Saturday, November 30, 2013

What to Do With The Leftover Turkey

Thanksgiving was two days ago and, unless you're a big fan of turkey salad, odds are good you're looking at a lot of leftovers that you may not have a taste for.
Be honest, we can only recycle the holiday meal so many times. Leftover turkey, dressing, gravy and cranberry salad may be good once or twice, and most of us will only eat so many turkey sandwiches. Then there's all that darn dark meat. Do you know no one in my family ate any dark meat off the holiday bird? That's too much to waste.
You may be tempted to toss it, especially if you didn't go ahead and get it off the bones while it was warm. Trust me, warm and greasy beats cold and greasy hands down. But if you saved the meat with some vague plan of a future recipe, it's still crucial to do something with it before it becomes fit for only the garbage can. (No, don't feed it to the dog. You don't want to clean that up!)
Last year I was smart enough to freeze mine shortly after the holiday, but discovered when I pulled a bag out the other day that I hadn't planned ahead well enough. While my recipe called for 1.5 cups, I had at least two or three times that amount all froze together in a quart freezer bag. It was all or nothing and too much turkey ruined a pretty good soup recipe.
So my recommendation is find the recipes you'd like to eat -- not necessarily today or tomorrow's meals, but at some point -- and cut up the meat you don't eat by the time you get tired of it, and/or all the dark meat, and put it in freezer bags in the correct amounts. Since I didn't have room in my refrigerator for a bird, I did all that shortly after the family meal and I had 10 cups of dark meat to freeze. Most recipes call for 2 to 3 cups, so I did two 3-cup bags and two 2-cup bags.
If we don't polish off the white meat by the first of the week, I'll probably cut it up as well. I will not be boiling the bones for stock. I'm not that dedicated. My chickens enjoy the extra protein and it is funny in a twisted way to watch them peck the carcass clean.
Of course, saving the meat is only half the challenge, so I've gathered a few leftover recipes as well. You can also find plenty of others at cooking websites, with a simple search for leftover turkey recipes. If you're like me, it's always a little better if you know someone has actually prepared them, and I have cooked three out of four of these, although I don't have pictures to prove it.

My absolute favorite for going on 30 years has been a turkey casserole recipe that features cheese, Bisquick, soup and sour cream. You can make this as one dish, or divide it like pot pies, although I usually opt for the single dish preparation. I found it while doing a cooking feature at my first newspaper job and have been preparing it regularly since.
TURKEY PIE
3 c cut up turkey
1/2 c milk
1/2 c sour cream (or Greek yogurt)
1 can Cream of Chicken soup
1 c Bisquick
3/4 c milk
1 egg
2 c shredded cheddar cheese
1. Preheat oven to 375 and grease casserole dish.
2. Combine and heat first four ingredients to boiling and spoon into casserole dish.
3. Combine Bisquick, milk and egg. Pour over hot turkey mixture. Sprinkle with cheese.
4. Bake uncovered until top is set and slightly brown, about 20-25 minutes.

The soup recipe I ruined with too much turkey is usually great and is a crock pot recipe, so you can leave it to cook while you're busy. It's got a Mexican flavor influence with cumin and cayenne, so it's a good spicy meal served with cheese, sour cream and tortilla chips.
CROCK POT TURKEY SOUP
1 1/2 c turkey (2 c would be ok, but don't overdo it)
1 quart canned tomatoes
1 onion
1 T lime juice
1/2 t cumin
1 can corn
4 c chicken broth
4 oz can green chili peppers
4 cloves garlic
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 can black beans
salt and pepper
Combine and cook all ingredients on low for 8 hours.

I haven't made this next recipe in years, but liked it enough to copy it onto a recipe card and save it.
TURKEY CASSEROLE
1 sm pkg frozen broccoli, cooked
1 can Cream of Chicken soup
1/2 8 oz. bag bread crumb stuffing
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1/2 c mayo
1 egg
2-3 c chopped, cooked turkey
Combine all ingredients reserving some stuffing for topping in casserole dish. Stir. Put remaining stuffing on top. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

This last one I have not tried, but found on a printout card from Bisquick and it sounds tasty and super easy.
IMPOSSIBLE TURKEY PIE
2 c cut up, cooked turkey
1 small jar sliced mushrooms, drained
1/2 c sliced green onions
1/2 t salt
1 c shredded Swiss cheese
1 1/2 c milk
3/4 c Bisquick
3 eggs
Heat oven to 400 and lightly grease 10-inch pie plate. Sprinkle turkey, mushrooms, onions, salt and cheese in pie plate. Beat remaining ingredients until smooth. Pour into pie plate. Bake until golden brown and knife inserted halfway between center and edge comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before cutting.

Friday, November 29, 2013

What's Wrong With Merry Christmas?

I've already seen it a dozen times or more on Facebook -- the war over saying Merry Christmas has begun.

It's just another excuse to add stress to the holidays, for those who are into that; another reason for people to be overly sensitive to their own rights and political correctness; another reason for business folks and their employees to try not to offend anyone.

I've seen posts by people complaining about the expression Merry Christmas. Seriously? The post had something to do with never having anyone tell them Happy Kwanzaa or Happy Hanukkah, that it was only the Christians or so-called Christians trying to shove it down their throat.

Then there is the other side of the coin that sometimes makes that appear true. The people who are so dedicated to saying Merry Christmas that if you don't respond in kind they think you're possibly a druid or devil worshipper.

Give me a freaking break!

Look at the calendar. Or don't. Both Hanukkah and Christmas are listed on mine, along with Boxing Day. That means that by and large our society accepts and observes those days. I have been told Happy Hanukkah, but I didn't think someone wanted me to be Jewish. I've never been told Happy Boxing Day, but then I'm not Canadian, so I'm not surprised. Kwanzaa doesn't appear on the calendar and wasn't heard of so I was growing up, so it would be a bit of a surprise to be hear it in a greeting, but I wouldn't be offended. Giving someone a pleasant greeting that includes the mention of either of them, or some other day that is special to you, shouldn't be offensive.

I expect most people say what comes naturally to their lips as a holiday greeting. It's based on their belief system and the way they were raised and it's not intended, either way, as an attack. In fact, I'm sure some people struggle with the PC expression Happy Holidays when they are at work because of people in the first group.

Why do we stress so much over an expression?

Whether you are Christian or not, no one seriously believes Jesus was born on Dec. 25. The early church picked that day to celebrate his birth, possibly to correspond with other celebrations that were already ongoing, and possibly because some who studied the calendar though that was about nine months after he was conceived -- although seriously, this was several hundred years after the fact. Too bad no one thought to make note at the time. If Mary had only kept a baby book -- OK, so I'm being silly, but really, if we want to complain about dates and holidays.

Dec. 25 became first a religious holiday and then a civil and secular holiday as Christmas. That was the name that became assigned to the day, and the fact that it was originally referred to as Christ Mass, which has a decidedly Catholic ring to it, doesn't keep Protestants from observing the same date and name.

People who seem to believe more strongly in Santa Claus than Christ don't appear to have a problem celebrating the day either. Many people of other religions adopt the holiday simply because of its cultural significance. Focusing purely on the commercial aspect of the date, which is entirely of our creation, retailers rake in lots of money, even though lately they often call it a holiday sale.

Many of our greeting cards freely blend the words "Merry Christmas," with images that are purely secular -- trees, gifts, Santa. Our most beloved Christmas tales beyond the one found in the Bible have nothing to do with Christ. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge shouts "Merry Christmas" after his night with the ghosts -- and his epiphany had nothing to do with a babe in a manger or Christianity, although it did in many ways embrace the lessons that baby taught us as a man. "It's a Wonderful Life" may have an unlikely angel, divine intervention and take place at Christmas, but it's by and large a secular tale.

So why, in the decades since either was written or filmed, have we become so ridiculously sensitive? What's in a name that we want to pretend offense from either side of the coin? I seriously do not understand. While I think the largely commercial efforts to avoid the use of Christ in the holiday are absurd, I don't think it is either a war on Christmas or a war on Christianity. It's just a statement about our society where despite our guaranteed free speech, we still seem to search for something to complain about and seemingly assert that our free speech and hearing is more important than anyone else's.

