Sunday, May 7, 2017

Life Goes On

There are times in your life when those words are exactly the truth you don't want to hear. While there are other times we mourn something or someone lost, I bet you, like me, think first of those excruciatingly and exquisitely painful first days after a loved one has passed away. You feel so much like something inside of you is gone. Irreplaceable and irrecoverable.  Yet, the world keeps turning on its trip around the sun. Grass grows. People go on about their business. And one day you find yourself awestruck that... life goes on.

Photo credit to her Daddy, Rory Feek.
I had that experience this morning. It was this simple picture of a little girl with a great big smile shared on the Joey+Rory Facebook page. She reminded me, in this moment her Daddy captured and shared with the world, of another little girl with an equally infectious smile and zest for living.  But it was his caption that while he could usually see more of her Momma today he saw himself that made me catch my breath.  The little girl in the photo is Indy. The other girl, the only child of a couple I knew in Georgia, is Kaydee. Most often when I see a picture of Kaydee, I think she looks like her Daddy but every now and again her expression is purely a reflection of her Mother. There was one just this past week that kept me staring and remembering the ultimate kindness, generosity, and cheerful words of a friend gone before we ever got to know each other nearly well enough.

You see, besides the huge grins and amazing spirit these girls have in common, Indy and Kaydee both lost their Mothers to breast cancer in the last year. I don't know a whole lot about the kind of cancer that took Joey Feek but the one that stole away Kaydee's sweet Momma is an insidious and stealthy killer for which there is no cure. Her cancer was one that masquerades as a host of other diseases making it easy to overlook and misdiagnose. One of the Atlanta television stations recently did a feature story on Inflammatory Breast Cancer that explains there's no lump or tumor to show up on a mammogram, only a reddish patch that looks a lot like a heat rash and the grim truth, that while treatment can slow it down, this cancer kills 100% of the time.

While we mourn the loss of their Mommas and marvel at the resiliency and acceptance of little girls like Indy and Kaydee, we find that truly life goes on.

With or without you, life goes on.

Note to self:  Choose to participate. Accept what is, work to fix what needs fixing, find your zest... Find your smile. Do it every single day.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Always & Forever Mama's Jacky

I am so glad Jack is mine!  And so thankful Derek found him on eBay and insisted we go get him when my heart was hurting over having to return Roscoe to the shelter and I really didn't want to "replace" him the same day.  Jack has become such a friend and blessing!!  And it doesn't hurt that he has the cutest personality, and hence, lots of silly little stories...

Waiting on a treat with rapt attention in May 2014...
Jack is a lover!

Were there a pillow under his chin here, this is the view I wake up to pretty much each morning - his nose.  With his head stretched out along side mine and his hot breath in my eyeball is how we frequently welcome the day.  All night long we sleep with some part of him touching me but usually along toward morning he migrates toward the top of the bed almost like a guardian angel watching for me to wake up.  (His thoughts might be more like "Get up and feed me!" but I can always imagine right?)  Then as time moves on, Jack is the boy most likely to come rest his chin on either my lap or chest and gaze at me for loves and kisses.  Especially if they come with a little treat!  And if I'm sad, he's the first in line to lick away the tears and kiss it all better.  You really couldn't ask for a sweeter canine companion. I ask him sometimes just how they got so much sugar in one puppy...

Jack is my protector!

One afternoon there was a white cat wandering along the treeline out back.  All the boys saw it and starting barking their heads off... but Jacky was all set to protect me from this threatening intruder.  He was growling and down in his attack stance and all the hair along the ridge of his back was standing straight up!  For them to bark at birds, the occasional cottontail or even leaves moving in the breeze isn't unusual... but for my little man to get this worked up?  It got my attention.  I stood back and watched with some amusement as the cat nonchalantly made his way through the trees and up through the yard of one of the houses behind us perfectly unaware of the ruckus he (or maybe it's a she?) was causing.  Once the kitty was out of sight, the boys all settled down.  Poor Jack's back legs were shaking so hard I wondered for a minute how he stayed standing!  He was scared out of his mind but would have gone right to battle to keep me safe!!

Jack is a giant!

A sleepy Jacky... all that growing is tiring!
My baby, the last of the dogs to reach the birthday anniversary every year, will celebrate his fourth birthday in July.  He's been visibly "taller" than his bestest buddy, Lightning, since he was a year old and I was sure he would fill out some.  But just a couple of days ago, I wondered if he'd gotten taller still! Gizmo can walk underneath him without crouching down at all.  Line the three of them up side by side and it's like a staircase... Jack has the longest legs! But he still won't jump and has to be boosted into the back of the car.

Jack is a clown!

