Sunshine Blogger Award

Monday was a milestone day for me, celebrated (in my dreams) with a new pint of Ben & Jerry’s Pfish Food – oh, how wonderful some of that would be right now. It was a good day for a milestone (despite the ice cream remaining a dream) because I was sacked out on the couch most of the day on account of the army of ants that grossed me out on Saturday and made me move all those oak clapboards in the hot sun on Monday. Yes, my heat exhaustion was definitely their fault and the milestone perked me up in a way only Pfish Food would also have had the power to do.

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The milestone I celebrated was that the number of views on my blog on June 24, 2019, exceeded the total number in all of 2018, setting me up for a 100% increase by the end of the year. This is more than a little bit surprising to me because I know I’m all over the map with this blog, which I expect is not the smartest way to build and/or keep a following.

But unboring means I can’t write about one thing only, like only chickens or only cooking. Instead I jump all around and have fun with things like skinks, mums, brisket, pink boots, creepy garden statues, silly dogs, puzzles, biscotti, Aquaman (and other superheros), chocolate cheesecake (n.b. chocolate cheesecake), museums, meatloaf, spiders, screwdrivers, monkey bread, quilts, beet salad, girls and aprons, prickles, spaetzle and people who are 100+ years old (“At 100” being my most popular post so far by far, btw! Who would have ever guessed that??). My blog is kind of like coming to dinner at my house – you never know what you’re going to get! A prize to anyone who can tell me which posts all the images in this post come from.

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I mention the milestone only because the exceeding joy of it was today exceeded by Mona of Wayward Sparkles  who nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award, which blew my mind. Thank you, Mona!! I am shocked, honored and utterly discombobulated by this news. Mona’s blog is so fun, so real, so interesting, so hilarious – I don’t hold a candle to her! She has a big heart and big talent and I know she, also a recipient of this award, will be hugely, monumentally successful in all of her writing endeavors.

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Receiving this nomination comes with some rules (which look more like requirements to me, but what do I know?). No free lunch in blogger-world apparently. I need to

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated me. I already have and evermore will thank Mona. Thank you, Mona!!
  2. Figure out how “Answer the questions” (technically the second requirement) and “Nominate new blogs to receive the award and in this case, ask them to list 5 to 10 random facts about themselves” (technically the third) are two separate things and then do these two things. Writers write, right? They are generally pretty good at it. This is not totally clear writing, just saying. I know Mona didn’t come up with the list of rules, but since she sees these as essentially one rule/requirement, I guess I will too. See my random facts below.
  3. (which is technically 4. but you know how these word programs know better than you do and put the numbers in automatically – it would not let me make this #4) List the rules (which still look like requirements to me) and display the Sunshine Blogger Award. Can do.
  4. (technically 5.) Notify the nominees about it by commenting on their blog post. This I can do too, though if I were in a quabbling mood I would I would make that “… by commenting about their blog post.” Whatever. Good thing I’m not in a quabbling mood.

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Nothing is said about the order in which these things must be done. Therefore allow me to say Thank you, Mona!! again and create an mildly unboring path here by ignoring the given order and jumping to 4/5, i.e. the nomination of other great blogs which I will do in the order in which I started following them. I will return to 2/3, the random tidbits part.

Lisa’s Favorite Places “My Love of…” Lisa loves to travel and has made me aware of so many places in the U.S. that I knew nothing about like naval yards and memorials and wineries and parks and small museums off the beaten track. Her photography is excellent too – how the sky and the water can be that blue or the wooded pathway through the park that serene, I don’t know! Thank you, Lisa!

Fresh Hell Sarah has a way with words that sets her apart and will very likely bring her great fame as a writer. She is not afraid of any topic, even darker ones that are harder to express. In both poems and prose, she hits the nail on the head, leaving me contemplative or assured or intrigued or hysterically laughing! She has also written a wonderful fantasy novel called The Turning (check it out on amazon). Thank you, Sarah!

London Life with Liz Liz takes you on a tour of London: museums, restaurants and tea houses, famous historical sites, etc, making me see what’s special about each one, making me want to go to each one! I have never been to London but when I go there I will follow all of her recommendations. She makes every place sound so interesting. Thank you, Liz!

Rachel Mankowitz Rachel write about her life: her adorable dogs, her clearly terrific mom, her aspirations as a writer, her struggles resulting from a difficult childhood, her career path, etc. She puts gentle and wise words to things like child abuse and drug addiction, helping many readers I’m sure understand these things better than they otherwise would. She has also written a novel called Yeshiva Girl (also amazon), a great read I in turn shared with my fellow CASA volunteers. Thank you, Rachel!

Rob Gradens Rob impresses me with his honesty. Life sucks sometimes and Rob has been dealt some sucky cards. Nonetheless he is embarking not only on a gigantic reconstruction of his house (after a fire) but is also just as determined to reconstruct the rest of his world. He is not afraid to discuss what doesn’t make sense to him, what irritates him, confuses him, helps him. Thank you, Rob!

Mona, I would nominate you too if I could! But River beat me to it…

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Some random things about me:

  1. If there are 31 or 45 or any number of ice cream flavors to choose from, and chocolate is one of the flavors (which it better be, otherwise something is wrong with this picture), I will choose chocolate or something chocolate-based, like Pfish Food. (When I asked Samuel to name a random thing about me, his mother, he said the first thing that came to mind was how I choose chocolate ice cream above all others. Yes! Then I read him this part.)
  2. I find ironing both relaxing and satisfying. I know, I know, most people consider it a chore and avoid it at all costs, including setting multiple timers so they can get to the dryer at the exact right time to be able to take their clothes out in perfect shape. Give me soft and pure cotton, even linen (did you say linen? you never get all the wrinkles out of that stuff!) ANY DAY. I iron my pillowcases.
  3. I remember the first poem I wrote. I was in third grade and my mother read it and handed it back to me and said: You wrote this? (which was the end of any praise on the matter and led me to think it was not a good plan for me to continue along the poetry track, and now you all can agree I was wise to stop at one poem!)

On Turkey Day we eat a lot
Our tummies get so puffed
I thought it was supposed to be
The turkey who got stuffed!