I will be saying Merry Christmas and I don't expect it will offend anyone I know, or strangers I greet. If it does, they can get over it or not. It's the holiday I celebrate and therefore the one I share. But if someone says Happy Holidays or Happy Hanukkah to me in response, or even says it first, I won't take offense. Perhaps that is how they celebrate the season, and it is neither up to me to judge them, nor an attack on what I believe.

Just say it with a smile and mean it.

And today, as we kick off the season, let me wish you Merry Christmas.




Thursday, November 28, 2013

Stir Crazy and It's Only November

I'm not sure I can survive the winter.

Not emotionally, at least.

Take away one day of working out -- two hours of time with adult people away from those who reach my waist or less -- and I'm a basket case. OK, take away my workout and instead give me two miserable weather days cramped up with three children in a small house where our most entertaining option is a game of GIANT BABY (don't ask), and I'm losing it.

OK, so you had to ask. Giant baby involves me hold the baby, who isn't yet vertical all the time, up at waist level or higher in a vertical position and chasing the older girls in circles through the house. The baby loves it. She laughs and squeals. The girls love it. They laugh and squeal at a frequency that might shatter crystal. The dogs think someone is getting hurt and they get nervous and bristly. It makes my head and back hurt.

Yes, for two days the four of us have spent eight hours together with nothing more interesting to look at than the television. Papi comes in on the tail end of the day for his dose of fun and I want to run screaming from the house as soon as supper is on the table.

Tuesday, my daughter noted my frazzled look and told me she'd buckle them in. I went back to the house with tired tears seeping from my eyes.

I love my granddaughters. Please, don't get me wrong. I would not send them to anyone else for daycare. I can't imagine the days without them. But I'm programmed to be outside and they have spent so much time with me that their programming likewise is get outdoors. Chase a leaf, splash in a puddle, ride a bike, go for a hike, drag brush, pretend to be birds and soar around the yard. Run, squeal, move. Inside, well, we're all a bit stir crazy and it comes out by the end of the day.

We all need an outlet for our energy that doesn't involve running in circles around the butcher block island, dumping out or picking up all the toys in the playroom, or simply torturing one another out of frustration.

Last winter I bought a bounce house that will fit quite tidily on the front porch. Unfortunately, it's been too cold or wet to deploy it. It will also fit in the playroom, thank God.

So to fight the frustration we cleared the center of the playroom floor, piling toys anywhere they would fit,shoved the pack and play against the book case, and engaged the bounce house. Even E3 loved it, although she had to content herself with mainly watching the other girls as I wouldn't let her inside while they were bouncing. Her glee when I enforced a break and let her crawl inside, however, was thorough.

Although I didn't get the fix I needed, and had to put up with the rearranging, refereeing and noise of the big blower, I realized it was a small price to pay for lowering the overall discontent in the house. Once again I had to remind myself that I'm the adult, and I'm the one who has to figure out how to make things better, and that even if I seem to make things better only for the little people, my sacrifice will be rewarded with a bit more sanity.

So I guess I'll be firing up the little bounce house until the girls get tired of it, which may not take long as a summer of outings has introduced them to bigger and better bounce houses with climbing walls and slides. Yep, that was my fault. I let them go through the adult sized obstacle course a few too many times. But those are also available and it could be that I decide the investment, if I can find a place for it, is well worth it.

While the rural county where I live has come a long way in developing outdoor recreation, our indoor opportunities, especially for preschoolers, are pretty much nonexistent, despite some large governmental lobbies that I could see housing an indoor playground quite handily. My husband says the noise would be a bother to the workers, but I think closed doors would take care of that and, having worked in one of those buildings, I know there's not a lot that needs quiet that doesn't get a closed door already.

So instead I'll be taking advantage of good old McDonald's and its monster indoor playground. But first I have to find a way to avoid the Happy Meals, because face it, they have the nutritional value of the box in which they are packed, plus a piece of junk toy to boot. Once that hurdle is cleared, I think I'll start scheduling a weekly McDonald's run -- maybe for ice cream? I'm sure toting E3 through the structure will give me a great workout and get me out of the house, so it could turn into a win-win situation.

Oh, I forgot to mention I play on the equipment, too. Hey, they didn't have those when I was a kid, and three preschoolers gives me a great excuse to be the scary lady on the slide.



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why Do I Blog?

Many mornings, when I'm struggling to come up with a topic and put a few sentences together, I ask myself one simple question: Why do I blog? Why take the time and sometimes aggravation to do it? Who cares?

Although I've managed to be committed and only missed one day posting, which I made up for with two posts the next day, it's not like this is how I make a living. Even though it consumes a part of one of my most precious resources, there isn't necessarily any immediate return from doing so.

Sometimes it seems the only person that reads it is me. Occasionally a friend will tell me they enjoy it and I have a few dedicated readers. But blogs, by and large, unless they have a lot of helpful tips for dealing with something, are really self-serving, like keeping a not too personal journal that you share with the world. If the world wants to read it.

The fact of the matter is, I missed writing. Beginning one Christmas when I was a grade school girl with crooked teeth and out of control hair, when someone gave me a diary with a lock on it, I had written on a daily basis. For years I was faithful to those diaries, then I began buying spiral notebooks and using them. I don't suppose it should have come as a surprise when a college English professor told me I was a good writer. I rethought my career plans, fell in love with newspaper columns (in particular the work of a writer named Janet at my hometown paper) and changed my major.

When I started writing for that same paper and working with Janet, my goal beyond all the boring council and school board meetings, beyond all the interesting people I met for human interest, beyond all the drama of fires and wrecks, and beyond all the human tragedy of crime, was to write columns where I put things in perspective. Sometimes it was the things I was dealing with as a journalist and sometimes it was the things in my own life that could touch someone else by sharing.

I loved column writing, even though it was only a once a week adventure, first at The Galax Gazette and a decade later at The Mount Airy News. I still loved it at The Messenger, although I truthfully despised my editor and the parameters he set on my writing that didn't apply to everyone else.

Once I had newspaper writing, where in addition to the columns I churned out thousands of words a day for articles on those people and events to which I was a silent witness, I didn't keep my diaries or journals any more. During one of my so far successful attempts to avoid sinking into hoarding, I glanced through the stacks of writing and decided they were best consigned to obscurity. I burned them all in a trash barrel before my last move.

When my newspaper career faltered on the same rocky shores that stranded a lot of people at a point in their lives where they didn't expect to be jobless, I quit writing cold turkey. People would come up to me and tell me they missed my writing, some encouraged me to get back into the newspaper. But I had seen the future and knew that the newspapers were never going to be the same as the job I fell in love with 25 years ago. I said no.

I quit mentally turning the things around me into potential subjects for anything. There was no need to figure out how to describe something that only I saw or cared about.

But I missed it, like the hole left by a missing tooth that you continually explore with your tongue. I worried at my lack of writing, no matter how much I tried to leave it alone. I read blogs by other people and berated myself for not doing something, anything, with my love of the written word. I thought about the novel I wrote and had accepted for subsidized printing more than a decade ago, only to not have the $2,500 I needed at the time to see it printed, and I considered the new ease of ebooks.

After wrestling with all those ideas and reading some of the, not to put it too bluntly, crap, that was sold in ebook format on Amazon, I decided I really needed to pull out my old manuscript and rework it. I needed to see it in virtual print. It and the others bouncing around my head.

But first, like getting an unused muscle that has atrophied back into condition, I knew I needed to retrain my brain to roll easily through the conversion of thoughts to words. I knew I needed to carve out a time when I would write regularly. I settled on early mornings when the house is quiet and coffee and small dogs are my only companions. I went back to my disused PC and desk and prodded myself back into the game.

Naturally, I returned to my early love -- after all, a blog is mix between a journal and a column. I may grapple with a common theme, or be more personal. With no editor, I may make mistakes or I may write something (possibly this) that no but me really cares about. At the very least, it's a record of what's going on in my life and the thoughts rolling around my brain. Perhaps my descendants will read it one day and be amused, or shocked.

I found that, as I expected, writing wasn't as easy as it was a decade ago. Neglect had caused the synapses in my brain to dull and I think even my spelling had suffered. So the last six or seven weeks have been a retraining. I appreciate anyone who has been along for the exercise, and I intend to keep it up. It gives me a warm feeling when someone comments, either on my blog, on my Facebook page, or directly. My audience is small, but I enjoy it.

