All material in this blog (written/audio/visual) is copyrighted. Do not duplicate without explicit consent from the author.

31 October 2009

Delicious Autumn

Last weekend my mother-n-law came to visit. I'm sure it was to see us of course but the real purpose of her visit was to absorb herself in the mosaic of fall colors. She loves this season most of all, which is why we can always expect a visit around now. Her arrival was perfect timing for a harvest road trip. We met her at the airport, grabbed breakfast and before we knew it we were on our way to Hood River, home of the famous Fruit Loop. I could tell you this celebrated loop was just a bunch of farms selling off the last of their summer's bounty but that wouldn't even come close to the experience.

As we arrived in Hood River, we followed signs that put us on a tiny two lane road. Not sure where to begin or find the first farm, we drove for a bit and marveled at the glorious colors around us. Every way you looked were tall dark forests of green pines and flaming yellow and orange trees shimmering in the morning sun, almost lighting our way. And yes, it was sunny, the only day predicted in the last two weeks and in the following two weeks to be dry and warm.

Our first stop was a winery in an old plantation house. We tasted a couple of wines, bought some of our favorite red pears and hopped in the car. Farm after farm, we found earthly delights and delectable seasonal fare to tempt our taste buds. One farm had a kitten for sale. I carried that little black ball of fur around with my trying in vain to get my husband to hold him. He knew, one touch and we'd be bringing another kitty home. We tasted our first pear pie. It was so good that we inquired about the recipe. Turns out it was a secret family recipe that my mother-n-law was determined to acquire. She sent us out to the fields to play and when she returned, we had us the recipe to the pear pie!

At another farm, we petted the world's wierdest looking alpacas, and devoured apple cider donuts. Eventually we met up with aunts, uncles and cousins at the German apple festival. While the adults gobbled up sausages, sauer kraut and fresh pressed cider, I perused the aisles and aisles of apples, taste testing and filling my bag these wonders of nature. Yodelers filled the air with far away songs and kids ran through the endless rows of apple trees.
Finally, as we were closing in toward the end of the Fruit Loop, we arrived at the farm I had been dying to get to. Apple Valley Farms. For they were serving up fried biscuits and apple butter, huckleberry milkshakes and pear brandy. Oh if that weren't heavenly enough, the inside store was filled with open jars of every kind of berry jam you could think of. When we left there, we were so full we weren't sure we'd make it home.

However, we had one more stop and that was the lavendar farm. Even though the lavendar beauty had already been harvested, the relaxing smell was enough to make you want to lie down in their fields and take a long afternoon nap. We met Bubba, a 90-year old, feisty woman who every year, presses the lavendar to make the oils, lotions and potions. We promised we'd see her again next year as we reluctantly returned to our car to head home.

As we drove home, it was difficult to leave this delicious autumn beauty behind. It's been just a week since then and already the trees are almost bare, their leaves now laying a carpet of colorful hues on the earth's floor. My distress over how swiftly this season passes us by, was taking comfort in knowing that what we lose in flowers and colors, we more than gain in a bounty of late harvests and other pleasures. All of which will make our winter dinner gatherings all the more warm and enchanting and seasoned with sweet memories of a season departed.

20 October 2009

An Old Fashion Love Song

An old man in love is like a flower in winter. ~ Portuguese Proverb

I shall not die of having a cold. I shall die of having lived. ~Willa Cather

We went to a funeral today. The celebration of life was for Cliff, a vivacious man who danced through life with a smile for 92 years. His wife Jan, 20 years his junior, is our neighbor. We met Jan just over 5 years ago. We chatted over the fence as she hung her laundry out to dry. Mesmerized by this tough broad, we became instant friends and took it upon ourselves to look after her. Cliff got sick just after we met and for the next 5 years, Jan devoted herself to caring for him at home. When we got news that Cliff had gone on to the spirit world, we rushed to her side to be sure she wasn't alone. No, exactly the opposite, she was surrounded immediately by family and friends.

At the memorial service today, the story unfolded, telling the more intimate details of Cliff and Jan's love story. They met at a dance. He was 80 and she was 60. It was love at first sight. She asked him to dance and that was that. They became solid fixtures at every dance in town. Everyone adored this dancing couple who only had eyes for eachother. We perused the family photo album that was out on display. Most of the pictures were action shots - Jan twirling in Cliff's arms both with huge smiles; arms around eachother looking lovingly into eachothers eyes; mouths wide open giggling about something only they were privvy to.

You could feel the love, you could sense the love, there was no doubt there was love in the chapel today. 150 people came to show their love of Cliff and to support Jan. I watched as Cliff's younger brother listened to the service. I tried to imagine what he was feeling by gaging his outer emotions and the energy around him. I could see he was deeply hurt but he was being strong. I could see he loved his brother. He nodded at the open casket when he passed by it. I left at that moment because I couldn't endure living his or Jan's heartache. My heartaches are sure to come. Today was a reminder. Instances like these, we tend to re-examine our lives. Today I was reminded that I am still alive.