  1. I didn’t like kids when I was a teenager. I found them annoying and un-fun. I babysat only for the money. Then I had five of my own and found more love in my heart than I ever knew was humanly possible. Go figure.
  2. I forget stuff sometimes. Once I forgot that I had placed the most recently dead hamster (probably the one my son Bradley tried to give a bath to), all wrapped up in a paper towel, on the mantle above the wood stove in the winter (when the stove is going constantly), and was puzzled about what that horrible smell was a few days later…
  3. I pronounce marry different than merry and Mary. Do you?
  4. I wrote a book called The Story of Keswick Hall, a hardbound, dust-jacketed, glossy-paged, full color 100-year-old history of a local private home/mansion that became a country club and then, after being practically pulled from the scrap heap, a world-class resort (currently closed for renovations). I am almost completely sold out of the second printing. I also published Vanishing History: Ruins in Virginia and My Dog is a WHAT?
  5. I homeschooled my kids for fifteen years. Our adventures included skinning a raccoon, traveling to national parks in the U.S. and castles and cathedrals in Europe, performing Charlotte’s Web and several Shakespeare plays, skiing and ice skating weekly (Oct-Mar) and building trenches in the backyard snow to simulate WWI battles. We had a blast! I want to write a book about this someday.
  6. I run an Airbnb cottage on my property called Golden Hill. In Virginia people name their properties. It’s a thing. I have 366 reviews so far.

By the way my frozen blueberry/milk/maple syrup concoction stood in nicely for the Pfish Food tonight!

And again, Thank you, Mona!!

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Too Hot, Too Much, Too Oblivious

I did it again. I forgot how strong the sun is. I forgot its power, my own limits, the bigger picture. In my mind was one thing only: Get those clapboards under the tent before it rains.

As if rain was imminent. As if a little rain would have hurt the wood. As if one more day would matter.

I don’t even remember for sure who said it – Lincoln, it had to be, when he was here recently being an amazing porch-roof-framework-builder. It was his first visit since we completed the chicken coop last year.

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We took a little walk one morning to look at it. I must have mentioned that we had been so excited to side the new coop with clapboards made from the oak timbers that his brother Bradley, also an expert builder, had milled with his Alaska saw mill seven or eight years ago, how well they matched the siding of the original coop (on the right), how like a fortress/palace the whole chicken compound is – no predator will get my birds!

We walked around to the back and I offhandedly mentioned that the leftover oak clapboards were resting under that tarp, and yeah, I really needed to move them one of these days. You don’t want to leave them there, Lincoln said. They need to be where they can be stacked right and get air.

See the tarp behind the coop? The clapboards are under it, neatly stacked. I was sure everything was just as we had left it last summer. Unsightly it is anyway though, look at that. Yes, moving those boards moved up the list. Air or no air.

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Air, yes. What happens when there is not much air? In my experience, things either suffocate or thrive. Sometimes, of course, not enough air is deadly. Sometimes, there’s just enough to hold in the moisture and create a fabulous, perfect, life-enhancing environment. Fabulous depending on who or what you are, of course. Hold that thought.

So Lincoln and the girls came and went, and my sister Lynn and her husband Billy came and went, and that’s when you turn your attention to the things you can’t do when you have company. Like moving oak clapboards. Saturday was the day.

I’m the grunt around here. I can screw down the decking boards and occasionally cut one on the chop saw. I can go get things, clean up, hold something in place, ask questions, decide if some element is worth our time or not, and make sure everyone has water to drink. I can also move stuff. I am a happy grunt! Somebody has to move stuff and it might as well be the person who is not so good with heights or has a bum shoulder or doesn’t feel so comfortable with the skillsaw. Or all of the above.

I uncovered the boards (turned out there were three tarps!) and discovered that the thin plastic that was between the boards and the tarp (for some reason I can’t remember) had greatly disintegrated. Shredded is maybe a better word. It was gross but nothing like what was coming. I picked all the plastic off and kept going. We had a trailer full of other construction materials to move as well, so I figured I’d add these boards to the load.

Two or three layers down I saw some ants. Pesky, big black things busy about their business. I kept going. They were not worth a photo. The more boards I uncovered, though, the more ants I saw. And not only ants. Ant eggs! Eight or nine layers down, I’m talking easily thousands! Ugh!!!

We all have triggers, right? Sensors that perk up at different things? Sensitivities that evoke feelings of tenderness or competitiveness or sympathy or DISGUST!!!!! I cannot possibly put into words how my disgust sensors went into overdrive – thus no photos I’m afraid! I had one thought and one thought only: Break up the ant colony or they will destroy the wood! Clearly the moist, safe, climate-controlled environment under the tarp(s) was ant heaven, and these were surely building up their forces and conspiring to eventually eat up my precious boards!

I know, I know, they’re just ants, just going about their business doing what ants do – multiplying copiously! I am sure there are countless similar colonies in my woods, countless such heavenly environments among all the fallen logs out there. These ants had been at it for almost a year — surely a few more minutes (such as a calmer person would have taken) would affect nothing significantly, but they were just too numerous (far too numerous and far too gross!) and too close to my home. They had to go, and they had to go now.

Furiously I moved the boards, uncovering ever more ants. The chickens! I thought. The chickens would have a feast! I went around the front of the coop and opened their door, but no, these chickens who have never been outside the confines of their run/coop were unwilling to come out! Fools – there’s a feast out here!! Sandy (otherwise occupied in skillful work on the porch) had come by this time to help, and together we cornered three of them (one at a time!) and plunked them on the boards among the ants. Away they scampered! Pressed themselves against the outside of the fence as if they could ghost their way back in! Eeks! What are we doing out here?? I guess I have homebody chickens – they just wanted to go home!

(In retrospect I do see that the frenetic activity at that time was hardly conducive for enjoying a feast, but at the time all I could think was: Idiot birds!)

Finally all of the boards were laid out on the mulch surrounding the coops and snow-shovelfuls of ants and ant eggs were brought to the happy, home-again and thank-God-we-avoided-the-scary-outside-world chickens I call my own. Then they feasted, and the boards and I rested. Here are some of them, ant-free, breathing, drying, relieved!

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All well and good through the rest of Saturday (my disgust sensitivities calmed down) and through sunny Sunday (one more day in the sun won’t hurt them), all well and good until it’s going to rain on Monday (today). Gotta get those boards under the tent.

Yeah, that’s when I forgot the sun and its power. I forgot that the high 80s (maybe even low 90s it was?) can do a number on you. Before noon the air was still as a stone, not a lick of breeze, no clouds. But the forecast called for rain later. I got my grubby clothes on and determined to get this task done lickity split. I tried loading them on a smallish tarp so I could pull a batch at a time the 50 yards or so to the gigantic tent that serves as a simple shelter for such things (really it’s just a huge tarp stretched over a strong A-shape frame – has served well for years!).

The tarp-pulling method was too heavy for me. One batch at a time then, five or six boards stacked upon each other cradled in my arms, and I walked them down to their new home. At one point during the process, I remember being grateful that a few of the boards were in the shade, wishing I was done already, feeling like it was a bigger job than I had anticipated, oblivious to the effect it all was having on me, but I told myself One armful at a time, and it’ll all be done soon. As you stack the boards, you have to put slats between the layers to allow air movement (if you want to prevent ant colonies), which I can only hope I did correctly. This is what they looked like from inside the tent…

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… and like this from outside – you can see the layers. Clearly I did not take time to make it pretty.

