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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Okra, Fried. Take: One. (Now, with the Corn Muffins on My Feet Conclusion!)

OHMYGRANNY.

Y'all aren't really going to go out and scour the countryside for okra to fry up tonight for dinner using my first pass at a recipe, are you?

I confess, the notion has rattled my already shaky okra-fryin' confidence in a very real way.

Remember this is my FIRST attempt. Well, I mean it's my UMPTEENTH attempt, but my first after a mandatory 2 year hiatus in the fryin' of okra. I was hoping somehow the hiatus would have pressed my Okra Fryin' Reset Button and I'd be starting afresh. And I guess it did, actually.

Okey doke (she said nervously.) Let's fry us some okra, y'all.

Y'all Will Need:

- About 2 cups of whole okra pods that follow the Okra Rule of Thumb, which means, literally, that the okra needs to look a lot like your thumb. And make sure it's plenty green and free of brown spots. Solid green color is important. See the picture in the previous post for a nice healthy specimen.

- 2-3 Tbsp. buttermilk (regular milk will do in a pinch, but buttermilk is better.)

- 1/4 - 1/2 cup of Jiffy® Corn Muffin mix*

- Enough vegetable or canola oil to cover the bottom of a nice heavy saucepan about 1 1/2 to 2 inches. (I used a small RevereWare® copper-bottomed pan that I know to distribute heat evenly.)

- A cooking thermometer (Mine's a simple digital meat probe-ish one.)

- Salt

- A plate or platter covered in paper toweling or torn paper grocery sacks.

Ahem.

How To Fry Okra: (Small nervous glance into your eyes.)

Wash and dry your okra well. Cut off the stem end of the okra. Okra reminds me of little Girl Scouts, for some reason. You just want to cut off the little Girl Scout's beanie. Slice each okra into pretty little wheels about 1/2 inch thick. (The wheels will look like that pretty "flower" in my header up there.) Now you have to admit (if you have good okra) that this is one fascinating vegetable. Do not be icked out by the seeds and the goo. They will grow on you, I promise.

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Now, discard your little Girl Scout caps and put all your okra wheelies into a nice sized mixing bowl. Douse them with the buttermilk and toss to coat. Salt well.

Drain off any buttermilk you see pooling in the bowl. You want well-coated okra, but no excess buttermilk hanging around. I forgot to take a picture of this step. I am deeply, deeply sorry. My excitement got the best of me momentarily.

Now sprinkle the coated okra with the Jiffy Muffin Mix and again, toss to coat. You can have someone help you with this step, even. It's just that simple.

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Now comes the trickiest part of the whole deal. This is where the process has fallen apart for me before. Put your saucepan on the stove and pour in oil to give you about a 1 1/2 to 2 inch oil level. Turn on the heat and allow the oil to heat to just ABOVE 350° F. My thermometer registered around 365° F when I moved to the next step.

Carefully spoon in enough of the battered okra to create one layer that nearly covers the surface of the pan. Use your spoon to gently separate the okra from one another, as they have a tendency to cling to one another. I would cling, too, if I were being lowered into a pan of hot oil. But they will separate easily for you.

The introduction of the okra will do two things. Make a very pleasing "FRYYYYYYYYYYYY" sound, and reduce the temperature of your oil slightly. That's why we wanted to start a little bit OVER 350°. Because 350° will create a nice fry, so we want to stay as close to that as we can. I didn't recheck the temp to make sure it was right, though. I could tell it was doing fine by monitoring the frying action. Had I put the okra in and suddenly noticed a significant stilling of the fry action or worse yet NO ACTION at all, I'd know to crank up the heat. If I put the okra in and it turned into little charcoal briquettes immediately, well, then I'd know the oil was TOO DARNED HOT.

Now, we watch and wait.

See the okra's breading begin to get a little bit golden?

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Then goldener.

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And goldener.

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The top of the okra may stay pale. If you see this happening, gently flip your okra over with your spoon so that each whole wheel gets goldenified.

When you are beginning to see a panful of nicely golden okra wheels, you are nearing the finish line. You must watch carefully now as a tiny bit of char begins to form on some of your okra (it seems to form on the exposed OKRA first, before it chars the crust. You want this. You want charred OKRA, not charred batter). And then, when you see the char beginning to appear, you must immediately begin okra retrieval with your slotted spoon. Failure to remove the okra just as the char begins to appear means you will have overcharred okra. The charring, once it begins, happens fast. STAY ON TOP OF THE CHAR.

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Remove that batch of okra with a slotted spoon onto the paper-lined platter. I remove the pot from the heat and hold it by the handle over the platter because the thought of trying to remove grease laden okra from a pot surrounded by open flame makes my eyebrows and hair tremble in fear. Toss the okra around on the paper to help it shake off its excess oil. This'll get you crispier, crunchier okra. Return your pot to the heat so the oil can get back up to 365°F.

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THE TIME TO SALT IS NOW. Salt while the okra is piping hot, so the salt can stick onto and be absorbed into that lovely golden crust. If you wait'll the okra cools, you'll just get a bunch of salt grains stuck to your greasy paper towels. YUCK.

Repeat the process above, adding the okra in batches, frying carefully, keeping an eye on your oil temp, and salting each batch after removing it to the platter. Don't forget the CHAR factor.

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Turn off the heat. Sample okra. Sample okra some more. Try to determine how much okra you can "sample" and still leave enough to constitute an acceptable serving on each plate when you serve dinner. (Sigh. You will be amazed at how small a serving you can justify as you continue to sample.)