19 October 2009

Mark THAT on the Calendar

Once in a blue moon, my wonderful husband will adore a dish I randomly cook for dinner. Now check this out. He is the worlds MOST pickiest eater. If it's not traditional bland american, he is quite skeptical and will not usually even taste it just to see if he might miraculously like it. Even if he does taste it, he won't like it because he has already convinced himself otherwise.

We've been together about 11 years and he honors me with at least one dish annually that he absolutely loves. He raves about how good it is, takes seconds and calls his mom to tell her to try this recipe. He tells me I can cook this any night of the week, every week. The problem is, I can't recreate the dish. For it is an anomole. Yeah so I had a recipe and I can give you the recipe. But it will never taste like it did tonight. Why, do you ask. I have a little bit of a hard time following the actual recipe. Like a pianiast who plays by ear, I cook by taste. And not to sugar coat it, I just cannot follow a recipe. Try as I might (and I do try), I always have to add just a little bit of that, a little less of this and oooh, just a touch of something that cannot be found in the recipe ingredients list - all of this making the dish intrigingly unique.

When the meal is prepared, cooked and ready to be tasted, I always wonder, will he like it? If his particular tastes do not approve, he will still eat it but I will see he's not pleased by every blink of his eye, every hesitant bite he takes and the careful avoidance of the phrase 'Mmm, this is good' for fear I may cook it again. But when he likes it, and I mean really likes it, I mark THAT recipe on the calendar and I run to a corner in my mind and try to recall each and every little thing I put in that dish. I say a silent prayer to the gods of dinnertime that my cooking karma stays on the good side. And no matter what, I stand up straight and tall with my head held high, proud of my wondrous culinary moment in time. Because as Harriet van Horn says "Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all".

15 October 2009

Its Up To You

The last of the human freedoms is to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances. ~Victor Frankl

My biggest challenge yet. Every day life happens and it presents me with opportunities to react. To react in a myriad of ways. Each time I must choose, it's up to me, to decide how to respond. My reaction time to these life moments has always been a bit dramatic. Usually there I am, jumping the gun, putting my foot in my mouth, regretting those damn words that escaped my lips before I could censor them or cut them off completely.

I've been putting myself through boot camp lately. Actually for about a year now, maybe longer because I don't really know when I started this. But I have given myself permission to slow down when life happens. Take a second to absorb, take some deep breaths, and try to wrap my brain and heart around what has just transpired. How I react can set the tone. The tone with which the new path this circumstance is taking me. No one can take that away from me. It is an inside choice. I reach down inside myself and scoop out whatever it is that I need. Courage, hope, self control, respect, ambition, love, compassion. Whatever it may be, I've got it in reserve somewhere deep within me. Always.

If I so choose, I can be stubborn. Oh yes can I be stubborn. It's the bull in me, the Taurus bull. But that's the thing. I can willfully push away what I am given and what I already have, or I can determinedly reach out my arms and embrace life. It's up to me.

14 October 2009

A New Leash On Life

We made many minor mistakes as young doggie parents do, but one that we corrected right away was the length of our puppies' leashes. Falling prey to colorful displays in the pet stores, we bought our three dogs each a collar with a matching 5-foot leash. Even though they were now styling and hip pups, soon we found out during walking all three dogs at the same time that they could wrap us up like spaghetti noodles on a spoon. Meandering back and forth all over the sidewalks to sniff, their leashes would tangle and soon we were all in a knotted mess. So we took to wrapping each leash around our wrists until the leashes were short enough to allow them to only dream of wandering towards each and every wonderful smell. But that grew old soon enough. When one dog decided to poop, we'd have to unwrap the leashes to let them go do their business and then re-wrap everything again. Things were just getting too complicated.

I was leaving my current job at the time and my co-workers, who knew of my animal kingdom at home, gave me a gift certificate to a fancy dog store as a parting gift. As Warren and I perused this up-scale dog boutique, we couldn't really imagine ourselves with any of these hoity toity doggie items. I mean seriously, we had labs, they would chew up just about anything. Then we came across these 2 foot leashes and something clicked. How easy it would be to control the dogs with these. Why hadn't we known about these earlier? Was this something only wealthy dog owners knew about? I only foresaw one problem, they weren't really cool looking. Just plain black. Dang, didn't they have some cool patterned ones somewhere? Well, we were looking for practical right? So we bought three of them and headed home to try them out. Oh it was a dream come true. Walks become joyous and no longer a twisted jungle of leashes.