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Doesn’t seem like that much when I look at the photos. How I even got these photos I don’t know because by the time I was done, I didn’t care so much about anything except getting inside. I could barely stand up. I got myself into the house, breathing way too heavy, feeling unsteady, weak, quivery, all manner of unwell. Clearly I had needed someone, sooner, to say Hey, that’s enough, go sit down. I didn’t realize I was pushing too hard in the hot sun.

There’s a name for this I’m sure, maybe heat exhaustion? Whatever it’s called, it took me almost two hours to feel normal again and I accomplished little more the rest of the afternoon. This happened once last summer too when I was raking leaves. Set my goal too high. Raked too many. The sun was too hot and I successfully ignored the increasing danger. Same basic symptoms I think, though maybe it was even worse. How did I let this happen again? At least it wasn’t as bad this time – or maybe I only stopped because there weren’t more boards …

As the afternoon hours passed (and I sat on the couch immobile, grateful for Netflix which I never watch during the day unless I’m like this, unable to do anything else), the wind kicked up, the sky darkened, the rain threatened, the dogs got anxious/nervous – oh, why did the word antsy have to come into my head!!??

The storm passed by. Not a drop fell. The area behind the coop is tidy and uninfested (I hope!). And I am fine.

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Zucchini Surprise Pie

It’s been busy around here: building an extension to the front porch (and dealing with the accompanying mess), preparing for company (another good reason to deal with the construction mess) and enjoying company (how nice to have cleaned up that mess!). With all of this activity, I go inevitably in and out through the front door a lot, meaning recently that I get to see certain precious images over and over – this is one of the notes of greeting that 6-year-old Rise made last week and taped to my front door. How can you see this and not smile??

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When it’s busy I forget about things, but routine is handy for calling us back. I have a garden. I planted stuff. But it’s been so busy I’ve hardly been out there except for a quick oregano-snipping or weed-lamenting visit.

Anyone who has grown zucchini knows what a zucchini surprise is. For those who are unfamiliar with this fast-growing vegetable, it’s when you are casually checking under the leaves of your various, viney garden plants to see what’s hiding, and come upon – Oh, look at that! – a baseball bat of a zucchini that you didn’t see when you were in said garden two days earlier (!). Such a surprise was mine last week when giving a mini-tour of the garden to some recent Airbnb guests.

Carrots, beets, onions, melons, cabbages and almost all herbs will reach their optimal point of harvesting and nicely wait for you to come along and take them to the kitchen. Not zucchini. It is among the most impatient of vegetables. You don’t care enough to look for me when I am in my tender prime? Fine. I will grow bigger, bigger, bigger, past my prime, and you will have a baseball bat on your hands before long!

So, yeah, past their perfect prime were those first two zucchinis, though you couldn’t call them bats yet. I gave the smaller of the two to my guests and put the other in my fridge, after checking to make sure there were no babies hiding there too, looking to expand into zucchini monsters if I were negligent again. I gave them a few days, did remember to go check, and there found four new ones, only one of which was still prime (i.e. three were already bigger than that!).

Guess it’s time to do something with zucchini! Right about then, Claudia sent me a new zucchini pie recipe called Schafskäse Zucchini Quiche. (It’s the zucchini time of year apparently!) I was intrigued by the parmesan in the crust and the goat cheese and sunflower seeds in the mixture. (Never mind that Schafskäse means sheep’s milk cheese, not goat’s milk cheese – this is unimportant.) I asked Mom if she had sunflower seeds; she didn’t, and I didn’t want to go to the store. So in the end the recipe was simply inspiration and I created my own Zucchini Surprise Pie.

For the crust I cut ½ cup cold butter into 1/3 cup finely grated romano cheese mixed with 1 ½ cups flour and ¼ tsp salt (with my pastry blender). It looked like typical pie crust crumbs, but I knew it would have an extra special taste on account of the cheese in there.

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I added ¼ cup of ice cold water (you can make it cold by adding ice cubes to the water, or use water from the fridge, or take your chances that the water coming out of your faucet is cold enough). Mix this quickly (don’t overmix) till it pulls from the sides of the bowl; make a nice ball. Roll this out on a floured surface, big enough to fit your dish – I used an oval dish that’s 12×8 inches. Best way to see if the dough is the right size is by placing your dish on top, as I did (see below). If there is enough to fit in there and come up the sides, you are good to go!

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Fold the dough in half and gently lift it up and into the dish; unfold and drape the edges over the sides. This keeps them out of the way for now. Later, you can be fancy with a scalloped edge or just flop the excess on top.

For the mixture, start by grating your zucchini (not the smallest holes you have on your grater, and not the largest). I used about 2 ½ cups in this recipe, but if you have a little more or a little less, I don’t think it would matter. To this I added 4 eggs, 8 deli slices of genoa salami (cut up), 4 oz crumbled up (by hand) goat cheese…

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… as well as 1 cup grated Jarlsberg (swiss) cheese, ¼ cup flour, 1 tsp salt, a few shakes of pepper, 3 fresh sage leaves (chopped) and the leaves off 2 stems of fresh thyme (which would amount to 2 teaspoons probably, hard to tell when it’s so fresh and not pressed down – again a little more or less won’t hurt anything). These are the herbs I used because they seemed good to me, and you know that Simon and Garfunkel song:

Are you going to Scarborough fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

What parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme have to do with the fair and the love I haven’t a clue (never did). But because of that song I always thought that any/all of these herbs could be used in a recipe that calls for one or another, that they go well together and that various combinations are acceptable. See what you learn from music?? Anyway, the fresher, the better, and mine came straight from the garden into the bowl and that makes me smile. 😊

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Right about at this point I turned on my oven so it would get hot while I finished up. I set it to 375F, then mixed all of this up and poured it into my crust. Normally you put milk or cream in a quiche but the goat cheese is so creamy, you don’t need it.

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I was not in the mood to be fancy with the edges (chomping at the bit, one might say, to go lay more deck boards on the new porch) so I flopped them over and popped it in the oven. Ovens are different and people like different levels of golden-brownness; my pie stayed in my oven about 40 minutes and looked like this.

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It smelled so good!! My sister was coming and I knew she would love this, but we had decided to go out to dinner – enjoyed Rhett’s River Grill which, it turns out, is relocating by the end of the year and will be waaaay closer to my house!!

So I let the zucchini pie cool, covered it with plastic before refrigerating it, and reheated it the next day at 300F for half an hour. Delish! I love the cheese in the crust too. Taking leftovers as part of a picnic lunch to the Science Museum in Richmond the next day gave us a chance to try it cold – just as good!!

