Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thirty-six consecutive days

With the completion of this post, I will have blogged every day for 36 consecutive days, the goal I set on the 26th of October after a long, dry spell. My literary hat is off to those of you who regularly blog on a daily basis. I don't know how you manage to do it.

Holly, also known as Creekhiker, did this along with me, and I greatly appreciate her company. Those of you who read both Holly's blog and mine may have noticed that she posted something worthwhile each day, while I often posted, well...crap. Many evenings I sat down and typed several paragraphs about nothing. It was a method that worked much better for Jerry Seinfeld than it did for me.

Tomorrow, unless something happens that I can't wait to tell you, I plan to give myself a break, and after that, until the end of the year, I plan to be here regularly but sparingly. That's because I did my last book review at "Velvet's Bookstacks" all the way back in June, and I'm gonna do my best to catch up between now and the end of the year.

Things are so much easier when I don't let myself get behind.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Night owl

Last night, only a couple of nights into the holiday weekend, I read until nearly one o'clock in the morning. Today I got up at six-thirty to let the dogs out, then we all went back to bed until almost ten. This is the kind of schedule I naturally gravitate to, the schedule my body fights against during the entire work week.

Even if I go to bed at ten o'clock and sleep a full eight hours, getting up at six in the morning is torture for me. Even if I get to work at eight-thirty, I don't wake up fully until late morning. I can talk and I can work, but I'm doing it on autopilot.

This is on my mind because it's after eleven as I write this. I'm recognizing the weekend trend of staying up late on Friday night and even later on Saturday, only to go to bed early on Sunday and lie awake for hours. With this being a long weekend, I'm postponing bedtime later each consecutive night, and I know that Monday will be a day of reckoning.

Part of me is sitting here with pursed church-lady lips, disapproving of my lack of discipline. Another part of me is pumping a fist skyward and shouting, "Yessss! I love this time of the night."

When I think about all the things I'll do when I eventually retire from work, one of the things that excites me most is the idea of being able to dispense with the alarm clock and wake up only when I'm good and ready. In fact, I think about that a lot. I didn't realize how much I think about it until I got all the way down to this fifth paragraph and it started sounding familiar. A quick little blog search shows me it's only been eight days since I wrote wistfully about waking up without an alarm.

So, now we all know that my memory is slipping. When the day arrives that I can sleep late every morning, I hope I can remember to appreciate it.

Friday, November 28, 2008


It's late, so I'll just post a couple of short items tonight:

1. There were no deviled eggs at our Thanksgiving dinner. It was as if the shells of those boiled eggs were superglued to the whites. I ended up doing as I thought I might, chopping up the whites I could salvage and stirring them into the yolk mixture, making a deviled-egg salad. It wasn't as festive as deviled eggs would have been, but it tasted just as good. Plus, it traveled a whole lot better.

2. The rest of the dinner was wonderful. I ate too much at lunchtime and then did it all over again for supper, and everything was just as good the second time around. I was so miserable after consuming all that food that you'd have thought I'd learned a lesson, but I woke up this morning craving another helping of sweet potato crunch.

3. Lucy and Winston spent the night last night. At one point this morning, all four dogs were on the sofa with me. It wouldn't have been comfortable for long, but for the ten minutes it lasted, it was pretty special.

4. Speaking of the dogs, Butch does something that drives me batty. He comes up to me while I'm at the computer and uses his nose to knock my right hand off the mouse. If he does it several times, I give up, stop typing, and get up to let him outside. The minute I stand up, he hurries to his food dish and starts eating, so I have to stand there and wait for him. I wish I could convince him to eat first and then let me know he needs something.

5. I'm behind on reading other people's blogs and leaving comments, as well as responding to comments on my own. I'm also behind on answering e-mails. If I owe you, I'm sorry, and I'll catch up as soon as I can.

That's it for now. Good night.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

In times of plenty and in times of need...

...we still count our blessings and appreciate the goodness that's ours to enjoy in this lifetime. Today I will be with my family. I'll fill my stomach with wonderfully prepared foods (except for my failed deviled eggs), and my family will fill my heart with joy, pride, and gratitude that I am lucky enough to be part of this particular group of people.

While I'm counting my blessings, dear readers and fellow writers, please know that you're among them. The stories and feelings that you share so freely have enriched my life and made me feel connected to a much larger world than I was before I discovered the blogosphere.

I hope you are safe and warm today and with at least some of the people you love. Happy Thanksgiving from Butch, from Kadi, and from me.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The devil is in the details

I'm only contributing one dish to tomorrow's Thanksgiving dinner, a simple dish that I've made dozens of times: deviled eggs. I ought to be able to do it in my sleep by now, but everytime I make them seems like a new adventure.

