Thursday, December 31, 2009

Swilling champagne & chilling shrimp

I stopped at Sprouts on New Year's Eve and left with a pound of boiled shrimp. The significance didn't hit me till I got home, unwrapped the package and started eating this longtime favorite treat of mine.

When I was growing up, cold, boiled shrimp signified New Year's Eve as much as black-eyed peas and resolutions. It was my brothers' and sisters' and my favorite part of our parents' New Year's Eve of the few kid-friendly offerings we could nab when nobody was looking.

The parties were legendary. People (some invited, some not) danced. Champagne flowed. People danced because champagne flowed. The dignified SMU dean who lived down the block walked his wife home...then appeared at our front door after making sure she was asleep. On many a New Year's Day, we'd find party-goers in the bushes, sleeping off the previous evening's frivolity.

Tonight, I eat my shrimp and think about those parties, wondering when and why they ended. Only in retrospect do I realize what irreverently raucous evenings those were...ones that, depending on my mood and my level of loneliness, I'd kind of like being part of.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A waiting crate; awaiting fate

I knew Macho would be gone, adopted to his permanent family, by the time I got home from work on Saturday. Still, when I opened the front door, I glanced toward the dining room, half expecting to see the big lug ambling over to greet me. He'd even started wagging his tail (a huge step) upon my arrival.

But alas. On the floor by the front window were the blue quilt and the white one. There were the two Milk Bones he never really liked.

Then I saw the crate (the HUGE crate, I might add) in the kitchen. My heart jumped. Maybe his new family had had second thoughts! Maybe they were still iced in! (despite temperatures that had climbed above the freezing point). Maybe maybe maybe...

Or, the most likely maybe of all, it awaits our next foster dog. One the cats might hide from for 36 hours before garnering their bravado, their affection, their awe for this big ol' lummox. One who loves a quilt fresh from the dryer, a little peanut butter mixed with his food. One whose soulful eyes have seen more than we really need or can bring ourselves to know.

Meanwhile, the crate is empty. The front window is, too. But after my runs, I still glance at it, expecting to see the face that, for two precious weeks, welcomed me home.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Loving Molly. Always.

I admit I have not been a good friend to Molly. I used to walk by her yard almost every day, bringing her three Milk Bones. I'd talk to her, telling her what a good girl she was. She'd wag her tail, trotting to one spot to take the first, another for the second, the last for the third.

I'd say, "OK, Molly, have a good day. Love you," and walk home.

But the last few times I'd seen her, she hardly moved. I'd still talk to her, still drop bones in her yard.  She looked thin, and it broke my heart to see her and feel so helpless. One day I put a bowlful of dog food mixed with an egg in her yard. But mostly, I am beyond ashamed to say, I'd avoid her yard. But today on the way to church, we were running late and so drove right by her house.

In the chain link fence, I saw three white flowers. And I knew. I started to cry. My son put his hand on my shoulder. He squeezed it; he rubbed it; he kept it there till we were almost to church.

"It's OK Mom," he kept saying. "It's OK."

She was a beautiful dog, a white German shepherd. She was friendly and sweet, wagging her tail for kids going to the elementary school a hundred yards away, brightening more lives than she ever knew.

I am trying to console myself thinking she is in a much better place, a place where someone pets her and loves her even when school isn't in session. A place where someone takes her on walks, and lets her run off the leash, knowing she'll always come back to them.

Click here to read what I wrote about her six years ago. Godspeed, Molly. Love you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

(Re)opening hearts

When I suggested to my son that we foster a greyhound, his initial reaction was eagerness. But a few hours before Macho was to be delivered to our house, I found Charlie in the office, lying on a chair, petting his cat, being uncharacteristically silent.

"I'm not sure if I'm ready for another dog," he said.

We lost our Sally during the summer, and have been making do quite nicely (or so we've thought) with two cats. But we've missed her, and missed having a dog. (Click here to read more). My running pal and his wife have a houseful of greyhounds -- dogs I'm quite fond of, dogs that remind me of the pleasures of canine company.

Yet I understood what Charlie was saying. I empathized with his mixed emotions, felt my heart bruise at the idea of another dog stepping (albeit gingerly) into it.