Not bad for an experiment, I’d say. Thank you, Claudia, for the inspiration! Now whoever among you has too many zucchinis…

A Mighty Oak Meets the Earth

Imagine being a very big tree, a mighty red oak. You have been standing in your same spot on a Virginia hillside for a very long time, say, at least a hundred years. You are part of a forest, not a national park or anything so grand, just a peaceful forest not terribly far from the Blue Ridge Mountains. You grew strong over the years, pushed your way ever higher toward the sun.

Ah, the sun, the seasons. Bask. Bask.

When you were about 50, some humans came to the site to build a house, but you survived this possible demise because of being just far enough away from the spot they decided was best. They put a utility pole fairly near you, but its inanimate state was uninteresting, and you said Paugh, who cares about that?

When you were about 90 and towering proudly among your adjacent tree-fellows, another risk came along, another building project, a cottage this time, but your majestic canopy and the glorious shade it provided these new humans saved you. You said to the young beech trying to grow right next to you, I’m feeling a mite weak in the joints, little fella, but don’t get any ideas about taking this spot. I’ve been here a long time. No offense, but it’s mine.

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Wind. It comes, it blows.

The sound of a tree-fellow nearby crashing to the ground during a storm always adds to the drama of the day, always causes you to ponder your own strength and good fortune. You tell yourself that if you were not meant to become the mightiest grandfather in this neck of the woods, you would have fallen already. Some tree has to become the giant among giants – it might as well be you. Then one spring day that blasting wind comes again, and in one super painful stroke, your hugest north-pointing limb lets go at the joint, its weight bringing it instantly to the forest floor below and leaving a massive, open, splintery wound on your side.

Crap.

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The humans come and inspect. They bring other humans to come and inspect. They all shake their heads and use words like risky, problem and electrocution. Electrocution? They point to that inanimate pole that’s closer than it used to be… or, oh, maybe you’re just bigger than you used to be. No! you want to say to them. Don’t worry! I am still strong! I can stand another fifty years! You are a little like Mike Mulligan, who used to say about Mary Anne (his steam shovel) that “she could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week.” In this classic children’s book, Mike’s assertion is always followed by “but he had never been quite sure that this was true.”

You are not quite sure that you will not fall one day and hit the cable coming off that pole. You cannot be sure. The humans cannot be sure. As they walk away, you want to believe it will all be okay. You settle into your new life, feeling somewhat off balance, slightly less steady, especially when the wind kicks up, now that you have no huge branch on the north side counterweighting all the other branches. Weeks go by. The humans seem to have lost interest. What a relief.

Then one day some big vehicles arrive. They stare and say, “See how it leans?” They curiously turn their attention to a perfectly nice (younger, smaller) oak that stands between you and the biggest vehicle.

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Odd.

You watch. A man sits in the bucket attached to the vehicle, starts at the top, lops off branch after branch, then sections off the main part of the trunk one piece at a time, letting each one crash. Huh. They cut that poor little fellow down to earth-level for no seemingly good reason. Then they move the truck in closer.

Oh.

It’s your turn. They start on the side closest to that damn pole. They work carefully to make sure nothing falls near the cable. The 75’ reach of the bucket is barely high enough to get them to the best position. But they manage. Bit by bit, they buzz their tool and drop your limbs. Parts of you that only ever knew sky meet the earth.

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Then they move on to the side that hangs over the little cottage. Yeah, you knew that lowest one was perhaps your weakest limb. Maybe they had reason to worry about that one. It didn’t take much for it to break. They were careful on that side, using a rope around it to make sure that when it swung down, it would avoid the cottage roof and land where they wanted.

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This is it, you realize. You reached, you grew, you survived. You gave beauty to the forest, shade to the humans, home sites and abundant food to forest creatures for many years. Now you will give warmth by way of firewood. Lots of yourself is already on the ground, the danger of hitting the pole now a thing of the past, but they left some for the next guy to come and fell.

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“Sad,” you hear the lady of the house saying. “Reminds me of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein,” she says, “a book that’s been called ‘a touching interpretation of the gift of giving.’ Maybe that’s what this tree did. It gave. For many years it gave. As with all of us, its days were numbered – even if none of us ever know the number! But chapters do close….”

Since Micah’s death, there have been two more people that I knew for years, two more I talked with, played with, greatly admired, two more who gave to those around them, who added depth, joy, love, fun and substantial contributions to the circle they walked in, two more whose chapters have closed. To the families of C. Wayne Callaway and Ken Brown, I offer my deepest condolences.

Blueberry Snacktime!

The Ben & Jerry’s Pfish Food is gone. I enjoy it sooooo much every now and then, counting it as very special, meaning I don’t make a habit of having it around because 1. Too much Ben & Jerry’s would make me a whale and 2. I don’t want to be a whale. I’m not too keen on the lowfat or calorically-modified versions of things though because mystery ingredients make me nervous. Within the range of reason, I like to know what I’m eating.

So where does that leave me when I want something like ice cream – cold, sweet and dairy – but have met my quota of fudgy fish mixed in with the richest chocolate ice cream and luscious marshmallowy goo? (Oh, for a free pass on Pfish Food!)

It leaves me with one of my all-time favorite snacks – simple as can be AND cold, sweet and dairy.

“My blueberries,” I call it. “I’m going to have my blueberries.” By this I mean I walk to my freezer, take out the package of frozen wild Maine blueberries (the tiny ones these are, and this concoction works better with the tiny ones as compared to the giant cultivated berries), pour a little maple syrup or honey over them (say, about a tablespoon), making it look like this…

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…pour some milk over it, like this…

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…and wait five minutes or so for the frozen hardness of the berries to seep into the liquid milk, resulting in softer berries and sweet, slushy milk, which you then mix up and eat with a spoon. Oh yum! Not too heavy, just sweet enough, and I forget all about the Pfish Food!

The berries I use are Wyman’s and you can see I got the 3-pound bag of them this last time because they were on sale. Snacks don’t have to be complicated to be very, very good!

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Pfish Food, Cyrus the Great, Heinz Glass and Other Bits of My Day

What an odd-mix of a day so far. I visited an inmate at a local jail, listened to Dan Carlin bringing alive again the Assyrian battles of old and the Persian conquest of Babylon, enjoyed a few bites of Ben & Jerry’s Pfish Food, edited and spoke into a recording device (as articulately as I could) a five-minute oral presentation about Heinz Glass for a German student, meditated on the gorgeous color and superbly graceful flight pattern of a bluebird, let Coco lick off a plate of mine after lunch (not the ice cream, but still, don’t tell Samuel!)…

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It turns out that talking by phone to a person on the other side of the glass in a small room designed solely for such meetings is not as unsettling as it has sometimes been portrayed. Most recently I watched the character of Jon Stern talk to the character of Daniel Holden in Rectify, a Netflix drama about a man who served twenty years in solitary for a crime he didn’t commit. You might have the idea, going into this situation for real, that there will be drama or confession or something shocking, and maybe there sometimes is, but in my case there was eye contact and softly spoken words that seemed (benefit of the doubt) to come straight from the heart.