Are the eggs too fresh? If so, they'll be harder to peel, so I'd better boil extras to make up for the ones that end up with big chunks out of the whites. And what about the timing for boiling the eggs? I know that if I put the eggs in cold water, bring them to a rolling boil for one minute, then take them off the heat, leave them covered for 20 minutes, then flush with cold water, they'll be cooked perfectly. That's worked for me for years, but my new glass-topped stove is different. It takes forever for the water to begin boiling. Should I allow for the extra minutes that the eggs were in very hot water that was almost but not quite boiling?

It's anybody's guess. The good thing is I know they love me. If I show up with beautiful deviled eggs, deviled-egg salad (a distinct possibility), or empty-handed, I'm pretty sure they'll let me in and feed me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chinese, please

I worked late this evening to get a head start on things that'll need to be done immediately after the holidays. I struggle with Monday mornings all the time; there's no sense making the Monday after a four-day weekend even harder than it needs to be.

When I finished up, I looked at the clock and realized I could reward myself for the overtime. I'd worked late enough that my favorite Chinese restaurant was open.

I used to stop there to pick up dinner once a month or so, but my work hours are slightly different now, and I usually arrive home five or ten minutes before the restaurant opens. As much as I like the food, I don't like to wait or to drive back there later.

Tonight I had sesame chicken (yum!), egg rolls, fried shrimp, and crab rangoon, with enough food left over for tomorrow -- all for under $10. The leftovers are two completely different dishes, so they won't even seem like leftovers.

With a bargain like that, I guess it's unrealistic to expect that the fortune in the fortune cookie will make sense. The one tonight read, "A business trip will bring you excellent results." Hmm. I don't take business trips. Unless I find money someone dropped in front of the courthouse or the post office, I'm guessing this fortune cookie was intended for someone else.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Long lost playmate

Every year on November 24th, I think about one little girl: Jean Lee Benning. Today is her birthday, and I remember it because it's very close to mine, a fact that felt like a special bond when we were classmates and playmates.

There weren't a lot of kids in our neighborhood, but Jean Lee (I always called her by both names) lived close enough that we were allowed to walk between her house and mine. She was one of my first friends from school.

Jean Lee had brown hair that she wore in long, neat braids. She played the violin. It was because of her that I begged my mother to let me take violin lessons, too. (Mother, who was correct in her assessment that I'd soon lose interest in it, said no.)

I couldn't begin to tell you what we played when we played together. I mostly remember us walking from one house to the other together, and I remember that inside her house was the narrowest, steepest staircase I'd ever seen, so steep that climbing the stairs was a little bit scary.

We were little when we played together, first or second grade, probably, and then her family moved away. I've often wondered what happened to her, and I wonder if she has any idea that once a year for sixty years, someone has thought of her and wished her happiness.

Maybe someday, if she idly Googles her own name (we all do that, don't we?), she'll come across this post, and it'll make her smile.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I'm not one to spend a lot of time on the telephone, but apparently there's enough of a pattern to my phone chats that Butch and Kadi have learned all the signs. I've noticed in the past that they always ask to go outside as soon as I hang up, but I've assumed they were just getting up because I did. That might have been part of it, but I learned tonight that it's not the whole story.

Earlier this evening I had a long phone visit with my sister, during which Butch and Kadi both slept on the sofa beside me. Near the end of the conversation, I told my sister I'd enjoyed the visit and asked her to "give my love to everybody there." I hadn't moved, and I hadn't said goodbye, but both dogs leaped up simultaneously, jumped off the sofa, and stood excitedly in front of me, wagging their tails in anticipation. I have no idea what words or behavior signaled them.

My sister was still on the line, so I told her what was going on. "You should see them," I said. "They know the call is ending."

My sister laughed. "There's no telling how many secrets they've heard you tell. If I were you, I wouldn't let them talk to the neighbor dogs for a few days."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Potatoes, potahtoes

At work the other day we had a brief discussion about deception. The consensus was that it isn’t a good thing, but, in the course of conversation, I confessed to an ongoing act of deception when I was much, much younger.

My husband (first one) worked late when my children were small, so I usually fed the children early, then kept his dinner warm in the oven. Since it was difficult to cook and care for two hungry toddlers by myself, I took shortcuts, one of which was the use of instant mashed potatoes.