"Charlie," I said, "no dog will ever replace Sally. We don't expect one to. We don't want one to; that's not the reason we're getting (even temporarily) another one."

"I know," he said. "I'm just thinking."

Macho's been here 24 hours now. He has slept, eaten, gone on a few short walks, conked out afterward, and played for perhaps a total of three minutes with a squeaky toy we bought him before he got here.

When Charlie got into the car after school, he didn't even rummage for his drive-home snack before he asked what Macho had done today.

We know Macho has already been adopted. We're just keeping him till after Christmas, when his forever family will bring him home for good. Meanwhile, we delight in hearing dog toenails on the hardwood floors again. Once more, dark-puddled eyes mesmerize us. We've pulled out the Milk Bones we'd bought for Sally and had yet to throw away. Macho doesn't seem that interested, but I rather like seeing them again.  

Macho is big. He is white. He is a bit of a lummox, somewhat of an lug, the sweetest galoot you can imagine.We're pretty attached to him already. He slept in Charlie's room half of that first night here; right now, he's conked out by Charlie's bed for what we hope is a full night of sleep.

A half-hour earlier, Charlie was in the dining room, his laptop on the table, finishing his homework. He said something, which initially I thought was directed at me. Now, thinking back, I'm not so sure.

"I had forgotten," I heard him say, "how much fun having a dog is."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Encountering chance

A few mornings ago, my mom, my dad, and my sister Jeanne were eating breakfast at a known-for-its-biscuits cafe. They were almost finished when Mom spotted a well-dressed woman sitting alone a few tables away.

"She looks just like Carol!" whispered Mom to Jeanne, referring to a woman with whom she used to work. Mom kept looking at the woman, who smiled and waved a bit.

She wasn't Carol, but Mom felt compelled to talk to her anyway. If you knew my mother, this would not surprise you in the least. If you don't know her, well, I wish you did. She is quite possibly the most interested, interesting, energetic and compassionate person you could ever hope to meet. Oh, and she's pretty adorable, too. But I digress.

Turns out the woman is 82 ("I couldn't believe it when she told me that!" Mom said). She's from New York (like Mom). Her first name is Lorraine; her last Coghlin (the same as Mom's sister).

"Honey," Mom told me later, "we probably talked for at least 20 minutes. We just had this connection."

Lorraine said that perhaps fate brought her and Mom together.

"Maybe we were meant to meet each other today," she said. "When I was working, a man came into the office not long after my brother had died. He reminded me so much of my brother, it was uncanny. I almost didn't tell him that, but I did.

"He thanked me, of all things. He said maybe he needed to be at my office that day for a reason. Maybe it was to help me find some peace about my brother's death."

"We just don't know, do we?" Mom said, repeating what she had said to Lorraine. She paused and I sensed she was also asking me, yet not expecting an answer.

In the course of their conversation, Mom told Lorraine how much she enjoys her part-time job in the lingerie section of a department store. By the time the two parted ways, Lorraine had decided to apply at Neiman's or Nordstrom's.

"It sounds like such fun," she said. "I'll let you know."

She and Mom exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. They vowed to see each other again. Before saying goodbye, Lorraine shared one more thought.

"This," she said, "is a miracle."

In 20 minutes, you can get your bangs trimmed. You can fold clothes, or jog two miles, or address a dozen Christmas cards. You can butter your toast and sip your coffee and catch up with those at your table.

Or you can channel my mom as you set your cup in its saucer and catch the eyes of a stranger. Someone who, for reasons you'll never know, just happened to pick the same place to eat, on the same day, at the same time, as you. Reasons that, 20 minutes later, really don't matter much at all.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Malaise musings

When you don't feel good, you figure either:
A. Nobody else does. Or 
B. Everyone is perfectly healthy except for you.

You squint when you venture outside to get the mail, whether the sun is out or not. When it's time to pick up your son from school, you hope you remember how to drive, and that your nose doesn't bleed, and that the ibuprofen lasts until you get home.

One day, you are so tired of feeling crummy that you tell yourself: Enough. You put on a red sweater to perk yourself up. You gather your gym stuff, make sure your podcasts have downloaded, make the bed. 

