Archive for September, 2010

Heigh-Ho!
September 24, 2010

And even now at twenty-five, He has to work to keep alive! 

-Hilaire Belloc (1930)

 It’s tough going for those who are looking for jobs these days. Back in the 1970’s-1980’s, it seemed almost effortless. However, given that I tend to remember only the good times, maybe I have forgotten how hard it could be, especially when I was first starting out. 

After college graduation, I worked in Houston at my regular summer job at Methodist Hospital (in Medical Records… this was in the days before computers, and it’s hilarious to think about our record keeping and filing systems). But as September drew near, I decided to head north to Dallas, where Joel would be a student at SMU Law School. 

I wasn’t sure where to start, but I got lucky when our friend Andy (who was a year ahead of Joel and a summer clerk at a law firm in downtown Dallas) told me of an opening in another law firm nearby. They needed an accounting clerk and relief receptionist. He recommended me, and I made an appointment for an interview (of course that involved making a long distance call, back in those days before e-mail and websites). 

So armed with my hand typed resume and my interview suit, I flew up one day; Andy picked me up and dropped me off at the building downtown. Did I mention that I majored in Art History and knew nothing of accounting or the legal business? No matter. I was too naive to be nervous. 

The managing partner’s name was Mr. Rowe. He was probably in his 50’s, which of course seemed ancient to me, who was all of 22. He sat me down and looked at my resume… and said, “Oh, you went to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College! Would you like the job?” Seriously. 

Of course I was so inexperienced, I just said, “Why, yes!” not asking a thing about the details. I needed a few weeks to move myself up there and figure things out; long story short, I worked with that group of guys for the entire three years Joel was in school, learning about and taking on new responsibilities, getting salary increases commensurate with them. By the time we left Dallas, I was making twice as much money as I had made starting out. 

After moving back to Houston, it took me awhile to find another good job; I finally used a personnel service to land one at Fondren Orthopedic Group, where once again, I got some great on the job training (I had a terrific boss who trusted in me) and ended up being assistant to the administrator. Besides  overseeing the financials (receivables, payables, payroll, checking accounts- which were balanced by hand back then), I also took care of personnel issues such as interviewing, hiring, reviews and some firing (I wasn’t very good at the latter, because I am such a softie). 

I had some really successful hires, three in particular that I recall as being really terrific workers. One of them was named Candice, and she was well liked and had a great attitude. She wasn’t that much younger than I was, if I recall, but then time has faded my memories. In my mind, Candice is frozen in time as being forever young! 

Fast forward 26 years and now my Shannon has been out looking for a job. Due to a wonderful and timely coincidence, we heard that Candice is looking for someone reliable to be a long term substitute at a day school right around the corner. 

After Shannon’s interview yesterday, Candice hired her! She remembered me, and I think that it is very, very cool that she has passed the favor to the next generation. I plan to pay her a visit to thank her; maybe there’s a lunch in our future! We’ll have to invite our mutual friend, Bonnie, to join us, as she was the go between who knows all of us. 

So now Shannon will be juggling two jobs that sync nicely time-wise, with mornings/early afternoons at the school and then a late afternoon job driving a sweet young girl from her school (also around the corner) to her ice skating lesson and then back home. That job came about thanks to our Sunday School friends who were ecstatic that Shannon was available. 

What goes around comes around. Funny how that personal connection plays such an important part in a successful job hunt; we are grateful to our friends for thinking about Shannon when opportunities have arisen.

Mother of the Bride, Chapter 7
September 17, 2010

I’ve got a little list- I’ve got a little list…                                                          – W.S. Gilbert (The Mikado, 1885) 

We are making progress on this wedding thing. After a recent anxiety dream about riding a bicycle with enormous tires which elevated me too high to balance (and therefore made me wobbly), I experienced a “wake up call” that this very special event was less than a year away! All of a sudden, I realized that I’d best get busy and book some important vendors. I hate it when thoughts like this come in the middle of the night, because sleep is impossible after that. 

Before now, I’d consoled myself that it was over a year away, so we had plenty of time to finalize the plans. But after a whirlwind summer of renovations and remodeling, time had slipped away, and I knew that if I wanted some particular key people, I’d best start making arrangements to book them el pronto. 

First came our dear friend and excellent photographer, Temple Webber. Joel and Temp went to Washington & Lee together, and since then, Temp has established himself as one of the finest photographers in town. We would have no other person document Shannon’s wedding. Temp took her first formal baby pictures; he’s awesome, and when I talked to him on the phone, he was very, very honored that we have entrusted him with this task. 

