Man and Dog: Part Two

They say you become like the company you keep. Keeping company with good people is like being planted in good soil. You get strokes, you get laughter, you get someone who’s happy when you get home, someone to play and talk and eat with, someone to witness the little stuff of life that the rest of the world doesn’t care about.

When you get what you need, you rest easier, you feel loved, you know peace, you give back. And that’s the circle as it should be, the way of the world s.k.a. (sometimes known as) you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours. This wonderful reciprocity can also, and blessedly often does, happen between man and dog, woman and dog, child and dog. (I will let someone else speak for cats.)

Back in February I told the story of a man and a dog who finally met, who became best buddies, whose mutual devotion should be the standard upon which all man-and-dog stories are measured. I think they had been looking for each other for a long time. Max had been penned up outside (regardless of temperature or precipitation) for most of his eight years. Joe had been dogless since his last black lab had died ten years earlier. Joe took Max home from the shelter. I love how in this photo Joe is not at all interested in me holding a camera. He is completely interested in Max.

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When I suggested recently that Max was a very lucky dog, Joe said, “I was lucky as well. That’s the best part. We both won.”

Since February, every time Joe was going to come over, I’d say Bring Max if you want. And when he came I’d say Where’s Max? Max was an older dog with a rough prior life; he was not without some physical challenges. Getting from ground level into the cab of Joe’s truck was too difficult for him. “I need to build him a way to get in,” Joe would say. Fair enough, I’d hope for next time.

This story is supposed to have a happy ending. Joe and Max were supposed to be good for each other henceforth, faithfully and indefinitely. I had no doubt about the faithful part but I was shocked twelve days after the sad news about Micah, a week after the 5K race benefiting Hospice of the Piedmont, and four days after the CASA induction ceremony. I got a message from Joe: Max died today. I’m sorry I didn’t share him more.

No! That’s not okay! NO! Joe took Max in just three months ago, loved him, did everything possible to make a wonderful life for him. Max would never again spend a night alone outside when the temperature was in the single digits, never again pass a day without care and love. Max gave back, listened, played, became Joe’s buddy, made him laugh and wagged his tail happily when Joe got home from work.

It seems to have been Max’s time. Nothing dramatic happened. He was just breathing hard on the porch, Joe helped him inside, and twenty minutes later it was over. Still, c’mon, really? Max? Joe’s Max?

Within two weeks, I got four separate yanks at my heart, four separate reminders that Bad happens.

Why did Micah have to die now? Why do people get terminal illnesses? Why are children sometimes abused and neglected? Why did Max have to die now?

Yet these same yanks were coupled with reminders of so much Good in the world. Within the Bad, the crushing, devastating, heart-wrenching Bad, when we are able to see (and this does not always happen right away), we invariably find pockets of hope, rays of light, stores and stories of benevolence. We find exceptional people trying hard, being kind, showing faith. We experience surprising, heartening moments of peace.

Micah had the most loving, supportive family anyone could want or hope for. He is so dearly and deeply missed. If you really love, is there ever enough time? Thanks to Chris and Brian and everyone else in Micah’s circle for always hoping, always praying, always loving.

Anyone in my community who gets a terminal illness does not have to die alone or in pain. Thanks to Hospice of the Piedmont for giving people a way to help, for organizing care for those who would otherwise struggle much more than they need to. 

Children in my community who need an advocate have someone who will get to know them and will make recommendations on their behalf in family court regarding matters of far-reaching importance. Thanks to CASA for overseeing the efforts to make sure these children have someone looking out for their best interest.

Joe and Max found each other, even if their time together was nowhere near long enough. If you really love, is there ever enough time? Thanks to Joe for showing how very mutual love really is, for being with Max when his time came, for keeping his heart open.

How much of every 24 hours gets wasted? Beyond the necessary tasks of the day, beyond necessary sleep, how much time might we wish we could get back and spend some other way? How well are we using the gift of time that we have? How well do we show love – that’s right, show love – to those in our lives who matter the most?

I think about this often. I get 24 hours, just like everybody else. I can’t do everything, but when I look back, I want to be able to say I used my time well. I want to be able to say I did something – something important, something valuable, something wonderful. I hope everyone can say that. I hope everyone wants to. (I know they can’t and don’t. But I can wish it.)

Good Will Come

During the same week as the tragic news about Micah, I found myself both grateful and conflicted that I had something else going on. Grateful because being involved in a pre-scheduled event kept me from becoming paralyzed with What?! Oh, God, no… and Why am I so far away? and What can I do? How can I help? What should I say? And conflicted because I wanted to shut the world out, mull his death over, cry-cry-cry with and for my dear friends who lost their beloved son, sort out my own shock and frustration and grief, make some kind (any kind) of sense out of it. It felt almost disrespectful to be going about something else.