And my brain is better for it. Maybe soon I'll be adding another layer to my writing as well. When that comes, I'll be telling you to look for me on Amazon. I'm eager for the next page to turn.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Which Comes First, the Chicken, or the Egg?

It all began so innocently.

Ma has more than an acre in the country and adorable granddaughters. It's almost Easter and those chicks at the local Tractor Supply sure are cute. Wouldn't it be great to have "real" eggs from hens who have real lives?

Like I said, it all began so innocently. Now nearly three years, countless sacks of feed and a construction project later, I'm firmly committed to my laying hens.

Or, I should more accurately say, my laying flock. The individual hens may be subject to elimination for nonproduction, once the laying season gears up again in the spring.

During those three years, I've learned a bit about hens, some by experience and some from a good book or two. I've done a lot of trading. I've had a few fatalities. I think this far in that I'm ready to take stock, but I could be wrong.

That first early spring day, we picked out six nondescript yellow chicks with no idea what they would be -- gender or type. Easter was late that year and the store was shooting for clearance of the leftovers and there had been the general Easter rush. E1 was the only child big enough to care, and she picked one of the larger chicks and called it "Duck" after her favorite toy. I purchased all the support items as well and brought them home to care for.

They were soon housed in an outdoor cage with a heat lamp and a plastic cover to keep them warm and, strangely enough, all survived to adulthood. Out of six chicks I had three white Leghorns and one large white hen (Duck) and two large white roosters. Although the birds were supposed to be of the egg-laying varieties, the big birds acted more like the ones that occasionally fall off a chicken processing truck. They were ungainly and Duck fell ill to some malady and died before ever laying her first egg. The roosters, however, decided to do what roosters do and after one of them went after E1, they were given away.

Of course, by that point in time I had found someone with chickens to sell and had bought a pair of silkies and a pair of Rhode Island Reds. A friend had a Buff Orpington take up at her house and I went over one evening and wrangled the hen off the hood of her car where she spent most nights, leaving a gift that wasn't an egg in the morning when she awoke. I had a decent sized little flock that had taken over the fenced back yard which had previously housed dogs and never been a very attractive asset. I could listen to the roosters grow in the morning and go out and hunt the eggs scattered under the shrubbery.

Addicted, I decided to amp up my flock and start selling eggs. I ordered 15 newly hatched heavy layers who were overnighted from West Virginia and delivered to my local post office in less than 24 hours. A friend bought four of the chicks once they were big enough to go outside, and at that time I discovered there were actually 16. They were, however, all hens as promised. My big red rooster fell ill and died. I found a group of Bantam Cochins someone wanted to give away -- and I kept them about a year, successfully raising one male chick from the broody hens before I got tired of fighting the roosters and gave them away again. Then I added three Brahma hens and a rooster, after I read they were supposed to lay best in cold weather when the other hens take a break. The Buff Orpington, after laying faithfully for a year or so, died. An occasional hen decided to roost on the fence at bedtime and woke up on the wrong side of the bed, jumping the fence and disappearing into some wild carnivore's stomach without leaving so much as a feather. A piece of plywood lingering from removing the small henhouse while building the new one blew over in a gust of wind and crushed one of the leghorns.

There is a lot of fluctuation in my flock, and no one has a name. Of the original Leghorns, which I've decided are the most productive despite their lean and lanky looks, only one survives. There are also two White Rocks, three black sex links, three Brahmas, four Wyandottes and the silky, who appears to be ailing and hasn't layed many eggs since hatching a chick that drowned way back in the summer. There are also three roosters who have shown their intelligence by never attempting to flog me or the little people who enter their domain.

By rough calculations, that should mean about a dozen eggs a day, when the hens are not molting and the weather isn't too extreme. That's where the problem comes in and where, unfortunately, I'm going to have to do some flock management.

Although I'm feeding all those birds and getting some beautiful eggs -- enough to supply me and several friends with free range, too big for the carton eggs -- even during the best days of summer there were nowhere near a dozen eggs. I have slackers in my midst. Worse than that, I have egg eaters, although I realize that may be the result of a cracked egg during the fight over prime laying spots.

I've decided on no changes this winter, even if I only get an egg or two some days. But come spring, these girls had better amp up production or someone is going to disappear from the flock.

I know, they're not prime meat birds any more, but I've already researched killing and dressing. You know you can find a YouTube video for practically anything? (My cousin found one on how to skin a bear after taking possession of one killed by a truck.) I won't be doing any plucking either -- don't eat chicken skin so don't need to preserve it. I've already got the pistol and ammo to get started. I've tried to warn them, but of course, they're chickens and pay me no mind.

I think I can figure out who goes and stays with a game camera mounted near the nesting area, and perhaps a sharpie to make it easier to tell those white birds apart. After that, well, they may be too tough for frying, but I'm betting they can go in the freezer for a good chicken stew next winter. If the experience isn't too horrible, I may try my hand at raising a few for eating.

Depending on my goal number, during spring chick days I can also go back to Tractor Supply for some more Leghorns. After all the learning and experimenting, they're the absolute best at consistent production. Because at my house, while a chicken may be required, the eggs come first.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Are My Topless Days Gone Forever?

Not too long ago, I drove a convertible.

Frequently with the top down.

It was a big, grown up convertible, a Chrystler Sebring that had followed in the steps of a Ford Mustang, and before that a Mitsubishi Spyder GT convertible (a far less grown-up car). I had consistently owned and driven a convertible for years. I hunted on the internet for ages to find just the convertible I wanted; the size engine, the leather interior, the color. My husband and I drove to Charlotte to get it and we mutually hate Charlotte. It was paid for and didn't leak too bad.

I loved to drive it at night with the top down and look up at the stars. I loved to drive it when the temperature was in the 80s and take my hair down and let it whip in the wind. I loved to bundle up and run the heat and drive it in the spring and fall when it wasn't really warm enough, but I just wanted to feel that freedom. My husband drove it in the Christmas parade and I threw candy while sharing the back seat with a load of dogs.

I hated to see convertibles that should have been doing what they were made to do instead being driven with the tops up. What's wrong with you, I wanted to ask. Why did you bother with a ragtop?

I loved my convertible.

Then, along came E1, and up went the top.

I had managed my own children in the back seat of a Camaro years ago, so negotiating a baby seat in and out of the back seat wasn't an impossible feat. But I'll admit, we generally didn't go anywhere we didn't have to. It was a little easier once she got big enough for a frontwards facing seat, but not long after that she became a big sister, so the back seat wrestling continued with a second baby seat.

Still, once in a while, on a perfect day when we weren't going far, I would occasionally try to put the top down. That resulted in learning that E1 did not like the wind in her face. She was big enough to talk and tell me quite plainly how much she didn't like it.

Essentially, that meant I never got to drive my convertible with the top down, or at least so seldom that it seemed like never. But the car was in good shape and I thought, one day, the girls would be bigger and appreciate the sun on their faces, or looking at the stars. One day it would be fun again.

When the arrival of E3 became more than just a possibility, as in, "We're pregnant," one of the first things I did was put the Sebring on the market. There was no room for a third car seat in the back and it would be impossible to manage even if there were. My daughter pointed out that I had one more summer, but you don't sell a convertible in February, when the baby was slated to arrive.

In early June of 2012 I sold my car on Craigslist and began searching for a car I could afford, that met my somewhat irregular needs and tastes, and that would have room for three infant/child seats in the back. I consulted my mechanic on the ones I preferred to see which gave best service and that he would prefer working on.

I finally found a Nissan Xterra that fit the bill, a high milage vehicle with a low pricetag, four-wheel drive, cargo room, a great sound system, a dirt proof color, and room in the back seat for three children, barely.


For that first winter, the girls enjoyed their own doors and easy access, but when baby arrived I had to scoot the older ones together so that I could access the baby's seat. It's not ideal, but I don't need a full time mini-van ride. Occasionally, I do go somewhere when they aren't with me.

I've enjoyed the Xterra. I like riding up higher like a truck and being able to park in less than ideal locations. I relish the security of four-wheel drive, just in case it ever decides to snow again. I love the big cargo area in the back. The bronze color is almost as good as the gold on the Sebring at hiding dirt. And even if I haven't figured out how to set the clock, I like being able to play MP3 devices through the stereo system without burning CDs.