Flowers? I was clueless. In talking to other recent MOB’s who’ve hosted weddings at St. Luke’s, one name kept popping up: Wedding Flowers by Lisa. So in a blind leap of faith, I called and got us on their calendar. We booked an appointment, which was this week, and Shannon and I found ourselves in an unfamiliar east Houston neighborhood. 

The address on her card said 1520 Delano (off Leeland). We found our way to the block, but there was no 1520. There was a 1510, but no signage, so Shannon and I drove around, thinking we could figure it out, but eventually gave up. I called our ace wedding coordinator, Joyce, who was meeting us there, and left a voice mail that we were unsure where we were going. 

Aha! Along came a mailman. I flagged him down to ask directions, and he pointed to an unmarked door. So we rang the bell, and found ourselves in the workroom of Wedding Flowers by Lisa. They apologized for their lack of signage and our confusion, but on the flip side, we got an interesting backdoor tour! As it turns out, her NEW cards indicate the right address, which is somewhat more helpful. 

So all was well. Joyce then arrived through the front door, and as she has worked with Lisa many times, we immediately felt comfortable with her. She was terrific in determining Shannon’s style and suggested some perfect options for both the wedding ceremony and reception. And because she is so familiar with both venues, she knows exactly what will work in each. 

Lisa showed us sample flowers and photos of concepts; we were impressed with her knowledge and flair. Both Shannon and I were heartened by her presentation, because in our ignorance about particular flower names, we opined that we preferred “fluffy” flowers as opposed to “clumpy” ones. Everyone laughed, but you know what? Lisa got it. 

 The moment of truth came when she went back to crunch numbers. I asked Joyce what was the average cost of wedding flowers, and she replied that it was all over the map, suggesting ranges of what she had seen over her years of coordinating weddings. 

We had budgeted towards the low end of Joyce’s numbers, and when Lisa came back and said she could do all we had discussed at $300 less than our budget, we were thrilled! 

Afterwards, Joyce, Shannon and I had lunch back in our neck of the woods and discussed the next items on our “to do list”. I know there will be some more specific decisions to make regarding flowers, but for now, I am content that this particular item is under control and can be crossed off our list. And I am hopeful that I sleep well tonight with no more anxiety dreams about riding on precarious bicycles!

Shadow (6/2/96 – 9/4/10)
September 10, 2010

All Dogs Go to Heaven…  title of 1989 film 

Our precious Shadow passed last week; he was 14, but honestly, although he had slowed down quite a bit this past year, he still had his moments of frolic. Just a few days prior, he wanted to play “sock”, which meant I threw him my running sock (and yes, he caught it). 

But we knew it was only a matter of time, as he’d been diagnosed with an enlarged heart and some questionable liver issues, which we chose to not correct, given his age. 

He ate a good breakfast on Thursday, and he went on a short stroll down the street, smiling all the way, as was his habit. But that evening, he developed problems with his hindquarters, and after that, all went downhill. Over Friday night, he was in distress, so Joel took him back to the vet in the morning (I was away at a choir retreat). After letting me know that the test results looked grim, Joel came to get me at camp, and both of us were with him as Shadow peacefully slipped away. He was just so tired… 

What can I say about “the perfect dog”? Memories recall a puppy who was so precocious that when I would conduct “puppy school” (with my library book about how to train a dog), we would work on the commands in turn: Sit, Shake, Speak, complete with hand motions… Shadow learned them instantly. 

So we’d go practice, and I’d say to him, “Shadow! Sit!” and he would plop his behind down, wave his paw and bark all at the same time, because he anticipated. 

Not long after that, I took him to the vet for a puppy checkup. There in the lobby (because I knew he was such a smart puppy and I was going to show off how smart he was), I looked at him and said, “Shadow, ****!” (rhymes with SIT, but stick an H in there). The woman behind the desk tittered, and I know I did, too. Shadow looked at me, like, what? with a cock of his head. Hilarious! 

As a puppy, he had been raised out in the country, so he was a little overwhelmed by city traffic in the beginning. I remember the first time I took him on a leash down our very quiet street and had to cross a busy intersection. He balked in the middle of it, in fear of the cars whizzing by. But soon he became accustomed to traffic, and pranced in his elegant way, smiling at all comers, most of whom remarked what a beautiful dog he was. 

We were amused as he bumbled on the stairs for the first time; he’d never seen stairs before. But soon, he would be whizzing up and down them in a gravity defying manner that made me anxious… one tumble and disaster! But he never, ever  lost his footing. 

Shadow had the gift of a loving heart towards all creatures great and small. Whether it was an aggressive dog that growled at him, or a child who was afraid of dogs, Shadow would stop, analyze the situation and react accordingly. 