One evening when my husband came home earlier than usual, he saw me using instant mashed potatoes and said, for the first time, that he didn’t like them. He said he didn’t want anything but real mashed potatoes in the future, ones that would have to be peeled, cubed, cooked for 45 minutes and then mashed. As he was the nominal head of the household, I fully intended to comply with his wishes and cook the potatoes the way he liked them. At least that was the plan.

A few days later, while I still had dry instant potatoes in the house, the children fussed about being hungry. To hurry their dinner along, I decided to cook them something quickly and fix something else later for my husband. I pulled out the instant potatoes again.

Unfortunately, I used too much water, and the potatoes were a little soupy. I tried to thicken them by adding more dry potato buds. That made them look like they should, but it also made them lumpy. None of the potato buds I'd added in the second go-round had absorbed enough liquid.

That’s when my husband walked in, early again. Before I could stop him, he stuck a fork in the bowl of potatoes and took a bite. “Mmm,” he said. “Now, that’s more like it.”

Quickly assessing my options, I kept my mouth shut. We were married for about two more years after that, during which almost all of the mashed potatoes I served him were lumpy instant ones. He never complained about them, not even once.

So, I ask you: do you blame me? What would you have done?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday night freedom

I haven't decided for sure, but I've been thinking about it this evening, and Friday night just may be my favorite time of the whole week. Here are some reasons why:

1) Work is over and I don't have to think about it for two whole days.

2) I have Saturday and Sunday to take care of shopping and other weekend chores, so I don't have to do any of them -- or even think about them -- unless I choose to.

3) I can go to bed early or stay up as late as I want without worrying about how I'll feel in the morning.

4) When I do go to bed, I can read until I'm sleepy. There's no pressure to make sure I sleep for a certain number of hours before the alarm goes off. In fact, there won't be an alarm.

When Saturday morning rolls around, I'll still be able to choose how I spend my time, but Saturday feels like the beginning of something. It's the start of a two-day slice of time that slips away all too soon. Friday night isn't like that.

On Friday night time feels suspended. The work week has ended, the weekend hasn't officially begun, and I can float through those few hours in between.

Tonight I had a good dinner with my daughter. I've snuggled with Kadi and Butch, read for a while, and watched a little TV. When I finish writing this, I'll crawl into bed between clean sheets and read some more. Later, just before I go to sleep, I'll say a silent prayer of thanks for my family, my furbabies, my home, my job, and for the sense of fulfillment that I feel intensely almost every Friday night.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Might as well talk about the weather

Ho-hum. The weather here is cold. No, wait, it's hot. Or is it? I haven't been outside in two hours, so I have no idea.

The outside temperature has dropped below freezing in the past couple of days, but it's also been up in the 70s. To keep the temperature in my house at the most comfortable level, I first have to decide whether to turn on the heat or the air conditioning. At bedtime it's a big decision, because I have to project whether the house will get colder or warmer before morning.

During the day I'm dressing in layers, knowing that I like the office a little on the cool side but a couple of others like it toasty warm. It's easier to peel off a sweater than to sneak the thermostat back five degrees every couple of hours.

We're supposed to have a cold spell this weekend, but I'm not sure what that means. Below freezing again? Or just colder than 70 degrees? Is it possible for a cold front to move in overnight, followed by a warm front around lunchtime?

For all I know, the weather may have changed in the short time I've spent writing this post, but one thing didn't change in that time: the subject is just as boring at the end of this as it was at the beginning.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dragging out another old poem

After work this evening I had to make a dreaded stop at Wal-Mart to pick up a few things -- pet items at one end of the place, grocery items at the other -- so now I'm ready to just kick back and put my feet up.

In the interest of posting something that wouldn't require me to engage my brain tonight, I hit the old-poem folder again. This time I pulled out a poem I wrote for a friend in 1989, just a few words of advice when I thought she was about to take a flying leap off the deep end. Let's just say it was an expression of a lesson I'd learned the hard way.


Passion fades.
The rose blooms only briefly
till its petals fall and leave behind
the memories and the thorns.

Cultivate the ivy.
No bold flowers there,
but one small sprig whose tendrils
reach a solid structure
grows to cover, brick by brick,
the tallest tower wall.

The rose’s scent seduces,
but its flower wilts when touched;
the ivy touches roughness
and discerns a place to hold.

Passion fades.
Love grows leaf by leaf.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cake art

At some time while I was doing assorted things that kept me from getting here until late this evening, I was flipping through TV channels and came across "Ace of Cakes" on the Food Network. I love to see the creativity of these master bakers and cake decorators. What could be more appealing than edible art?