A rousing match of mouth wrestling is in progress.
The way my boys play can be a little unnerving to the uninitiated... I sort of like to call this shot "The Gaping Jaws of Hell." It's Lightning and Jack playing together - mouth wrestling. They never actually bite each other, just open their mouths wide and growl and make other unusual vocalizations as part of a full body contact wrestling match.  Even when they put their mouth over the other's head or neck or other reachable body part, their jaws never close and their body language, wagging tail and happy facial expressions, tells me they are having fun.  This isn't how Jack usually plays with Gizmo, though.  And that's much to Gizzy's dismay.  It's almost like Jacky recognizes that Giz is only half his size and he spends a lot more time down on his elbows or rolling around wrestling in a gentler way.

This is Jack shortly after we brought him home.  Lightning was so excited to have a new puppy and turned into the best big brother/babysitter... His face seemed to say "A puppy!!!  Thank you Mommy for getting me the greatest toy ever made!!"

Baby Jack... He still fit in my arms and on my lap!


And this is him just a couple of months ago...  Just like all Mommies, I'm asking "why must they grow up so fast?"

Big boy Jack... but still my baby!

I sure do love you, baby boy!!

A Tale of Two Soups

In the past few months I've been introduced to a few Pennsylvania Dutch recipes that have an unfamiliar component called a Rivvel. I haven't quite decided if I like them or not, but I am intrigued enough to want to play with the recipe. A few days ago, Jason's Mom made a big pot of Potato Soup. Potato Soup... with Rivvels.

First appearances were very much like the potato soup I am familiar with and love. But the taste was a bit different. And the texture didn't feel like the thick and silky yumminess I crave on a cold wintery day. I'm not saying it was bad, just different.

I guess this is a good time to stop and explain what a Rivvel is.

It's a kind of free form noodle, or dumpling, depending on who you ask. On their own, they make me think very much of the Spaetzle I always got with my Vienerschnitzel at Seigfried's when I lived in Salt Lake City. But in soup, I'm struggling to love them.  I found this recipe for soup online at cooks.com that explains how to make them.

RIVVEL SOUP  
2 c. unsifted flour
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
4 qt. chicken broth
2 c. corn
Combine flour, salt and egg together and mix with fingers until crumbly. Drop rivvels (little noodles) into broth. Add corn and simmer 10 to 15 minutes. A rivvel is a "little lump" or noodle.

Photo from fotosearch.com
Switch the broth for milk and corn for potatoes and it's pretty much the soup she made. She's also made a version with navy beans and a bit of shaved ham. Searching, I found another site that called the recipe Amish and said it was a Depression-era way to stretch common (read "inexpensive") pantry items into a meal that would satisfy lots of hungry tummies. Add a few crackers and you have starch on starch on starch, so fill tummies it would!

The soup I had in mind when she said Potato Soup takes a bit more prep work to bring it all together...

KATHY'S CREAM OF POTATO SOUP
In a stock pot or Dutch oven, bring 2 +/- pounds of cubed potatoes to a boil in just enough salted water to barely cover. Cook until fork tender.
Meanwhile, in a saute pan, melt 5 Tbl butter and add a chopped onion and an equal amount of thinly sliced celery and cook until translucent.  Add 3 Tbl of white all-purpose flour and stir until well combined. Cook for 2 minutes longer so you don't have a raw flour taste in your finished soup. Scrape into boiling potatoes and stir to combine and work out any lumps from the rue.  Reduce heat and add milk and/or heavy cream. Simmer, stirring often, until thick and creamy - don't let it boil after adding the milk because milk scorches easily. You may need more as it thickens to get the right consistency. When vegetables are tender, add black pepper to taste. Adjust for salt.
To serve, ladle into bowls. Top with a dollop of sour cream, some crispy crumbled bacon, chopped chives and grated cheddar cheese.

Oh yum!  I'm hungry now...

The Rock Piles of Appalachia

One of the more charming aspects of living in Appalachia are the stories. When I first heard John Denver sing that "...life is old there" (Country Roads, 1971) it was a truth I didn't have the means to appreciate. Yet. I'm learning that now through the sights and sounds and tastes and endless stories.

Everything has a story here... even the rock piles.

Most often the ones I see have a logical and evident explanation. They've been chiseled and then dry stacked as fences, retaining walls, foundations, stairs, road surfaces and structures. The early American settlers were surely not strangers to hard physical work. Think what it took to heft some of those stones into place even using cantalever!

A partially collapsed retaining wall. These are holding back terraces
which demarcate property lines on the downward side of a hill in
Mount Savage, MD.  If only it were mine... I would love to restore
this charming feature!


The old springhouse on the same property.  Time and neglect and [effective
though historically insensitive] rennovations have left it ravaged almost
beyond repair but how I would like to try...


































You might be wondering what a "springhouse" is. I'm going to call it a necessity of both early American life and for those seeking a self-sufficient lifestyle not so tied to today's utility grid. The most basic purpose of a springhouse is to cover a spring with a simple, usually just one room, structure to keep the water clean and potable. It keeps out fallen leaves and animals that could introduce infectious bacteria to the water source. The cold water and stone construction keep a springhouse cool year round so it also provides refrigeration to store foods like cured meats, fruit, vegetables, and dairy products safely away from predators.