At the same time, I'll be honest; I miss having a convertible. Not today, when the cold winds blow and the bare limbs of the maple shiver against the sky. But on warm summer nights when the stars are bright and the moon is a huge silver ball, or when that first really warm spring day makes me want to shake off winter and the ache of growing older, then I long to be able to get in a car, drop the top, turn up the radio and drive.

Letting go of the convertible wasn't something I was ready to do. It was a farewell to a part of me that wasn't really gone, but instead has to be pushed down and kept quiet for now. A part of me that like a lot of things I'd like to do has to wait until I'm not so badly needed in the role I've chosen to accept and come to love.

So despite three little girls who may have to make a transition to liking the wind in their faces, I think it's safe to say my convertible days are not entirely behind me. Maybe not a Mazda Miata any time soon, although that would be a real escape with no room for car seats. I'm thinking more along the lines of a convertible crossover.

Anything that will give me the room I need, both for the girls in the back and the wind in my hair.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Original Solar Powered Appliance

For virtually all of my life, I've had one solar powered "appliance" working for me.

I still treasure my clothesline, even though it's not the intregal part of my life that it was for many years. I'm not dependent on it, but it's certainly not something I discovered in an effort to be more energy efficient and go green either.

In fact, today, even though the temperatures this morning were quite chilly, my clothesline is loaded with items I put there yesterday. Just like emptying the dryer inside, I'm sometimes a slacker when it comes to collecting my laundry -- depending on the forecast, what's on the line, and my need.

My clothesline today, however, is just a small umbrella type model, hovering in the back yard. It isn't the multi-strand unit reaching between two metal, cemented in the ground poles that my mom and both grandmothers had when I was growing up.

Although my somewhat progressive Ma Mary had a dryer when I was still small, I don't think any of us really trusted it. Clothes were dried on clotheslines. Hopefully on sunny days.

Somedays those days were chilly, and I can remember frozen work pants standing against the wall in the hall of my childhood home. Sometimes there was no sun and clothes had to dry on clotheslines and wooden racks in the basement. Sometimes the weather turned while we were away at school and work and we returned to sodden clothes nearly touching the ground. If Momma got really desperate, she would tote a basket of wet laundry to my grandma's house to dry it, but that didn't happen often.

When a summer storm came blowing in, we children were recruited to help. Gathering armloads of the freshly scented sheets and towels, warm from the sun and softened by the wind, was a sensory treat I'll never forget. Racing the storm to shelter into the basement, often with the first drops splattering on our arms and faces, was a frequent summer occurrence.

I can remember hanging out clothes as one of my early regular chores, although I have no idea at what age I started and don't remember being asked to do it in less than ideal weather. Part of the reason for that may be that by the time I was old enough to reach the clothesline, we had a dryer of our own huddled in a corner of the basement for desperate times.

When I was a young bride, my house trailer (we didn't call them mobile homes back then), didn't have room for a dryer. My first washer, a Kenmore that survived until my children started doing their own laundry and, I'm sure, overloaded it, huddled behind the bathroom door. Like my mother and grandmothers, I had clothesline between two poles in my back yard. Sometimes I gathered frozen laundry to dry on racks near the woodstove in the room we added onto the back.

Throughout the moves of my life, I always maintained a clothesline. When I first had space for a dryer, I had a garden and needed a small freezer worse. I was into my second marriage, living in town with a husband who hated seeing clothes on the line because despite his pretensions as a good-ole boy, he was really a city kid at heart, before I ever owned a dryer.

Of course, after having a dryer, it was easy to get dependent on it. You didn't have to worry about the weather on laundry day. Laundry day could be any day, any time, regardless of the forecast. When I moved the last time, I didn't even worry about putting up a clothesline for a long time.

Then one day I found the revolving line I'm still using. I mounted it on a sunny corner of the back deck where it was easily reached and not a problem to mow around. Sometime later, after the deck became shady, I moved it into the back yard.

We've had to move it a time or two since then to make way for a garden and it's badly in need of restringing now, but there's still something about sheets and towels dried on the line. The sun and the wind combine to give them a feeling and fragrance never duplicated by the finest dryer sheets, no matter what they claim.

During the summer, it gets a lot of use and I save a lot of energy with my solar/wind dryer. The bigger Es help me by handing me clothespins when I'm hanging up clothes, and picking the pins from the ground to return to the basket when I'm getting them in. They do the same thing at home where my daughter was also drawn to return to occasional free drying, in season.

This time of year, however, I'll admit I'm gradually shifting back to the electric model. Only an ideal forecast will have me toting wet household laundry to the line.

The items on the line now are towels and beds from my kennel, which can hang for a couple of days or until I take a notion to get them in. Rain won't hurt them and the wind just softens them, so I can leave them overnight without fear of rain bleach or clothespin stains. The clothesline probably won't see real, regular use again until spring.

But I'll be looking forward to those sun-scented sheets and wind softened towels, even while I'm enjoying the convenience of doing laundry without freezing on the coming winter days. Not because it's the green thing to do, but because it's a part of who I am and who I'll be teaching my granddaughters to be.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Shaking the Family Tree

One of the things I hate most about being part of a fractured family is losing a connection to the past for my children and grandchildren.

I know that connection, an ability to reach back and remember things about grandparents and even those we never met, is probably long lost by many of today's families as they scatter across the globe, divorce and remarry, have steps and formers, and all too often lose the ties to what came before.

It's a part of the rise in popularity in family reunions -- a search for those people who share your genetics, your eyes, your nose, your thick ankles and curly hair. It drives such efforts as Ancestry.com and computer programs to track and recreate the generations that came before, to somehow get to know these people that helped shape us in ways no plastic surgeon or psychiatrist can touch.

I grew up so surrounded by that sense of family so thick that it sometimes seemed I could not see myself. Yet, as I grow older, I wish that I had more of it to hang onto. I wish I had more of it to share with my children. But even if I had all that I could have gathered from my own family, a divorce 20 years ago and a father who made no effort to stay in their lives means they would still have only half the picture.

One of my treasures -- the things I would actually try to grab if my house were on fire -- is a small photo album full of old pictures. Some are childhood pictures of me and my family. Others go back further, to my grandparents as young people, and then further up my family tree on my father's side.

Looking at them sometimes I can say, yes, there's my nose. There's my thick, wavy hair. There's my feet and ankles. Surrounded by these people growing up I gathered stories of my past that I know need to be preserved. It's an exercise I think we might all need to undertake for ourselves and for those who will follow. We think it doesn't matter, but there may well come a point where we wish we remembered and wish that we had told the younger people around us those stories we took for granted.

My paternal grandparents were about a generation ahead of my mother's parents. Edgar Jefferson Beamer and Mazie Burcham Beamer both lost their mothers at a young age and grew up in the Coal Creek/Crooked Creek area of Carroll County, Va. My grandfather never attended school, although Mazie was a graduate of the one-room schoolhouse near her home. They married in the 1930s and my granny lost her father and her first born daughter within a few short days of one another in the early '30s. Their tombstones reminded us of the sad tale many times as we grew. They raised a daughter, Betty, and a younger son, my father Bobby, and my grandfather farmed and worked in one of the furniture factories that once made Galax, Va. a boom town. I still remember the Christmas gatherings for the employees when they brought along the family and we had a visit with Santa Claus and went home with a holiday stocking full of items way better than today's children get with an overpriced happy meal. Granny tended her garden, grew flowers known throughout the area, took care of the nursery at church for decades, crocheted and weaved rag rugs on a barn loom in the basement. She read a Bible devotional aloud each morning before breakfast, and, in addition to the most wonderful angel biscuits and strawberry shortcake, cooked a lot of cornbread, made liver pudding, and served Pa scrambled eggs and brains for breakfast in hog killing season.