Maybe listening to Dan Carlin’s intro segment of “King of Kings” on the way to and from the jail mollified my jail impressions. There was no blood or filth at the jail, no yelling, no bars (that I saw), no cruelty. The way Dan paints them, the Assyrians, Medes, Persians and others of the before-common era were as nasty and as bent on conquest and power as any 20th century villains we know much more about. They were not opposed to, say, luring an unlucky thirteen-year-old to a banquet only to cut him up, roast him and serve his parts to his father as a form of punishment. This documented historical fact makes you want to learn more, right?

Yes, I want to learn more, but all that travel and talking through glass by telephone and hearing about the Battle of the Eclipse and the surprising rise of Cyrus the Great made me hungry, so I had lunch when I got home and then treated myself to the most decadent and delicious of treats. When I was a child, Hershey’s had a chocolate and marshmallow swirl ice cream that my father particularly liked. In my decidedly chocolatey way of seeing things, I have decided that with Pfish Food, Ben & Jerry’s took the chocolate-marshmallow idea to its zenith, using the creamiest of ice cream with the richest chocolate flavor and adding not only perfect marshmallowy goo, but also fudgy fishes that have just the right amount of crunchability/meltability in your mouth. For a few minutes (only a few because you can’t eat much of it) I was in Pfishy heaven.

There would be a better segue right now if Pfish Food came in a glass container, but it doesn’t, so bear with me on this pfishy transition here between the ice cream and the speech on the manufacturing process behind Heinz Glass, “one of the world’s leading manufacturers of glass bottles and caps for the perfume and cosmetics industry” (who knew?). My friend Claudia, who lives in Germany, was helping her daughter prepare a school project – a speech in English on this very topic (not the topic of Katja’s choosing, but when in high school, we generally do what our teachers tell us to do). I found out that this company goes back to 1622 (!!) and that glass is made primarily of sand (for strength) with some limestone and soda ash mixed in (to make it all easier to work with) – I think I knew about the components of glass before but how much in the way of random manufacturing trivia can we be expected to keep in our heads anyway?

I also found out that “One position in the manufacturing process doesn’t exist anymore. A woman used to bring a light beer to the workers to quench their thirst and keep them from getting dehydrated due to the heat of the glass-making process.” Why a light beer and not a dark beer or some other kind of beer, I can’t say. Some things you leave alone. My job was simply to help tweak the speech (for grammatical correctness and fluidity) and then speak it into a WhatsApp message so that Katja could use my pronunciation for reference on any troublesome words. A technical topic is not so easy to deliver. She has to say “technical development,” “industrial revolution,” “annealing,” hydraulic,” “pneumatic” and other words that don’t roll off the tongue so easily when English is not your first language.

As I sat typing and recording at my standard spot on the more smooshy end of the couch, as I also mentally processed the jail visit and the beneficent (if you want to believe it) or the just-as-cold-and-conniving-as-the-rest-of-his-ilk version of the Cyrus story, as I looked out the window at green leaves of giant trees speckled with perfect sunshine in my quiet and peaceful (at the moment) world with its little lizards scampering vertically on the red oak, I thought about the bluebird that had crossed my path when I was coming home down the driveway – one of the two, presumably, that have set up house in the birdhouse just for them near my chicken coop.

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The hole in this house is the exact size for a bluebird, small enough so other would-be lodgers don’t even consider trying to squeeze their rounder selves through it. How is it that the blue of a bluebird is so distinctive? That they fairly dance through the air rather than fly? That they found this place to raise their family, come to it again and again, squeeze through that hole?? I hope the day never comes that I don’t find something in the amazing natural world to marvel at.

Ah, something else to marvel at – the love and purity of children. I went out to get a picture of the birdhouse to be able to share and in doing so I passed through the front door, on which Rise and Eppie this past week taped various messages and pictures including the one that says I (red heart) you Come on in. (Dang! The red heart icon I put between the I and the you didn’t transfer to this platform — know I tried!)

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These two girls are precious beyond words to me. Drawing with colored pencils, doing back-porch yoga and spreading straw in the chicken coops occupied them here and there during their visit, as did making “sawdust glitter” (every kid whose dad is currently building their house should make sawdust glitter sooner or later!) and making designs with my colored stones on the coffee table.

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Lastly there’s Coco. There’s still Coco, there’s always Coco. This is zonked Coco, still in recovery mode perhaps, following the week of the Alien Invasion, a.k.a. Pimm and Polly, the Pugs That Went Back.

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Thunder rumbles in the background now. Some time has passed and rain is on the way. I wish I could zonk as easily as Coco does. I’m a bit in recovery mode myself. Maybe a cup of tea and a little more about the Persians…

“Honey, I Need a Real Dog”

Last week I was wrestling fiercely in my head and heart about two sweet, invalid pugs I had tentatively opened my home to. Here are Pimm and Polly on my couch, a favorite spot. All they wanted to do was snuggle close, which is not a bad trait if you spend a lot of time sitting. Coco clearly regarded them as aliens, choosing to keep a distance apart.

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I realized, among other things during this enlightening week, that I do not sit a lot. (My inability to post more often on anunboringpath attests to this!) I sit when I write and I sit when I am tired or eating. Sandy says I have two speeds: Off and high. Maybe he is right? Maybe this is another good reason two very inactive, nearly blind dogs are not the best choice for me?

Almost a week into my attempt to be a rescuer, Friday came around, the fiercest day of all, the day I knew I had to make the yea or nay, stay or go, here or somewhere else decision. Friday is also the day I read to Evelyn, who will be 102 in August and has been completely blind for about eight years. If anyone might be sympathetic toward these needy dogs, I thought it would be Evelyn.

Not even close. She was adamant that I should not keep them. First was the you-should-know-this declarative: “They’re dogs.” Meant, I’m sure, to assuage any lingering emotional connection I might have that would lead me to keep them for the wrong reasons. Meant, I’m sure, to suggest that they would be fine in some other place, such place being, in fact, better on account of no potentially deadly stairs that they might fall down. To top that, she – the blind lady who lives in a nursing home – said with as much vehemence as you can imagine her mustering: “They don’t need your home. They need a nursing home.” I was paying attention. She seldom has this strength of opinion.

That evening I sent the note that resulted in the pugs’ departure on Sunday, back to the foster family that bought them (and sent along to me) a suitcase full of cutesy doggie clothes. Anyone who would buy sailor suits, sundresses, raincoats and parkas for pugs, and mark them with their names in permanent marker along the lining of the collars no less, has fond affection for them. I knew Pimm and Polly would be okay. I did not have to be their savior.

