Sunday, November 28, 2010

Blogging Advent

Hey -- I've started a new Advent blog. Check it out here .

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Five: "American Pie" Edition

I am simultaneously feeling holidayed out and amped up for a very busy Advent month that also includes a cross-country I was ready for a fun RevGalBlogPal Friday Five. And we have one: All About Pie.

1)Are pies an important part of a holiday meal?
Absolutely. My mother was the best pie baker ever, and we always had pie for holidays and other special occasions. These days we tend to rely on our friend Dan the Amish baker for our pies, but we still crave them on special days.

2) Men prefer pie; women prefer cake. Discuss.
I think whoever came up with this idea was not from the crust-intensive Upper Midwest where the women like their pie just fine, thank you. I'm fond of gingerbread, and Fellow Traveler and I both like white cake on the rare occasions when we eat cake...but that's about it.

3) Cherries--do they belong in a pie?
I think they're fine in other people's pies, yes.

4) Meringue--if you have to choose, is it best on lemon or chocolate?
Again, yes. On rhubarb cream pie too.

5) In a chicken pie, what are the most compatible vegetables? Anything you don't like to find in a chicken pie?
If you ask Fellow Traveler, who was OD'd on frozen pot pies in her childhood, she'd say that chicken pie was not compatible with eating, period. Me, I don't mind savory pies; but if I'm going to eat a pot pie, chicken or otherwise, I want the peas in it to be bright and firm, not gray and mealy. Bad peas can really ruin a dish.

Bonus: What is the most unusual pie you have ever eaten? That would have to be concord grape juice pie, one of the specialties of our local Amish community. While most cookbook recipes for grape pie require a messy process of cooking whole grapes, then running them through a food mill and cooking down the residual juice, our Amish friends tell us they use their own canned grape juice and make a kind of transparent custard with it. However they make it, I like it and want to make it some day. 

Bonus bonus: What is the most unusual pie you haven't yet eaten? This Christmas, which we will be spending at home, I'd like to try my hand at making tortiere, the French Canadian spiced meat pie that's a tradition during the holidays. Fellow Traveler has hinted that, unlike pot pie, she might enjoy this very meaty, un-veggie-laden dish. I'm thinking of making little muffin-cup tortiere canapes; somethin' like that.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Five: "Surprised by Joy" Edition

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five has a Thanksgiving theme, with a twist: What are five unexpected blessings we can be thankful for?
This is an interesting question for me, because I tend not to be too fond of surprises. I can be wound a little tightly, and sometimes I need to slowly warm up to new experiences. But, sometimes, they're good things. Here are a few.

1. Fellow Traveler. Five years ago I certainly never envisioned myself living in domestic tranquility with the love of my life. This has been a very good surprise.

2. A granddaughter. Ruby was a surprise all around; and both the nine months of this pregnancy and the past year have been jam-packed with baby-related changes in our lives, including her parents' wedding and move across the country; including my first experience taking care of a tiny child.. In two weeks were on our way to SoCal to visit The Kids in their new home; my first trip out West. But it's all good.

3. Chica. Fast-forwarding to this summer: When Gertie died this summer, I was pretty certain that we wouldn't share our lives with another dog. So was Fellow Traveler. Who knew that, two months ago, we'd find a compelling photo of a cute little canine on Petfinder, resolve to save her from the animal-shelter gas chamber, and come home with one of the sweetest dogs we've ever had the privilege of knowing? Chica -- who at this very moment is sitting on the sofa with me, recuperating from her Special Lady-Dog Operation -- is a gem; cuddly, friendly to all, smart and well-behaved.

4. The joy of not working. I have to admit -- when we decided as a household that we could get by fine on one income, I couldn't help the feeling that I was doing something very, very bad, and that the Universe was about to punish me. Chalk that up to a combination of familial work ethic, coming of age at a time when having a serious career was a hallmark of being a liberated, self-empowered woman, and feeling guilt over our many friends and neighbors who find themselves under- or unemployed these days.  Almost immediately I tried to justify this not working by studying for a new job instead; until I got real about my complete lack of interest in spending my days proofreading lines of HTML code. And then I foundered for awhile. It's only recently, maybe even in the past couple months, that I've been able to feel truly okay about a life that alternates domesticity with volunteerism. Will this be my status forever? Probably not. But when I engage the workplace again, it will be as someone whose work life is no longer based on fear and guilt and people-pleasing.

