Thursday, May 31, 2012

In Pursuit of the Perfect Picture

During my last year of school I worked for a real estate agent taking pictures.  The pictures required varied from a simple shot of the front of the house to pictures of the whole interior, to pictures documenting damage to foreclosed homes.  It was the perfect job for me while I was in school; the hours were flexible, the money was decent for a part time job, and I got to take my dog, Emma, with me most of the time.  We had some great adventures driving around and exploring new places. 
In the course of this job I came to be fairly good at getting some pretty decent pictures of houses and rooms.  I still don’t take the best pictures of people or pets, but I’m usually happy with my pictures of homes and buildings.  For me the best pictures of exteriors seem to involve standing kind of in the middle of the street; right in front of the building you’re too close and across the street zooming in you lose some focus and get a slightly blurry picture.
I no longer take pictures of homes for work, but I do still love to get pictures of interesting buildings, especially any time we go out of town.  I’ve never thought much of standing in the street to get the pictures.  I’m careful, wait until there’s no traffic, and can usually get the picture really fast since I know exactly where I need to stand.  I haven’t been run over yet, so I’m claiming success.
Enter my husband.  As I’ve mentioned before, he’s a volunteer firefighter; he’s also safety conscious to a degree that most of us can’t even comprehend.  He counts doors, rows, aisles, anything between us and the nearest exit, which he immediately finds.  He carries around a jumbo first aid kit (I’m not even sure what all of the stuff in it is), and he’ super safety conscious about hot pans, sharp objects, traffic, etc.  Then there’s me, the walking disaster.  I’m a constant collection of burns, cuts, bruises, etc.  I try to be careful, but things just happen, though I still haven’t managed to get myself run over.
So the first time we went out of town and I tried to march out into the street for the perfect picture of a great building he got a little upset.  He seemed to think I was risking my life for a good photo.  I spent about thirty minutes trying to get a great picture from several different angles, and just couldn’t get the right one.  Finally, in the spirit of compromise, we agreed that I wouldn’t be risking immediate death and dismemberment if I stood in the street for a picture (only one at a time) while my husband watched for traffic.  It’s a system that works for us.  He has decided that I probably won’t get run over that way, and I still get my great pictures of buildings.  These are some pictures that I took in Charleston, South Carolina.  I think they’re definitely worth standing in the street to get.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Really Great Books

My latest haul from the library

We’ve all read really, really great books; the books you love and want to devour and savor at the same time.  The books you can’t wait to finish, and at the same don’t want to end.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about really great books lately.  It seems that it has been a while since I’ve stumbled across a book I would call a really, really great book.  I went to the library yesterday and left with quite a pile of books by different authors, in hopes of finding something that I will love. 

Does everyone go through dry spells when it comes to finding books you love?  Does it seem like sometimes you go through several books in a row that just don’t speak to you?  Books that you finish reading, in hopes that the next page, the next chapter, something will be what you’re searching for, only to be left disappointed.

I’ve been going through such a dry spell.  I’ve been reading, but I just haven’t loved much of what I’ve read.  I want more.  This has of course made me really think about what makes a book great, at least for me.  That’s not always easy to answer. 

I need to care about the characters, which to me means they need to be real; not so much “good guys” and “bad guys”, but a mix of both; like most people really are.  I want a story that hasn’t been told exactly the same way dozens and dozens of times.  I want authenticity, not overblown stereotypes or highly exaggerated characters. 

Most of all, I want to find more authors whose books I enjoy reading.  Some of my favorite authors are Joshilyn Jackson, Sarah Addison Allen, Rosamunde Pilcher, Alan Bradley, EleanorBrown, and Belva Plain.  Now that I’ve shared some of my favorite authors I really hope you will share some of yours as well.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blueberry Almond Pound Cake

During my travels over the holiday weekend I noticed that the local (and not so local) produce stands seem to be in full swing; they were all bustling with activity.  It also seems that most of the local grocery stores are having sales on berries.

I must admit I prefer to buy them from the side of road produce stands.  I think the produce is better, and there's just something about the experience of buying from the tiny little produce stands found up and down the highway.  Growing up in the South it also offers a bit of nostalgia; with the warm weather comes the stands selling produce and boiled peanuts.  Always.  They come year after year.  There's a continuity there.  It's peaceful and re-assuring.

All of that being said, here's a recipe for using some of the blueberries:

1 cup butter
2 1/3 cups sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 tsp Almond Extract
4 eggs
3 cups All Purpose Flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/3 cups blueberries
2/3 cup almonds

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in vanilla and almond extract; add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each egg.  Combine flour with baking soda and salt.  Add to batter.  Add buttermilk and mix well.  Fold in blueberries and almonds.  Butter and sugar a fluted Bundt pan.  Pour batter into pan.  Bake at 325° for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Things Aren’t Always As They Seem

Milo's "snack"
Things aren’t always as they seem, especially things seen on x-rays.  That is what I’ve learned this weekend.  What everyone thought were twist ties on Milo’s x-rays have turned out to be pieces of floral ribbon.  It took me a minute to recognize the pieces when the vet showed them to me when I picked him up today, but that’s exactly what they are.

The wreath with what's left of the ribbon
The wreath was in one of those couple of boxes of stuff that had been stashed in a closet to be dealt with some other time.  I had mostly forgotten about it.  It had been banged up a little in the move and I meant to get around to fixing it, but somehow never had.  I may have forgotten it, but it had a ribbon, so was always on Milo’s mind. 

We’re still not sure how or when he got into the closet to eat it, but that’s definitely what it is.  I came home and checked and you can see the chewed edges of what’s left of the ribbon.  I have since thrown the wreath away, something I wish had done before now!

