Monday, February 29, 2016

My Best Friend

Son #2 made an excruciatingly difficult, very mature decision last week.  He is a first year law student and he found that he does not have enough time to keep up with his work and take care of Sam, arguably the most adorable dog in the world.  Sam is very attached to Son #2.  They have been the very best of friends for the past 18 months.  I have shed not a few tears over this decision.  The Ex-Ex and I cannot keep Sam.  We don't have enough time for him either.  Son #1 and GF tried to keep Sam, but it didn't work out.  Sam missed his best friend too much.  Son #2 called me and we talked, tearfully, and I told him I would come for Sam and find him a good home.  Son #2 trusts me to do that.  However, after we parted ways and he went back to his apartment and Sam and I drove home, Son #2 wrote down his feelings and asked me to give it to anyone who was thinking of adopting his dog.

I will let him be the guest blogger today share his story with you.

Sam is best thing that ever happened to me. He found his way into my life when he was around 5 months old and, although I’ve spent days and weeks and months training him, I am sure he has taught me far more about life than I could have ever bestowed upon him. I got Sam in Durham, North Carolina from a rescue shelter where I was informed that he was mistreated and/or neglected by his first owner(s) and was found abandoned on the side of the road.

Sam is a great dog. Like me, it takes some time for Sam to fully trust someone he doesn’t know. Once you’ve proven to him that you’re worth his love and affection he will get very attached and will gladly help you tackle anything life throws at you. He also occasionally has some fairly severe anxiety and can become stressed very easily, especially around bedtime. Sam needs more training on correcting some of his anxiety, the occasional resource guarding, and being social around people he doesn’t know. Despite my best efforts, I was not capable of providing him with the training he needs and deserves in these areas. In the last few months I have become busier than I ever have been and I know he deserves more from a best friend. He needs someone with time, energy, and experience with dogs and training. Sam loves being trained and will happily spend a couple hours every day working on new tricks and commands. Sam is completely house trained and never has accidents inside the house anymore. When he was younger he had an issue with destructive chewing, especially when left alone, however in the last several months this has improved greatly and he is now completely fine being left alone for extended periods of time. Sam also now has a very good bite inhibition when playing and wrestling and will immediately shower you with kisses if you let him know he’s playing too rough. Sam became very bonded to me and although he is trained well with the basics, it may take some time for him to learn he has a new pack leader.

After I moved out of a big two-story house and into a small apartment, Sam’s anxiousness and behavioral problems worsened despite my efforts to improve them. I believe that having a lot of room to run around and play with other dogs will be a tremendous help in correcting some of his behavioral issues. He has always played very well with other dogs and is usually the dog at the park that initiates a big game of chase. Sam is a very smart dog and loves problem solving games and toys. For the year and a half that Sam was by my side he knew exactly how I felt at all times. When I was down, Sam would lie at my feet, lick my face, and stare into the deepest corners of my heart and soul until he saw a smile on my face.

Sam loves walks, staring at squirrels, playing fetch, eating rabbit poop while I ask him not to, and being chased. He absolutely loves being chased around. He hates baths, getting his nails clipped, and being told he can’t get on the couch. Sam can wake up at sunrise and play until the sun goes down or he can sleep in and lay around the house. Sam has never been a particularly loud or vocal dog. After being alone for longer than 3 minutes, he will greet you with a toy (or sock) in his mouth and give you an excited bark as his tail tries to fly off of his back.

I was looking forward to watching Sam grow old and to watch the hair around his snout transition from black to gray. I was looking forward to giving him a big yard to claim as his own. I was looking forward to the next life lesson that Sam would teach me. Never in a million years did I want to give Sam up, but over the past several months it has become clear to me that I can no longer give him everything he needs and deserves. As much as I would have preferred to be selfish and keep him, Sam deserves more than I can provide. I hope you give Sam the chance to win over your heart the way he won mine.

Be happy, Sammy Dog.  Run in the sunshine and the moonlight, dig in the dirt, eat sticks and pine cones, lick the faces of your new loved ones, snore as you sleep soundly, and be your best dog self. Your are loved and will always be remembered.  And missed.

Bon appétit to all furry critters and the people who love them.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Too much of a good thing?

I am a country music fan.  I admit it.  This video of Alan Jackson starts off with an introduction by Porter Wagoner.  Back in the old days, way back before the internet and even microwave ovens, there were variety shows on TV at night.  Music, comedy, sketches, special guests, and Porter Wagoner had one of those shows.  He introduced Dolly Parton to the world.  My dad loved those shows.  I watched them with him, vowing as a teenager, however, that I would NEVER EVER listen to country music when I grew up.  We see how that went.  Especially since I can sing every word of most of Alan Jackson's songs. And at one point, I thought that being a famous singer would be the coolest job on the planet. Porter and Dolly wore sparkly clothes.  And I do love sparkly clothes.  But I didn't grow up to be a country singer.  Or any kind of singer other than in the shower and in the car.