Oh, I hope y'all will like this if you try it. If not, I'll be trying again next time I find good okra, so keep checking in and maybe together we'll find us some Okra Nirvana.

* This mix is SWEET. It made the crust on the okra little bit sweet, which was my only real complaint about this particular recipe. Next time I do it, I'll just use a 1:1 ratio of flour to yellow corn meal and some salt. And maybe a tidge of cayenne pepper. I confess, that's what I'd have done this time if I hadn't opened my cabinet once I had my little wheels cut up and discovered I didn't HAVE any just plain ol' cornmeal. But I am Southern, so I always have several boxes of Jiffy® Corn Muffin Mix on hand. That's mandatory, you know.

And I will tell you about the tiny corn muffins on my feet later today! Must go feed the hungry little person in pink her breakfast.

*Okay, so. Fryin' okra, as you can imagine while reading the instructions above, requires some pretty intense concentration to avoid the burnage and the, you know, house fire. So while I was a' fryin', the Bean was loose in the kitchen. With the spray nozzle from the sink.

Now I let her use the spray nozzle just about every day, but with a certain ( AHEM.
Eagle-eye!) amount of supervision. Today though, she was on her own, and the spray of water hastily spread it's drippy radius out of the sink, onto the countertops, down the cabinet fronts and onto the floor. Once her entire workspace was thoroughly drenched, Bean grew bored (Challenge met! What's next?) and her little clever eyes fell upon the open box of Jiffy® Corn Muffin Mix.

You know what's coming next, yes?

The mealy, floury, sweet mix, now in the hands of Madame Destructo. You know, in my head, I was thinking, "Oh well, how bad can this be, really. It's fun for her, she's learning and experimenting and I can clean it up." Yet of course, because I have also seen the bedlam this kid is capable of perpetrating in miniscule amounts of time, I am also watching things happen in slow motion as I TEND MY PRECIOUS OKRA WITH MY EYEBALLS AND HANDS and attempting to avert total disaster using only my voice and feet. (Not effective.) Well, of COURSE the Jiffy® mix ended up all over the wet countertops and down the cabinets and on the floor, right where all the water went, so effectively by the time all was said and done, Bean and Mama were slopping around in corn muffin batter in about 2 seconds flat. And, well, it really wasn't that bad. After I got the okra all fried up and the part of it that was left after all the sampling put to bed in a warm oven to wait for Al, I sent Bean off to wash her hands in the bathroom and cleaned up the mess in the kitchen. But I never really got around to cleaning off the bottoms of my feet, or Bean's for that matter (which would explain the cornmeal in the bathtub later on). So later than evening, when I sat down to relax, there remained a little dried up corn muffin batter residue on my soles, and the puzzled queries from the husband ensued.

Hm. Was that a little anticlimactic?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's Been Too Long, Old Friend

Have y'all ever wondered why, in all the recipes I've posted, you haven't seen one for FriedOkra itself? I'll let you in on a little secret. Frying okra is not my strong suit. I can EAT it better than anyone I know, but preparing it, well, that's a whole 'nother story. Part of my failure is in my very high standards.

Having lived in the South for most of my born days, I have wrapped my tongue around some of the best fried okra (or fried OKRY, as we can't help but say when the eating of it is imminent, beCAUSE, when you're about to eat some fried okra, everything suddenly gets super-funny and super-Southern - I call this The FriedOkra Fee-nomenon. It is likely caused by the intense anticipation which cuts off a certain percentage of the normal supply of oxygen to the brain. What it feels like is the way you felt when you were a kid, just hopping out of bed on Christmas morning, waiting for the first peek into the living room at what Santa left under the tree. Yeah, that's the feeling exactly. But what was I talking about? Oh yes, my impossible fried okra standards.)

Anyway where ever I go to eat down South, if they offer me fried okra, I take it. Which means I've eaten approximately three to four tons of okra in my lifetime. No, I am not embarrassed to admit this.

Eating fried okra by the ton, my lovies, is my birthright, and I do not take that lightly.

And then, to top it all off, my treks about the South and all the okra-eating were supplemented on the home front by my own mother (who is getting a lot of airtime this week on the blog, for some reason. Why is that?) who could fry an okra better'n anyone. Ever. Period. And what is MORE, my people, is that my mother? Grew her OWN okra. Oh yes, that she did. And y'all have not had good okra until you have had it cut off eight-foot stalks in your very own backyard about four-point-six-two minutes ago. My mom also knew the true secret to okra fryin', which is that to be really good, it has to have a little char on it. Yes, I said char. CHAR.

CHAAAAAAARRRR.

I'll just let you absorb that.

Now then.

Yes, my dirty secret. My private shame. Is that I can't do it. Not like she does. Not even like the restaurants do, even though most restaurants' okra is not quite the way I love it. Restaurants (and the purveyors of your grocery-store variety frozen breaded okra, which, though it WILL do in a pinch, is not what *I* mean when I say "real fried okra,") will bread and batter up a little okra wheel so that really, you can't be SURE there's okra in there until you've bitten into it, and when you DO bite into it, the bread:okra ratio is way heavy on the breading side of the equation, and can leave your okrabuds (the tastebuds that were put into place especially to recognize and appreciate the gentle but distinctive flavor of okra) somewhat dissatisfied or even downright disappointed.

Which is a BAD thing, in case that last sentence left you slightly confused.