My maternal grandparents were almost the polar opposites of the hardscrabble people I find in the pictures from my dad's side of the family, despite so many things in common. I think they were often town people, perhaps more educated and certainly living differently. Like Pa and Granny, Mary Tipton Hundley lost her mother when she was young. Instead of finishing her childhood on a family farm, however, her stepmother sent her away to work. She grew up in doctor's homes and boarding houses, cooking and taking care of children from Hillsville, Va., to Mount Airy, N.C. She and her siblings were scattered and although she stayed close to her sisters, her brother disappeared for decades. My grandfather, Harden Booker Bunn, had the only parents I ever knew as great-grandparents. He dropped out of school to work, so neither of them graduated, yet I remember they always had magazines and studied the Bible regularly. They married at the tender ages of 16 and 18 and while still young had my mom, Evelyn, and uncle, Charles. I grew up on what was a portion of their original family farm in a house built on land Pa gave my parents. Ma Mary always worked outside the home in the textile mills in the same towns where she once held a different sort of job, grew a big garden, and kept a spotless house. After his long commute to the arsenal in Radford, Pa didn't have time for farming until he retired, but he held onto the land which I grew up rambling with my dogs. My little brother and I occasionally stayed at their house after school or rode with Pa for a treat at the country store when he got home from work. Ma crocheted and sewed the most wonderful doll clothes for me. She was always ready to try something new (like color TV). Their house was stocked with oatmeal cookies and candy bars, and Ma made the best dumplings and chocolate pies. I have no pictures of any of her family, and only a few of Pa's, so despite the overall sense of closeness, I do have missing pieces.

My parents met at church when they were practically babies and married at the similarly young ages of 17 and 20 while my mom had a year of high school remaining, although my dad had just finished a four-year stint in the army. She did graduate and I came along about a year later, followed in almost exactly two years by my brother. She stayed home with us until after I started school (I really have no idea of my brother's situation at that time), when she went to work in the elementary school library, became a teacher's aide and eventually returned to college and earned her master's degree. My dad had a job at the arsenal with my grandpa for years when I was young, then quit and ran his own garage until he semi-retired.

Those are the bare bones of my family tree. The bits and pieces I grew up knowing, sometimes without being told. Yet even those essential bits and pieces are missing for so many people. And as keenly as I sometimes feel the absence of the small pieces I'm missing, I know they must also feel that sense of loss at times.

As I feel the urge, I expect I'll be sharing some bits of that history, as much to preserve it as to entertain any reader. The wonderful medium of the internet means that what I know can be shared with my cousins and relatives scattered across other states, to be added to their knowledge or perhaps passed on as well.

I'm glad I had the chance to know the people before me as well as I did and the opportunity to hear some of their memories first hand. It's a gift not everyone is given, or that everyone takes the time to savor.



Friday, November 22, 2013

Arghhh, Chicken By-Products

When most people think of chicken by-products, they probably think of the waste from processing a chicken from live bird into ready to cook.

That would be the same kind of by-products I once saw slopped all over the street and one unfortunately parked vehicle when a truckload leaving a local processing plant braked too suddenly in town and didn't have its load well covered.

Lately I'm distressed by a different kind of by-product. The kind the live birds produce.

If you live in a rural part of a poultry producing area such as I do, chances are good you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you even drive in those areas, there are days when you know what I'm talking about.

For lack of a better term, it's chicken poop.

Not just a little bit of chicken poop, but a lifetime of poop from thousands of birds who spend their existence in an enclosed barn eating a feed that makes them grow faster. All they do is eat, drink and poop, and by the time their short lives are over and it's time to clean the barn and make way for the next round of birds, there's quite an aroma.

It's not the ammonia smell my own chicken house gets when it needs cleaning -- I've got way more ventilation and my birds are technically free ranging. It's aged and intense and hangs over the chicken houses like a yellow fog of toxic fumes.

I feel sorry for the people who unwittingly move into homes near where these barns are located, and even more so for those who have the barns erected near their homes, since as an agricultural use it's not regulated very closely by the county.

Thankfully, I'm not in either of those positions, although I guess like the farmers who raise the birds, you probably get accustomed to the smell after a while.

Near me they raise tobacco. I'm surrounded by acre after acre of green growing tobacco in Carolina red fields of turned soil. It isn't hard to live around. There are periods of intense traffic during the planting and harvest, but it's no inconvenience. And the old bulk barns where it was once cured are picturesque touches in the landscape. The men who work the land are my neighbors and friends.

There are, however, several uncultivated fields down the short, dead end road where I live. Periodically, the landowner cuts a field of hay, but most of the land is overgrown in brush and weeds that turn into a real challenge during allergy season. Sometimes he musters up the time to cut those fields with a bush hog, littering the road with tossed weeds and sticks and eliminating the stands of blackberries and goldenrods.

This year, however, the two nearby field,s which were aging peach orchards when I moved in, had been overgrown lots for two summers. A couple of weeks ago, he had them cut. Well, I will miss the blackberries, but otherwise, it was an improvement.

Then despite the fact that the land is not grazed or cultivated in any way, and that there are three homes right next to the tiny plots, he decided it would be a good place for some of that aforementioned chicken by-product.

I noticed I heard a truck running all evening and at one point saw a cloud of dust, but thought nothing of it until I got home from church that night. When we got out of the car, the smell was so thick it made my eyes water.

When I walked the dogs the next morning I found the source of the odor. And not only were the two small fields coated in manure, feathers, and if past experience is any indicator, bits of long dead birds, so was the road. Some of dogs I was walking thought those smelly bits in the road would be tasty chews. We wound up doing a short sprint through the smelly terrain.

And a quick retreat back into the house.

I understand spreading chicken manure. It's a natural fertilizer, although when it hasn't been composted it can actually provide a bad ratio of nutrients for healthy plant growth. Farmers may find it a cheaper alternative to commercial fertilizer and those who grow the birds need to get rid of it.

Let me rephrase that. I understand spreading it on agricultural land. Not on a small, uncultivated piece of property between two houses, or on its twin across the road. Nothing grows there except for weeds anyway, so what, exactly, is being fertilized? Can I look for a bumper crop of blackberries next summer?

The smell is somewhat dissipated now, so it's not quite so bad, at least if the wind is blowing. At the same time I anticipate having to argue with a certain dog every time we pass the fields until we get a good rain.

It's not like I'm going to say anything to the landowner, but I just wish I understood why he did it. And for a few days I'm reminded to be thankful that they can only spread the stuff a couple of times a year, and I don't live near where it is generated.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Kindle, Can't Live Without It

If someone had told me 18 months ago that I would be hopelessly attached to my Amazon Kindle, I'd have told them they were crazy.

Before the first Kindle Fire came out, my daughter, who with two little ones to take along when she went out was already a dedicated Amazon shopper, sang its praises. She had come across news about it and almost wished she did not already have an iPad. She told me it would be more affordable, a great internet tool, books to read, etc. It didn't lodge in my brain as something I must have.

First of all, I'm a book lover. As far back as I can remember, books have been a constant in my life. I've ranged far in wide in my literature choices and sources, but I couldn't imagine giving up holding a book to read it on an electronic device.

I discovered science fiction, and more particularly Ray Bradbury in one of my elementary school literature books. I distinctly remember the delight of reading "All Summer in a Day" when, having completed my assignment, I read stories that weren't on our reading list. Recalling the classroom, I was in the third or maybe fifth grade (I had the same teacher both years).

In the fourth grade our teacher read us the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. After lunch we had a quiet time when she read. Of course, I couldn't wait for her pace and had to read the books on my own.

Sometime in middle school, my mother began bringing me books from the Wytheville Community College library and bookstore. I read Jane Goodall's In the Shadow of Man, and was briefly convinced I wanted to follow in her footsteps. I obtained my first well-worn paperback copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy which I treasured until the covers wore off.

I love not only reading, but having books. I adored the Scholastic Reader book orders and saved my money to be able to buy books and posters. At the end of the school year I would order books to be delivered during the summer, when there was no school library to supplement my insatiable desire to read. I still have a lot of them on the shelves in the girls' playroom. Their publication dates are in the early '70s, so I was not yet in my teens. Yet they have followed me for all the years since, through moves when cherished toys were left behind and divorces when I tossed a lot of the accumulated debris from my life.

How could I give up my wonderful books for a Kindle?

Then, last August during our tax free days in North Carolina, I happened to encounter the display in my local Walmart. (I have had a bad experience with this purchase, so recommend if buying a Kindle to get it from the source and be sure to get a warranty worth the paper it is written on, but that's another unfinished rant.) I had money, I wanted to reward myself for my hard work over the summer, and I bought it.