Exactly a week after Evelyn told me in no uncertain terms to send the dogs back, I showed up again with To Kill a Mockingbird (our current read) in hand, and had hardly said hello when she said, “Tell me you sent those blind dogs back.” I wonder if she could have paid attention to the story if I had decided to keep them.

When Mom came for her turn to read, and to give me back Rise and Eppie who had been baking chocolate chip cookies with her during my reading hour, I decided to take a picture. Here are my little sweeties, my wonderful mom and happy, relaxed Evelyn enjoying Coco, who chose this moment to be a lizard with her tongue.

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Pimm and Polly helped me see my doggie needs differently. A week with dogs that couldn’t find their food unless you put it smack in front of them and gently positioned their flat little faces in their bowls, a week picking up dogs who couldn’t do stairs every time it was time for them to get a little outdoor time (and picking them up again after they’d had sufficient time to explore nature and do business), a week stepping over the temporary, please-God-let-them-not-take-a-tumble barriers in front of my open spiral staircase – can anyone blame me if I was right ready for a real dog?

Pre-Pimm-and-Polly, while still in the maybe-they-are-a-good-idea stage about a month or so ago, my son Bradley had said to me, “Mom, you have ten acres. Why do you want a dog that can live in an apartment? Why don’t you get a dog that can enjoy all this space?”

Around the same time, I was in Lowe’s, a store that allows you to bring in your dog(s). From a few aisles away I saw a man with a golden retriever on a leash. I am drawn like a magnet to a beautiful dog, so I approached and he gladly let me pet her. In his shopping cart was another dog, a dachshund I think, something small anyway. “She’s so beautiful,” I said about his golden as I stroked her gorgeous fur, glancing up at the other dog as well, as if some of my praise could waft in that dog’s direction. Nice little dog I’m sure. Fair’s fair after all. Well, sort of fair. I continued petting the golden.

“Thank you,” he said, clearly pleased that his gorgeous animal had been noticed and admired. Motioning to the smaller dog he said, “My wife and I always had big dogs, and then our last one passed and we were without a dog. Some friends of ours were getting one of these and there was one left in the litter and my wife and I said, Okay, sure, let’s get a small dog. About four years later I told her, Honey, I need a real dog.”

Much as Bradley’s advice and this incident might have (should have?) weighed into my initial decision to get Pimm and Polly, neither did. I did recall it all later, however, while trying to fall asleep late at night as the two of them on the floor of my bedroom groomed each other like baboons with incessant licking that sounded like wild, snorting boars foraging for truffles at the roots of giant oaks in an ancient forest.

Right after Pimm and Polly left, Lincoln and the girls had arrived. With them came Willow, their six-month-old golden. She is not exactly a lap dog, though Samuel gave it a try.

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She is however – let there be no doubt about it – a real dog. She was as cute as a golden retriever puppy can be when she was six weeks old and enduring January in Vermont.

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She even fit in their (standard size) mailbox!

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By six months old she fetches a tennis ball or a stick over and over again…

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…astonishing me with her grace, speed, energy, stamina and strength. Everything in this young body works! Her fur is soft as silk, her teeth white as snow, her eyes clear and bright and happy. She is picture-perfect and real-life-perfect.

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A dog like this doesn’t come along every day. She brings me the gooky tennis ball with that look that says You know you want to whack it down the driveway! I’ll go get it! I will! I’ll bring it back to you and you can whack it again! You know you want to! And I get to watch her run after that ball. I stare in wonder at her perfect form and perfect face. I think she’s happy to be alive, and I found myself happy to be near her and with her.

I think someday I need a dog that needs and wants to walk and run and play, a dog that follows me to the chicken coop and the garden, that learns to come, sit, stay and heel, that makes me stare in awe. We’ll see. One of these days the right dog for me will come along.

 

Shakespeare’s Pick Up Lines

It’s funny to me that when we go to a Shakespeare play, we understand at the outset that we will miss a lot of the dialog, we will miss some of the meaning and some innuendos, therefore possibly even some basic elements or twists of the plot. The language is challenging to say the least. Yet we continue to go at least two or three times a year. Last week we saw The Comedy of Errors. Even if some of us didn’t understand about how the gold watch and the money for it fit in till the end, we were still rolling in laughter almost the entire time.

These two “servants” in their matching plaid shirts (shown here during the pre-show, take-photos-now-or-never, come-get-a-drink-on-stage time) and all their compatriots performed hilarious slapstick that needs no words.

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The basic premise of the story involves, according to the American Shakespeare Center’s website, “two long-separated twins, their two tricky servants (also twins), a jealous wife and her lovelorn sister….” You can’t help but enjoy how they find each other, fool each other and ultimately feel great joy together in this all’s-well-in-the-end family drama.

The costuming is from the 1940s. Why not? One actor embellished her role with a heavy Brooklyn accent. Shiny-red-with-big-white-hearts undershorts made a brief appearance, as did fluttering eyelashes, hops onto the laps of those patrons watching from the primo on-stage seats and ouch-didn’t-that-hurt(?!) dives onto the wooden stage.

This troupe of professional actors, performing three or four plays a season, eight or ten shows a week in Staunton, Virginia, has never failed to make me glad we drove the 45 minutes up and over Afton Mountain to get there. They don’t do only Shakespeare. Every year we attend their version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which they keep as fresh and enlightening as traditional and heartwarming. Scrooge generally works his way roughly through the audience as, in the script, he is fighting the crowd on the street on Christmas Eve. One year on his trek between rows, he took a cup an audience member was holding, tasted it, made a face and gave it back. We roared.

You can’t get away from funny at this theater. We all know Shakespeare’s material runs from comedy to tragedy, and there is generally some love interest (because in life, there is generally some love interest). This is the theater that boldly boasts (after they explain that the play will be performed in full lighting as it was in Shakespeare’s day), “We do it with the lights on.”

Bravo to the person who decided to put Shakespeare’s top ten pick up lines on a t-shirt. I expect this is a perennial bestseller in their gift shop.

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In case you find them hard to read on the shirt, allow me to make it easier (minus the references). I cannot speak to the order they are in: chronological according to when the play was written? favorites of the t-shirt creator in reverse order? most or least likely to achieve desired outcome?

You can decide which is your favorite, which you wish someone would use on you, which is most romantic, which you would soooo enjoy using one of these days just to see the reaction you’d get, which would warm your heart, which would bring images of intimacy most effectively to mind…

10. If thou hast sinned, teach me.

9. I come to answer thy best pleasure.

8. I thy parts admire.

7. Come sit on me.

6. Madam, my instrument’s in tune.

5. I entreat thee home with me.

4. I’ll do it in my shirt.

3. Make some sign how I may do thee ease.

2. Let me take you a buttonhole lower.

1. With thy lips keep in my soul a while.

There is no way to top the top ten. I leave it right there for you to do with as you please 😊

Rescue Reflections

I want a dog. I need a dog. I should get a dog. How hard is that? The time is right for me to get a dog of my own again. I think. I thought.