So things stayed pretty much the same for the next 3 or so years. Then Huckleberry's 4th birthday approached. Labs are supposed to begin to mellow around the age of 4 right? Would our little girl who prided herself on her passionate view of life, even slighty be tamed? Warren decided that as a big girl now who understood and followed very well the rules of dog walking, deserved a brand new leash. Not just any leash, mind you, a big girl leash. A leash that was 5 feet long. Oh boy this was a massive undertaking. A gamble. Would she behave on it? Since it was her birthday, we opted to take her for a walk all by herself to try out the new leash. As we walked down the street, she slowly realized that she had some lee-way here and there. As soon as she figured that out, she began prancing with her head help up high. Oh how she had longed for us to see her as a big girl. Just like any young dog, you give them a few extra feet of leash and they take full advantage. Soon she was bounding ahead of us and then stopping abruptly to sniff something only dogs can smell. Our lovely walk was fast becoming a race to keep up with where Huckleberry wanted to go next. As much as we hated to rain on her parade, we roped her in and made her heel. She listened pretty well after her initial excitement but she still held her head high because she had a new leash on life now, she was four now and her brothers didn't get to be in on this game. It was all about her and that was the best birthday present we could have ever given her.

The Big Yawn

I knew it was coming, I could smell it in the air. But it's here and it's here in full swing. I"m talking about Fall, the last season of color. Intense colors that serve as powerful reminders to commit the beauty to memory, because soon, that is all it will be, a distant memory. The chilly winds remove the leaves from the trees one by one, exposing the bare branches. It's like mother nature is inhaling and exhaling in a big yawn, getting ready for her long winter's slumber.

01 October 2009


"I must do something" always solves more problems than "Something must be done."
~Author Unknown

Last night my friend Deb came to visit. She always laughs because she says whenever she comes over, there is always some sort of excitement and drama that surrounds her visit. One time there was a prostitution bust right in front of our house, another time it was homeless cats vying (very loudly) for our front yard as new territory, police cars not-so-randomly driving by or parked in surveillance down the street, an ambulance arriving at a neighbors house, chasing someone's dog that's on the loose and sometimes it's just ventings of our own personal dramas.

So last night, when Deb arrived, my first thought was, we needed a mission and I had just the idea for one. We would go undercover in the hood and do some investigating for a non-profit I volunteer for that rescues chained dogs. She agreed full-heartedly to my mission and off we went, well, almost. Logic was beyond us in our hurried excitement so luckily Warren suggested we bring one of our dogs with us. We chose to bring Tahoe, our scrappy little brown dog and ultimate protector, not to mention he is Deb's personal favorite of our three amigos.

As we arrived near the neighborhood we fondly call 'felony flats', I went over the steps of our mission. Act like we were just out on a walk with our dog. Find the suspect house that has the chained dog. Gather the dog's general health, situation and location. Do not interact with the household members. If I can, snap a picture as evidence. Man, I should have been a PI. This is thrilling fun!

It was getting dark as it does this time of year, but we took Tahoe and started walking the hood. A large and luckily fenced dog came rushing at us, barking and alerting everyone we were not from around here. Geesh, dog, please, we are doing a good deed here. Quiet now! On we walked, further and further away from our escape vehicle. I wasn't really all that scared because Tahoe will very impolitely eat anyone or anything that attempts to mess with us. Plus, I am here and undercover for the sake of a dog who is being chained and mistreated. Need I say more. We passed by this house surrounded by chain link fence. The only thing that drew me to look it's way was the flashes of light coming from the other side of the house that seemed to light up the night sky. That's when I saw it, the dog house. I knew it was the right house as you do with these kinds of instinctual things. But I couldn't see the dog, yet, so we walked passed the house and down the street before we turned back around to get a better look. As we approached the house again, I was able to see who was possibly one of the occupants. A large, no, let's say very large Samoan looking man working under his attached garage. He looked up momentarily at us but without giving us a second thought, went back to his work. Phew! Close call. No blown cover just yet.

As we rounded the other side of the house, I gave Deb the leash and she walked slightly ahead with Tahoe. I walked slowly up to the fence to view the dog house. That's when I saw the chain. I followed the length of the chain for a few feet to find myself looking straight into the eyes of a little black puppy sitting atop a mess of white fuzz of what appeared to once have been his dog bed. He didn't bark and I didn't make any attempt to communicate. I had to get a picture. I snapped a couple of pictures and then I sent him message from my mind to his - I am here to help you. You will be rescued. Don't lose hope. Then I glanced around me to be sure all was safe and slid off into the night to meet up with Deb and Tahoe. Luckily she was thinking straight and asked me to 'take another picture of them', so I did. Good call on her part. That way if anyone saw the flashes they would think we were just taking pictures of each other.

Mission accomplished we walked quickly but as normally as we could back to the car. Once safely inside the confines of locked doors and rolled-up windows, we breathed a sigh of relief. Deb thanked me for another adventurous visit and I thanked her for obliging to be my accomplice on this undercover assignment. I had to go report my findings now and we parted ways for the evening. Although I did feel a lot like a kid playing Nancy Drew, there was a more serious side to this - a motivation and compassion of the heart to be one of the many hands helping to save these innocent dogs. I can guarantee you I'd do it again in a heartbeat.