And then sometimes you randomly find a huge pile of stacked rocks out in the middle of the forest.  It's neat and ordered and shows intelligent design in its construction. It just doesn't make sense in context of its location. At least not with how the locale is used today. And since Appalachia has been continually populated by uncounted cultures for thousands of years we are left to speculate about the purpose these rocks served and any meanings attributed to them in the distant past. Couple that with a landscape that holds onto the secrets of what may hide deep within its volcanic ancient history...

This example is near Spruceton NY. I found it in this 2008 blogpost from
Rock Piles. They refer to them as cairns, which to me suggests
a burial site.  Perhaps?  It makes for a good story!

And there you have mystery and intrigue... essential ingredients to any good story!

Were these stones laid by some of America's first inhabitants? Perhaps they are altars of worship like The Book of Mormon describes... or trail markers, or defense structures in an ancient war, or hunting blinds maybe? Along with the equally mysterious stone circles (like Scotland's Stonehenge and the smaller less well known circles here in Appalachia) are they evidence of an ancient alien presence? Are they just stones cleared from the fields of a farm that has been reclaimed by nature? The answer, and the story, depends on who you ask!

I would say many of the less easily explained rock piles come from preparing a field for planting crops. Stones were removed to make it possible for the farmer to work his field and produce a crop. They were stacked somewhere out of the way. Most of us who grew up on or around farms or in families that gardened are familiar with the process and have likely spent some time "pickin' rock."  That familiarity tugs at the heartstrings... These rocks remind us that there's something both comforting and disturbing about the temporary nature of our time on Earth. This is work that's as important as it is fleeting... What once served as a family's livelihood is reduced to nothing more than a few tons of stone... and a mystery for future generations to wonder about.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Adventures in Pain Management

You know how the triage nurse, then the nurse, then the doctor, then every other health professional you encounter asks you, in a very flat way, to rate your level of pain following an injury? Their scale is usually 1-10, with 1 being pretty ok and 10 being the worst pain ever. I usually answer just as flatly "5" because I don't know quite what to say. That. And by the third or fourth time I'm out of patience and looking at them as a bigger pain than whatever has me in enough discomfort to be there. (I know... I'm a "difficult" patient. And I don't give a flying you know what about having that label.)

How do you rate something that's such a personal experience into terms someone else can understand and identify with anyway? We all handle pain differently. Personally, I don't even like to even think about it... Sadly, I've been having an adventure in pain control the past couple of weeks and spending a lot of time with hurting on my mind.  Maybe it's a bit sadistic, but to keep me entertained through the ordeal I came up with my own scale to more colorfully tell my tale of woe and agony.

Don't you think you've got a better idea of how I'm feeling when you hear me grunting my way through the room than me shrugging and saying "5?"

HOW IT HAPPENED

It's the dogs' fault. No, really, it's my fault. I knew I didn't have a safe hold on the leashes with my left hand when were exiting the car after a shopping trip and stop at the dog park. I knew it but I didn't stop to change how I was holding them when we were going inside so when the three of them made a concerted lunge for the porch, down I went. Face first. In the muddy patch on the side of the driveway. And if insult wasn't enough... I reached out to grab the support post that helps to hold up the porch with my right hand in an attempt to not fall. 260-ish pounds of solid and determined pure muscle are no match for my flabby slightly off-balance self...  So while my body felt nigh unto catapulted into Pennsylvania (which is really just a few yards up the hill) my right arm was mangled and flopping in the Maryland mud next to my broken glasses (which Walmart fixed for free even though I didn't buy them there). Then, even though I was literally seeing enough stars to organize my own galaxy from the pain and my arm could just hang there immovable, I still managed to finally get myself upright, put the boys in the house, finish unloading the car, take a shower and shimmy into clean clothes.

Then I started to wonder how bad I was really injured.  I think it's a sprain. It's starting to get better. The first few days, improvement was very small and measured by being able to lift my arm an inch or so.  Yesterday and today have been a little more dramatic as far as strength to lift it up and range to move forward and back and side-to-side. It's especially noticable early in the day while I'm well rested that I can move it further and easier than yesterday. By the end of the day I'm pretty hurty again, though, from trying to do as much as I can for myself. I'm ready for it to be completely recovered and it's not and that makes me complain that it's going slow. I need to put some effort into being satisfied that there is progress... and that things, like pulling my pants back up in the bathroom, that have been supremely challenging are getting easier.  Which is good since it's kind of frowned on to go pantsless most places!

My pain has been all up and down that scale every day.  Now, at day 12, it's hovering mostly around Take a handful of Advil and Breathe like a prego lady. I think I'm managing it pretty well.

But I still wish the pain would just go away!