But something else was the order of the day and I could not get around it. Besides, redirecting works for me. Ultimately, the little voice inside my head says Just because I can’t do X doesn’t mean I can’t do Y. Just because I can’t do everything I want to do doesn’t mean I can’t do something that matters. That’s my twist on Edward Everett Hale’s words:

‘I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.’

I play a part every year, second Saturday in May, in a fundraising “Run and Remember” 5K event for our local, wonderful hospice organization. How’s that for timing? The shock about Micah came on Tuesday and the well-attended race was to be Saturday. I was neck-deep in last-minute stuff: Did the AV people know we need a mic at the starting line for the 12-year-old who would be singing the national anthem? Would the banners be put up on time? Did we have enough waters? Where were the coolers with the spigots for the water stations on the course? Would the rain hold off?

Over 300 runners and walkers, shown here at the starting location just above the first tee at Keswick Golf Club, would be winding their way through the gorgeous course doing what they can do to support the vision and the practicalities of Hospice of the Piedmont. To make it happen, I do my bit and so do a lot of other people. Once again, well over $100K was raised so that we can help “achieve a day when no one has to die alone or in pain.”

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I don’t ever feel like I do much – there’s practically an army of people covering the various aspects of this event. And it would be easy to think There are a lot of people who can do this or that. They don’t really need me. But I am always so glad I did. This year especially.

1. I was reminded of the many dedicated volunteers who themselves could surely find other things to do but instead show up for the meetings, the bag/swag stuffing, the registration and all the other little tasks that make for a flawless event year after year.

Among the gems in this group are Susan Quisenberry, Diane Brownlee, Lorisa Cooper and Jeannie Golub – how would we manage registration without you??

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Jeanne Chamales and Melba Campbell, stalwart and steady, give of their time and energy every year as well. And not just on race day. Everyone puts in many hours ahead of time. There are calls to be made, errands to run, emails to write, store managers to find (generous store managers who gift us fruit or power bars or prizes)….

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Melba is the heart and soul of this event. All hats are off to her for her amazing leadership and energy throughout the years. She would of course never take the credit but would always graciously redirect it to the individuals who freely share their gifts of knowledge, skill and time. Lisa Jahnke is one. She doesn’t even live nearby but still supports the effort with encouragement and advice and by keeping a sharp eye on social media. Mary Miller is another. She knows everyone in local media (and therefore gets us lots of coverage) and also takes many photos (and is therefore not in any of them!). Melba knows truly, as does everyone involved, that every little bit counts.

2. I got to see the exultant faces of the runners returning all sweaty and smiling, each with their own measure of satisfaction, each knowing that their efforts are not only helping their own bodies stay fit, but also providing care and services for those whose bodies are not so cooperative any more. Good begets good.

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3. What is it about the face of a child that comforts our souls, reminds us there is good reason to carry on? At least one adorable child stands sweetly in front of the camera every year. This one was attracted to the colorful pinwheels some people buy in honor of lost loved ones.

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4. A delightful surprise happened. After the race, in my usual spot behind the food table, as I was scooping this event’s signature homemade granola into the Fage yogurts that Keswick Club provides or suggesting that the runners get one of the chocolate covered strawberries that The Melting Pot in Charlottesville provides (before they are gone!)…

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…I saw a woman I knew, a woman I hadn’t seen for at least ten years, the wonderful mom of one of my most wonderful students ever. She was not facing me, so I went around and tapped her on the shoulder and said You’re Ellie! And we had hugs and smiles and joyful words and fond reflections galore. I love living in a small community! I am so glad to have reconnected with Ellie and Bill and Josh! This completely unexpected encounter has opened a new door, I’m sure of it. Even if I don’t yet know what’s next.

I got to thinking about the 5K event in relation to the news about Micah. Death is death. We can’t avoid it ourselves any more than we can avoid watching someone we love, at some point in our lives, endure it. But we can honor each other in how we approach it – loving and supporting as best as we can, being thoughtful and prayerful in full knowledge that thoughtfulness and prayer matter a lot, and also doing something (find something, there is always something) to help make that threshold a little easier to cross, a little easier to bear. In the doing, good will come.

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Special thanks to Mary Miller for these photographs!

Bobbe’s Granola, a.k.a. 5K Granola

For 22 years I lived in Vermont – made my own bread, homeschooled my kids, wore Birkenstocks year-round. I was a Granola Mom and proud of it. As you would doubtless expect, I also made my own granola. At some point my friend Bobbe gave me her recipe, and I made it and tweaked it and gave it away many times since. For a few years I even got to serve it to runners and walkers (along with little yogurts) at the annual 5K fundraising event our local hospice organization held at Keswick Golf Club.