Anyway, the show reminded me of a cake we commissioned for a co-worker's birthday a few months ago. The birthday guy is something of a Mr. Fix-It on the side, so we requested a toolbox cake. And the talented lady who baked it? Baking cakes is her sideline; in her day job she's an attorney.

Here's the cake:

Pretty cool, huh?

Monday, November 17, 2008

You show me yours...

...and I'll show you mine.

Patsy posted a beautiful picture of a squirrel today, and since I happened to catch a squirrel in my camera lens recently, I thought I'd join her in a little squirrely show and tell.

This guy was hanging out in a tree above the bench where my younger daughter, Kelli, and I rested a few weekends ago when we spent a delightful afternoon touring the grounds and gardens of Houmas House Plantation.

Evidently accustomed to visitors, he was watching us as intently as we watched him. He moved slowly through the tree from one vantage point to another, keeping a curious eye on us the whole time. I'm guessing he may have encountered visitors with edibles once or twice in his life.

Patsy wrote about having squirrel for dinner, and I know there are avid squirrel hunters here in Louisiana, too. I remember sampling squirrel stew one time in the late '60s, but when I was taking pictures of this pretty squirrel, it didn't occur to me to think of him as a menu item.

I hope I never do begin thinking of squirrels as food. I have a hard enough time looking cows in the eye.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The compliment of his trust

It's standard procedure at my house that when the dogs come in after going outside to take care of their business, they get a little treat. As long as they don't take advantage of us by asking to go outside over and over solely for the purpose of the treat (which one dog tried), they can depend on it.

One recent night after Kim had worked here in her shop until late in the evening, she let the dogs out before heading for home. Lucy, Winston, and Kadi were glad to go. Butch, however, was way too comfortable. I was leaning back on the reclining end of the sofa, and Butch was lying beside me, his head on my chest. His ears perked up when Kim asked, "Who wants to go outside?" but he didn't move.

Five or ten minutes later, when the other dogs came back inside, Kim got out the dog treats. I could hear her handing them out to each dog individually, so I'm sure Butch could hear it, too. He still didn't move.

Immediately I could hear Kim's footsteps coming toward the living room where Butch and I snuggled, and as she came through the doorway and turned toward us, Butch simply raised his head a few inches and opened his mouth really, really wide. And Kim placed a treat on his tongue.

Kim and I were both moved to know how confident Butch was that he wouldn't be left out. It's a great feeling to be trusted.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

In Charlemont

It's late Saturday night. I've been sitting here poking around on the computer, trying to think of something to write, and was coming up empty until the cast of Saturday Night Live started singing a parody to the tune of "Ode to Billie Jo." Instantly, I was transported back 40 years.

A check on Wikipedia shows that this song was released in 1967, but I associate it more with the following year. Early in 1968 I met the man who would become my second husband only four months later. A couple of weeks after we married, we packed up my two daughters and moved into a beautiful home.

We bought the house from a man whose company was relocating him and needed him to move fast. They were going to reimburse him for any loss on the sale of his home, so he was willing to accept a low down payment. That made all the difference, because the steep price of $28,500 for the house was just barely within our means. The monthly mortgage payment was a whopping $128.

We had good times in that house. It was in a nice neighborhood and our neighbors were wonderful. On many weekend nights our neighbors joined us in our den for music and dancing. The kids danced with us until well past their bedtime, then we bundled them all into bed together and didn't mind if they stayed awake and listened to the music. "Ode to Billie Jo" was definitely on our play list.

That was the house we lived in when I fell and broke my knee, the knee that gives me such fits these days. That happened the week my older daughter started first grade, and the neighbors picked up my slack and got her to school for six weeks until I could drive again.

That's where we lived when my new husband taught us how to pick the sweet meat out of boiled crabs after catching the crabs earlier in the day with nets and chicken necks tied to string.

It's where my girls' new daddy became their hero when he marched down the street to get their peanuts back from the kid who took them away.

It was a house full of promise. I thought we'd live there forever.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Separation anxiety (mine)

I left work a little bit late this afternoon, made a quick stop at the post office, then found myself unable to make a necessary left turn in the rush-hour traffic. After throwing in the towel, I turned right instead, intending to go to the second traffic light, where I could turn left with a green arrow and double back to the route I wanted to take.

It wasn't so easy. Roadwork blocked off the route I knew, and I was forced to zigzag my way through an unfamiliar neighborhood until I found a through street.

Running late wouldn't have been such a big deal except that I knew Butch and Kadi would be concerned. They like their routine, and they seem to have a pretty good handle on what time of day certain things are supposed to happen. Also, they'd been alone all day. Kim and her pooches are normally at my house for part of the day, but today they didn't come over. Yep, I thought, Butch and Kadi will be waiting anxiously.