We have decided not to lift our ban on twist ties, since they’re kind of a similar texture to the floral ribbon and have now decided that we won’t have any wreaths, or anything else, with floral ribbon.  It’s just not possible to keep Milo from eating, and it’s not worth it when he does. 

 Milo is home and doing well.  Thank you so much for all of your well wishes for him after my original post.  He is currently separated from the other cats, so that we can keep a close eye on him over the next 24 hours.  He is expected to continue to improve, and will hopefully be back to his “normal” self soon, barring any complications.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Driving Miss Sheila

I think she's happy to be on her way home!
Today’s post is a little later than usual because today I was able to be a small part of getting this sweet girl to her forever home.  This is Sheila; she was in a shelter with a very high euthanasia rate in a rural county.  She appears to have had multiple litters of puppies and is also heartworm positive.  Sheila’s outlook was very bleak until a rescue got involved and a very kind person stepped in to adopt her and take care of her heartworm treatment.  Sheila’s new family is about nine hours away from the shelter she was in, so that’s where the volunteer transport came in. 

I was able to drive Sheila for one of the hour “legs” of her journey.  There are about seven people driving Sheila on legs of about an hour each, and her new dad is driving the rest of the way to meet her, so by this evening this sweet little girl will be settling into her new home.

 It was a great way to spend part of the weekend; I got to hang out with an adorable, sweet dog, and meet some really nice people.  It’s always a good feeling to drive on a transport, but today was especially good because Sheila’s new dad is SO excited to have her; he has been calling to check on her and personally thank the drivers.  It feels good to help, even if only a little, to get her to a home like that.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Twist Ties - More Than A Simple Way To Close Bread

My long weekend hasn’t gotten off to the smoothest start.  One of our cats, Milo, started vomiting Thursday night and was still vomiting Friday morning.  He has a habit of eating anything string or ribbon like, so I was concerned that he had possibly managed to eat something he wasn’t supposed to.  His appetite and behavior were normal, everything was normal, except the vomiting.  I checked all of his usual forbidden “snack” choices; all of our shoes still had the laces, all of my dresses and tops with ribbons still had the ribbons, the Christmas wrapping paper, etc was undisturbed, and nothing else seemed amiss.  But the vomiting was very, very unusual for Milo.

I called his vet and got him in for an appointment.  Milo hates the vet.  He hates any situation where things are altered from his normal routine, and he doesn’t like to be touched by many people, so he really, really hates the vet.  I ended up dropping him off so he could be sedated and x-rayed to look for any sort of impaction.  I was really hoping that this would turn out to be yet another case of me panicking needlessly about the fur kids.  It wasn’t.
Photo from Wikimedia

Milo has apparently eaten something metal.  His vet says it has to be metal because of the way it shows up on the x-rays.  It looks like pieces of thread in his intestinal tract.  There are four pieces, about a half inch long each, of whatever “it” is.  Everyone seems to suspect twist ties.

I can’t remember the last time we had twist ties in the house.  We buy the cinch style garbage bags, and it seems like all of the bread and bagels we’ve bought lately have come with the plastic clip rather than the twist tie.  That being said, I can’t imagine what else it is.  It doesn’t look at all like jewelry in the x-ray, and I’m not missing any jewelry.  Neither one of us can think of any metal thread-like object we’ve had.  The vet says it doesn’t matter what it is because that’s not going to change the course of his treatment.  We’d just all like to know from a curiosity standpoint.

Milo stayed overnight at the vet’s office for observation.  He ate well last night, which they say is a good sign, and today’s x-rays show that the object seems to be moving along, so it’s looking good for him to pass it.  He will be staying at the vet’s office until he passes it, since he will have to have surgery if he doesn’t pass it soon, or if any complications develop.  We’re really hoping it passes soon with no complications.

And we are now instituting a ban on twist ties in our house.  I have a feeling this episode is going to be expensive, and it has definitely been nerve wracking.  So, no more twist ties!  I just don’t trust him not to pilfer one away for later snacking purposes.  I guess twist tie versus plastic clip closure will now be the determining factor in buying bread and bagels.  Who knew such a seemingly innocent object could lead to so much trouble?

Friday, May 25, 2012

I Can't Believe It!

I am very happy and honored to announce that Carrie at The Slow-Dripped Life has bestowed the Kreativ Blogger Award upon me.  I met Carrie during the A to Z Reflections, and have been happily reading her blog since then.  It's my first award, so I'm pretty excited about it.  Thank you so much Carrie!

The rules for the award are as follows:

1.Thank and link back to the awarding blog.
2. Answer the seven questions
3. Provide ten random factoids about yourself.
4. Last but not at all least, hand this on to seven deserving others.

The Questions:
What is your favorite song?
This one is always tough.  There are so many really great songs out there, and a lot depends on what kind of mood I’m in.  I think I have to say Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World.  I’ve loved this song for as long as I can remember, and it was the song my dad and I danced to at my wedding, so it has some great memories.

What’s your favorite dessert?
Definitely Crème Brule!  I LOVE it! 

     What do you do when you’re upset?
This one is kind of embarrassing because I’m a crier.  I cry if I’m sad, but I also burst into tears if I get really angry.  It’s so annoying to start crying when I’m MAD, which just makes me madder, which makes me cry harder.  Pathetic, I know.

Which is your favorite pet?
Rescued!  I don’t have a preference between cats and dogs.  We have more cats, but I think cats are easier to have more of.  I love rescued cats and dogs.  I’m not into rodents, fish, or birds (which is probably a good thing considering our fur kids), and definitely not reptiles, but I love cats and dogs.  Being a rescue, and of course getting along with the other pets, are my main requirements for a pet.