Witness the photo below, where you can see for yourself the fried okra I consumed just moments after ending the first leg of our flight down South last month, in the Charlotte, North Carolina airport. This was great okra, but then I'd been okra-deprived for nearly 18 months, so what did I really know? I was just happy to be on Southern soil and within tongue-shot of the stuff.

As you can see (the okra is at about 1 or 2 o'clock in this photo, under the half-eaten fried PICKLE), this okra is indistinguishable really from the other fried factions on the plate, which is a no-no in my book.

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(Also pictured are some of fried okra's best pals, cornbread, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese casserole.) (And, of course, the Tabasco Sauce that goes on the collards.)

For it to be the best fried okra, in addition to having a little of the aforementioned char, a certain amount of the okra must be exposed and visible to the eye, such that when looking at a heaped up pile of okra, the eater recognizes it as OKRA. Not, say, tiny fried mushroom caps.

THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT, PEOPLE. I have had it happen to me that I tucked into a plateful of what I believed to be (over-breaded) fried okra with 16 of all my okrabuds a'blazin' and come to find out it was NOT fried okra, but tiny baby fried mushroom caps.

This was not a pretty moment in my life.

And I truly want to unshame myself by learning the timeless skill art of okra fryin'. The only trouble is, as I have mentioned, one cannot find decent okra around here upon which to practice.

Until Saturday, or in "Fried Okra Fee-nomenon-Speak" Sair-dee, when the family and I were out perusing the produce section of our local grocery store for Key Limes (which they sadly didn't have), and all-of-a-sudden my OKRADAR went off. And out of the corner of my eye I was able to make out a small, shallow terra cotta bowl full of the green fuzziness and unmistakeable shape of

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO KRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

I quickly beat feet to the edge of the pot, whereupon I STUCK OUT MY THUMB in preparation for the ultimate okra test. An okra, in order to be tender and delicious, must be no wider, and never much longer than, a grown Southern woman's thumb.

BEHOLD, PEOPLE, IF YOU WILL, THE GLORY THAT IS A DECENT OKRA, FOUND. IN ILLINOIS.

And commit this picture to memory, too, for the below is a fine specimen you can use as a mental comparison should you ever need one, particularly if your womanly thumb doesn't happen to be, you know, Southern.

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Now, had I been somewhere in the South and seen such lovely okra, I'd have moved VERY casually and slowly so as not to draw attention to myself or these Perfect Pods of Perfectly Perfect Perfection, and I'd have carefully gathered up a bag and loaded it quietly before anyone saw what I'd found and made to wrench it from my grasp.

But up here, any fear of inciting riot in the supermarket over even the BEST okra would be, well, unfounded. Seeing as how even the checkout lady even had to ASK what THESE, UM ... THINGS were.

Okra-ignorance. It's a blessing ANNNND a curse.

So I called for a bag, which was hastily provided by my right hand woman, Bean, and I gathered myself a family's worth of okra. And lo, I was happy. Al was happy. Bean was mystified (a fact which saddens me to the core, I might add)

And last night, I fried it.

And it was. GOOD.

And tomorrow, I will show and tell you how I did it. AND, I will explain the following odd conversation, which took place after the okra had been consumed and the kitchen restored to order:

Al: What are those THINGS on the bottoms of your feet? Are those CORNS?

Megan: (Looking at her feet.) Oh! No, not corns. Those, actually, are itty bitty corn muffins.

Al: Ah.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Oddly Familiar Fire in My Grate

My mother and I used to sit down together on Sunday nights with a big bowl of buttered popcorn on our collective lap and watch whatever BBC series our local public television station had running at the time - a couple of my favorites were "All Creatures Great and Small," based on the books by James Herriot, the country vet and all-around delightful man, and "The Flambards" - a beautiful fictional story of a young girl growing up in the English countryside, learning to ride horses and hunt and manage a happy life alongside her two boy-cousins under the oppressive leer of her nasty old uncle. That series was orginally a book of the same title, by K. M. Peyton.

On a rainy, dreary, cold day like today I find myself pining away for the English countryside and the rustic life and comforts of my favorite BBC tales. It's always been so, since I can remember, and I figure it always will be so, because it still is for my mother (isn't it, Mom?) and I am just like her when it comes to what makes me feel cozy and secure inside.

I'm so thankful for that wistfulness, though. For this inner longing and lingering feeling of (completely unfounded) nostalgia I have when I think of mucking out barns as steam unfurls from the nostrils of the watching cows, pigs and goats, of rainboots covered to the knee with oozing, sucking mud, of chilling showers leaking icy fingers down the neck of my Macintosh, of grey clouds lying cold and forebodingly over rolling brown hills framed by leafless, lifeless limbs of huge old trees. I dream on of finishing a soggy, messy chore, hopping down from my strawberry roan and opening a creakingly solid, sturdy wooden door into the simple stone and brass kitchen where a fire roars and crackles. I hang my Mac on a peg, pry dirty boots off my poor frozen feet and sit down to a meal - hot stew of beef with pearl onions, torn hunks of fresh bread and homemade jam, thick slices of pungeant cheese and cup after steaming cup of strong, dark tea flavored with honey and lemon. After the meal, my face and feet now pink and warm from the heat of the kitchen fire, I find a cozy windowsill, flush out a hound or two (who will re-settle on my feet momentarily) and curl up, my knees and ankles bent under me, against a dusty old cushion to read Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy until my eyes won't stay open anymore.

This is the afternoon of my heart.