I drove under the carport about twenty minutes later than usual, parked the car, locked it with the keyless-entry fob that causes a short honk, and noticed as I unlocked the house (noisily) that I didn't hear my dogs. In fact, it was so quiet I felt an immediate pang of concern.

I flipped a light switch, dropped my purse on the coffee table, and rushed toward the den where I'd left the dogs at lunchtime. That's when I saw Butch on the futon. He raised his head and pointed his nose in my direction. Kadi, on the dog bed nearby, lifted her head then, too, and blinked at me like a deer caught in the headlights.

I woke them up.

Bless their little hearts. They were obviously so anxious about my tardiness that they forced themselves to go to sleep to keep from worrying, right?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Monday's washday -- but that's not cast in stone

My grandmother used to clean house according to a schedule. Monday was washday, on Tuesday she did the ironing, and so forth. I think I remember reading or hearing somewhere that most women followed a similar schedule back in the "olden days," but I don't remember ever knowing how that schedule got started. Who decided Monday would be washday, and how did that person get the rest of the women to go along with it?

I don't have a cleaning schedule. I clean when the spirit moves me, which may or may not be when it needs to be done, or when I think someone who'd care might be coming to my house.

Did your mother or grandmother clean according to a schedule? Do you? Does it make it easier? I've heard there are women who actually enjoy cleaning house. I don't even aspire to enjoyment; I'd just like to know something that would make me hate it less.

Intellectually, I think a schedule would be helpful. I've read the FlyLady website more times than I can count, and all of it sounds wonderfully efficient. I read it until I begin to think about the big results I could achieve by making a number of little changes in my daily routine. Usually that's enough to give me a warm glow of possibility and make me tell myself I'll start first thing tomorrow. So far that glow has never survived the REM sleep.

And, speaking of sleep, I do have a schedule for that, at least during the work week. Good night.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


The Country Music Awards ceremony is on TV as I sit here and look at this blank Blogger screen, and right now Reba McEntyre
is singing with Big and Rich. I don't even care what they're singing; I'm just delighted that the sight of Reba reminds me of something I can write about tonight.

In the early '90s, when I worked in human resources, a young man came to my office for a job interview. He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of Reba McEntyre. To break the ice, I asked, "So, are you a big Reba fan?"

"Well," he answered, "I'm trying to be."

I ended up hiring him. At least he had some kind of a goal.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Keeping us safe

The six o'clock news this evening included one small segment about Veterans' Day, not as much coverage as our veterans and enlisted men and women deserve, perhaps, but enough to start me thinking about them.

While I watched that news program, I sat on the sofa in my comfy living room. The lamplight in the room gave it a pleasant glow. There was a good book on the end table, close enough to read a few pages during commercials so I wouldn't have to be bored for even two minutes. I'd just finished eating a delicious dinner, leftovers from the Lebanese-restaurant lunch my daughter had brought with her when she visited earlier today. Butch lay sleeping at the other end of the sofa, Kadi on the floor by my feet. They'd spent time outside this afternoon, sunning themselves in the grass in the fenced-in patch of earth that's ours. I felt safe at that moment, and in that safety, I felt gratitude.

Thank you, veterans, for keeping us safe in our homes.

This World War II photo was sent home to my grandparents by their son, my Uncle Neale (standing second from left in front of the Little Helper.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Exercise equipment

There was a period of time in the late '70s when I walked four miles a day. We lived in a neighborhood that had sidewalks, and a good friend who lived across the street walked with me. With the exception of those long walks -- and quite a few nights of dancing -- I can't honestly think of any physical exercise I've ever really enjoyed.

In recent years I've exercised rarely, even though I understand how important it is. My knees are arthritic. If I sit too long, they lock up. I know exercise would be good for them, but most types of exercise I've tried have caused my knees to flare up and hurt so much that I've quit. I've been looking for something I could do that wouldn't put a lot of stress on my knees, and I think I may have found it:

The large box contains the Resistance Chair. Have you seen it on TV? (I won't advertise by linking to it, but Google it if you're interested.) I like the fact that the ads show older people using it. I also like the fact that I'll be able to do many (not all) of the exercises while sitting on my ample behind. In addition to the chair, I also ordered the Mini-Bike Exercise Cycle (smaller box in the photo) that goes along with it. I'm hoping that the strength-building and resistance exercises I'll do with this equipment will build up the necessary leg muscles to make my knees a little more stable, and that maybe that will alleviate the pain somewhat.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I must point out that I ordered this equipment more than two weeks ago. It arrived more than one week ago. I took the photo tonight, and you'll notice that the chair and the mini-bike thing are both still in their boxes. It seemed like such a good idea to order this stuff, but I haven't yet pulled the first staple out of the packaging.