I was never much of a small-dog person, but Coco changed my mind. After she became a nice dog due to Samuel’s efforts, I grew to like her. I grew to enjoy her snuggling next to me on the couch. I grew to find her adorable. Don’t you?

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It’s okay if you don’t. She’s a ridiculous creature, but if you love a dog of your own, you know that doesn’t matter. If you don’t, then there is no use my explaining it. Dogs work their way into your heart. The thing is, she may be small, she may be ridiculous, but she is not foo-foo. I cannot do foo-foo. And she is nice. Nice matters. Coco made me consider a small dog instead of the larger breeds I’d had and been comfortable with: German shepherds (Jesse, then Adam), golden retrievers (Lucy and Candy), a St. Bernard (Mona), then another golden (Bridget).

We knew for the entire duration of Samuel’s Lambda (computer coding school) experience that when he finished and got himself a job, he would be leaving this house and finding a place of his own. I am exceedingly grateful that he found a job locally, but still, he will be leaving, and there will go my snuggler Coco. If she wasn’t such a nice dog, I would not be in such a fix right now. I had a problem to solve. Toward the end of my CASA training, right about when the tragedy of Micah’s death occurred and the 5K hospice race was happening and Max died, I distracted myself by thinking about my next dog.

Coco is nice. Pugs are nice. I looked up “pug rescue” and discovered an organization that currently had a mother-daughter bonded pair available. The description said:

Pimm & Polly are a bonded pair that must be adopted together. Both are up to date on vaccines, microchipped, spayed, and heart-worm negative.

Pimm & Polly are a super sweet bonded mother & daughter. They were surrendered to our rescue because their former owner passed away.

They both get along great with other small breed dogs and kids. Both are around 14 and 15 lbs silver pugs. Polly (Mother) is with limited vision having lost one eye as a puppy. She also has some alopecia from a skin condition during her puppyhood. 

Pimm is her daughter, she is playful liking stuffy and chew toys. Both are potty trained. Pimm takes a daily eye drop for dry eye. Both are very sweet ladies perfect snuggle pugs. 

We recommend gentle older children due to Polly’s vision. A fenced in first-floor home would be ideal for her and her daughter Pimm. Other small breed dogs like another pug would be best suited for these little ladies. 

Pimm & Polly are looking for a loving family that will have the time to give these sweet girls lots of love and snuggle time!

Based on this description, it seemed reasonable to keep going, so I did. Two dogs are generally better than one anyway, so I started the ball rolling – sent in the application, retrieved old vet records, opened my home to inspection. One thing led to the next. I passed their rigorous process. Last Saturday, a week ago, Mom drove with me to Williamsburg to meet them.

We waited in the parking lot next to Pet Smart. Pimm and Polly approached via stroller, pushed by smiling rescue folks doing an admirable thing trying to find these poor little dogs a home. The pugs were dressed up to meet me: full-fledged matching tutus with polka dots, shiny blue nail polish too. In this photo taken just before I took them home you can see we took the tutus off. And in case you are wondering, Pimm’s tongue hangs out that far because there are no teeth to hold it farther in.

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I can look beyond the trappings, beyond the shall-we-say unattractiveness of Polly’s hair loss and one eye. (Never mind that some people told me I could enter her in the Ugliest Dog contest and probably win.) I could see that they are sweet dogs, older dogs that have had a rough time. Their former owner did not detect (or blatantly ignored) mange in Polly to the point where the hair follicles are irreversibly damaged. There will never again be hair on the top of her head or on her belly or legs.

But okay. I signed the contract that included numerous points in regard to their well-being, medical care and safety, including promises that I would inform the rescue organization of any change in address or phone number and never allow the dogs to ride in the back of an open pickup truck. It was unequivocally clear that I was never to transfer ownership and that the rescue organization would remain the second contact on the microchip. The pugs would be mine or theirs, no one else’s. Not that I would re-home them, but that all felt a little like Are they really my dogs then?

Just as I put them in my car, I got what is for me an uncommon thing. Some people would call it intense anxiety. I paused. My heart beat faster than usual. I struggled to remain composed. “I don’t know why I have such cold feet,” I told the rescue folks. “But I have such cold feet.”

“Don’t worry,” they said. “Take them home and give it a week. Take two if you need to. Consider yourself a foster family for now until you are sure.”

“What about my money?” I asked, referring to the $425 adoption fee, which I understand helps cover the costs incurred during their year-plus of foster care.

“We won’t cash your check until you tell us you are sure,” they said. Mom didn’t say anything, didn’t want to interfere. I did not remember the words Samuel had said before I left: Make sure, if it’s a yes, it’s a strong yes. It wasn’t a strong yes, it was far from a strong yes, but off we went with stroller, food, meds, bed and a suitcase full of other clothes – matching sundresses, raincoats, fleece coats, parkas, sailor outfits, etc, all marked Pimm or Polly.

Okay. For two days I watched them exploring my house, enjoyed their very sweet natures and the facts that they eat well, do their business in appropriate places (i.e. not in my house) and really just want to snuggle almost all the time. I noticed that Polly only occasionally moved beyond her familiar bed and that neither was able to walk up or down stairs, even on a leash. But they are only about 14 pounds each, not heavy pugs. I carried them when we went outside, picked them up when they wanted to be with me on the couch.

Right away on Monday morning I called my own vet and made an appointment for that afternoon. Dr. Stewart is seasoned, wise and sensible. I trust her judgment and wanted her assessment. The “limited vision” referred to in the description is apparently an understatement. Polly is not only one-eyed to begin with. The best way to imagine the extent of her vision in the remaining eye is to imagine what you can see by looking through a straw – an extremely small field of vision, my vet said, and even that, we can’t be sure how clear it is. She is essentially blind. Pimm’s vision is quite compromised too. A kind of pigmentation happens in the cornea, which should be transparent. Neither cornea is close to transparent, so for her too, the world grows darker and darker.

I chide myself that I did not, as soon as the vet pronounced this factual state of affairs, put two and two together. I was perhaps in the thrall of their sweet, quiet pugness, perhaps heard the voices of our age commending me for this rescue effort. I did not remember how I assist Evelyn (101 years old and completely blind) from her chair to her couch every week when I go there to read to her, how tentatively she steps as she feels along the table in between, how she cannot simply put a fork into her food because for her the world is dark. I did not think about my house, the pugs’ new environment. I did not think about the danger of the open landing at the top of my spiral, cast iron staircase.

A continual mental flagellation has been happening all week, a little bit like the way President Kennedy reportedly walked around the White House after the Bay of Pigs fiasco saying over and over How could I have been so stupid?