It wasn't love at first sight, although being able to browse the internet without a computer or the need for a magnifying glass made it quickly attractive. A few choice apps, like Facebook, had me interacting with it regularly. A benefit of Amazon Prime let me borrow a book and I tried it for reading. It was pretty handy. No bookmark required. I learned I could access library books through the Kindle and borrow them electronically.

Then I discovered a free app that would suggest free books every day. Soon I had a library of over 400 books. There was no end to my reading capacity and I no longer had to save my money or go to the library.

My Kindle and I became inseparable. The little device was never far from my side as I used it for shopping (Ebay, Amazon, etc.), socializing and reading. It went along on doctor's visits and trips where I might wind up sitting in the car for a while. I have two versions of the Bible and an devotional apps as well, so it even goes with me church. And no, I do not Facebook during service, even though we do have Wifi at church.

Right off the top of my head, I have no idea how many books I now own in electronic format. Only once has some glitch made me lose my place -- far better than the frequent "Where'd my bookmark go?" that I'm sure to encounter if I put down an actual book around my house. They're stored in the Amazon Cloud, so I don't have to wonder where I will have space for them and I never have to dust them.

Oh! My! Gosh!

I still use the Kindle Books and Tips app most days, just to check for freebies, and I get a daily email from BookBub listing bargain books and freebies. I've tried out a few other sites through Facebook, but those are the only two that I still use. My library continues to grow and I still consider myself a book lover -- I've just redefined books to include the electronic format.

I'm so addicted to my Kindle Fire, that when Amazon dropped the price on the HD model this fall after removing the camera and making a few tweaks, I went ahead and bought an HD model although I'd never had any problems with the first one. I thought I'd be able to share it more with the girls, who were already enjoying a bunch of educational apps on it every chance they got.

That turned out to be a good move, as my original Kindle Fire inexplicably quit accepting a charge or working at all a few weeks ago (back to earlier rant and the warranty I thought I had). Because I'd already upgraded, and everything I had on one was in cyberspace, transferring my content to the new one was no issue at all.

Was $200 for a product that only lasted a year the first time too much? That's less than $20 a month, heck no. I bought a warranty through Amazon for the second one and expect better service, but even if it didn't the lower price means it was about $12 a month. Really, that's cheap entertainment, however I use it.

So yes, I love my Kindle Fire HD and recommend it to anyone giving a tablet a thought, or any reader who hasn't even considered it. Thanks Amazon!



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child?

I don't believe in spanking any more as a general rule, although sometimes I have to fight my inner bully to remember that.

Although it's been a gradual shift for me, a barrage of Facebook images in the last few days made me want to speak out. Just this morning there were two on my news feed that praised the value of spanking at home and in school.

Sorry, I can't agree any more.

I was spanked growing up and no, I don't believe I suffered any deep psychological or physical scarring as a result. In fact, I don't actually remember any spanking, although I do remember waiting on one that was to be delivered after company left. My brother and I had gotten into a knock down, drag out and I wound up bitten. We were both awaiting punishment, but I don't remember the delivery.

When I was raising my children, they were also spanked. In general, I don't remember those spankings either. I do remember slapping my teenage son in the face when he stood and cursed me, and I expect the feelings that triggered that were behind most of the spankings as well. I felt frustrated and that nothing was getting through. I don't think smacking him helped and I really don't think most of the spankings helped either, other than to provide a vent for my frustration.

So despite the challenges of dealing with three preschoolers, I make it my goal not to spank. I'm not 100 percent successful yet, but when I do administer a swat, I feel like I've failed.

It wasn't long ago that I was part of the spanking club. A tantrum, failure to obey timeout rules, doing what I had expressly told them not to do, they could count on a spanking. Sometimes afterward I would wonder if the swat had been too hard and if I wasn't really just a bully disguised as a grandmother. After all, I was using my size and strength to make them do what I wanted, even if they didn't agree or understand.

Then I saw someone else doing the same thing at a restaurant. A tantrum from the child was provoking a tantrum from the father, and his was really more disturbing than the child's. Threats of a "busted ass," weren't quieting the little one down and a swat at the table only changed his rambunctious behavior into loud tears. It wasn't enough to be considered abuse, but it was still ugly.

While it was not something I had ever done, in public any way, it was like watching my own behavior in the mirror, and I vowed to change.

Prayerfully I began to address issues that were mine, not those of little girls who don't know a better way to manage their emotions and behavior. More and more, I'm able to catch myself before screaming back, before swatting a bottom -- before doing things I regret just minutes after doing them.

At 4, E1 is the biggest challenge. Her emotional scale is so easily tipped and on any given day I'm likely to find myself facing rage, tears, an out and out tantrum, or an assault on one of her sisters, or maybe all of the above. Sitting down to a lunch she insists she doesn't want to eat is a good example. What begins as "I don't want this" dissolves into shrieks and tears. More recently, instead of smacking her tiny bottom, which truthfully fixed nothing, I took her away from the table and we took time to breathe and calm down. We negotiated how much she had to eat and went back to the table. She ate without a further blowup.

I know, that sounds so ideal, but it has happened. She actually finished the food she insisted she didn't want to eat, because once she started eating, it was something she liked. Yesterday when she said she didn't want the can of pasta I opened for lunch, there was not even a blowup. I just advised her to eat a few bites and pretty soon the plate was clean.

Next time, we may be facing a replay of the removal from the table, but I think it won't be a constantly repeated exercise. I think by finding another way to deal with what is an emotional situation for her, we both learn. The emphasis is on both of us learning.

When I was a young mother, I was busy with so many things and managing so much other stress, that an uncooperative child was often the thing that pushed me over the top. Whether it was failing to pick up toys when asked to do so, or something really serious like dashing into a parking lot, a spanking was more about my inability to consider another option than it was about what they had done and their failure to mind. I cannot fault other people who face the same difficult situations and react the same way.

The additional level of maturity brought by age and experience and the degree of separation I have from my grandchildren's everyday needs is one of the reasons I'm able to negotiate my own emotional terrain a little more successfully. I don't have to worry about how I'm paying for the diapers on the baby's butt or the roof over their heads, all I have to focus on is their needs 8 hours a day. Surely I can be the mature one that long.

I think most grandparents likely go through that shift in their thinking, which may be one of the reasons people accuse their parents of loving their grandchildren more than their actual children. It's not that I let them get by with more, but that I manage how I react differently.

No, I'm not successful 100 percent of the time. Sometimes I react before taking that extra minute I need to be in control. Sometimes I catch myself just in time and turn what could have been a spanking into a "sit down and talk about what you did wrong." Sometimes I throw away the crayons, despite the fact they're screaming that they really will pick them up and not dump them out again, because I know even with their best intentions, tossing them is the only way I won't pick them up again. And sometimes their behavior is so over the top that a swat is the only way I've found to deal with it -- although I hope that will change over time as well.

So no, I don't want to be in the pro-spanking corner any more. I don't think the decline in our society is because we don't spank, it's because we don't take the time to do anything else either. We're working two or three jobs to make ends meet and buy our kids all the neat things they think they have to have when what they really need is more of us, more time to learn who they are instead of trying to be who their friends think they are, more conversation at the dinner table instead of texting or gaming, and more real learning instead of mindless homework just to pass a test.

It's easy to pass judgement and say if parents would just spank their kids like we were spanked, it would be better. But by and large, spanking was just a small part of the parenting process in which we were raised. Families and society have changed in radical ways and today's parents are still struggling to find the right balance without the easy guidelines that we had from our parents.

Instead of condemning parents who make the difficult choice not to spank, we need to be supportive and encourage them to find other ways to discipline and the time to make sure their children learn the lessons we seem to think were beat into us. We don't need to say a good spanking would fix that, because really, it won't.

Becoming a person who helps them understand life, like our parents and grandparents did in thousands of ways that are less memorable than the symbolic spanking will help change our children. Being yet another bully who forces them to do what we say through threats and violence isn't the answer.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I'm Jealous of the Other Grandma

I'm jealous of the other grandma.

Not every day mind you. Most days I'm quite happy with my role as the everyday, hands-on grandma.