Contrast that with three new packages that arrived today. I opened these three boxes as soon as I got home:

These books are exercise equipment, too. They'll exercise my imagination, and one or two of them might even exercise my brain. And they won't hurt my knees.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The measure of a man dog

Each of the sofas in my living room has three cushions, room for three people to sit comfortably or more than that if they're friendly. I sat on one end, reading quietly, and Kadi lay next to me, her head touching my thigh, and stretched across the second cushion onto the third. Butch decided he wanted to join us.

He stood on the floor at the far end of the sofa, sniffing Kadi's extended feet, then turned his head and shoulders to sniff the arm of the sofa. Then he did it again. Back and forth he went, sniffing Kadi and the sofa arm five or six times before I realized what he was doing: He was carefully measuring his target area.

Satisfied, he stepped to the center of the measured distance, bunched up his hindquarters, leaped up, landed, turned around, lay down, and rested his chin on the arm of the sofa, his feet a few inches away from Kadi's.

It's been a little over three years since Butch lost his eyesight. You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but I'm still impressed when he demonstrates his problem-solving skills.

He's a mighty fine dog.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

I hope Tom Armstrong got away

I’ve had my head buried in genealogical research today, not looking for anything specific, just randomly picking out any name that falls at the dead end of a branch of the family tree and trying to find a clue to help trace that line back a little farther. I chose this project for today because I’m trying to wean myself away from the political news that has kept me riveted to the television set for weeks on end.

Still, the recent election is very much on my mind, and the historical importance of it captured my attention again today when the cursor on my computer screen trailed across one particular name: John Jude.

John Jude was my great-great-great-great-great grandfather on my mother’s side. He was born about 1708 in Powhatan, Virginia, and later lived in nearby Cumberland County. John Jude was a slaveowner.

When a slave named Tom Armstrong ran away, John posted an advertisement in the Virginia Gazette newspaper in which he described Tom as having “a bad scald head” and being “pitted with the smallpox,” telling me Tom Armstrong’s life hadn’t been any picnic prior to his escape.

I learned about this when a Google search directed me to a photo on a University of Virginia website entitled "The Geography of Slavery." It’s a photo of the actual newspaper ad. The site is copyrighted, so I’ve resisted the temptation to capture the photo and post it here. If you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, click here, then go to the second item on the list and click on the date, October 13, 1768.

It’s been 240 years since John Jude placed that ad, but only a couple of years since I found it. I’ve wondered more than once about what happened to Tom Armstrong. Coming across John Jude’s name today, while part of my mind was still thinking about our first black president-elect, made me hope more than ever that Tom got away.

I’d like to think he lived a long and happy life, with a loving wife and many children. I’d also like to think there are some great-great-great-great-great grandchildren of Tom Armstrong alive today, somewhere far away from Cumberland County, and that they’re as proud of our country as I am at this moment.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Hurricane stew

When I was a teenager, my stepfather's second home was the boat club he visited almost every day after work. Boat club members liked good food and took turns cooking for the group on special occasions. The first time it was my parents' turn to cook, Daddy showed Mother how to cook Kentucky burgoo, a thick, delicious stew they cooked in a pot the size of a tall washtub. It was wonderful.

As we all grew older and I moved away, I always remembered the taste of that burgoo, with it's corn, lima beans, and shredded meat. I tried to replicate it, leaving out the okra that wasn't a favorite ingredient, and reducing the quantity of ingredients to a size my family could consume in a couple of days.

I must have cooked it a hundred times through the years, varying the ingredients slightly according to what I had on hand. Each time I made it, it was different from the time before, but the blend of meat and vegetable flavors always tasted like home.

On the last night my sister and her family were here because of Hurricane Ike, I made a big pot of the soup/stew. That batch turned out to be especially good, and my sister asked for the recipe. I explained that there was no recipe, but "I remember exactly what I put in it this time, and I'll write it down."

I had good intentions. Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the month when I couldn't string sentences together to write blog posts, and writing down that recipe seemed equally daunting. I had put in a handful of sugar. I knew what that handful looked like, but she wouldn't. I had sprinkled black pepper and basil generously across the surface of the soup, and I remembered what it looked like, but I didn't know how much I'd used.

After several weeks, it occurred to me that the only way I'd be able to produce an accurate recipe would be to make another big pot of it, measure the ingredients as I used them, and write it all down as I went along.