     Which do you prefer, white or whole wheat?
Whole wheat!  It’s not a health conscious choice; I just can’t stand white bread.  It seems like a soggy, bland mess to me.

     What is your biggest fear?
This one is kind of heard to answer; I’m a total chicken, and I have a very active imagination, so there’s a lot!  I guess most of my fears come down to bad things happening to people I love, or getting hurt.

What is your attitude mostly?
Hmm, that’s kind of hard to answer about yourself.  I guess I’d have to say I’m kind of a wait-and-see person, but I definitely trust my instincts, and with go with that in the absence of certainty in any situation.

Radom Factoids:

I’m left-handed, just like my dad and my grandfather.  I can barely do anything at all with my right hand. 

I didn’t love my wedding dress when I bought it.  The whole dress-shopping experience was pretty bad, and I was getting close to the cut-off time for getting it ordered.  I was okay with it, it was in our price range, and my husband loved it, so I ordered it, at least partly so I could get out of the store.  It worked out well, though, because I really did love it by the time our wedding day came around.

I don’t like any kind of chocolate, except white chocolate, which a lot of people tell me isn’t real chocolate.  I’ve tried everything else, and I can’t stand it. 

I love Thanksgiving.  It’s possibly my favorite holiday.  I just love it.

I am terrified of escalators.  I will NOT get on one.  I’m coming up on 26 years of staying off of them, and I intend to keep it that way.  We saw a lady get her high heel caught in one in the airport when I was four, and it was awful!  I’ve stayed off of them ever since then.

My sister and I used to fight like cats and dogs when we were growing up, but we get along much better now.  I’m not sure if living in two separate states has anything to do with it.

I am totally addicted to caffeine; mostly in the form of Coca-Cola Classic.  It’s not a pretty sight when I haven’t had enough caffeine.

I am hyper-paranoid about our pets’ health; even though they seem fine I’m always a nervous wreck at their check-ups until the vet says they’re in good health.  I need the official confirmation that they’re alright, and I’m a total pain about it whenever one of them is sick; I always think about the worst possible thing it could be.

I am obsessed with feeding people during a crisis.  I don’t know why, and I know a pot roast dinner isn’t going to bring someone back to life, or cure cancer, but I can’t help it.  Anytime someone I care about has a real crisis I want to feed them and their family.  I think all of the chopping, cutting, beating, etc might be a way of working out my own grief. 
My engagement ring has sapphires, but I had it before Kate Middleton made sapphire engagement rings popular.   People used to think it was a little unusual, but not so much anymore.  We chose it because we both love sapphires, and also because it’s the birthstone for September, which is the month we met in, and the month we got married in.

Now for the hard part, passing the award on to seven other bloggers:
Delores at TheFeathered Nest
Archna at As If ByMagic
Becky, a.k.a. Grover at Inane Ramblings
Dana at The DailyDose
Sarann at SarannWrap

Thursday, May 24, 2012

To Protect and Serve

This post is going to be a little unusual for me as I usually try to avoid mentioning my work in my blog.  I believe that the best way to keep work out of your personal life and endeavors is to leave work out of your personal life and endeavors.  I’m also a person who always gets pretty upset when there’s a big news story about a police officer, firefighter, or 911 dispatcher doing something wrong.  It’s not that I think these people are infallible; I think that as an overall group they do an amazingly good job in terrible situations.  Yet, the thousands of good things they do every day rarely make the news.

Photo from Wikimedia
That being said, I feel like I need to share something that happened yesterday at work, though I’m not going to share specifics in an effort to keep work and my blog separate.

I work in a secure building on a secure floor.  I’ve always respected the officers who provide the security.  I think they have a hard job, and they do it well.  I can honestly say I feel safer with them being there.  Yesterday there was a person coming to our office for an appointment.  The person hadn’t exactly threatened us; just made comments about whether or not things were bullet proof.  There were no outright threats, but it was enough to make me very uncomfortable, so I let the security officers know about it, largely to give them some warning in case we had to call.

They did so much more than just make a note that we might be calling; two officers came to our office to keep watch.  They came about fifteen minutes before the appointment was scheduled, and stayed a little over half an hour past the appointment time.  The person was a no-show, so obviously nothing happened, but I felt indescribably better for having them there.  I felt safe and protected.

I know my blog doesn’t have a huge readership, but I just felt like this was something I had to share since I complain so much whenever I come across articles or blogs focusing on something police officers have done wrong.  I know they’re not perfect, but yesterday their presence made my life a lot better.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cold Stone Angel (Photo Prompt Number 3)

Photo by Delores @ thefeatherednest
Here is this week's photo prompt, posted by Delores at The Feathered Nest.  I decided to go with a (very) short story this week instead of my usual flash fiction.

Cold Stone Angel

Eva stood behind her parents with her face tilted up to the sun.  She hated this place, god how she hated this place!  Yet it was the place she had been every week, and on every holiday, and every birthday, and any other time her mother thought it necessary for nearly fifteen years.  Soon, though, very, very soon, Eva wouldn’t be coming back here, ever again.  That thought warmed her even more than the early spring sunshine.

Her memories of her older sister, Catherine, were vague at best.  She was no longer sure which fragments were actual memories and which had been ingrained in her very being from living a life in which all things were a shrine to Catherine.  She had been three when Catherine, who was eight, died.  Catherine had been hit by a car while crossing the street.  Eva was told she had been killed instantly.  She didn’t remember much about that day, or the days immediately following. 

Eva wasn’t sure if it was a real memory, or something she’d been told, but she thought Catherine might have been crossing the street to catch up with her when she had wandered off.  Eva wasn’t sure, and she didn’t want to be, so she had never asked.  It was clear enough to her that if given the choice her mother would have preferred to lose Eva rather than Catherine.  Eva didn’t need to know more than that. 