5. Living in mid-Michigan. Until recently I've always felt a dissatisfaction with living in this area; I always saw my future, and then our future, somewhere else -- the Leelanau area of northern Michigan, or perhaps even out East in Fellow Traveler's old stomping grounds. But in the last couple of years we've really planted some roots on this land in this place. While it's not obvious to a casual visitor, and frankly wasn't even obvious to me as a native -- there are real blessings in living here: the woods and waters and wildlife; the Amish community; the slower pace of life. We still travel; still enjoy exploring new places and going back to our favorite getaway areas; but we are thankful whenever, after such a trip, we find ourselves turning into our own driveway once again.

The Funniest Thing I've Read in a Long Time

If you have ever lived with a dog, you will laugh out loud at this:
Dogs Don't Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Snowed-In Friday Five

As we enter the waning weeks of autumn, with the first "sticking snow" just over the horizon (and perhaps some readers are already experiencing a white landscape),the  RevGalBlogPals Friday Five asks us to imagine our ideal snow day.

It feels odd responding to these questions during one of those misty Indian-summer November days when the temperature is expected to push 60 degrees -- I'm overlooking a lawn of green grass and an open pond -- but I know that in only a few weeks everything is going to change...

1. What is your favorite movie for watching when curled up under a wooly blanket?
Hard to say. I like classic movies; I like quirky movies. Probably, though, in the dead of winter, some northern European exploration of postmodern existential angst would not be my first choice of film. Or anything that an 18-year-old boy would watch. Or anything that a 5-year-old would watch. No; no movies that leave me wondering, "What in the hell was that?", or with the impulse to step in front of a train. No glorified video games/soft porn. No movies heavy on fart-and-belch humor, with protagonists who sound like the sort of smartass 10-year-old kids who need to be sent to military school in North Korea for a few years. about some screwball Thirties romantic comedy, or Hitchcock thriller, or interesting indie film with a real plot and characters I wouldn't mind knowing in real life.

2. Likewise, what book?
I'd love to say I can happily curl up with a volume of Tillich or Luther's Works or the writings of the early Church...but actually on a snowy day what I really like to read are cookbooks -- big cookbooks with big, colorful pictures -- or gardening books with big, colorful pictures. It's true; deep, deep down I'm shallow.

3. What foods do you tend to cook/eat when it gets cold?
At our house we enjoy soup on cold days. I usually also get a jones for childhood comfort food -- pork roasts and mashed potatoes and fricaseed chicken. (Don't tell my doctor.) I like baking bread on frosty days. And toasted cheese sandwiches -- another excellent snowy-day choice, especially with the soup.

4. What do you like to do if you get a "snow day" (or if you don't get snow days, what if you did)?
At our house it's much like the answers to 1, 2 and 3...although Fellow Traveler will usually suggest venturing out sometime post-blizzard to survey the landscape: "Why have a Jeep if you don't use it?" (I've not yet driven the Prius in a blizzard, but suspect that it really isn't a vehicle of choice for this sort of adventure.)
5. Do you like winter sports or outdoor activities, or are you more likely to be inside playing a board game? Do you have a favorite (indoors or out)?
If it's sunny and pleasant post-snowstorm, we sometimes like to snowshoe. We now have a dog who, so far, as demonstrated that we can't trust her for even a second outside without a leash, so the snowshoeing might be a challenge this winter. Board-game-wise, we enjoy dominoes and Scrabble.

Friday, November 05, 2010

New Kid on the Block

Yikes -- I just realized that I've been away from this blog for so long I've neglected to introduce what's left of my readership to a new member of our household.

Say hello to Chica!

After Gertie's accident we had pledged to never get another dog. Or at least to not get another dog for a long, long time. And for the first couple of months that seemed like a good idea. Even as we grieved for Gertie, we began to notice how much easier life was without a dog: bed-and-breakfast vacations without having to arrange for babysitting; no 2:00 a.m. potty runs outside; long-distance travel without the drama of having to manage a pooch's meals and bathroom breaks on the road.

Then one day we saw a lost dog, some sort of shaggy spaniel mix, on the busy highway running past our house. The dog, dragging a lead, shaking with fear, was trying to cross the road, dodging oncoming cars. I imagined a vehicle catching the lead on a tire. Fellow Traveler and I looked at one another in horror.

"I'm stopping," said FT. She pulled over.