So that's what I did. And because it's already done, and because I can post it here and not have to think of anything else to write about tonight, that's what I'll do.


Non-stick cooking spray
1 pound beef stew meat
1 pound pork loin
3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
6 to 8 cups water (this measurement is approximate – do NOT add water all at once, and less water will make the end result taste better than more water.)
6 medium potatoes (slightly bigger than fist-sized)
1 large sweet onion
2 cans whole kernel corn (with liquid)
1 can cream-style corn
1 can lima beans (with liquid) – (this is the small green limas, not butterbeans)
2 cans Veg-All (or equivalent) mixed vegetables (with liquid)
1 large (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 can Swanson chicken broth
1 jar Tostitos brand medium salsa
5 teaspoons sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons salt (I used 3, but start with 2 and add until it tastes right to you.
1½ teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons basil

Spray non-stick cooking spray inside bottom of large stew pot (mine is 8-quart and it’s just barely big enough), then add beef stew meat. Allow stew meat to brown slightly (stirring occasionally to keep from burning) while you chop the pork into 1" chunks. Add pork, stir, add more water if needed, continue to cook while you chop the chicken into 1" chunks. Add chicken and stir. Pour in enough water so that the level of the water is about 1" higher than the meat. Put a lid on the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the chicken begins to pull apart with a fork. This will take a while. (You can add water as needed to keep all the liquid from cooking away, but the goal is to get a good, rich meat stock at a level equal to or slightly higher than the meat.)

When the chicken begins to shred, peel the onion and chop it coarsely (½ -inch pieces). Put all the onion pieces in a microwave-safe dish, and microwave on high for about 4 minutes, until the onion is tender. Add the cooked onion to the stew pot and stir. Peel the potatoes and chop them into 3/4" pieces. Add the potatoes to the stew pot and stir them in. Add all the vegetables (including liquid), tomatoes, salsa, and broth, sugar, and spices. Stir thoroughly, recover the pot and continue cooking over medium heat (stirring occasionally) until the potatoes are tender enough to pierce with a fork, all the meat is tender and beginning to shred, and the liquid begins to thicken.

This will be good enough to eat by the time you finish cooking it if you’re desperate, but it’s much better (richer and thicker) if you refrigerate it overnight and reheat it to eat the second day.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Citrus season

This is the time of year when citrus trees bear fruit in Louisiana. I don't know the psychology behind it, but fresh-picked fruit is much more soul satisfying than the store-bought variety. I would imagine that people who grow their own vegetables feel the same way. Maybe it's some kind of primal, connection-to-the-earth thing.

One of my boss's former clients has come to the office twice in the past couple of weeks to deliver bags stuffed with satsumas, oranges, and the biggest lemons I've ever seen. We've eaten them for snacks at work, and we've all taken home plenty to share with our families.

Tonight, though, I tasted the most satisfying fruit of all, a tangelo grown right in my own backyard. The spindly little tangelo tree is only three years old and isn't much taller than I am. It's produced fruit every year since Kim planted it, but we picked it too early the first two years. This year we exercised a little patience, and the results are juicy and delicious.

You know, I may have missed something by not trying my hand at gardening. Except for the dirt, the hot sun, the constant watering, the allergies, and (not the least consideration) my aversion to physical labor, I think I might have enjoyed it.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tears of promise, tears of hope

In the neighborhood of modestly priced homes behind my office, one lone house has sported a campaign message in its front yard, a single Obama/Biden sign that miraculously stayed in place for about two months. This morning, the sight of eight identical signs in that same yard made me laugh out loud. I could imagine that family happily and proudly hammering signs into their yard at 10:00 p.m. CST.

First I laughed, then I cried. Again. I’ve cried off and on for two days, not noisily or blubbery, but tears that seemed to spring from a well deep within me, a well overflowing with emotions too powerful to contain.

I’ve been happy with election results before, and sad about them sometimes, too, but never in my life have I been as moved as I am this time. I’m not sure what inspires me most: the historical aspect of the election, the idea of so many people working together to make the moment happen, or the realization that my dream of a peaceful, unified nation is a dream shared by many, many others.

Today I’ve read blogs written by others who admit to bouts of election-inspired weeping, and I’ve seen familiar news anchors and television personalities break down in mid-sentence. It’s reassuring to know that others feel the way I do, that my tears aren't an indication of personal wussiness.

And if you haven’t yet been moved to tears, then go get a tissue and watch this video:

God bless America!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

On pins and needles

The polls are beginning to close in the eastern part of the United States, and the numbers are beginning to come in. I can't wait.