Okay, back to the topic at hand.  As I was making the chocolate pound cake that I found on Our State's website, I was thinking about when too much of something is not a good thing.  Too much can lead to obsession, to addiction, and to getting yourself into a lot of trouble.  I was searching for more on the Greek idea of moderation and ran across a website called Daylight Atheism.  I am not an atheist, but the post made some sense to me.  The subject was All Things in Moderation, written by a fellow named Adam Lee back in 2008.  He wrote about Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who really lived back in the day, born in 341 BC.  I associate his name with taking pleasure in good food and drink (thus an epicure), but there is a whole school of thought named Epicureanism which emphasizes the pleasure that comes from "reasonable indulgence" or moderation in the good things of life.   I believe in moderation.  That makes sense to me.  I have recently lost weight, by eating more moderately, in other words, and making pound cakes but only tasting them.  (I really think that the best parts of baking are the smell that comes from the hot oven and sharing my creations with my friends.) I am quite proud of myself and I like to measure how much I've lost in bags of sugar.

The BFF thinks that is hilarious, but it is concrete. You pick up a couple of bags and think, wow, that's kind of heavy.  I am sure my knees are glad that I am not lugging around those extra bags of sugar now.  I also equated the weight loss to the bag of kitty litter that I hefted into the shopping cart, into my car, and then into my house a couple of weeks ago.

The point I am trying to get to, and yes, I do have a point this morning, is that I am a bit obsessive about a couple of  few things.  I do not practice moderation in these areas.

Obsession #1  Pens

I have way, way too many of them.  I would say it borders on ridiculous, but it passed that stage a long time ago.  This is what I cleaned out of one cute Longchamp small cosmetic case a few days ago.  (And this doesn't include my desk drawers at home or at school, pencil cups, a couple more pencil pouches in various places, and pens in the bottom of a couple of purses in my closet.) I have passed this obsession on to Son #1, I fear. And I really want a nice fountain pen next.

Obsession #2  Books about France

Now, granted these bookcases also hold some of the Ex-Ex's collection of war stories, biographies, and memoirs, but the majority of them are about France, French art, French cooking, French history-- you get the picture.  There is also a bookcase in my bedroom, a stack of books under a little bench, a few on my night table, two bookcases upstairs and more than I care to admit downloaded on my Kindle.  And that's not counting the ones in my classroom.  What on earth will become of all these books?  No one is going to want them.  I am not a famous person so no one will build a library in my honor when I am gone.  I do not have a daughter who is obsessed with France.  Oh well.  Son #1 and Son #2 can worry about that much later, I hope.

Obsession #3  Black dresses

Okay, this is what I am well-known for with my students.  I do not know how it happened, but I started wearing black dresses to school.  Why?  Easy to get dressed in the morning, spills don't show, and, as one 6th grader blurted out a few years ago, black is slimming.  (Wonder where she heard that?) I did go through my closet a couple of days ago and count them because an 8th grade girl asked me how many I have.  43.  Yes, that's right.  43 black dresses.  Well, two of them have white polka-dots, but I counted them anyway.  I most often find them at one of the local consignment shops or on the sale rack when I shop occasionally.  Some of them I've had for years.  After losing the equivalent of that bag of kitty litter, I can now fit into all of them.  My favorite is this one.  I bought it for last year's school auction.  I have only worn it once, unfortunately, but I will wear it again someday.  It has a bit of a crinoline petticoat under it and sparkles on the cuffs.  I found it at Macy's at the last minute.  On sale.

So, I do believe in moderation, but not where pens, books about France and black dresses are concerned, I guess.  Hmmm... I didn't think about my collection of pink lipsticks.  I'll save that for another day. There are worse addictions, n'est-ce pas?

I found the following quotes about moderation--

“There are those people who can eat one piece of chocolate, one piece of cake, drink one glass of wine. There are even people who smoke one or two cigarettes a week. And then there are people for whom one of anything is not even an option.” 
― Abigail ThomasThinking About Memoir

“Moderation in all things, especially moderation.” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.” 
― Epicurus

The recipe for this cake also has a recipe for icing, but I decided to leave it at just cake.  The icing sounds delicious, though.  And for the record, I did not preheat the oven.  Every pound cake I have ever made successfully goes into a cold oven.  The baking time remained the same, 1 hour and 20 minutes, but always test it with a toothpick 10-15 minutes before the baking time is up and add more time incrementally.  And never open the oven door during the first hour of baking.