But another vehicle, coming from the other direction, also stopped. The man who emerged from the pickup appeared to be an off-duty volunteer firefighter. He wove his way diagonally through the traffic and somehow managed to grab the stray's flapping lead. He quickly scooped up the frightened animal, wove through traffic again and placed the dog in the cab of his truck. We breathed a sigh of relief.

A few minutes later FT quietly admitted, "I could have taken that dog home. How about you?"

"Me too."

Several days later we caught one another scrolling down pages of dog photos on Petfinder.

Now it was only a matter of time.

A few mornings after this, I showed FT a photo of a dog at a dog pound in our area. FT returned to Petfinder to read about the dog. Then she said, "Hey -- look at the little brown dog at the same pound."

I'd missed this photo before. It showed a honey-colored beagle-sized dog with half-floppy ears, a cute little snubby nose and curly short tail. The information with the photo said that the dog was a female stray whose owner had never materialized, who had just come up for adoption.

"What do you think?"

"Let's call."

We did, and were advised to come quickly.

And that is how Chica wound up at our house.

It's always amazing to me how unique dogs' personalities are (something that people who keep their animals on chains in their backyard never learn); and Chica is no exception. From the moment we saw her in her cage, subdued but not in despair like the dogs next to her, alert and cautiously friendly as we approached, we knew she was going to be a different pet than Gertie.

For one thing -- this little girl used to have someone who cared about her and took good care of her. She's well socialized with people and other pets alike (more about that later). She's also been well fed. (And she has an obsession with finishing half-cups of coffee with cream -- we discovered this her first morning with us -- that leads us to suspect that this was a special treat for her in her former home.) She doesn't have an air of neediness or neurosis, like many rescue dogs. Her only vice we've found is her compulsion to run outside, and away, at the slightest opportunity; which may be why she wound up in a shelter in the first place.

Chica is a cuddler. She is a licker. She is a blanket burrower -- the only dog I've ever seen who wants to crawl completely under a blanket and stay there for an extended length of time. (Be careful where you sit in our house.) She makes silly little snuffly sounds when she's happy. She has an awesome four-foot vertical jump. She loves tummy tickles. She doesn't love car rides per se, but she does enjoy going places, especially places where she can meet interesting people and other animals. She eats nearly everything. She likes early bedtime, and gets a little peeved when forced to watch TV with the humans beyond about 9:30 pm.

Mollie the cat greeted the news of a new roommate with shock and two days of pouting; she would look at Chica, then look at us with frank reproach in her eyes: How could you two do this to me? By Day Three her attitude had mellowed to that of tired resignation: My God, I hate training the new ones. Now, a month and several well-aimed wallops of feline paw later, Mollie and Chica get along fairly well, although Chica -- who loves and is absolutely fascinated by Mollie -- still has a hard time restraining herself from trying to give Mollie full-face kisses. Mollie, for her part, has ended the hissing and spitting and bloodletting, and now maintains boundaries and discipline through clawless whacks, delivered with matter-of-fact impassivity. No; that is not appropriate; that is still not appropriate behavior...WHACK...

So what breed is Chica, exactly? We have decided that she is a chihuawhat -- part chihuahua, part who knows what.

Friday Five: "It Is Well With My Soul" Edition

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five touches on those little things in life that make us glad:

There are many perks in my life for which I give thanks and then there are some that make everything right in the world during the moment I am enjoying them. I'm wondering what a few of those things - five to be specific - are for you.

1. Morning coffee with my beloved: No matter how harried our day, we try to set aside a good chunk of early morning just to enjoy coffee and conversation with one another. This is also the place in the day where we tend to make household plans and discuss Deep Thoughts.

2. Sunday afternoon country drives. This has become a Sunday routine at our house; coming home from church, eating a light lunch, hopping back in the car and taking a leisurely excursion into Amish country. We enjoy the farmland and woods around us; and we also enjoy seeing our Amish neighbors in their Sunday best, taking part in their own Sunday worship and recreation.

3. Digging in the dirt. Even when it's in the context of digging up some very, very sad, stunted carrots (note to self -- add some sand to the carrot patch next year) or other less-than-successful garden projects, for me there's something about engaging with the earth that seems right and real.

4. Listening to some really good music.

5. Snowed-in days.  I love those mornings when we wake up to several inches of new snow; the schools are closed; everything is white and still outside. It's a great day to wrap oneself up in an afghan, pour some hot tea and read a good book, or watch a classic movie. (This is an attitude readjustment from my life as a commuter, when such snow days were a cause of much angst.)