And I have my mother to thank for making me this way. I have a beautiful niece who seems likewise charmed. And one day, after reading her these books and showing her these programs, perhaps a daughter (or maybe even a son?) who shares this longing for a home that was never her own, but lives inside her as sure as red Georgia clay or Illinois corn fields.

On the QT

There's a question rattling around in my head, y'all. I want to ask it, but I'm askeert I'll somehow be telling on myself, even though I honestly can't figure out what I'd be telling. But YOU might now the answer, which might lead you to believe something about me that even I don't know about me. Or if I do know it about me, I don't know why it would be the answer to this particular question.

Why do I keep getting these really crude, disgusting, embarrass-me-until-my-scalp-turns-purple-and-itches emails in my bulk mail box? What on earth did I DO, or SAY, or LOOK UP that got me on a list of people who might be interested in something like THAT? And WHAT do I hafta do to get my sweet little naive, innocent self back OFF the list, for cryin' outloud?

The titles of these emails are SO vulgar and embarrassing that even my manly, make-jokes-about-everything and/or tease-me-until-I-crumple-into-a-red-hyperventilating-heap husband, when he accidentally sees my email box over my shoulder, CAN'T BRING HIMSELF SAY A WORD! This is even too awful for HIM to comment upon! But I can feel him looking and even getting a little freaked out that MY WIFE GETS EMAILS ENTITLED *WHAT?* (You know how when you know someone really well, you can FEEL their body tense up or their eyes burn when there's something going on that they don't GET or don't like, even if you can't see them?) I never say anything to HIM about them because ugh!, that is a dialogue I don't even want to open up, you know?

Do you know what I'm talking about? Do you? Have you ever had this problem, and what did you do to get it to STOP? Many of my REAL emails (some of them from Y'ALL!) have started going to my bulk folder for unknown reasons, too, so I can't just STOP opening it.

BUT ... YU-UCK!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Spring! In a Big, Big Box! That's What THAT Was!

I forget these things. I'm old, what can I say?

One of my FAVORITE little fieldtrips to take on these cold, nasty, stir-crazy days of late winter (and early winter, and mid-winter, let me not discriminate!) is the local nursery. Where else can you be inside where it's warm, yet still have the sun over your head and plenty of lush green plants and beautiful, fragrant flowers all around you? With plenty of room to run and skip and explore and bored nursery workers to smile and cheer you on? Darn skippy, the nursery!

And sadly, we hadn't been since before CHRISTMAS! So it was time we hie'd ourselves hither.

Sallied forth, if you will.

And sally we did.

We took our cameras, too. Now that I have my new Canon Rebel XT (hotchachaCHA!), Bean gets to use my old Sony Cybershot (That's a link to the newer CyberShot. Mine is a big cardboard box with a pinhole in the back. Yeah, that old.), and we're both entertained thoroughly when I go into clickity click snappity snap mode. Bean's getting used to the basics of photography and she always LOVES to do exactly what I'm doing, so everybody's happy and well-entertained. That there's what's known as yer win-win, me lovelies.

I'm going to show y'all 19 pictures now. Yes, I am. NINETEEN! And some of them? You will not be able to see a difference in 'em. She's my kid - to me each picture captures another brilliant facet of her glowing, ebullient, delightful self - I understand, though, that you'll be thinking, "Huh. She turned her head a little to the left in that one. Wow." But you'll humor me though, I know you will. You're good people like that. I'll try to caption most of them so you can laugh along with me. I'm not a photographer people, I'm a writer (at heart, I mean, not professionally), so my brain immediately starts captioning pictures before the shutter snaps on them.

And yes, if you read my post earlier this morning, we ARE wearing the same dress today as yesterday. We love this dress! A lot! Note that I coaxed a turtleneck and tights into the equation this morning. Even Mama has a few tricks up her sleeve here and there.

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See how confident she is behind the camera? The whole time, however, I am thinking, "Pleasedon'ttrip, pleasedon'ttrip, pleasedon'ttrip." She didn't trip, but she did drop the camera on its head once. On bricks. She picked it up and dusted if off and said Sorry camera. I was jiss kiddin'. You okay? And it was.

Whew.


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Oh, what a daffodil does to my little Southern heart. I'll bet the daffodils are blooming their heads off down there right now, aren't they?

Wait, no. Don't tell me. I don't wanna know.

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SNIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFF.

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I don't know what gets into this child sometimes. Seriously. She is full of ... sump'm. Look at those cheeks, though. I could kiss those cheeks 'til my lips fell off.

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C'mon, wet's go jump inna fountains!

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I beg your pardon? You can't go jump inna fountains because you're made of WHAT?Aw, that's too bad.

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Excuse me, may I take your picture?

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A little to the left, please?

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Perfect! Got it! That's one for the album, Gromet!

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I wish you could SMELL what that greenhouse smelled like. I kept inhaling and inhaling until my eyes were buggin' outta my head. Now I have a headache. But it was worth it. I bet I dream I'm honey bee tonight. Aaaaaaaaaaah. Sweet Nectar, People! Sweet Nectar!

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'Course I brought the prettiest flower of them all with me, and I even took her home, too! Hee hee.

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When I grow up I'm gonna be a phitawgwaffer.

Mama, wass a phitawgraffer?


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Corey and Megan, I AM bonding with the new camera. I love it. A lot. Like a rilly, RILLY lot. Buckets, even.

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Are ya'll still with me? That was number - um - fourteen. Hang in there.