Catherine was the golden child in every sense; she’d had bouncing golden curls and big blue eyes.  Everyone who spoke of her remembered her as being beautiful and vivacious.  She seemed to have been an angel come to earth for just a short time.  So of course it made sense that her parents had commissioned a stone angel for her grave.  Eva wasn’t sure if the angel was meant as a depiction of Catherine the golden child, or if the angel was intended to keep watch over Catherine.  Either way, it served to inform all who passed that Catherine had been heavenly.

Eva was decidedly not heavenly.  Sometimes she wondered if her very existence made the world a worse place.  If not for her, there was a possibility that Catherine would still be alive.  She was also aware that she added to her parents’ grief over losing Catherine; they looked at her with such disappointment, Catherine had been beautiful, outgoing, and smart.  Eva was just so average.  She knew she would have spent her life in Catherine’s shadow had she lived, but Eva was certain that life in the shadow of a live sister was much brighter than life in the shadow of a dead sister.  You were allowed to resent a live sister, but you weren’t allowed to resent a dead one.

Eva shivered, despite the warm sunshine, as she recalled the one time she’d asked to skip visiting Catherine’s grave on her birthday.  It was the year Eva turned ten; she had wanted to have a normal birthday, like all of the other kids from her class.  Their birthdays didn’t begin with an early morning pilgrimage to a grave.  It had seemed like such a good idea, and possibly the first step to living a normal life.

Her mother had screamed at her for what felt like hours, telling her that she should be grateful to be alive, and to have a birthday, and that she shouldn’t begrudge a few minutes of her birthday to her poor dead sister who didn’t get to have her birthdays anymore.  Eva didn’t have a birthday party that year.  She was too afraid of asking for or saying the wrong thing.  Eva’s best friend, Lana, had told Eva that year that all she needed to do was wait until she was grown up and then she wouldn’t have to go to Catherine’s grave.  That thought quickly took root; it became Eva’s mantra and her sustenance.

Eva never complained again about visiting Catherine’s grave, instead she thought of the time when she would be grown up and wouldn’t have to go.  Every birthday, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and every other visit brought her one day closer to the day when she would no longer have to go.  They brought her closer to the day when she could live her life in the sunshine, free of the shadow cast by a dead eight year old girl. 

Eva understood that her parents were entitled to their grief, and that they’d done the best they could.  She also understood that she was entitled to her life.  She really did have the right to live without tiptoeing around the shadow of her dead older sister, and that’s exactly what she was going to do.  She had been accepted, on a full scholarship, to a college on the other side of the country.  That ought to be far enough way from Catherine’s grave for her to live her life free of shadows. 

So she stood there in the warm spring sunshine, staring at the stone angel, which for her had nearly come to depict hell more than heaven.  This was the next to the last time she had to come here; there was one more holiday to get through, and then she’d leave for college.  After that she would never come back, and never again have to stand in front of the cold stone angel. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Creamy Slow Cooker Macaroni & Cheese

Everyone seems to love this recipe.  I like it a lot, but I don't quite understand most people's obsession with it.  It seems to be the only thing I'm ever asked to bring to any sort of function involving food, so consider yourself forewarned about taking it anywhere.  Also, this is a fairly large recipe, but I usually still double it for things like Thanksgiving dinner.  A double batch does NOT fit in one large slow cooker; you have to use two smaller ones, unless you enjoy having a bubbling river of cheese on your counter.  That was my lesson learned this past  Thanksgiving.  It still comes out tasting fine; you just have a really big, cheesy mess to clean up.

2 ¼ cups uncooked macaroni noodles
1/3 (heaping) cup very finely chopped green bell pepper
1/3 (heaping) cup + 2 Tbsp very finely chopped onion
3 cups Evaporated Milk
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
5 cups cubed Velveeta Cheese

Cook and drain macaroni noodles; combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cover and cook on High for 1 -1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally.

For easier clean-up, remove macaroni from slow cooker before it cools. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Little Things

Nick's wonderful calzone

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that seem to make the biggest difference in how we feel; my husband, Nick, reminded me of that in the best way possible yesterday.  He made calzones, which really made my day and improved my emotional state.

Saturday was a really busy day for us.  We left our house at 9:30 a.m. and didn’t get home until a little after midnight, so it was also a long day.  We started our day by taking Emma for her yearly checkup and shots.  We were very happy to hear that she’s officially in great health and full of energy.  Emma’s vet is much closer to my parents’ house than ours, so we had plans to visit them and for Emma to run around and play in their yard with their dog. 

In light of the recent trouble with my grandparents, we also had plans to go with my parents to look at several nursing homes and assisted living facilities.  My mom especially is very afraid of my grandparents ending up in place where they won’t be happy or well cared for, so I think she really just wanted two extra pairs of eyes and ears.  We didn’t have appointments (my mom wanted to see what it was like when they didn’t know someone was coming to check them out) at any of the places we went, so weren’t really able to talk to the appropriate people about admissions, or anything like that, but we were able to walk around most of the places and get a feel for how things were there.  We were able to eliminate one place from the list of possibilities, but ultimately what we learned was that we have a very long way to go and it’s not going to be easy.  We also spent some time helping my mom sort through and organize insurance policies and other paperwork pertaining to my grandparents’ long term care.

We also visited with my grandparents while we were there.  It’s frightening how much my grandfather has declined.  It had been about two months since I’d seen him, and he’s like a different person now.  It was hard to reconcile the fact that the man screaming at my dad over everything and nothing is the same man who taught me how to ride my bike without training wheels. 

