Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Doppelgängers


Meet my three cats. If nothing else, you should know that they were part of an abandoned litter, fostered through their motherless infancy by a dear friend and her many bottles of goat milk, and we consider them to be sent from heaven directly for us. 

Also, take note that these relaxed gents take their red-headed doggy brother very much in stride. Around here, the old notion of cats and dogs as natural enemies holds no water, and we often find one of these furry fellows curled up next to ol' Ranger, snoring peacefully away. 

And thirdly, it may be observed that all three cats bear names taken from characters in Harry Potter. Indeed, we are huge fans of this literary epic, and when the kittens were nameless, quickly agreed to draw their names from this source. We spent hours sorting among the characters, debating which names sported the right amount of charm and best suited each cat's emerging personality. Now that a few years have gone by, it's fun to take stock of our choices and evaluate their fit at this stage of the game.

 
^ Black cats are notoriously difficult to photograph, but this white throw on the couch was a perfect backdrop for my sweet little lump of coal. 

^ Luna has a strange and persistent obsession with my algebra texts. Whenever I open one up and begin to read, his sixth sense sends him in my direction, and he curls up atop the smooth, cool pages. 

^ A cool cat stretched out on my bed in the warm sun. 

^ Luna has had a strange journey. Originally, he was a she, so the moon-referencing name seemed just right for a black cat. When we learned that this kitty was in fact a boy, we considered adjusting to Luno or Lunar -- something just a tad more masculine. But the die had already been cast and the name Luna stuck. 

Interestingly, despite the gender mix-up, his Harry Potter namesake has proven to be a great fit. Luna Lovegood is a quirkily confident free spirit who marches to the beat of her own drum and makes no apologies for who she is. Ditto our sleek and clever cat, who has a bevy of odd nicknames including Woony Toons, Woonus. Wohnny Tohns and straight-up Woon. He's a smooth operator who bestows calm, loving kindness and a sassy sense of humor wherever he goes. 

^ The votes are in and Sirius has definitely won Most Likely to Cuddle With a Brother.

^ Those long white whiskers, deep golden eyes, and the crisp white "shirt" peeping out from his black tuxedo jacket lend an air of academic prowess to the Little Professor. 

^ While Luna hunts and kills his prey, Sirius simply dances with butterflies. See what I'm saying?

Named for Sirius Black, an elusive, mysterious, misunderstood and ultimately loving wizard, this kitty has big shoes to fill. And I might argue that his namesake does not line up with this little boy's tender personality. Our dear Sirius is the boy with the crooked glasses who is always trying to keep up with the big boys despite the extra scrapes he seems to always get on his shins, whose mother makes him take an extra sweater just in case he gets cold. Such a tender heart this kitty has, though he's a bit short on pure athleticism and bravado. In fact, we often muse that he is more of a Piggy from Lord of the Flies than he is a true Sirius Black.

But Sirius is pronounced Serious, and that word describes him perfectly. Nicknamed The Little Professor and Owl Eyes, this dear little boy is indeed a sincere and solemn little lad, and in that respect, the name Sirius suits him to perfection.


^ Mother, I appreciate that you fluffed this pillow for me. Keep up the good work.

^ Clearly, this open window was provided just for my entertainment. Shall I jump?

^ If I turn my head just so, the sunlight will catch my eyes and bedazzle you with their emerald green. 

This handsome tabby is named for Cedric Diggory, a star Quidditch captain and all-around popular guy as well as a Hufflepuff hottie Yeah, this kitty nails that vibe. No one dares to arrange himself on a throne pillow quite like this dude. No one preens or purrs with quite so much satisfaction. No one struts across a reclined and sleeping human form to demand a bit of petting with the same level of swagger. Every step that our Cedric makes reflects his attitude that he is winning at all times. And that's why we call him The Prince.


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We cherish our three fuzzy boys; we enjoy their distinct personalities and we have had a lot of fun comparing and contrasting them to their literary dopplegangers. Interestingly, there were two other kittens in their litter who were adopted by the same family, and I understand that they were named Calvin and Hobbes. Wouldn't you just love to see them together in action?



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I've written more stories about my cats. But wait. That doesn't make me a crazy cat lady, does it?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hello, I Love You


As much as I dread and despise the waning days of summer and onset of fall, so do I cherish the fresh, green, light-filled days of spring. This sweet display of daffodils outside my local Trader Joe's captures the ambiance and exuberance of this happy season.

Hello, I love you, Spring!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Soothing My Savage Beast

Almost two years ago to the day, I got caught in a nasty car wreck.

The gory details have been preserved for posterity here, but the short version is that my two younger daughters and I were driving home on the expressway when bang! Out of nowhere, we got rear-ended. Without warning, a truck slammed into us at 60 mph. The impact shattered the rear hatch window and sounded like a bomb had exploded in the back of the car. Shards of glass and smoke immediately filled the passenger compartment and lingered over us for the next hour as we sat on the shoulder and sorted out the damage. Happily, despite the severity of the incident, we all walked away in one piece and quickly moved on from this ugly episode in our lives.