Hospice of the Piedmont in Charlottesville, Virginia, has all my admiration for the outstanding job it does of ensuring that no one in this community dies alone or in pain, and that the families of those with terminal illnesses get the help they need too. I loved helping with the 5K every spring. Four or five years ago, thinking of my granola, I suggested that at a 5K, we should have food that the runners will remember. You want them to come back, to choose your race instead of some other race. Every event like this has banana halves and orange smiles, and lots of them have donated waters and bagels. But who has yogurt and homemade granola? It worked! The runners loved it!

Last year this amazing group of women, led by rock star Melba Campbell on the far right (who, for those of you who see the balloons, was also the birthday girl that day), raised more than $176,000 through this event that included just over 300 runners and walkers – a phenomenal ratio of dollars to runners. Every single volunteer contributed heart and soul, and I could not be prouder to have worked alongside them.

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But a funny thing happened this morning. I took out my cookbook to look at the original recipe, you know, just in case it was in Bobbe’s handwriting, which would have been very cool, but instead the handwriting was mine. She must have dictated it to me. Too bad, a missing piece of authenticity. Nonetheless, I laughed to see, right there in blue ink on an old index card, the very technique I thought I had “discovered” only a few years ago, the critical step, the “secret” to making the granola crunchy but not overcooked! Yes, it was a piece of humble pie for breakfast. How did that happen?!

It happens when you have made a thing many times, so many times that after a while you don’t look at the recipe because the ingredients and steps are all in your head. You begin to feel comfortable with eyeballing the quantity of, let’s say, the cinnamon, you use a different kind of wheat germ instead of the kind you always used, you decide you like it a little darker so you leave it in the oven longer – that sort of thing.

One time a few years ago, while working long days at the hotel, the glass, gallon-size jar that I keep my granola in was empty and I didn’t want to delay making a new batch any longer. Because of my schedule, I made it late that night. By the time it was done and I had turned the oven off, I was super tired. Eh, I’ll finish it in the morning (meaning I’d take it off the pans then and put it away). And off I went to bed. The next morning as I positioned the spatula at the edge of the pan to begin the process of breaking it up for transfer to said jar…

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… I heard a different sound, a sound like crunch.

Words are great and they come in very handy for a lot of communication. Pictures add tremendously to the understanding of anything. But sounds! Sounds have their own benefit. When something has sounded a certain way all along, and then suddenly it sounds different, you pay attention. I deduced, from the sound that morning that sounded like crunchy, that the overnight stay my granola had had in my oven had pulled more of the moisture out of it than if you take it out of the oven after it’s cooked and let it cool on the counter. It was drier, crispier, crunchier. I loved it! I was elated!

This was a breakthrough, and I had my crazy work schedule to thank for it. The granola was better in yogurt, better in milk, just plain better. When Lori Woods, one of the exceedingly competent and dedicated hospice workers, asked me for the recipe last year, I included in it:

Bake at 375 until the tops get brownish, which takes about 25 minutes. I happen to like mine a little on the darker side, but the shade of brown is up to you. When you have decided it’s right, turn off the oven but leave the pans in there. I found out by accident that leaving the pans in the oven overnight to cool slowly allows the residual heat to pull any excess moisture from the granola and gives it (and allows it to keep) a wonderful crunch if stored without fruit in it. 

See that part: I found out by accident…? I did! At least I think I did! But maybe I didn’t. Maybe the very clear instruction on the original recipe came out of deep storage in my brain, came right up to the front and presented itself anew. Here it is, see it? Plain as day: Turn oven off & leave in overnight.

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Now I know you think the moral of this story is: Every now and then you should look at the recipe! Yes, that’s part of it. But something else interesting happened this morning. When I took my pans out of the oven, having baked the granola last night and left it to dry overnight, as I pushed the edge of the spatula along the bottom of the pan to loosen it up, I did not hear the crunchy sound as usual. It sounded, well, softer. This story is NOT unfolding as it is supposed to!

Food is funny that way. It does not always cooperate the way you expect it to. Boxed cake mixes used to have alternate instructions for people who live at high altitudes (probably they still do, I haven’t bought one in a long time). This is because, for one thing, the air pressure is lower and foods take longer to cook. I never lived at a high altitude but if you did, it would make sense to pay attention to that.

I have never seen alternate instructions for hurricanes or other weird weather situations, but I think maybe, just maybe, the excessive humidity in the air right now because of Florence affected my granola, even inside the oven. Could it be? For several years now, I’ve done the overnight method. Why this time is it different? Lucky me: I have another batch to compare with mine.