All in all, it was a very long, very emotionally draining day.  I was so happy to finally get home Saturday night, or technically Sunday morning, and crawl into bed.  We slept in Sunday morning, but I still couldn’t seem to find the motivation to do much of anything.

I usually cook the vast majority our meals.  I enjoy cooking, and it usually works out much better with scheduling and timing for me to do the cooking.  Nick does the vast majority of the yard work.  I know it’s definitely an old-fashioned and sort of stereo-typed division of labor, but it works for us.  Except yesterday I really, really didn’t feel like cooking.  I spent most of the day curled up on the couch with a book or watching movies. 

Enter my sweet husband.  He makes wonderful calzones.  They’re usually kind of a Friday night treat on the weeks he doesn’t have to work Fridays, and they’re definitely his specialty.  I LOVE them!  I also don’t seem to make them as well as he does.  He says they’re extremely easy to make, they don’t take very long, and they’re usually pretty cheap to make since I tend to stock up on the ingredients when they’re on sale. 

Nick made the calzones for lunch and for dinner yesterday, and they were awesome.  Not only were they delicious, but they were such a relief because they meant I got to spend the day on the couch resting and kind of emotionally rejuvenating.  Yesterday, for me, the calzones were better than a dozen roses, or any other purchased gift could have been.  HE said it was no big deal to make them, but it made a huge difference for me.

Here’s his calzone recipe:

A Calzone which in Italian means stocking or trouser is a delicious pizza in an easy to eat pocket. This recipe deviates from the traditional recipe by incorporating sauce and olive oil inside the Calzone.

Makes 2 Large Single Serving Calzones

You Will Need:
1 pack thin-crust pre-made pizza dough
Spaghetti sauce, any kind works but garlic tomato is best
2 cups Mozzarella cheese (grated)
1green pepper (finely chopped)
1 onion (finely chopped)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Garlic powder

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 F
2. Cut pizza dough in half
3. On greased or aluminum foil covered cooking sheet unroll each half of the dough to form 2 equal rectangles
4. Sprinkle small amount of garlic powder over ½ of each rectangle
5.Place 2 or 3 tablespoons spaghetti sauce, ½ the green pepper, ½ the onion, and 1 cup of cheese over half of each dough rectangle leaving an 1/8 of an inch around the edge uncovered
6. Fold dough in half, covering the toppings, and pinch the edges together
7. Pour about 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of each rectangle
8. Sprinkle each rectangle with a heavy amount of garlic powder
9. Bake at 400 F for 15-20 minutes
10. Serve with olive oil for dipping

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Best Slow Cooker Chicken

This chicken recipe is very, very simple, but it's also delicious and always manages to impress dinner guests.

1 whole chicken, rinsed and bag removed

2 medium onions, chopped

1 large leek, chopped





1 cup white wine (Pinot Grigio works well)

2/3 cup cognac

Spread a thin layer of butter over outside of chicken.  Place in slow cooker, cavity side up.  Stuff with chopped onions and leeks, putting leftover onions and leeks in bottom of slow cooker.  Pour in cognac and wine.  Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and parsley in desired amounts.  Cover and cook on Low for 4 – 6 hours. Remove from slow cooker carefully, as chicken will be very tender.  Place on serving platter, spooning some of the juice and vegetables over the chicken before serving.

Bonus Tip:  If you're making rice to serve with the chicken use some of the leftover juices and vegetables from the slow cooker in place of some of the water you cook the rice in.  It's delicious! 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Nature's Fury (Photo Prompt Number 2)

Here's the photo I chose to work with for the second week of our Monday Photo Prompt group hosted by Delores at The Feathered Nest, as well as my second attempt at flash fiction.
Photo by Delores @ thefeatherednest

Nature's Fury

They’d done horrible things; things no decent human being would even consider, and they’d done them with impunity.   They simply went where they wanted, did what they wanted, and then got back in their plane to make their hasty escape.  It had worked for years, but now at last it seemed their sins were catching up with them.  The clouds were rolling in faster than they could fly out of them; they realized this was the end of the road.  They could outrun the law, but they couldn’t outrun Mother Nature’s fury.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Flaming Hairdryer

This morning started off pretty much like any other weekday morning, though I was a little happier than usual because I’m using half a vacation day to go to a writing workshop at the local community college.  I was happy, but still kind of sluggish pre-caffeine intake.  It takes a lot of caffeine to get me fully functional in the morning. 

I was drying my hair when flames suddenly shot out of the hairdryer.  That’s a wakeup!  I turned it off quickly, and moved on to other parts of getting ready.  I then turned it back on; in retrospect I realize this was a very bad idea, but I was distracted by thoughts of the writing workshop and the fast food breakfast I had decided to treat myself to since it’s Friday, and the giant Coke with said breakfast.  Fortunately for me, the hair dryer didn’t shoot out flames again, just blasts of icy cold air.  I’m not sure what was up with that.  Maybe the flames from earlier cooked whatever is in there that makes it heat up?  The blast of icy cold air was another wakeup, though not nearly as effective as the flames.  Talk about an instant wakeup!

I was able to get the travel hairdryer out and still get my hair dried in time for work, so all is well on that front.  I can’t remember when I bought this hairdryer, so I’m taking that as a sign that it did its job well for as long as could be expected.  So may my hairdryer, whose final contribution was getting me fully awake in the morning, rest in peace.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Role Reversal

My parents have been caring for my elderly grandparents for the past five years; my maternal grandmother moved in with my parents, and my paternal grandparents moved into the same subdivision, you can almost see their house from my parents’ house.  During this time my grandparents have been declining physically and mentally, though their decline has really gained momentum during the past year.  It’s painful to watch; they were once very active and alert, now they spend most of their time watching television and usually don’t know the day, or even if it’s day or night.