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Purty, purty, purty. I see a new lens in my near future.

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See? Rows and rows of Spring-inna-Making. These are geraniums. I do love me some geraniums. These geraniums are just little tiny babies. That, my friends, is why they call it a nursery.

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Look! Quintadecatuplets! (See how lucky you were, John & Kate Plus 8?)

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Mmmm, I'm jus' gone SIT on the DOCK o' the bay, wastin' ti-i-i-ime.

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I just liked these orchids juxtaposed against the steel frame of the greenhouse. There's beauty in both. And symmetry.

Yeah. That's what I thought too. Hokey.

Oy. I'm starting to sound like a phitawgwaffer.

Check out your local nursery this time of year. Good times, people, good times.

Mo-om!

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Y'all think she's getting a wee bit tired of me testing out the new camera on her?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It Isn't Funny, But It's Real

I have to confess to y'all that amidst all of my favorite, most inspirational and energetic blogging buddies, I've been feeling a little meek, humbled and insignificant.

Take a look around at the ladies (and one gentleman) I read every day and you'll find all sorts of new, exciting and edifying ventures in blogging, loving parents adopting beautiful children whose lives they'll change forever with their selfless touch, people that I have grown to know and consider friends writing beautiful, thought-filled, God-filled posts to challenge and inspire me to learn more, give more, be more involved in the lives of the world's poor, be more diligent in caring for and growing and preserving marital love and respect. You'll discover parents pouring themselves into their children's care and instruction in every facet of life from learning to be responsible and disciplined stewards of God's gifts to mud-puddle-jumping to worshipping and honoring Christ through drama and writing.

Meanwhile, yours truly sits. And reads. Awestruck and amazed, but left sorely disappointed in the effort I'm putting into life lately, and embarrassed to be in your company at times, my jaw perpetually agape at your discipline, strength, energy, compassion, creativity and perseverance.

And I wonder sometimes - where's mine, God? Where's my passion, my drive, my enthusiasm, my service to others? In the same months that these people have been taking the world by storm in the name of very worthy causes and thought, why am I just here, tired, sick and stagnant, watching and wishing? Why must I be satisfied that the beds are made, the child is dressed and fed, the house is liveable, the laundry under control and there's a meal on the table most nights? Why is my brain stuck in a loop, repeating "Come on 20 weeks/Spring/6:45 pm/bedtime!" instead of focusing on higher priorities and loftier goals? Why do I not have more to give than the acceptable minimum? Is that minimum acceptable to me? To God?

There are easy answers. It's just not my season - I'm doing my part by sitting on the sidelines, cheering and praying and occasionally stepping out of my own fog of self-pity to offer up an encouraging word or two. I'm busy growing a baby - and creating another human, well, that's creativity at its best. I'm resting up for the onslaught of a newborn baby to care for and all the accompanying tiredness and emotions he or she will bring.

Whether or not I can accept those answers and limitations and continue to just be still and wait - that's the quandry I'm in.

But I'm happy to do my pondering in the company of so many busy, passionate, deliberate, Spirit-filled people. Surely among you I won't go completely stale, my spirit won't shrivel to nothing - you'll rub off on me, or at least plant your seeds of inspiration for my next growing season.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Unbroken - A Story of Love on Valentine's Day

I'm submitting this post for Michelle's February Write-Away Contest (whose timely topic this month is LOVE) at her blog, Scribbit: Motherhood in Alaska. Y'all submit your lovey dovey posts, too! Yes, you should!

This particular post is part of a series I wrote back in August 2007 about meeting and marrying my husband, Al. Other posts in this series include And That's How I Got My Husband, Comin' In And Out of Your Life, Oh No He DITTENT!, She Leaps, A Quiet Table for Twenty and Light.



I'd lived for years facing a dark fear that something inside me had broken or died during the turbulent, wrenching, surreal months surrounding the end of my first marriage. Convinced that I simply wasn't capable of mature love, and was too foolish and selfish to sustain a committed relationship, I'd set aside hope of true connection with another man. In the early days of dating Al, I prayed God would protect both of our hearts from me. That He would heal the brokenness and give me strength to step out of myself and give this amazing man what he needed, no matter what. I wanted to transcend my own limitations and fears and let God's love lead me to Al's heart. I remember the moment I realized my prayers had been answered - a time of pain and challenge for both of us.

As we enjoyed a year of dating, getting to know one another even better and having, seriously, more fun than humans should be allowed, Al continued his training for triathlons, swimming laps for hours before the sun rose each morning, running nearly 30 miles every weekend, and riding his bike over trails that spanned the city. He began mentioning here and there a pain in his hip, leg and foot, which we both chalked up to overexertion during his strenuous workouts. But as time wore on, the pain grew worse for him and he grudgingly agreed to see a doctor. An MRI revealed a bulging disk in his lower back and the doctor recommended strengthening exercises to realign the spine and relieve pressure on the disk, with prescription painkillers ease Al's suffering in the meantime. Al dutifully followed instructions and did the exercises, trying to limit his use of the pills to only those times when he truly needed them to function. The pain, though, kept coming. And coming. And eventually we sought another doctor for a second opinion. Al endured three epidural blocks before the new doctor determined that the disk had begun to rupture and would require surgery. A surgery very similar to mine, and one that would require as long and as difficult a recovery, as well.