He had no fear of other dogs. I watched him step up to many a growling dog, give an inviting whine, and totally disarm the dog. The tail would start to wag, and then Shadow had a new friend. 

Likewise, I watched him charm a number of children whose mothers claimed were frightened of dogs. One particular girl was so mesmerized that she patted him over and over and talked endlessly of “Thadow” to her mother. What a special soul Shadow had! 

Stories about Shadow:

  • While he wasn’t frightened by much, he did NOT like oscillating fans. When we visited my Aunt Mary’s house in Utopia, TX, they scared him. I’m not sure why, but perhaps it was that he thought they looked like moving faces. 
  • There in Utopia, he did enjoy chasing a herd of wild goats; I think it was the only time he had an opportunity to do what came naturally to him.
  • He was a Pet Minister for 11 years at the Seniors Place (now called The Amazing Place). We went once a month to visit the clients there who are in the early/middle stages of Alzheimer’s/dementia, and he was a real favorite. Particularly when my own father was a client there, our visits were very, very special.
  • Sometimes, after our Seniors Place visits, we’d stop by church if I had a meeting or a task to attend to. He would lie quietly under the table until we were finished, and then would visit his “friends” there, whom he knew had treats in their desk drawers. Everyone called him the “church dog”.
  • Shadow had a vocabulary of at least 150 words by our count, probably way more. He could actually conjugate sentences. I once commanded him, “Shadow, GO UPSTAIRS and FETCH PINKIE” (he knew all these words). And I was not surprised when he thought about it, went upstairs and brought his favorite toy back downstairs.
  • We had a daily routine. Wake up, go outside, eat breakfast, take a walk. Hang out with me or without me while I was off running errands. Sometimes we would “work” outside; he always enjoyed supervising my labors. Have a little tuna juice for “lunch”. Nap? Great! Go to mailbox and get the mail; Shadow loved to help by carrying home pieces of mail in his mouth. He spent many an hour lying by my feet while I worked at my desk. In his later years, he got some supper, followed by a “constitutional” walk to the mailbox. Then it was time for Joel to come home, which meant the focus turned to him, because after dinner, he would distribute “treats”. Brush teeth. Hang out wherever Joel was until it was time for bed. One last walk around outside and then crash until the sun rose the next day. Repeat. It was a good dog life.
  • In his youth, Shadow’s walks always ended with a leash-free trot towards home up our quiet street. On a chilly day, it was a “fast as you can” race. I’d sit him down and say, “On your mark (you could see him tense up), get set (he’d quiver with anticipation), and finally shout “GO!”. Only then would he take off. He could run like the wind, soar through the air and cut on a dime. Often Shadow would try to “herd” me by nipping at my flanks as I tried to outrun him. Although, that would always irk me (because I am not a sheep),  now, of course, it seems absolutely brilliant and lovable on his part.
  • He seldom barked, which is unusual in a Sheltie. But when it was appropriate, he would. Once when I was working outside, he took off after a man who was coming in our direction. I don’t know what Shadow sensed, but he was definitely protecting me.
  • We never had to worry that he’d wander off. He was a real homebody, who would be right at the back door, even if we forgot to shut the gate.
  • Once we hosted an musical ensemble from Mercury Baroque for a fundraiser at our house. Shadow was mesmerized particularly by the violinist, Jonathan. At that time, Shadow had probably lost some of his hearing, and the high pitched notes must have intrigued him. He just stood there right in front of Jonathan with his head cocked, just like the dog in the RCA ads.
  • When Bailey came along in 2004, Shadow taught him so many manners, such as standing quietly at the back door to let us know when he wanted out, and barking ONCE to be readmitted inside. And so much more…
  • Bailey was lucky that Shadow was so easy going, because although Bailey ADORED Shadow, he was also a big pest, butting in to hog the attention that anyone bestowed upon Shadow. I don’t think Shadow ever snapped at his younger “brother”. 

Quiet, elegant, patient, affectionate, regal, serene, brave, loyal, beautiful, graceful, gentle, brilliant. A real gentleman. The perfect dog. 

I’m sad he didn’t live to see our backyard landscaping project to completion, although he did seem to enjoy wandering around the unfinished pathways these past few weeks. Likewise, I’m sad he didn’t live to enjoy the return of cooler fall weather that he loved so much. 

So now we’re down to one dog. Bailey learned so much from Shadow and always looked up to him for everything. Yesterday, when we returned from the vet’s office, I had Shadow’s tags with me. Of course, I smelled of Shadow after having hugged and loved him before and during his passing. After I sat on the love seat in the kitchen, Bailey jumped up there, carefully smelled me all over and finally, spent a long time smelling Shadow’s tags. Then he stood up, turned his back to me, laid down and dropped his head. I think he knew. 