The day after the vet visit, I was in the kitchen when I heard an unusual sound, a creaky thumping coming from the front foyer. Yes, the front foyer where you find the spiral, cast iron staircase. Polly was at the bottom, miraculously standing, miraculously with only a small cut on her head.

That night at the dinner table I had a light bulb moment and announced, “Polly fell down the stairs. It’s all very plain now. I just don’t have the right house. It’s not safe for them here.” I sent a note off the next day to the rescue folks, expecting them to come running with supreme concern – if they wouldn’t want them in the back of an open pickup, they wouldn’t want them falling down stairs, right? They didn’t. Instead I got “Is there a way to keep the girls in area with a pet or toddler gate?… At some point any pug you adopt will develop vision issues or issues getting around.”

Vision issues, she said. Um, blindness.

But she gave me pause and okay, maybe a gate, maybe a barrier. But I can’t create a hazard while trying to block a hazard. We go up and down those stairs all the time. And there are stairs on the back deck, stairs on the front deck. A saloon-type barrier might work across a small space but wouldn’t work everywhere.

Several things happened along with the incessant self-flagellation that continued, along with the constant undercurrents of stress, with the voices in my head saying one shouldn’t give up… one should make these things work… they really are very sweet… every dog needs a home… but it’s not safe here…  it’s mostly good here… but what if someone forgets to close the gate?

I did my best to set aside other considerations, to remember the central question drilled into us at CASA training, the foremost goal of the volunteer work aimed at helping abused and neglected children: figuring out what is best for the children. I tried to focus on What is best for the dogs?

I also did what I do when a weight is on my shoulders.  I consulted. I sought the wise counsel of those I trust and respect. I laid out the facts and got a resounding chorus in reply: This is not a good situation. They need a different home.

It pained me to write the note last night, but I did it. So far I have not heard back….

Maybe the time is not quite right for me to get a dog of my own again.

What Do You Do With a Brisket?

I was in the meat section the other day and saw beef brisket at half price. Half price! I have never cooked a beef brisket before, but for half price, I can learn.

Brisket sounds old school to me, substantial, hearty. But I really wasn’t sure what to do with it. I turned to my trusted sources first: The Fanny Farmer Cookbook (12th edition), Joy of Cooking (22nd printing), and The New James Beard (first printing). You can’t go wrong with trusted sources, right? Can you tell which one I’ve used the most?

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I started with Fanny of course. She will tell me, I was sure. This tried-and-true cookbook falls open to the quick breads section (so often have I made muffins, pancakes, etc!) and has a section about every kind of basic cooking and baking. Surely Fanny will at least get me started.

But no. Nothing on brisket.

James Beard is out there in a weirder realm as far as my tastes are concerned, always has been. I just don’t make roast Cornish hens or pigs’ feet or sautéed brains. But that’s precisely why I had my highest hopes with him – if I don’t make it as a rule, he probably covers it. C’mon, James. Even if you give me a twist on brisket, I can work with that. Again no. Hmmm.

All right. Joy of Cooking is probably the most comprehensive of the three, as well as the easiest to follow. Titles of recipes and “About” sections ARE IN BOLD CAPS, ingredients are in lower case bold, (optional ingredients in parentheses.) Thank you, Joy of Cooking (!) – I did find BEEF BRISKET WITH SAUERKRAUT.

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But I was not in the mood for sauerkraut. You can see, though, that Joy of Cooking added “…or other boneless stewing beef” which told me I was working with meat that would need to cook for several hours in liquid. Some meats you cook fast, some you cook slow. Stew beef I understand. Stew beef I can do.

Reminds me of a time I stood in line in the dining hall where mom lives. They had meatloaf that day, and the man in front of me – at least 80 years old I’d say – was waiting for it also. We stood in front of the posted menu that included any number of rather unconventional, one could say faddish, items/ingredients.  While the staff were running to the back to get the next meatloaf coming out of the oven (clearly it was a popular choice that evening), I said to the man, “Nothing like meatloaf.”

Clearly I gave him an opportunity to vent. “They give us all this stuff, weird stuff, food I can’t pronounce. Meatloaf… meatloaf I understand. Why can’t they just give us more meatloaf?”

I learned from Joy of Cooking that brisket was stewing beef. Now we’re getting somewhere. Next I did what any sensible person in my position in 2019 would do (but sometimes avoid because of the inundation factor) – I googled beef brisket. Pick a recipe, any recipe. Ah, here’s one that starts with sautéing onion in oil, searing the meat, adding some herbs, covering it with water and letting it cook in a slow oven for a long time. Sounds simple, but it was actually way more complicated than that, and included some other ingredients I didn’t like.

All right, forget about it. Let’s sauté onion in oil, sear the meat, add some herbs, cover it with water and let it cook in a slow oven until it’s done.

I cleaned and sliced three onions and browned them in about 2 tablespoons olive oil (always use extra virgin). I chose oregano and thyme for my herbs since they are doing well in the garden right now.

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I removed these from the pan when the onions were soft enough to have lost their shape and looked at my piece of beef – too big for the pan as is. So I quartered it.

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I put another tablespoon or two of oil in the now-hot pan, turned up the heat to almost high, and let each side sizzle in the hot oil for a few minutes until nicely browned. I noticed when I stuck my large cooking fork into each piece (to put it in the pan or pull it from the bottom to turn it to another side) that the fork did not go in easily. Having to jam it in there told me that this meat would require a long cook time to get tender. Stewing beef it is.

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Three choices for the slow cooking part of this experiment stood before me: stovetop, crockpot or oven. It would have been easiest (and less clean-up) to just put the onions/herbs and water right in this pot, cover it and let it cook slowly. But it was a hot day and I didn’t want a flame on for hours. Using my crock pot seemed a good alternative, but it is not very big. But by the time I put the everything in, it was nearly overflowing. Not a good plan.

Oh, this might be a good occasion for the Lodge cast iron Dutch oven! I retrieved it from its home on top of the fridge in the basement, and everything fit nicely. Besides the meat, sautéed onions/herbs and water (enough to just cover the meat), I added salt and pepper of course, a moderate sprinkling (you can always add more later if you want). I covered the pot, put it in the oven, turned the temp to 325F, shut the door and walked away.

The aroma of the slowly cooking beef in the house all afternoon would have been reward enough, but the taste of the broth was heavenly and the fork went into that meat like nothing after four hours (during which time I might have basted the meat or in some other way tended it, but didn’t, must have been busy elsewhere). Success!

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Notice the liquid cooked way down, concentrating the flavors and softening the meat. I can (you can!) do something with a brisket. This works – it’s simple and delicious. Your call to decide about adding roasted potatoes or spaetzle or whatever side dish would gladly share the savory juices. I am quite pleased about it. Next time you see a half-price brisket, go for it!