I sat alone in the waiting room as the surgeon worked on Al. Hours went by with no word, and I was so afraid something had gone wrong. After more than five hours total surgery and recovery time, I finaly met Al in his post-op room and saw him as I've never seen him, weakened and vulnerable. He looked at me, and I could immediately feel his utter dependence on me. That first night after the surgery, Al vomited for hours as he reacted to the anesthetic used during the procedure. Unable to move, he needed me to handle it entirely, from holding his head to cleaning him up afterwards. I have never seen anyone so sick in my life, and it was terrifying for me. I still can't even imagine how scared he must have been. All I wanted to do was make it stop, give him relief, hold him still and give him comfort, even for a moment or two. The hospital staff seemed to forget about us except for infrequent checks of Al's vital signs, so we managed through the night, him vomiting and falling back to sleep exhausted, me holding and cleaning and praying and trying to be strong for him.

After daybreak the following day, the nausea finally eased up, and a vague glimmer of my Al shone in those brown eyes again. But we both were transformed now, for good. Those eighteen grueling hours together in the hospital room had deeply expanded our love for and trust in one another, and I realized that God had given me the gift I'd been asking for - proof that I wasn't broken anymore. That I was able to love and give and hurt for Al. And that Al could trust me. We both could.

Al recuperated at my house, in my guest bedroom. He lay flat on his back for the first two weeks and I loved every moment of caring for him. As he gradually regained mobility, we laughed and enjoyed one another as before, but there was a new certainty about our togetherness. I could tell Al boldly that I loved him and know I meant it the way I'd always wanted to mean it.

As Al recovered and returned to the office, our work lives grew more and more stressful and complicated. Our firm, struggling to generate sufficient revenues for its survival in a post-9/11 economy, made deep reductions in staff, and we looked on sadly and angrily as many of our long-time friends and capable colleagues lost their jobs. The atmosphere around the company was grey and oppressive, and scattered the close-knit work family we'd known for years on the winds of suspicion and fear. We did our best to sustain peace and confidence by focusing on doing our jobs and not taking life too seriously. I'd pack a picnic lunch some days and we'd leave the office behind and sit together outside in the warm spring sunshine, just talking about anything other than layoffs and budget cuts and job performance evaluations. Outside of work, we continued to travel and have fun together. Al was feeling much better and we were in love, afterall.

One hot summer day though, everything in our lives changed. Al's position was eliminated, and in the space of a few minutes, our world flipped upside down. He walked away from the firm he'd helped build and shape for nearly twenty years with nothing more than small brown box of his personal belongings. Just like that, he was gone. It is still hard to think and write about that day. Still so painful to picture him leaving the career he'd loved, the people he'd supported and developed and changed forever, the place we'd begun and where we'd done so much of our growing together, never to return.

With the layoff came immense pain, distance, resentment and loneliness. We struggled to maintain our togetherness as forces both inside and outside ourselves pulled and tugged at the seams of who we were as us. The betrayal and devastation Al felt in the wake of the layoff left him angry, cynical, and shaken. Trying to carry on without him, in the same office we'd shared for years, I trudged through each day feeling more and more frustrated, alone, and depressed. In the absence of a real foe to battle, we often unleashed our anger and anxiety on one another. We fought bitterly for the first time since we'd met. We worried about money, about security, about the future.

But these new challenges, like those already behind us, would only prove to strengthen our bond in time. We learned to hold tight to one another as change and uncertainty stormed around us. And in the revelation of Al's vulnerable, breakable side, God taught me how to love this man more selflessly, more confidently, and more completely. Gradually the Nos in my life would turn to Yeses.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Works For Me Wednesday: Owie-Nosies-and-Snot-Troughs-Be-Gone

OHMYGRANNY! Have y'all been out and shopped for tissue lately? It's like buyin' a CAR, for cryin' outloud. They make tissue impregnated with just about anything you could need or want these days, don't they?

Except, I would argue, for the ONE THING that would actually WORK on these sore little nosies our kids are sportin' right about now. But Mama has devised her own little home remedy and guess what? It's BEAN TESTED. And BEAN APPROVED!

I put my sick baby Bean down for her nap two days ago, her little schnoz and snot-trough (that little groove between the nose and the upper lip? You know the one?) all red and raw. I felt so bad for her I didn't even try to score a REAL kiss - I just went for the forehead, right above her sad, plaintive lil eyebrows and her watery little green eyes. And I limped slump-shouldered from the room under the weight of my aching Mama's heart. My poor BEAN!

Moments later, urgent, broken-hearted wailing shattered my early-naptime reverie and I reported post-haste to the patient's bedside, to see her sitting up in bed with hot tears raining down her sweet, soft, flushed cheeks.

"Dis huuuuuuuuurts, Mama! Will you bring me a warm cloff-cloff (washcloth)?" she sobbed, pointing to her nose and its surrounds. I expeditiously gathered up a soft pink cloff-cloff and moistened it with warm water and helped her apply it to the area.

More wailing.

A warm cloff-cloff? Not the answer.

Hmm. What we have here is a chafed, red, raw area which aches constantly and REALLY hurts when touched, and has to be touched on occasion to prevent everything in the household from becoming encrusted with the reknown Goopy Toddler Snail Trail.

So I pondered. And thunk. And lo and behold, I came up with an idear!

I mixed a little half-dime-sized glob of my favorite cold cream, made by Merle Norman (okay it was made by Merle Norman about 20 years ago and I have no idea if they still make it... heck does Merle Norman even still exist?) (It's my family's answer to the family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Windex. We call it "pink lotion" and it works a TREAT on chapped lips and other raw skin) with a teeny little dab of Orajel (yes, the kind you put on teeth and gums!) until they were all smooth and combined, and then Bean and I wrestled for a few minutes until I finally got some onto her sore nose/lip area.