As a result of this decline my parents have had to take on more and more of a parental role with their parents.  They have to schedule things for them, make sure they eat, make sure they take their medication, as well as a myriad of other things.  My grandfather had to stop driving for medical reasons, and my parents have had to enforce that, which I can tell you hasn’t been pretty. 

Meanwhile, my parents have dealt with a kind of role reversal of their own; my dad became disabled, and is now retired.  My mom went back to work full time for the first time since she was pregnant with me, so for the first time ever in their marriage my mom works outside the home, and my dad is at home.  The joke is that my mom was the stay at home parent for my sister and me, and my dad is the stay at home parent for their parents.  I suspect my dad is beginning to think that even with the paint fiascos, floods, and knocked out teeth, my sister and I were easier. 

My dad has become the person primarily responsible for getting my grandparents to and from their various appointments, taking them to the grocery store, and taking care of most of their needs.  My grandfather hasn’t been especially pleased with this situation; he liked it better when my mom was the person taking him to taking doctor’s appointments and other places.  He is very frustrated at not being able to do all that he once was, and has begun to take his frustration out on my dad. 

It started off with minor things; complaining about the times of appointments, that my dad didn’t do things the way my mom did, etc, and has gradually escalated into verbal abuse.  My dad isn’t the type to complain about the way someone treats him; he’d never allow anyone to treat my mom, my sister, or me that way, but takes it when it’s directed at him. 

My grandparents are starting to do things to endanger themselves; they don’t always take their medicine properly, largely because they have no concept of time, they don’t eat unless there’s someone there to sit with them and watch to make sure they do actually eat, and they seem to want to live solely on ice cream and fast food, they usually won’t eat anything else, regardless of what it is or who makes it, and they’re starting to do things like forgetting to turn off the coffeemaker. 

The culmination of this dangerous behavior came over the weekend; my parents drove up to have lunch with my husband and me.  It had been months since they’d been to our house, which is about an hour and a half away from them, and they decided to take an afternoon to come visit.  They checked on my grandparents before they left and made sure they had everything they needed.  They also had their cell phones with them, in case anything happened and my grandparents needed to call them. 

My grandfather decided he wasn’t happy with the lunch my parents left for them, and that he would walk the half mile to the nearest fast food restaurant to get something else, in the pouring down rain.  The walk involved crossing the highway and walking up a steep hill.  He fell twice on the way, and once in the restaurant, where they called 911.  He refused medical treatment, and ended up getting a ride back home.  He didn’t tell my parents about any of this until Tuesday afternoon when he decided he might need to have his arm checked out.  

My dad took him to the doctor, and fortunately he’s fine.  He said some horrible, horrible things to my dad, though, which made him feel really bad.  My dad was very upset about my grandfather potentially getting seriously hurt and waiting so long to tell anyone what had happened. 

This incident has made everyone realize that it’s time to consider some other options for my grandparents’ care, as it is simply impossible for my parents to be with them 24 hours a day, and it’s looking more and more like that’s what they need. 

In yet another role reversal, I took on the role of comforter to my dad yesterday when I found out about all of this.  He partially blames himself, and is having a hard time dealing with the fact that his parents now need more care than he and my mom are able to provide.  My dad and I had a really long phone conversation, which consisted largely of me trying to make my dad feel better, and telling him that it’s not his fault.  I couldn’t help thinking of all the times when the conversations were reversed, and it was my dad assuring me that I’d done my best or wasn’t to blame in a situation, or even that sometimes life is really hard, but it does get better.  It was odd for the roles to be reversed.

I don’t know if the sort of role reversals between children and parents that my parents and grandparents are going through are normal.  You’d think it might be a little easier if it were ultimately supposed to happen.  On the one hand I watch this happening with my grandparents and wonder if in 20 years we’ll be dealing with the same issues with my parents, but on the other hand I think that will never happen; they’re my parents, they have the answers. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wear Purple for Peace Day

Today is Wear Purple for Peace Day.  Emma didn’t want to be left out, so here she is all dressed up in her purple butterfly wings, which I must say she seems to like much more than her raincoat.  She has also promised to be good and not get into anything while we’re at work today, so we can have a peaceful evening, since she wants to contribute to a peaceful world as well. 

So that brings me to contributing to a peaceful world, since wearing purple (which I think is a great color) isn’t going to suddenly make the world a peaceful place.  Very few of us are in the position to do something like end a war, stop child abuse, or reduce the general crime rate, but we can all contribute to making the world a more peaceful place.

Wikipedia defines peace as “a state of harmony characterized by the lack of violent conflict.”  It also goes on to mention that peace is characterized by justice, goodwill, and respect, or an absence of disturbance or agitation.  Those are things that we can all contribute to in our daily lives, though it may not always be our natural inclination.

We can all treat others with respect and goodwill; whether this means saying “please” and “thank you”, treating the person at the McDonald’s drive-thru like a real, important human being, not trying to bully our way into a better parking space, or not breaking in line.  Sure, it sounds really simple, but imagine how great your day would be if everyone you came into contact with treated you with respect. 

Here’s hoping everyone has a very peaceful day. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Another Rainy Day

We woke up to another rainy, drizzly day this morning.  It has been raining off and on since Saturday evening here.  Fortunately, it looks like our chance of rain starts to go down tomorrow, and it does seem to be tapering off. 

Emma doesn’t like the rain, not at all; apparently boxer mixes are made of sugar, so there’s a chance she’ll melt in the rain, or even just a light mist.  Because Emma hates going out in the rain so much we always put a raincoat on her to help keep her dry, so here are some pictures of Emma ready to brave the rain.  I think she’s definitely hoping for sunny days ahead.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Dance Like A Chicken Day

Today is Dance Like A Chicken Day.  I love the chicken dance!   It’s the one song guaranteed to get pretty much everyone out on the dance floor, and it just sounds so happy.  I think it’s practically impossible to hear and it not do the chicken dance, which of course puts a smile on everyone’s face.