I prefer to ride with the windows down because that windblown look really works with my gorgeous fluffy ears.

My dear and beloved dog, Ranger, was in the car with us. Safely curled up on the back seat, he also survived the impact without injury. But sadly, to this day, he suffers from the psychological wounds of the accident. Always an exuberant car buddy, Ranger still gladly hops in the car when he sees it's time for a trip. But once we are in motion, he is reduced to a whining mass of angst.

Yeah, I understand. Those sound like the exaggerated words of an overly dramatic dog-parent who needs to get a grip.

However, dear reader, I have proof. Listen, if you dare, to twelve horrifying seconds of Ranger in full freak-out mode.

video


See what I mean? That is some Grade A ear-bleed-inducing agony.

Over the past 24 months, this whining situation has gone from bad to worse to Help! to Make-it-stop! to I may bash in either his head or mine and I don't even care whose head gets bashed as long as this horrific noise will come to an end.

So you know, before I got too far down the road with that head-bashing idea, I thought I'd try to find some other solutions.

And after a couple weeks of experiments, I've made an interesting discovery.
Ranger is fine on side streets, country roads, and major arterials. Making turns at intersections and following curves along the thoroughfare pose no problems to my Irish gentleman. 
It's the expressways that freak him out.  
In particular, he seems to hate the sensation of merging from one lane to the next.
As soon as I noticed this pattern, a light bulb went off in my head. At the time of our accident, we had just merged across two lanes of traffic.

Riding in the car ain't nothing. Think I'll just lick my foot to pass the time of day.

Poor, poor baby. It makes perfect sense that the distinctive gliding motion of an expressway lane change would be enough to send Ranger's associative memory into a panic. Honestly, his dramatic and high decibel reactions are a completely logical response, when I look at the sequence of events from his point of view.

So. New plan. When Ranger is with me, and our trip necessitates a hop on the ol' interstate, I adapt my driving habits. Rather than shooting back and forth across the lanes, I merge oh so gingerly only as far as the right hand lane, and that's where I stay for the duration of the trip.

video

This soothing strategy seem to do the trick, and my once-savage little beast is now as sweet and calm as can be.

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Special thanks to my second- and fourth-born, who shot the two videos of devil-Ranger and angel-Ranger in action.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

My Three Brothers

^ Here we are in age order. How thoughtful of us to arrange ourselves for 
easy reference in the future.

With a nod to this week's National Siblings Day, here's a special shout out to my three brothers.

The eldest is Matt, a design engineer for General Motors. He lives in Lansing, the fair capital city of Michigan and you can bet darn sure that he always drives American. He spends his free time mowing his massive lawn, caring for a gigantic Christmas cactus that once belonged to our grandmother, keeping his wife and two college-age daughters well supplied in lattes, and washing his cars. Plus he is passionate about his Catholic faith and a devoted member of the local parish.

Third-born Eric is also an engineer. After a long career in the Detroit area, developing software for the auto industry, he was recently reassigned to Virginia where he is helping to design the next generation of aircraft carriers. He and his wife raised three kids - his eldest son was lost to us in 2007, his middle-born daughter recently moved to New York after graduating college, and his younger son is finishing up at my alma mater, Michigan State University. Eric enjoys golf, Civil War history, building model airplanes, and making really bad puns.

Mike is the youngest and possibly the sassiest. His wicked sense of humor goes right over the heads of some, but his two teenage sons have adopted the same style of joking and sometimes beat him at his own game. His wife just sighs and rolls her eyes at the lot of them. They live in suburban Detroit, not far from my hometown. An IT guru and a gadget freak, Mike is good at making things work. Also, he loves his German Shepherd named Gretchen, metal music, and backwoods reality TV.

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All in all, I'd say that my brothers are delightfully, blessedly, boringly normal. Sure, they have their share of quirks and quibbles, but mostly they are hard-working, devoted family men who enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Throw them together in a room with a televised sporting event and a twelve-pack of premium beer, and they'll be content till dinner time. And as far as I'm concerned, that is a pretty great way for my three brothers to be.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Leftover Pie Dough


When my fourth-born was home last month on her spring break, she baked a cherry pie. Which, incidentally, was delicious. I took a brief hiatus from my no-sugar, no-carb jam to enjoy a slice.

But this story is not about the pie. This story is actually about what happened after the pie went into the oven. My daughter gathered up the leftover bits and dabs of pie dough that she had just carefully cut away to craft her beautiful scalloped crust. After rounding them into a neat ball and considering her options, she portioned out four perfect little heart shapes, filled them with cheddar cheese and pine nuts, and then popped them into the oven till they were crisp and golden brown.

* * * * *

^ Clara and me in an unedited Polaroid from back in the day. 

My maternal grandmother, Clara Minnie Marie Belz Lewis, knew her way around a pie. She didn't bake them routinely, as my grandfather, Carl Allen Rex Lewis, preferred that she focus her efforts on homemade bread. But every Thanksgiving, Grandma would whip out a few classics and I loved to watch her work.