But on a Friday at the end of another long week of mealtime debate, sisterly squabbles, diaper blowouts, and relaying three little girls from my house to other destinations, when the two oldest girls are excited about an overnight with their other grandma, I have to be honest. I'm a little jealous.

I know if she were being honest, she's probably jealous of me sometimes as well. I know if the roles were reversed I would be. It's nothing against her, because she's a wonderful nanny. It's just that she's more the grandma I would have expected to be, the cool nanny, the fun nanny.

Yes, I treasure my time with three little girls and there is a lot to be jealous for in my week. It's not all tantrums and potty trips and meltdowns (usually theirs) and who really slapped who. There's a lot of time just to soak up watching three little girls learn how to be sisters and play together, a lot of warm hugs and sweet sticky kisses, a lot of "I love you"s.

But sometimes there is so much it overwhelms me. Squeezed in among the things we have to do on a day to day basis and the schedule of meals and naps and taking care of my own business, the things that I always imagined doing seldom take place.

But when I stop and take a deep breath, I realize I'm not really jealous of Nanny either. Like me she fills a totally unique spot in the lives of three little girls that we both love. Because we are unique and different women, we balance one another. Between the two of us, we should be able to provide guidance and a good role model whatever kind of young women the girls grow into.

The other grandma that I'm really jealous of exists only in my mind where the perfect grandma lives. She no more lives in Boone, where Nanny spent the evening dealing with a wild boy in addition to two little girls, one of whom didn't sleep well, than she does at my house. My jealousy isn't directed at her, it's all about not being, every day, who I'd like to be and when I let it, those expectations for grandmotherhood can be quite depressing.

That other grandma is full of endless patience. She never loses it and throws away the crayons just because they've been broken into half inch pieces and poured out on the floor for the baby for the umpteenth time. No, she comes up with some clever craft and melts them into window hangers for her grandchildren.

She never says I can't when one of her grandchildren asks for anything. No, she finds some way to do it or convince the child it doesn't need to be done. And I'm sure she would never let the baby cry to be picked up because she had her hands full doing something else.

She prepares a healthy, colorful, tasty meal for every occasion that the children sit down to eat. The children, of course, eat it without getting it all over them or complaining, because the food is that perfect. She never relents and feeds them a lunch of pepperoni slices, cheese, crackers, carrots and baby food for dessert because they're hungry and she is going to cook a real meal for dinner. She never despairs because those crackers are eaten in tiny nibbles like a mouse, leaving them everywhere. She doesn't have to wonder if they are eating enough.

The other grandma entertains the older children with some wonderful craft every day and the children never color on the windows, or use markers on each other, or put glue in their hair.

If she feeds her grandchildren cookies for snack, they're homemade and fresh from the oven, every time. And the children help make them without throwing flour all over the kitchen or fighting over who gets to add the next ingredient.

When potty training, she never has to suppress the urge to treat them like a puppy and, just once, rub their nose in it. She's endlessly patient and knows exactly when a little one needs to make a potty stop. She never scolds a child who has been potty trained off and on for using her panties again. I'm sure she wouldn't let that child take a shower and clean herself up, even if that was finally the concept that made it all click for her.

She never has a dirty house, a harsh word, or a jealous thought about anyone either.

She never finishes a day tired and feeling vaguely guilty that she wasn't all she wanted to be for the three most precious people in her life.

But maybe, just maybe, she doesn't load a baby into a backpack and take three little girls and a kite into a dirty tobacco patch where they don't manage to fly the kite, but between the dirt and the kite's antics they're all entertained and happy for a while in the wind, and tired and dirty later.

Maybe she doesn't have a kennel full of dogs and let the 4-year-old help feed them and clean cages, because that might make a bigger mess than it eliminates. Who am I kidding? There will be food everywhere and at least one argument about who carries which bowls and feeds who.

Maybe she doesn't know to tell them about the different kind of tooth marks they find in an apple, or the tracks on the side of the road. Maybe they wouldn't go for walks in the woods and get scratched and dirty and carry leaves and nuts into her perfect house. Maybe she would avoid having to say no to carrying a preschooler, by not putting herself in that situation.

Maybe there's a lot her perfect world doesn't embrace as well, because it's too messy or just not part of her experience.

So when I find myself being jealous of the other grandma, I'll take a deep breath and remind myself that my granddaughters' other grandma isn't her either. That the other grandma who makes me feel less than what they need exists only in my head and not in theirs.

Whatever our successes of failures, we love the babies in our lives and the grandmas they have are perfect just as they are. Both of us. And even on bad days, when I've lost my cool or felt like a failure, there are moments of sunshine and forgiveness in a little girl's smile.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cleaning Up On Facebook

Facebook. It's far more than a way to connect with the world around us.

It's how we start our day.

Share our ups and downs.

Send pictures to family far away.

It's how we waste our spare minutes, promote our businesses, gather news and often gossip.

It can become too much and we can be bombarded with information we don't need as well as oversharing our own lives.

When I first lost my job and went from interacting with lots of people by phone and in person eight to 10 hours a day, to sitting home in the middle of winter, without even a neighbor in my line of sight, Facebook was a lifeline. I had limited options of inexpensive things to do with my time and I was lonely. I actively looked for people I knew. I played a host of games and went to forums where I could "friend" people all over the world playing the same games.

I'm ashamed to admit it now, but I think at one time I had over 1,000 friends, most of whom I knew nothing about and had no interaction with beyond Facebook games.

That fascination continued for many months, but gradually my life became more full of real things to do. My business grew and I had dogs to walk and/or groom. My first granddaughter changed from a mostly sleeping little lump of humanity to someone who wanted to explore the world and play. My virtual crops rotted in the fields and my animals went hungry. I quit responding to requests from friends. I missed all my bonuses.

Then I did my first Facebook purge. The number fell dramatically. Everyone was either a friend, someone I had found that I went to high school with, a friend of a friend, someone from church, a former coworker, or someone with whom I had interacted and discovered common interests. They were people I felt like, for the most part, I really knew.

But I still accepted friend requests from people who I didn't really know who thought they knew me, or who had a friend in common, etc. So my list fluctuated.

During the last political campaign I lost a lot of friends. Some I unfriended. Some I think unfriended me. There were a few that were just removed from my news feed, and I suspect a few of my friends did the same. I've tried to restore them since the political furor is past. I and some of my friends felt strongly about the election and wound up sharing a lot of posts that weren't always in agreement. When posted by someone I genuinely liked and cared about, I accepted that it was their point of view. A few postings from someone I only sort of knew, and they were history. Anyone who commented negatively on my posts had to be really close to survive the culling. Civil disagreements were allowed between friends.

So while some people boast at their numbers of friends or actively work to grow their friends list, I've been working to cut mine down. I'm almost down to 150 and kind of envy my friends who are below 100. I've cut down on the number of pages I like that appear in my news feed. I'm trying to make Facebook work for me at this point in my life, instead of allowing it to overwhelm me.

When I announced in a recent status update that I was below 200, I had a number of friends send me messages that they were glad they made the cut. A few were still concerned that I might cut them. Others said that yes, they too made periodic cleanups of their friends list.

In the wake of those responses, I realized this is apparently a common phenomenon and decided some clear guidelines might be in order instead of just aiming for some arbitrary number. They're the ones I used and the ones I'll use going forward as well. I'll try to employ them when adding friends as much as possible. If you're faced with the same issues, feel free to use them yourself or take a few minutes and think up your own. If you find some I haven't thought of, by all means share.

1. Am I related to this person?

2. Do I interact with this person in real life? Thankfully, there are a number of people who aren't just Facebook friends, but are people I see when I go out and it's fun to know what they've been up to. Are they someone I know from my earlier work days that I like to stay in touch with? There are only a handful of these people in my life. Did I meet them through keeping my current work and discover common interests? This list, on the other hand, continues to grow.

3. Do we have mutual friends that have brought us together? I maintain a Facebook friendship with a few friends of my daughters because the three Es interact with their children and I like to know what's going on in their lives as well. I decided I didn't need to be friends with the teenage children of people I know, because it felt a little creepy.