My husband and I chose to play the chicken song at our wedding reception (of course we did, it’s a great song), and everyone seemed to really get into doing the chicken dance.   So, since I’ve promised you photos with every post this month, here are some photos of the chicken dance from our reception, and of course a youtube video of the chicken dance, so you can have the song playing in your head all day.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mini Oven Omelets

These baked omelets are quick and easy to make.  They’re a great make ahead breakfast and work well for eating on the go.  The basic recipe is a delicious cheese omelet, but you can easily add sausage, bacon, vegetables, etc. to individual omelets.

Basic Recipe:
8 eggs

¼ cup milk

1/8 tsp dry mustard

1/8 tsp pepper

¼ tsp salt

1 cup shredded cheese

12 paper muffin liners (you will want to use paper, not foil, so you can re-heat them easily).

Beat eggs and milk together, stir in cheese and spices.  Pour into 12 paper-lined muffin cups, about half full.*  

Bake at 350 ° for 23 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into omelets comes out clean.

Cooked ground sausage
Chopped bell peppers
Chopped onions
Chopped and seeded tomatoes
Crumbled cooked bacon

Add about a tablespoon of desired add-ins per muffin cup and gently stir.

*The omelets will rise quite a bit during baking.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Help Stamp Out Hunger

Today is the 20th annual nationwide USPS food drive.  You can read more about it here or here.  Though, if you haven’t been living under a rock, like I apparently have, for the past 20 years you probably already know about it.  I’m still trying to figure out how I’ve missed this one all these years, but I’m very excited to be able to participate in this year’s food drive.

The concept is fairly simple; the USPS asks everyone to collect non-perishable foods and put them in a bag next to their mailbox before the usual pick-up/delivery time today, and the letter carriers will pick them up and take them to local food pantries.  They even provide a large paper bag for you.  At least they did this year; it was in our mailbox on Thursday, which is the only reason I know about it this year.  Not only do they make it super easy to participate that way, but it’s a great reminder. 

I have to say I love this idea.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big believer in volunteering to do something to help others.  I firmly believe in the idea that no one has to (or can) do everything, but we all can and should do something.  This food drive definitely seems to work in harmony with that belief; no one is being asked to buy groceries for everyone who doesn’t have enough to eat, but everyone is being asked to share what they’re able.  I can’t help thinking how much food would be provided if everyone just put three items in their bag.  That’s a lot of food! 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Smile, It’s Finally Friday!

So it’s finally Friday, the end of a long week.  It’s time to smile!  I thought this would be a great day to share some pictures of some smiling fur kids, in hopes that they’ll help you start your weekend off with a smile too. 

Milo, smiling while semi-napping next to Howard.
Frankie, having good dreams napping next to Howard.  Starting to see a pattern in  cuddling up to Howard...

Roxie, one of the transport dogs; she's smiling because she's on the way to her forever  home.

Annie, a dog who stayed with us during her journey to find her forever home.
Emma's so happy!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pink – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Pink, it’s a nice color, not my favorite color, but definitely on my top five list.  It’s usually nice to see pink, though there are definitely some cases where pink isn’t so great.  We’ll start with the bad and the inspiration for today’s post:

Pink Eye, otherwise known as Conjunctivitis, which I woke up with this morning.  It’s not really painful, just itchy like crazy, and means staying home from work for a day because it’s so contagious before starting the drops.  It also means a co-pay at the doctor’s office for about five minutes of their time and throwing away all of the eye makeup I’ve used for the past few days.  Definitely the bad.

Now for the Ugly, Pepto-Bismol.  My mom gave it to me for motion sickness when I was a kid.   It doesn’t work for that, not at all, and that’s all I’m going to say on the matter.  My sister says I’ve held onto a childhood trauma for way too long, but I can barely stand to walk past the stuff in the store. I definitely can’t bear even the thought of actually ingesting it.  Definitely the ugly.

Now for the good, and yes, I realize I’ve gone through the good, the bad, and the ugly a little backwards, but I wanted to end on a positive note; pink roses.  I love them.  Actually, I love all roses, but pink roses are definitely my favorite.  I know some people think they’re a little too traditional or boring, but I think they’re classy and beautiful.  Pink roses are also considered to be an expression of poetic romance, so I’m very happy when my husband gives them to me. 

So there you have it, the good, the bad, and the ugly of pink.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Who Says Cats Are Sneaky?

I’m a cat lover, actually I think I’m probably closer to being a crazy cat lady than just a cat lover; crazy cat lady or just cat lover, I LOVE cats.  I love my cats, my family’s cats, my friends’ cats, pretty much all cats. I have always had cats in my life.  I dream of winning the lottery so we can have a bigger house, with room for more cats.  (You can read more about my cats Howard, Milo, Frankie, and Tara by clicking on their names.) 

As a confirmed cat lover (and possible crazy cat lady) I always find it very hard to understand when someone tells me they don’t like cats.  To me that’s a bit like announcing that you don’t like oxygen.  I just don’t understand it.  I really don’t understand some of the reasons either; especially when someone says they don’t trust cats because cats are sneaky.

It has been my experience that our cats aren’t sneaky at all.  In fact, sometimes I’m pretty sure we’re getting the cat equivalent of the middle finger.  Maybe it’s just our cats, but here’s some photographic proof that at least some cats are not sneaky at all.  The package they’re trying to open is a package of treats that they took out of the cabinet right in front of me.  When I got the camera and came to take the pictures, they just kept right on trying to open the treats.  There was no sneaking off from the scene of the crime.