And there was a whimper. Followed by a pause. Followed by a little rainbow spreading across that sad little cloudy face.

And the napping! It commenced! Quietly and with peace and joy for all!

When she finally awoke two-and-a-half hours later and came dragging her teddy into my room, I brightly inquired how her sleep had been.

"Gooooooooooood." she drowsily replied. "Mama, I need s'more of dat pink lotion for my nosie. Dat felt weally much better."

No wrestling required for the second (or subsequent)application of Mama's Wonder Lotion.

And thus was born my secret cure for owie nosies. Cold cream with Orajel. And BONUS, people: For about a half an hour after application, I can even gently wipe her nose with tissue or a cloff-cloff without inciting riot!

P.S. Someone recently told me to try putting Orajel on my eyebrow area a few minutes before I pluck, too! I can't wait to try that out.

If you'd like a little more inspiration today, check out Works for Me Wednesday's temporary home at Don't Try this At Home.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Don't Read This if You're Skinny

Michelle at My Semblance of Sanity tagged me for a meme, and although I don't usually do memes these days because I don't really do much at all these days, sadly, I thought I'd do this one since it's extremely simple AND since I owe y'all a heapin' helpin' of FriedOkra, such that if I did every meme that came down the pipe from here to eternity I'd prob'ly still be beholdin' to y'all for some time to come.

Here are the rules:
1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages.)
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Link back to the person who tagged you.
6. Tag five people.

Fancy this, y'all. The nearest book to me is Your Pregnancy Week by Week by Dr. Glade B. Curtis, OB/GYN and Judith Schuler, M.S. And the reason that it's the closest book to me, I'll be honest witcha, is because it's the ONLY book close to me except for Al's accounting textbooks (you don't want me to quote you three sentences out of one of THOSE, do you?) which are currently stacked all around both of us in our bed, which incidentally I haven't left except to eat and go potty for the past nearly 48 hours. Yes, seeeriously. But I am happy to report that I feel mucho better tired-wise, and I'm dressed and quoiffed and made-up enough to go meet friends for coffee in a few hours, and I am really looking forward to that outing, even though it's (Jen, this is especially for you) forty-leven degrees below zero out there and gettin' colder by the minute.

So lemme see here. Mmm-hmmm page 123. Got it. Oh goody! It's about nutrition in pregnancy. This should be worth a laugh or two.

Fifth sentence. Get this, y'all.

Neither of these two people were apparently ever pregnant!

"Some protein foods you may choose, and their serving sizes, include the following."

Hold on. I'm already laughing so hard I can't make out the next lines.

Ahem. Okay.

"Chick peas (garbanzo beans) - 1 cup."

Oh heavens. I'm laughing again. Are y'all who've been pregnant laughing with me?

A CUP? of BEANS? Seriously?

"And then please seclude yourself in a well-ventilated but private area for the next three to four days, because starting exactly 6.2 minutes after you've consumed the first bean, you will begin to blow up like Veruca Salt. The only means of deflation available to you will be inviting HUGE elephants to run back and forth under your chair in rapid succession, elephants which coincidentally smell a lot like partially digested chick peas. And broccoli."

You're right. It doesn't really say that. But it SHOULD. What good is this book to me if it doesn't adequately convey the consequences of completely idiotic actions like eating a CUP of CHICKPEAS?

"Cheese, mozzarella - 1 ounce."

Okay. An ounce of cheese. Lovely notion that. WHO EATS MOZZARELLA CHEESE IN ONE OUNCE SERVINGS? Certainly not pregnant women. We eat it by the pound. (Preferably on pizza.) Which might explain why we never ever poop. Also we never poop because we can't eat fiber. See "chickpeas" above.

"Chicken, roasted, skinless - 1/2 breast"

Chicken. GAG. Can't do it. Did y'all loathe chicken when you were pregnant? It seems common.

"Eggs - 1."

Alright. I can probably do an egg.

WHOOHOOOOOOO! Looky here, folks:

"Hamburger. Broiled, lean. - 3 1/2 ounces."

Okay if I dress it up in a patty melt, slather it with mayo and mustard and consume it in a minute and a half along with a bucket of sweet slaw and a side of fries?!?!

No?

Sigh. Drive on, driver.

"Milk - 8 ounces."

Can I get a "-shake" on that, please?

Yeah. This was the book closest to me.

What? Oh, no. I don't READ it. It's just there to keep my frosty mug of rootbeer with the bobbing molten globs of chocolate ice cream from leaving a ring and my bowl of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese from leaving a sweat-stain on my bedside table. I used it for my first pregnancy, too and my bedside table stayed so clean and shiny - it is a very helpful little volume, indeed!

Occasionally I even take a look at the "Healthy, Optimal Weight Gain for Pregnancy" charts and have me a good belly laugh. Oh land. How does someone who is perpetually nauseous gain 10 lbs. in 14 weeks? Huh?

Don't answer that - especially if your reply rhymes with "Mepause, Hegan, soo nar reeting nall dat micedream and cracaroni-n-freeze, sunny!"

There are some things a woman in my condition just duddn need to hear.

I feel like I may be among the last of the bloggers who haven't participated in this little meme, but if you haven't done it, consider yourself tagged, okay? Oh, wait, I WILL tag my nephew, Daniel, and my niece Olivia, because I KNOW they both love books and will enjoy blogging about their current reads.

