all in need of a healthy dose of peace and tranquility. There it was...ours for the weekend.

My cabin mates were two of Angie's best friends, Kelli and Kyle, and my friend, Gail, who also loves Angie.
We all have the love of Angie in common. We came here to celebrate her life, to share some of our best memories of her, to laugh, to continue our healing.... from the highest reaches possible. Mission accomplished.

We came here to escape our own daily routines, dramas, and grinds; to kick back, relax and enjoy this beautiful place together with no agenda. We spent a lot of time together, but if anyone wanted to escape to be alone to nap or to read, the cabin had three floors, each with a deck and this spectacular view. There was plenty of room to do our own thing.

I was in charge of cooking though, so they had to look me up several times a day at least! :)

I think this is my favorite view of these mountains. I watched every breath of this sunset. The fog rising from the valley floor seemed ethereal as the light slipped behind the peaks.
It was awesome.

I can see this will take a little longer than I'd expected. I'll share more in the days to come.


Weekend in Pigeon Forge, TN

Welcome to my first blog post! I decided to kick it off with our trip to the mountains for a much-needed sabbatical. But first, a little about me:

I am Judy, divorced mother of two, grandma of four, and an accountant by trade. I love to cook, from the simplest to the most elaborate gourmet offerings. If there is a delicious new recipe in town, I either have it...or I'm looking for it. In addition to the human family, there is also a family of dogs. Five pugs and a lone Pit Bull mix live here. I am a long-time member of Pug Rescue of NC, a 501(c)3 non-profit charity. I remain the western NC representative, and likely as not, there will be a new foster pug around to write about in addition to my own "fur" children.

The mountain get-away was a planned alternative to spending September 20 alone at home.
It was my daughter's 29th birthday, and she is no longer with us. On June 10, 2008, Angie was killed in a grinding car crash on her way to work. It's still very painful for me to type those words even though I have now accepted the finality of her death. Only time will lessen that pain, and it's still too new. Those of you who have lost a child know the personal devastation. Those who haven't... simply can't imagine the soul-wrenching grief.

But grief is not what this blog is about. Surviving it is. As of today, I have survived 109 days. I'm feeling a lot better. What "feeling better" means is that I survived in spite of myself. Getting well is yet a journey of many miles. Our trip to Pigeon Forge was good for several hundred of those miles.