Sneaky, huh?  Sometimes I wish mine were a little sneaky.  I think there are some things I might actually be happier not knowing about.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Blue Moon Taxi (My First Attempt at Flash Fiction)

As I mentioned in my Reflections post, Delores at The Feathered Nest, has come up with an idea for a challenge involving photo prompts.  This photo (posted by Delores) was one of the choices for this week's prompt.  I chose to try my hand at flash fiction.

There seems to be some debate as to just exactly what is considered flash fiction; the definition seems to range from anywhere to 50 words to under a 1,000 words.  This has just over 240 words, so I think I'm within the limits.
Photo by The Feathered Nest

Blue Moon Taxi

The old man leaned heavily against the young woman walking next to him.  There was a time when he had carried her around on his shoulders, but he knew without her support now he’d never make it across the junkyard.  He didn’t know how she’d managed it, but she’d tracked the car down.  So here they were, slowly making their way across the junkyard for one last look.

He spotted it before she did; it looked better than he’d dared to hope. It was beginning to rust, but Blue Moon Taxi was still visible on the side.  He stopped a few feet from the car as a flood of memories came rushing in on him. 

They resumed their walk and slowly covered the last few feet to the car.  He gingerly climbed behind the wheel; his granddaughter hopped into the backseat and leaned forward to listen to his story. 

He spoke of how he’d driven a taxi for many years, and how one fare had changed his life.  He’d stopped to pick up a young woman.  They struck up a conversation; she was spunky and blunt, and he loved her almost from the moment he saw her.  She was the woman he would marry and spend the next 60 years of his life with. 

She was gone now, and he knew he wouldn’t be far behind her, but he wanted just one last look at the taxi where it all began.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

A to Z Challenge Reflections Post

It’s hard to believe that it has already been a week since the last day of the challenge, yet here we are already about to move into the second week of May.

Signing up for the A to Z Challenge was one of the best things I’ve done in a while.  I’ve always said I want to be a writer, yet I rarely find the time to write.  Because I enjoy writing I’ve often treated it like a prize or reward; I’ll write when the laundry’s done, after the dishes are put away, when the house is clean, etc.  But these things are never totally done; they’re a part of life, which is ongoing.
Quote on a bench at Riverbanks Zoo & Gardens

I learned during the challenge that writing is like anything else that’s important to me; if I want to do it, I must make the time to do it.  I won’t suddenly find the time to do it.  Each day has 24 hours; I’m not suddenly going to notice that Wednesday has snuck me an extra couple of hours to write. (A girl can dream though, right?)  If I want to write, I must make the time for it, either by organizing myself a little better, or spending less time on another pursuit.  That was probably the most valuable thing I learned during the challenge.  I realize that probably isn’t very profound, but it has made a big difference for me.

I also learned a little bit about letting go of a topic, or at least shelving it for a while.  There were days that I had definite posts in mind for, yet I ended up going with something entirely different.  Sometimes my original idea wasn’t nearly as interesting as I first thought it was.  Sometimes I was just too ashamed of what I’d managed to write on a given subject; I felt that if someone was kind enough to stop by my blog they deserved (at the least) something I wasn’t embarrassed to have written.  There are some ideas I will probably re-visit at a later date, but I feel like I now have a much better handle on knowing when to move on to something else.  With limited time to write, I feel like that’s a pretty valuable lesson to have walked away with.

I also learned a little more about navigating blogger, though I still have a long, long way to go.  I will admit to being a little less than savvy (if it weren’t for my husband my blog would be even less ascetically pleasing), and I’m still trying to figure out to follow some people back, but I feel like I have made some progress as far as the logistics of posting: I can now re-arrange the pictures to my liking (most of the time) and I’ve learned how to schedule a post.

The most surprising, and pleasant, aspect of the challenge for me was how truly kind and supportive people have been.  I felt almost like I’d won the lottery when I got my first follower; each follower after that was a wonderful surprise as well.  In returning comments to other bloggers there were certainly some people whose lives and interests seem to have nothing in common with mine, yet they still managed some positive comment on my blog.  Blogger Land is filled with some really nice people, and it was nice to come into contact with some of them.

I don’t really think I can pick a favorite post; even choosing a favorite post on some of the blogs I’m following now (including the ones I haven’t really figured out how to officially follow yet) would be somewhat difficult.  But here’s a list of some of the blogs I have found that I really enjoy:

The feathered nest – She has actually come up with another sort of challenge idea, involving photo prompts that I’m very excited to be participating in.

As if by magic – I enjoy her style of writing, and her photos are amazing.

Inane Ramblings – I can never predict what her topic will be, but it has always been a pleasant read.

Writers Do Laundry, Too – I clicked on this blog because the name caught my eye; I continue to come back because I really like her style of writing.  She’s a writer and has really good insight, but never comes across as condescending.

Grits and Groceries – This is another one I clicked on because the name interested me.  Because I’m something of a procrastinator I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet, but I will.  He’s also great about answering any questions you may leave.

My Life as Lynn Proctor – Her posts are a mix of many things; humor, reflections, insights, etc that I look forward to reading.

As I said, these are just a few of the blogs that I have come to look forward to reading; it’s just impossible to name and list them all.  I am glad that the Challenge List is expected to stay up for a while, as I am sure there are plenty of other great blogs that I haven’t even gotten to yet. 

For any of the A to Z hosts reading this, I’d just like to say “thank you, thank you, thank you”.  I am so glad I signed up, and am very much looking forward to next year.  Thank you as well to everyone who has read, commented on, and followed my blog.  We made it through the challenge, and are better for it.