Honestly, it wasn't always the most rewarding experience. There was a lot of hustle bustle in that tiny kitchen on a holiday morning, and not much space or patience for a little girl who wanted to stand on a chair and take a turn with the rolling pin. I often left the pie-baking arena feeling a bit frustrated. 

But lo and behold, Grandma usually had a surprise in store for me. After chasing me out of the kitchen, she would take the leftover bits and dabs of pie dough, and fashion them into a little treat for me. Tiny cinnamon buns were her specialty, and miraculously, my three hungry brothers were nowhere in sight when these marvelous makeshift pastries appeared. I felt like quite a little princess, sitting alone at the already-set dining table and nibbling daintily on my tiny treats.

* * * * *

"So I heard we're baking pies today."

When I found myself the mommy of a fleet of four baby bakers, I invested in a full set of step stools and brought them all into the kitchen to help me with my pies. After I ensured that everyone got a turn with the rolling pin, those little eyes would gaze in admiration as I origamied that disc of dough into a pretty pie crust. 

Best everyone's favorite moment was when I gathered up the leftover bits and dabs of pie crust, rounded them into a ball which was then portioned out with justice to my assistants. Of course, I first taught them all how to make little cinnamon rolls, just like my grandma's. But eventually, I learned to step back and give them free rein to make that leftover pie dough into jelly tarts or mini apple pies or itty bitty crackers or anything else they dared to dream.

* * * * *

I thought about all this as I munched my daughter's heart-shaped tart of cheese and nuts. This little gesture of frugality, generosity, and creativity speaks volumes about the people in my family who came before me, and I count myself lucky to be part of the process in passing this tradition on. 

And I am definitely looking forward to seeing what my future grandchildren will make with their bits and dabs of leftover pie dough.

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More stories about my grandma:

Collecting Stories

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Storybook Salad


Nothing says "Happy Spring!" at the dinner table like a big ol' plate of rabbit food.

Well, granted, this festive salad would require a carnivorous, fish-and-egg-eating bunny, but other than that, this fabulous creation comes straight out of Mr. McGregor's garden.

And speaking of gardens, this is a perfect meal to throw together after a long session in the yard, or anywhere else you might care to spend a lovely spring day. All of the ingredients can be prepared hours ahead of time, and then tossed together at the last minute for a hearty and healthy meal.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start with a shopping list:

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Salmon - one serving per person. I use these frozen fillets from Target.
Eggs - one or two per person.

Mixed greens - one bag is plenty for four.
Radishes - one bunch
Asparagus - one bunch
Fresh herbs - about one cup of any leafy herb, like mint or parsley.

1 shallot, sliced thin 
1 orange, juiced
1 T orange zest
1 T white wine vinegar
1/4 C olive oil

1. Cook the salmon.. I poached my salmon, by bringing several inches of water in a big pan to boil, then dropping in the still-frozen fillets and cranking the heat all the way down to low. Within 10 or 12 minutes, check the center of the thickest piece to see it's cooked through; remove from the water and plop them onto a plate to cool.

2. Hard boil the eggs. I toss mine in a pot of cold water, and cook it on high heat until the water comes to a fast and furious boil. Let that party rage on for about five minutes, then haul the pot over to the sink. Pour off the hot water and fill the pan with cold. When the cold water starts to feel warm, pour it off again and refresh with more cold. When the eggs are cool to the touch, pull them from the water, peel off the shells, and refrigerate.

3. Prep the veggies. Steam and then chop the asparagus, slice the radishes, clean the herbs. Thank heavens for pre-washed mixed greens while you rip open the plastic bag of those bad boys.

4. In a small bowl, mix together the shallot, orange juice, orange zest, vinegar and oil. 

* * * * *

Okay, now you are free to go play in the sunshine, knowing that your dinner will come together in less time that it took Peter Rabbit to wriggle out of his jacket and slip away from Mr. McGregor's sieve. Ready to make the magic happen?


^ Grab a big platter and start with a big bed of mixed greens. Layer on the radishes, asparagus and herbs.


^ Chop the hard-boiled eggs in halves or quarters and arrange artfully.


^ Ditto the salmon. I broke each of the serving-size pieces in half, and invited each of my diners to take two.


^ Okay, almost done. Call everyone to the table, and tell the last person who runs through the kitchen to grab a loaf of crusty bread and some soft butter. 


 ^ Finally, splash on some dressing. In the interests of personal preference, I poured on just enough to make the salad look delicious, then put the rest on the table in a self-serve bowl.

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Trust me, this fast, fresh and pleasantly filling meal will make everyone at your table as happy as a runaway bunny who finds his way safely back home. Enjoy with chamomile tea.



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For more stories about my carb- and sugar-free eating adventures, read:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spring Is Here




When the grey gloom blows away
On gentle breezes
When the sky is washed anew
When sweet, pale, whispering clouds
Float harmlessly by
When the trees finally bust forth
In glorious pink 
And all the world stops to stare
That's when you'll know spring is here.