At the gym, you're kind of in a daze. You think you're using lower weights than usual, but truthfully, it seems like so long since you've been there you can't quite remember what "usual" is. You consider trying the Stairmaster, or an elliptical machine, but the thought exhausts you. 

In the dressing room, you're afraid to catch a glimpse of yourself. You haven't exercised in three days; no doubt you're now a certified chunkster with zero metabolism. You can't think of anything funny, or why you once thought you were in shape.

Then you get to your car, and as you throw your sneakers into the back, you realize (dare you say this?) you feel a teeny bit better. You think of the half-marathon you're scheduled to run on Sunday, the one you've all but told yourself you won't be able to do. 

You reread the note from your nephew, with whom you've had a standing date on the starting line for three years now: "Not running? Auntie, you have to run!" 

And you start to believe him (at least a little), and your friend who has all along said a variance on this: "You're not going to lose months of conditioning and training if you take an easy week. Save those legs and energy for Sunday."

So though you're not making promises, to yourself or anyone else, you're at least considering the possibilities. And you're pretty sure that when you pick up your son from school today, you'll talk about something funny, something that makes you laugh. Out loud, and for a very long time. 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

When life gives you lemons...make my lemon bread

In modest estimation, I have baked close to 1,000 loaves of lemon bread. Most, foil-wrapped and bow-tied, I left on the desks of co-workers a few days before Christmas Eve. (The others I ate when no one was looking.)

Anyway, I'd start baking Thanksgiving weekend. By this time in December, I'd have about 30 loaves in the freezer. But I'm not working at the same place any more, and so I have baked nary a one.

Instead, I'm passing along the recipe. OK OK OK. It's no great secret. It USED to be a secret, but I shared it once before....albeit in a Dallas Morning News blog that nobody read (but me).

So here you go: My version of a recipe I kiped from a Farm Journal cookbook, that I in turn had kiped from the food-section office years ago.

Two things I'll admit about my lemon tea bread: 1. It's delicious. And 2. The notes from co-workers who made it part of their Christmas...became part of mine.


1 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In one bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In larger bowl, combine one cup sugar, butter, eggs, lemon extract and lemon juice. Beat at medium speed for two minutes.
Add dry ingredients alternately with milk, beating after each addition. Stir in walnuts or pecans. Pour into greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan.
Bake for 50 minutes, or till toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix together 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup lemon juice for the topping. Using a fork, prick holes in the bread. Pour lemon-sugar mixture over top.

When cool, remove from pan. Wrap in foil, tie with a bow, and give to a special somebody or two. Yes, they'll probably notice if there's a bite missing. But you may not be able to resist. Besides, once they taste it...they'll understand.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Snow daze

My fingers are too grasped around a tissue to grab a camera and head outside to illustrate this. So maybe you can look out your own window at the snow, or close your eyes and revel in the magic of snow days.

First, much to my son's chagrin, this isn't one, at least not yet. He's at school, no doubt paying more attention to the falling flakes than to Aristophanes.

Here at home, you can't help but watch the snow either. To remember those mornings when you get out of bed and your feet are cold when they touch the floor. Of looking outside, of seeing the slightest whisper of snow on the ground, of having the teeniest of flashes thinking....what if? What if?

You're shivering a little -- with cold or optimistic anticipation, who knows? You smell almost-burned toast and go into the kitchen to eat your oatmeal and the radio is on and the announcer is calling out the school closings. They're in alphabetical order, and if you never paid attention to your ABCs, you can bet you do right now.

And then you hear it. Your school. Closed. All. Day. Long. You run into the living room and the good news is confirmed at the bottom of the TV screen.

You call your friend two doors down and you meet outside. You're freezing, but laughing like hyenas and trying to gather enough snow in your wet mittens to make a snowball to push down her turtleneck sweater.

By noon, after you've burned the roof of your mouth gulping Campbell's tomato soup and wolfing down a grilled-cheese sandwich, you rush back outside. There's still hardly any accumulation. Still, the snow falls.

And still, you snatch it up, practically as it drops from the sky, determined to build a snowman. One that wobbles on the brown grass, one that will be gone by the time school would be let out.

But there is no school. Today's a snow day.