Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Naptime

With gorgeous blooms like this just outside my car window, you know I'm having sweet dreams. 

On the average weekday, after several hours of teaching algebra to my brilliant homeschooled high school students, I often swing by the store to grab some groceries on my way back home.

Not uncommonly, I'm worn out at this stage of the day, and sometimes I'll take a moment to regroup. Tilting the seat back, I give myself permission to close my eyes... but of course, only for a minute or two.

And you know, some days, my brain cooperates with that plan. My eyeballs snap back open in a matter of moments and I'm re-energized and ready to jet off into the store.

However. There are also days, like today, when I wake up forty-five minutes later from a dead sleep, blissfully unaware of the cars and shoppers coming and going all around me, and feel like I've enjoyed an entire night's sleep in the Target parking lot.

That's completely normal, right?

Old Polaroids

Homeboy, circa 1980

No but what could make a weekend spent cleaning out the attic more worthwhile than finding old Polaroids of your better half? 

This little gem dates back to the days before me and although he looks about fourteen years old, my husband insists he was thirty. 

In any case, his bomber jacket is currently on trend and my in-laws' front lawn never looked better. 

All in all, I'd say it was a pretty solid weekend. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Asian Mangoes

Oops. If you look closely, you'll see that I crosshatched too aggressively and accidentally cut through the peel. The goal is to keep it in one succulently satisfying slice. 

Of course, I'd eaten them several times at home, though to be honest, the American ones ripen poorly and often taste a bit sour.

Their Malaysian counterparts were properly tropically delectable but when peeled and sliced, I found them oh, so slippery to handle.

It wasn't until I ate fresh mango in the Vietnamese home of my friend, Song, that I fell completely, utterly and madly in love.

Her secret - which apparently to Asians is no secret at all - is to slice along the length of the mango with a cut that runs next to the long, flat pit. Repeat on the other side of the pit. Once the best bits of the fruit have been thus carved away, there's no need to peel it. Simply score the slices in a crosshatch pattern to create bite-size squares, leaving the fruit attached to the peel. Then pick up the whole luscious affair, pressing your fingers on the peel side of the slice to open the spaces between the squares, and bite off each delectable chunk.

Buttery soft.
Sunshiney sweet.
Refreshingly juicy.

Mmmm. Heaven on earth.

Once I got the hang of this presentation style, I went a bit wild. After snarfing down the two fleshy halves of my own mango, and gnawing around the remaining pit, Song couldn't help but notice my enthusiasm.

She offered me a second crosshatched mango, And then a third.

I kept eating until she ran out of fruit.

The next day, she stopped by the street market to buy more mangoes, and with a twinkle in her eye, sat me down in her kitchen for another session. This time, I sliced for myself.

And now, every time I eat a mango - as I did today - I cut it into proper Asian squares and give thanks for my generous and clever friend, Song.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Ranger's Human

September 27, 2013 - oblivious to everything but the scent

December 18, 2014 - Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this courier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds,

March 27, 2015 - Dandelions for dayz.

August 20, 2016 - Cooling off in the front yard after another day's walk.

* * * * *

Me: [stands on corner, waits to cross the street.]

Man and woman in car at same intersection, waiting for me to clear cross walk: [put down their window and smile at me]

Me: [smiles back even though these people are complete strangers to me.]

Man in car: "Hi! Where's your dog?"

Me: [draws a deep breath] "Oh, he passed away."

Man and woman in car: [overlapping] "Whatttt? Oh no! That's so sad. I'm so sorry. He was such a good dog!"

Me: "Thank you. He had a long, lovely life."

Man and woman in car: [continue to smile at me as they make their turn and drive off.]

* * * * *

Over three months have passed since Ranger died. I continue to encounter strangers about once a week who ask after him.

I am so amazed by the impact that my dog made on the world and so honored that I was Ranger's human.

* * * * *
As long as we live on in the hearts of others, we are never truly gone,

Ham Dinner

Like all the other big ticket holidays of my childhood, Easters were spent at my mother's parents' comfortable home. They lived a few hours away from us in the poetically named town of Three Rivers, Michigan, so when we visited, we stayed for the whole weekend. 

That meant that along with a passel of four kids came an energetic and clever Irish Setter named Kelly.

My grandparents were not dog people. Grandma grew up on a farm where dogs were considered working animals and treated accordingly; Grandpa was a bit put off about dogs altogether, though honestly, I'm willing to bet he was afraid of them.