This presidential campaign has been the longest I can remember. I was beginning to think it would never end, and, just when I thought I couldn't stand another day of campaign ads, the big day arrived.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how I can possibly leave the television long enough to cook dinner and take the garbage out to the road. I understand intellectually that my temporary absence won't change the vote tallies, but the early numbers show the vote to be very close, and I don't want to miss the moment when one candidate (my candidate) starts to pull ahead of the other.

I hope I can stay awake until that happens. And if it doesn't happen? Then I'll freeze the meatloaf left over from tonight and dine on crow tomorrow.

Monday, November 03, 2008

"...and the Lord taketh away."

Barack Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, died today.

Whether Senator Obama wins or loses tomorrow, our children will one day read books and watch movies about this historical presidential election. Being a lover of books and movies -- and an enthusiastic supporter of Senator Obama -- I've thought a lot about his story. I've mentally cast the lead actors in some future film and imagined long lines of average citizens waiting for a chance to be cast as extras in the campaign rally scenes.

Much of the movie would be filmed on location, in the exotic locales of Obama's childhood and in the streets of Chicago's South Side, and the tension and excitement would build as he continued to gain grass-roots support in state after state despite the unlikelihood that such a thing would ever happen. Moviegoers would get a big dose of history and inspiration for the price of a ticket and a box of popcorn.

As clearly as I can imagine all this, it would never have occurred to me to include a scene in the movie in which the candidate's beloved grandmother dies on the eve of the election. That would be too much irony; I'd be afraid no one would believe it.

Can you imagine the conflicted feelings Senator Obama and his family are experiencing tonight? They must be exhausted, physically and emotionally, from the fast pace of the campaign, and I wonder at the strength of character it must take to absorb one more major life event at a time like this. Even as they dream of winning tomorrow, they suffer a loss today.

Life is unpredictable.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

If I hadn't promised... post something every day this month, I wouldn't be writing this. It's almost time for bed, and I can't wait to get there.

As much as I love getting the extra hour of sleep when Daylight Saving Time ends, the earlier darkness always makes me want to go to bed early. I'd be there now if it wasn't for one load of laundry still in the dryer and the need to write this (feeble) post.

This morning I had big plans for the day, a whole list of things I wanted to do. Of the few items I checked off the list, only one was important to me: to cut my hair.

I've cut my own hair for about the last ten years, mostly because it's faster to do it myself than to go to the hairdresser, plus I wear it in such a simple style that it doesn't take a lot of expertise to do it. That being said, I'm not as good at it as I used to be. This time I got it a little too short, and every time I've passed in front of a mirror today, I've spotted another little strand of hair that's needed to be trimmed a quarter of an inch.

The good news is that I don't much care. A little touch-up with the curling iron before work tomorrow is all it'll need to pass as grooming, and these days that's all I'm after. It just needs to look like I made the effort.

Which, coincidentally, is exactly what I would say about this particular blog post.

Good night.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Why did the chickens cross the road?

The McDonald’s restaurant closest to my home sits on a corner where a major east-west interstate highway crosses a busy four-lane state road. Traffic at this particular intersection is almost always fast and frantic, definitely not for the faint of heart.

There I was, sitting in the drive-thru lane at McDonald’s, when a movement at the edge of the parking lot caught my eye. I turned to get a better look and saw two hens, one red, one white, walking together next to the curb like two women on a mission.

All those cars whizzing by on the interstate? Didn’t seem to faze them. The hens walked with a purpose, as if they knew where they were going, stopping only for a moment to pick up a discarded french fry, then continuing on their eastward path.

I wondered how the hens got there. How and where did they cross the busy road? Did they recognize the danger they were in? And had they consciously decided that the reason for their trip was worth the risk? Why did those chickens cross the road?

One possible answer occurred to me, but even as I thought it, my mind wanted to reject it. Maybe I’ve seen too many movies on the Lifetime Channel. Maybe it was just my imagination running wild, but do you remember the movie about the woman who traveled to the seamy underbelly of the city in search of her runaway daughter, who had been drawn into prostitution against her will? No amount of danger could have kept that woman from searching for her daughter.

I thought of that movie as I saw those determined chickens. Were they crossing busy roads, dodging SUVs driven by people on cell phones, in a desperate search for their missing offspring?

The possibilities continued to play out in my mind, and just as an arm reached out the drive-thru window and handed over my breakfast order, I had an even more horrible thought. It stayed on my mind all the way home.

I almost cried as I ate that Egg McMuffin.