Mom wanted to make some too because Jerry is a big fan of this granola and he was running low. (Poor man, must keep him well supplied.) She made it herself a few weeks ago and it didn’t come out right, so I made a batch together with her yesterday morning and then a batch of my own when I got home. This was great not only because I could spend some fun time with Mom, but also because I could see the process through the eyes of someone who was new at it.

Start with these ingredients.

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Specifically,

1 large round container old fashioned oats (42oz, 1.2kg, which is 15 8oz measuring cups full in case you buy your oats in bulk packaging)

1 ½ cups shredded coconut (this 7oz bag was a little more than that, I used the whole thing)

1 cup wheat germ

½ cup flax seed meal (optional)

1 cup brown sugar, light or dark

2 tablespoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

Several points to note.

  1. Old fashioned oats are better than quick oats for this.
  2. You might like your granola sweeter or not as sweet. You can add some more brown sugar, or use less. You can use unsweetened coconut.
  3. Your wheat germ might be toasted or some other variety. Fine.
  4. I use flax seed only when I have it. Mom had it and wanted to use it.
  5. There are no nuts in this list. There are two reasons for this. One, I do not eat nuts. Two, if you eat nuts and want to add them, it is best to do them after the granola is baked and cooled.
  6. There is no dried fruit in this list. If you add the dried fruit before baking, you will end up with fruit that is hard as rocks and hard to chew. Put it in later.

My 8-quart, 14” dough bowl works well for this amount of ingredients. I brought mine to Mom’s because she doesn’t have that big a bowl. She said to add to these instructions that you might want to either use a big pot as a big bowl or cut the recipe in half so that you can use a smaller bowl.

Mix all of this together well in a very large bowl. Make sure you break down any brown sugar or coconut clumps at this time. Fingers or the back of the spoon work well.

Once the dry ingredients are mixed together, add 1 ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (or whatever cooking oil you prefer) and then 1 cup honey (local is best, you know what they say about it being good for you). Measuring the oil first, then the honey in the same measuring cup, helps your honey not stick so much to the inside of the measuring cup. When you have added both, stir it up carefully.

I loved stirring it all up using this beautiful hardwood spoon that my son Bradley made for Mom years ago. The very tools we cook with evoke good emotions sometimes!

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Once the mixture looks well mixed, which is to say de-clumped, divide it between two 12×18” pans or the equivalent. These have a nice standing-up edge and that’s important against spillage. The silicone mats are underneath, but you can’t see them. Bradley made that fish cutting board too, by the way.

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We preheated Mom’s oven to 375 and left the pans in there for 25 minutes. The top pan got browner than the bottom pan.

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Both are acceptable. You make it however dark you like. The original recipe does say a 300 degree oven, oops, I also see today. Maybe I got impatient somewhere along the line and upped the temp. Either way, it bakes, and you decide how brown you want it.

Do note that brown corresponds directly to crunch. The browner, the crunchier, regardless of residual oven heat. Getting back to the humidity question, Mom’s granola turned out crunchier than mine despite the humidity and I think this is because hers stayed in the hot oven longer. She mixed up the darker and the lighter before putting it away and got a very acceptable result. SO… maybe it’s the combination of length of time in the oven (how much it cooks in the first place) plus length of time in the residual heat plus the (random, uncontrollable amount of) humidity in the air.

All right, so you mixed up the dry, stirred in the oil and honey, de-clumped, spread in pans, baked for 20-25 mins, turned the oven off and let it sit overnight in your oven. The next morning, use a spatula to loosen the granola from the pan and use your fingers to break up the larger pieces. Now either put it directly into jars or tins to store without dried fruit and/or nuts, OR combine with the fruit and/or nuts now and then put away for storage. I store mine without fruit. IF you store your homemade granola with the dried fruit mixed into it, the dried fruit will put some of the moisture back in it and your granola will be softer. Adding nuts before storing the granola should not affect the moisture the way fruit does, but I cannot be sure about this. The 5K race day fruit was dried cranberries, cherries, cut up apricots and golden raisins; use whatever you like and quantities you think are appropriate. Almonds, walnuts or pecans are good I’m told, but I cannot be sure about this either.

My favorite combo in a cereal bowl is equal parts granola and Grape-Nuts (which contains neither grapes nor nuts, but that’s another story) with some dried cranberries on top (dried cherries on special occasions or to treat myself). I use the Grape-Nuts because the flavors and textures combine well and it helps to stretch out the batch of granola, meaning I don’t need to make it as often (which was super important back when I was working ten or so hours a day at the hotel). Mixing some granola into plain yogurt with a little bit of strawberry jam is also very nice…

Granola makes a great gift because it keeps well and looks nice in a tin or a mason jar or a clear plastic bag tied up with a bow.