But we loved our boy madly so my grandparents learned to tolerate their furry fifth grandchild. 

Easter dinner at my table. 

It was the Easter of Kelly's fourth year, when I was about fourteen, that my darling dog put his grandparents' hesitant love to the test.

As usual, as our midday mealtime approached, Grandma was a flurry. Fresh-baked cloverleaf rolls, scalloped potatoes, home-grown green beans, pickled beets and a big ol' heap of mashed potatoes were paraded in from the kitchen to the dining room. But it was the cornerstone of the meal - a glorious golden glazed ham - that was the first dish to reach the table, triumphantly positioned near my grandfather's plate and poised for the ceremonial carving.

Banned from the crowded kitchen, I lingered silently in the dining room, watching the feast come together and waiting for an opportunity to make a few unauthorized taste tests.

I thought nothing of it as Kelly came wandering through the dining room.
I wasn't surprised when he stopped near the ham.
I smiled as he stretched his nose out toward that steaming platter and drank up the fragrant aroma.

But I was totally and utterly unprepared for what happened next.

My second setter, Casey, never stole an Easter ham but he did once help himself to an entire meal's worth of Dover sole while I was changing a diaper. 

In the blink of an eye, Kelly leaped up, braced his front legs against the table, sunk his teeth into that ham, and hauled it off the table for all he was worth.

I froze up, too horrified for words.

Kelly was halfway to the front porch when my grandfather caught sight of him.

"GRACE!! COME GET YOUR DOG!"

My mother surely noted the panic in his voice and flew into the room.

I will never forget the look on her face as she caught sight of that funny, handsome, clever dog who by now had dropped the heavy ham onto the floor and backed the slippery thing into a corner so he could properly dig into his prize. I'm sure she was ninety-nine percent amused by her darling boy's audacity, but well aware that her father was about to blow a gasket. So she summoned up the necessary outrage, wrestled our Easter dinner out of the dog's chops, and told my grandfather to calm down because everything was going to be fine.

"Your dog ate half the ham. I don't see anything fine about that."

My mom had already deposited the partially gnawed ham back on the plate and circled through the kitchen to come back with the electric carving knife.

With a practiced skill - this was definitely not her first dog-bitten-food rodeo - she sliced away the offending bite marks and reshaped the ham to look almost normal again.

"See?" she showed my grandfather. "It's fine."

He was not impressed.

My third setter, Ranger, was usually not one to jump up and steal human food but he might have considered his options had he caught scent of this flank steak. 

Kelly was sent outside where I'm sure he licked his whiskers and congratulated himself on a job very well done.

We kids were told in no uncertain terms to lay off the ham until our grandparents ate their fill of what was left.

And once the holiday weekend was over and we were back on the road, we finally enjoyed a hearty laugh over our crazy dog's ham dinner and hugged him all the way home.

* * * * *

Go here to read a sweet recap of all my pets
or here to find a collection of stories about their antics.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

New Life

This is me holding my newborn baby brother when he was just a few days old. 
I have always had a thing for new life. 


Everyone loves Easter

It's a day to celebrate baby bunnies and daffodils and pastel-colored eggs hiding in grass still wet with morning dew.

In simple terms, Easter is about new life, and everyone can get excited about that.

Now, I know that some Christians get a little frustrated about this. While other folks are nibbling on chocolate rabbits and snapping photos of spiral-cut ham, they want to talk about dying on a cross and an empty tomb and a dead man who stands up and walks.

And I understand that, to a point. I'm all about that resurrection life.

But here's the thing. For some people, that story is too much to handle. In fact, for the first thirty years of my life, I cringed at that story. I wasn't ready to wrap my head around a gritty Easter tale of violence and murder. I needed fuzzy ducklings, sweet-smelling lilies, and a bowl full of jelly beans to get me through the day.

Now, I love the full meaning of Easter Sunday, But rather than pushing back against the Easter basket crowd, I'm convinced more than ever that they have a handle on the truth.

If Easter is about anything at all, it's about the joy of new life.

May we celebrate this beautiful day in all its blessed forms.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Damsels In Distress


Heavy black clouds raced menacingly across the sky.
Winds twisted their branches in dizzying gusts.
Rain pelted down, soaking their delicate faces and threatening to blow them to pretty pink bits.

But through it all, they held on for dear life.

And I must say, these precious harbingers of spring are far more tenacious than I would have ever guessed