Our State's Chocolate Cream Cheese Pound Cake

Yield: 16 servings.
1 pound unsalted butter, softened
3 cups sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 large eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup dark cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup whole milk, warm
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325°. Butter, cream cheese, and eggs should be at room temperature. Cream together butter, sugar, and cream cheese until light and fluffy.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. In a bowl, combine flour, cocoa, salt, and baking powder. Add alternately with milk to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Stir in vanilla. Pour into greased and floured tube pan. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and cover with foil until completely cool.

Chocolate Royal Icing

4 cups powdered sugar
½ cup dark cocoa powder
2 egg whites, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons heavy cream
In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix lightly. In a separate bowl, mix egg whites, vanilla extract, and half of the cream. Add to the dry ingredients. With an electric mixer, mix on low speed, and gradually add the remaining cream. Mix until the icing reaches the consistency of thick syrup. Turn the mixer to high and whip for approximately 2 minutes, until the icing is light and fluffy, like meringue.

Bon appétit and Happy Valentine's Day 2016 to all! Is too much of a good thing a good thing or not?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Hearts, Flowers, and Hallmark

First the hearts...

Then the flowers...

I have a thing for hearts and flowers.  Especially pink and red ones.  I can't help it.  Am I a hopeless romantic?  I guess so.  But I really do not like to admit that.  I am not exactly sure why.  It exposes me and makes me vulnerable maybe?  I sure loved Valentine's Day when I was in elementary school, though. I still remember spending hours looking at the valentine cards that were put in my little white paper bag by my schoolmates.

Do hopeless romantics end up with broken hearts?

Should the fear of a broken heart keep a heart from loving?

Can we even keep our hearts safe?  Lock them up and throw away the key?

And last but not least, there's Hallmark...

Is Valentine's Day just a marketing ploy to get us to buy pretty chocolates and cards?

The Ex-Ex used to tell me that.  And now?  How do we spend many a Saturday night?  Watching the Hallmark Channel.  I know, I know, I am exposing him.  Son #1 and Son #2 know this about their dad.  They've caught him in the act of switching back and forth between basketball games and Recipe for Love, All of My Heart or A Country Wedding.  His comment?  I'm either rare or weird.  Not sure which.  But I'm too old to care. Or to worry about being judged.

The movies are easy to figure out.  The characters and plot develop sweetly.  With about 25 minutes to go, there is a crisis, tears are shed, and tough decisions are made.  But it all works out in the end and love wins.  There is always a happy ending.  I am pretty sure that is what we are all looking for. Right?

I had planned to write up some facts that I learned about Saint Valentine(s- there were multiple ones), but a new movie is about to start.  It looks as if we will actually catch this one, Appetite for Love, from the beginning. The movie is set in Tennessee and has a handsome cowboy.  Not a bad combination.  UNC is playing Notre Dame and Golden State is up against Oklahoma City on other channels, though, so I might miss a few details if the games get too close.

Hallmark Channel Recipes can be googled.  Who knew?
In honor of not only Valentine's Day but also Super Bowl Sunday, here's one that's sure to please.

Dipped Football Strawberries
from  Hallmark Channel Home and Family

  • 1 basket large strawberries with stems, cleaned and dried
  • 12 oz Ghirardelli Dark Melting Wafers
  • 4 oz Ghirardelli White Melting Wafers
Place Ghirardelli Dark Melting Wafers in a microwave-safe container and microwave at half power or defrost setting for 30 seconds. Stir thoroughly (product keeps its original shape until stirred). If not completely melted, continue to microwave in 15 second intervals and stir until smooth. Overheating can cause wafers to burn.
Hold each strawberry by stem and dip into melted wafers. Place coated strawberries on waxed paper. Cool in refrigerator for 10-15 minutes, or until firm.
Melt White Wafers (using the same method outlined above) and pour into a piping bag or plastic zip bag with the tip cut off. Make one vertical line down the middle of the long side of the strawberry, and four short horizontal lines across the vertical line to create the football laces.
Cool in refrigerator for 10-15 more minutes before serving.
Note: You can substitute Ghirardelli Dark Melting Wafers with Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips and Ghirardelli White Melting Wafers with Ghirardelli Classic White Chips by adding 1.5 tbsp. vegetable shortening per 12 oz Chips and following the melting directions above.
Bon appétit and Happy (Early) Valentine's Day to all hearts, young and old, cynical as well as hopelessly in love.  Merci, Hallmark, for providing happy endings and keeping love alive.