4. Did some no longer recalled quirk of Facebook connect us and I found that I liked the status updates and comments on my news feed? If I've commented on their status, or they've commented on mine, even if we don't really know each other, then I still consider them a friend. I have one of those who lives just a few miles from me and knows people I know. There's another in New Hampshire that I have no idea where or how we connected but who also has dogs, grandchildren and tattoos and who I really enjoy posts and comments from.

5. Are they someone from high school who I was really close to that I was delighted to find on Facebook because it gave us a chance to catch up? Just before what should have been our 30-year class reunion, I actively sought out members of the CCHS Class of '79. A lot of them are on Facebook. Some of them I still recognize. I found a former best friend in Northern Virginia with a brood of children and grandchildren. Another I found just a few miles away. After subsequent purges, however, I think there may only be two or three still hanging on and neither are those besties.

Even if a "friend" meets one of these standards, there are some tests I applied that will get a person cut from my friends list.

1. Have they posted outrageous, negative comments on my status updates or things I share? Really, disagreeing is fine, but if they are a jackass, friends, neighbors and even family can be unfriended. There are people I can hold a friendly conversation with just fine who feel the need to be a totally different person in the world of cyberspace. They are no longer Facebook friends.

2. Do I really care about this person's life? This is a more subjective evaluation of content. I'm sorry to say that this cut catches a lot of people who are real people in my life. I recognize them, but quite truthfully don't want to keep up with their families because we probably never have a conversation anywhere other than reading Facebook status updates. Why should I look through their status updates to find people I really want to know about?

3. Are they just looking to build a friends list? I recently accepted a friend request from a person I had previously unfriended, only to receive a "like my page" request immediately. I then visited his home page and found he had more than 800 friends. I suspect the friend request was just a tool to grow the other page and he will likely disappear from my friend list. Yes, there are people who need to have hundreds of friends who stay on my friend list -- people like my pastor who need to be able to connect with a lot of people because of their position in life. I have a lot of friends with what I consider a top heavy friend list, but as long as they pass other qualifications they'll survive a cut.

4. Do they constantly share other pages, but never anything about themselves? If this is the case, depending on other factors, they may survive as friends but no longer appear in my news feed. I can only handle so many grumpy cats, cute kittens, etc. If we interact outside Facebook, we can still be friends, but I won't keep up with their flow of shared information. No real interaction and they will be cut.

5. Are they creepers? Only immediate family is allowed to stay connected to my page as a Facebook creeper. I do have family scattered about and I know we all use Facebook as a way to keep up. It's a way they can see the babies, know what's going on in my life, etc., without a phone call. But if someone I once knew reconnects with me on Facebook, but never posts anything, I begin to feel like they're peering in the windows of my life while hiding in the shadows. There's a reason they're called creepers, after all. Anyone that never posts or comments will soon stop seeing my status updates.

I'm sure I've missed a lot of good ideas that might help my list be leaner. The most severe option, of course, is to deactivate my page and start over, as a lot of people do, but I won't go there. Despite my attempts to minimize, I still need my morning Facebook fix before starting my "real" day.



Sunday, November 17, 2013

Living with Addiction

I live with addiction.

I'm not an addict, but I'm surrounded by it and some days feel overwhelmed by my lack of understanding and inability to control it in those I love.

I give credit to Al-Anon, where I spent a lot of tearful nights a dozen or so years ago, for allowing me to come to any kind of terms with it. It was there I learned a lot of lessons that still require reminders, all these years later, even though they have been drummed into my head by life.

Although I may not completely grasp how someone can do something that so plainly wrecks their lives, at least to my "sober" way of thinking, I understand it is not as simple as choosing to stop and I realize that they do not see the behavior with the same objectivity as the people around them. The compulsion whispers to them in a special, seductive voice that only they can hear. If I began to lose that sense of understanding, all I have to do is get into a conversation with someone who is high and have them tell me all the wonderful things about what they are doing. Seriously, I could share the text messages if I needed to do so.

Addiction is not a choice. It's some quirk in genetic programming that can cripple generation after generation, or land on one sibling while leaving another free. It isn't about a lack of self control, or about loving the substance more than you. It is about seeing the world through a different perspective in which that substance plays an all important role as a friend and comforter and is not the barrier to a complete life that the people around them see.

It can be food, video games, gambling, the internet, pornography, medications, alcohol or illegal narcotics. It can also be tobacco and caffeine, although people generally don't let those addictions interfere with life, although tobacco, at least, bears some of the negative effects of other addictions. Whatever it is, it controls the life of the person addicted, keeping them away from loved ones, affecting their ability to work, causing mental and physical ailments or injuries, always hurting those around them. It can cause people to lie, cheat, steal and kill, sometimes unintentionally.

For the people around an addict, it can cause a special kind of insanity. There's the emotional roller coaster of good days/bad days. Sometimes an addict can go days or even weeks without succumbing to their addiction. It's so easy to think, "They're better. They're doing so good." It can be a game of control -- pouring out the alcohol, or trying to drink a bigger portion (as if they would not get more) or flushing the drugs, disconnecting the internet. You feel like you should be able to fix the situation, more so because the addict will probably tell you it's your fault. It's a vicious hamster maze of a life.

Although I still deal with addiction in multiple family members, in various stages, with varying degrees of severity and to varying substances, I encountered the harsh realities of life with an addict with my second ex-husband. Suffering from abuse of all types from people around him as a child, he had turned to alcohol and narcotics to escape himself. I didn't marry him thinking I could fix him - I was unaware of many things that he kept hidden until our marriage was unraveling, and I thought he could put aside alcohol as easily as I did. I did not realize it was a way of life for him, or that he frequently needed more.

During our marriage I explored all the options of that hamster maze from one dead end to another. I paid for a stay in rehab, two totaled cars, and multiple trips to the courthouse. I suffered domestic violence, more afraid of him when I made him leave than I was when I could monitor his level of use. During one of his stabs at sobriety, I went along to the AA meeting and discovered Al-Anon next door. I discovered a certain level of insanity among many of the long-term members of that group as well who lived with practicing alcoholics. Women who lived with men who set fire to their homes, who could never be counted on for anything. I discovered I didn't want to follow that path and was finally able to throw in the towel.

He moved away and remarried, but I doubt he was ever successful at changing because he probably never really admitted the depths of his pain or faced his addiction. Recovery for an addict means admitting they aren't in control, when often they think their use is the one thing they do control. It means admitting weakness and asking for help, from professionals, from a "higher power," from other former addicts. It means giving up an old "friend" that would always make things "better," changing where you go and what you do, adopting a whole different way of life. I cannot imagine how tough that would be. He killed himself several years ago, something he had regularly threatened to do -- painful evidence that he had not been able to change.

Now those lessons of Al-Anon still come in handy and after living with them so many years, they are a little easier to exercise. I accept the limitations on my relationships that are brought on by addiction. I try not to provoke pointless arguments in which I know what what I'm saying will be transformed into condemnation, although sometimes just an expression of concern and love can be seen that way. I try not to provide support that enables. I try to avoid people who are using because my sanity is more precious than being in their presence. I still love and care, but I don't beat myself up over not being able to express those feelings the way I would like. While I don't cut them out of my life, I do focus on the positive people around me instead.

I know in the weeks ahead that shell of composure may well be tested by the sometimes forced gaiety of holiday gatherings where not everyone shows up sober. Often it creates too much drama to ask them to leave, or I'm not the hostess and instead may need to make my excuses. I also know I'm far from alone in looking at the holidays with a degree of trepidation for that reason. Far too many of us deal with addiction in the people we love and admitting we are helpless in the face of that addiction doesn't make it easier to tolerate. There are times when we have to just walk away and times when we may have to show someone the door. We don't have to sacrifice our happiness for theirs.

If you're in that same boat, I hope you can do what I hope to do and build your holiday around the other people in your life. I'll focus on family members who don't bring along their addiction like a knife they may slip into your heart when you're least suspecting it. When they are included in the gathering, I won't leave myself open for a cutting word or ugly display.

And if you're dealing with addiction, from either side of the coin, get help. Don't suffer in prideful silence thinking your problems are so unique, your addiction so terrible -- underneath the pain and the layers of lies, there's a common thread to be unraveled. Talking with other people who are unraveling that thread and walking the same path can help. It can bring sanity and it can you help find freedom from addiction -- whether you are the addict or the person who loves one.