This morning, Bailey hesitated going out the door; I think he wasn’t sure he was supposed to, without Shadow to affirm that yes, it was time to go outside. After I took Bailey for his walk, he burst in the back door, whining as if he were looking for Shadow for his turn to walk. Now he is sticking very close to me, and sighing a lot. 

Friends, love your dogs. If you take the responsibility to raise one up, take the time to raise it well. Teach it manners. Teach it tricks. Teach it to do what it loves to do. Socialize it with other dogs and people. Learn about your dog’s characteristics and select one that fits your family’s lifestyle. Believe me, your dog will be happier for it, and you will, too. 

As Shadow passed to his reward, I gave him one last command. I said, “SHADOW! RUN! GO FIND PEPE!” Pepe was my dad, who absolutely loved that dog, and vice versa. Shadow knew all those words, and I hope that he heard them. In my vision of heaven, the two of them have found each other by now and are in glory, running together, free from pain and smiling down on us. 

Godspeed my precious dog. You were well loved!

The final portrait of Shadow, summer 2010

I’m Gellin’, Are You Gellin’?
September 3, 2010

Ross: It tastes like feet!  Joey: I like it!  Ross: Are you kidding?  Joey: What’s not to like? Custard: good! Jam: good! Meat: good!

from FRIENDS (the tv show, just in case you have been living under a rock)

Instead of your regularly scheduled programming, this week’s post is guest authored by: the daughter (aka “pewperson, jr.”). And now for something completely different from the usual fare:

Recently we acquired my great-grandmother’s cookbook. It has apparently made the rounds of all of my mother’s other sisters, and finally it is her turn to “look at it and then throw it away.” Of course, being one who loves to snoop, I had to take a look at it myself and within found the sole explanation as to why we had to have some form of Jell-O mold at every holiday event. No one would actually touch these dishes, until someone realized that Memaw had died about a decade earlier, and so it was ok not to serve those multi-colored wiggly abominations. 

I’m just grateful that I was never around when she actually tried some of the more complicated ones, rife with floating vegetables and bits of meat. I must say that most of her hand written recipes are actually quite normal: sauces, cakes, breads, entrees, etc. The ones that are somewhat more interesting are the ones that someone with a severe brain injury thought fit to print in a magazine, and Memaw thought fit to tear out and save. 

Now, before we go too much further, I must explain that the rest of the blog post is divided into two parts: 1. Things that have really funny names, and 2. Things that must include the full scope of the recipe to truly appreciate the fact that several people actually considered eating them. Ok, here we go!

In the 1940’s and 50’s, the trend was “convenience”.  It was the age of affordable appliances, frozen dinners and acknowledging that housewives had a lot of work to do around the home, so why not cut yourself a break and take a few shortcuts to get a delicious dinner on the table? The people who created new recipes dove head first into this mind set and then apparently developed some form of psychosis that led them to see how many different ingredients they could cram into each dish. Also there was a lot of gelatin. I have taken the liberty of coming up with a menu for a dinner party based on Memaw’s cookbook. We do have all the recipes in case anyone would like a copy!

Appetizer 

Some would consider appetizers the best part of dinner. They are supposed to awaken your palate and stimulate your appetite for the entree. For this party we have three things to choose from:

Toasted Cheese Loaf

Corn Oysters

(Uh… yummy? I think I’m gonna be sick.)

 And finally,

 

drum roll please: French-Toast Cheese Dreams

(I have also noticed that practically every recipe had to include eggs or mayonnaise, or both. I don’t think there is any gelatin in here, but theysure  liked to put gelatin and mayonnaise together a lot too.) 

I see we have the same taste in food, as I also would have picked the French-Toast Cheese Dreams. Good choice!

Main Course

Apparently our main course offerings are very pork-centric, with one exception.

 

 Ham Cups With Cherry Sauce

(These include a brown sugar-mustard glaze “and a bowl of hot cherry sauce to pass!” I think your taste buds may commit suicide over that combination.)

 

French Toasted Tuna

 

 Mrs. Swenson’s Ham Loaf

(This includes two kinds of pork, one kind of beef, pineapple slices, and a can of pineapple chunks for good measure.)

Yeah, I guess two kinds of “French toasted” things are a little much. So Ham Loaf it is! On the side we have Lima Bean Stuffed Onions. You should be glad I couldn’t find a picture.