That is all. Pictures from the beach SOON!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Um. Eet Mor Chikin?

Here's what I'm thinkin'. I'ma put a Mr. Linky registration sheet down at the bottom of this post and y'all can sign up to just come on up/over/down and stay with me in 3-4 day shifts for the next five or six months.

'Cause we're home from vacation now and OHMYGRANNY, people, I am in what we Southern gals like to call A State.

First off, Mama is BEYOND TIRED. After running on all of my own personal cylinders and a couple I borrowed off a check-out lady at the grocery store in Hilton Head while I was in there buying massive quantities of bottled water and Gas-X, to keep up with, for a week, my CRAZY INSANE NEVER-STOP-FOR-A-MINUTE mother and sister (and our six attendant kids), then surviving TWELVE HOURS of car, airport and airplane travel-time capped off by being BARFED on by my lovely Bean LITERALLY AS WE PULLED UP TO OUR HOUSE LAST NIGHT, YES, I am currently unable to muster even a fraction of an ounce more energy than it takes to fall over/off the side of my bed and crawl haltingly to the potty and back. That is all. Slather me with butter and slice me on the diagonal, folks. I am TOAST.

Secondly, after having been surrounded by no less than 9 other people (at a time) who share common genes with me, whose obscure thought processes and yay, even senses of humor (the night Al, Bean and I arrived, my sister came out with the most incredibly hilariously BAD choice of words to describe a piece of cheese dangling off my nephew's lip as we were all horking down Grandmama FriedOkra's Hamburger Casserole and we were all sent into convulsions of embarrassed, scandalized but gleeful giggles that continued to erupt periodically for the rest of our stay) bear striking (and occasionally scary) resemblance to mine for a full week, coming home, even in the company of my two most favorite people (and funniest, too) in this world, has left me excruciatingly lonely. I can't really even begin to capture the feeling in words although my mom used the word BEREFT for how SHE feels right now and that seems like a pretty good start.

Also, my house is in that just-got-back-from vacation shambly state and there's nothing to eat here, and me? I'm busy being worn out and pathetic, so I cannot be expected to address those two issues.

So y'all will need to band together now and come pick up my pieces and put me back together. And entertain my forlorn daughter who, without her 5 young cousins, is tripping over her own chin her poor face is so long and sad and pathetic. So bring your kids, too, please.

And something sticky and sweet, preferably baked with loads of cinnamon and covered in cream-cheese frosting. Ahem. Available at airports and malls nationwide at a place whose name rhymes with Pinnabon.

And magazines, too, but PLEASE, no magazines that feature skinny, fashionably-dressed women, because those WILL NOT HELP ME AT ALL. Bring me magazines about um ... cows. Cows wearing seam-straining frumpy, dumpy clothes that aren't quite big enough to cover their large bovine bellies. Cows with huge, saggy udders and bloated, drained-looking faces. Yeah, those I'll be able to relate to very well.

Heck, I could be the Cover Cow for one of those magazines.

What? You DON'T wanna come cook and clean for the tired, lonely cow with the exposed belly button and the saggy udders?

Well, okay, but could you at least send your kids and a couple dozen Classic Cinnabons?

Please?

Seriously, I do have a lot of stuff to tell you and show you from vacation. I'll rest up this weekend and be back with pictures and stories next week. In the meantime, I have about 962 of YOUR posts to read and comment on, so I'll be around!

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Excitement? Yeah, I'd Call it Palpable.

Ah, cruel irony, thou dost tease and cajole a Mama.

Lo, all of my crooning over the beauty and excitement of snow have brought about the winter storm of the year, smack dab darnit on the date of our highly-anticipated departure to lovely coastal Carolina. Curses.

Instead of leaving at noon today and arriving in time for a heapin' helpin' of Grandmama FriedOkra's Hamburger Casserole (remind me, you need this recipe), we're going to be starting the FIRST LEG of our journey tonight at 6:16 PM, which, calculating travel times and our requisite share of delays, snafus, and turn-arounds, should land our heads safely on pillows around 2 AM this morning.

Which will sadly mean we miss The Casserole. Which I can tell you right now has sent Al into a furious tailspin of depression. I will not speak for him but I'm speculatin' from his current mood that The Casserole may have been Al's Number One Top Most Looked-Forward To Component of The Vacation.

I have already promised him that it will make for a very hearty breakfast tomorrow morning.

When Bean heard me tell Daddy our flight had been cancelled this morning she was crestfallen. BUT I WANNA GO TO THE BEACH AND SEE MY NANA! This child is READY TO GO and has packed and unpacked her backpack eightyleven times this morning as she needs SOMETHING to do with all her nervous energy. I've learned a vaaaaaaaluable parenting lesson: Do Not Tell Your Child About An Upcoming Trip or Exciting Event Until The Moment You Arrive At Your Final Destination.

Because disappointed toddler tears are the most heart-wrenching tears I've ever witnessed.

The Al's Not Gettin' The Casserole Tonight tears, though, are a mighty close second.

Here's Bean, already shiny-eyed with excitement, yesterday. Corey, I tried out the un-centered approach to photography from your lesson this week in these. Well, I edited them that way, anyway. Clearly, I still have much to learn.

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And ARGH! This just in. More delays. Maybe we'll get to The Beach by Wednesday. Nana, put a hunk of The Casserole in the freezer for Al.

Sigh.