 Dessert

 Ok, most of these don’t actually look that gross, plus dessert is mainly sugar anyway, so they can’t taste that bad either. Well there is one on the list that sounds pretty gross, but anyway… So I just found funny pictures to go with the names. I take that back, there are, like three that sound gross… and they all look about as bad… You know what? I’ll just explain as I go.

 

Marshmallow Refrigerator Loaf

(This includes chopped “nut meats”, pitted dates, and a pound of marshmallows. That’s a lot of marshmallows!)

 

Peanut Butter Hermits

 

 Cellophane Loaf

(Okay, it’s actually a refrigerator cake that looks alright, but when I typed that into Google Images, this came up and I couldn’t resist using the picture of the creepy little girl obsessively ogling that piece of bread… or the knife, maybe… I’m really not sure which.)

 

How about some Divinity?

(That’s really the name of this… It’s supposed to be candy, but it kinda looks like soap to me.)

 

Or maybe some Cake with Sea Foam Frosting?

(Again, you don’t have to make the sharks, but the actual photos of the stuff just made it look really sticky, not cool like icing sharks.)

 

And finally: Lush Mush

(This got its name “from an admiring guest”. Um, admiring? Are we certain about that? It also includes gelatin, marshmallows, fruit cocktail, heavy cream, and various juices. Yummy.)

 And now for The Second Part! (Also by me. I guess you probably figured that.)

This part features a trio of gelatin molds, which, judging by the actual recipes and some interesting photos I found, would make for a lovely holiday spread or maybe a nice addition to a potluck! I think I may have found dinner for our wedding reception!

First, here are all three recipes in all their glory (and pictures of what I imagine they would look like):

 

I imagine this dish to look like this:  

(ew, and other inappropriate noises…)

 This one, I think resembles this (minus the R2D2, which I don’t know why its there; it’s supposed to be Miracle Whip):

 

From the tantalizing snippet of picture off of this recipe, I imagine this dish to look like:

 On top of this:

Maybe not so fancy…

 Sunday Night Surprise: This one seemed the most tame to me; you know, just slightly gross in the way that only gelatin based salads can be, but then I hit the part about making celery pinwheels with soft yellow cheese. I think I may have lost all respect for this recipe. Not only have I no idea how to actually make these, (mine would probably resemble the work of a very stupid kindergartener in arts & crafts class) but are you sure these alleged “pinwheels” are going to make a tomato gelatin salad more attractive? Then it is apparent that this recipe came from a jar of Miracle Whip because of the blatant advertisement at the end. Why would it ever be a good idea to fill the center with Miracle Whip? What would you do with it, eat it with a spoon? I thought us southerners were supposed to have a strict aversion to Miracle Whip anyway. I bet Mrs. Harding Cecil wasn’t even a real person…

 Tomato-Relish Ring: Right off the bat we get another song attesting to the glorious wonder that is Miracle Whip. The only difference is apparently Mrs. Cecil likes it because “Men especially like the flavor. It’s different – they say,” whereas this recipe asserts that its flavor appeals to whole families. And also it mentions something about “boiled dressing,” so… ew. Then the recipe looks essentially the same as the first except that they thought it would be a good idea to use pickle relish instead of minced onions. (I am starting to wonder whether anyone from this generation actually had taste buds.) Oh, and you garnish with deviled eggs instead of pinwheels, and you actually mix the Miracle Whip with lettuce so it’s not just a pile of goo surrounded by Jell-O.

 Finest Recipe for Valentine Mold: Ah, my favorite! Save the best for last. While I am very sad that Memaw cut out the recipe with only a tantalizing hint of what it’s supposed to look like, I think I managed to put together a fairly accurate composite up there if I do say so myself. I really don’t have much to say about this recipe, I think it speaks for itself in terms of audacity and disgustingness, but what I will do is point out that this was intended for Valentine’s Day, you know, supposedly the most romantic day of the year? And they would like you to serve to your beloved ham mousse comprised of gelatin, ham, whipped cream and mustard beneath lima beans encased in chicken stock-flavored gelatin. Can you say aphrodisiac? Apparently the garnish for this one is up to you since there are not any plugs for Miracle Whip; just for the “finest of lovely, little limas,” which happen to be produced by Stokely’s Finest.

 All kidding aside, it was fun to be able to look through something of Memaw’s. She died when I was seven, and though I do have some memories of her, they are sometimes few and far between. I can’t say that I ever remember eating anything she made, except for a vanilla milkshake one time (minus the gelatin), but even so, it was nice to see another side of my great-grandmother and to be able to talk about her once again. Also I did see some shades of Baba in there (sorry, Baba!). And you might want to look a little closer at your own recipe book, Mom!