Cocoa and Licorice

Cocoa and Licorice need good homes.

 

“Then God said, ‘Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind – livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.’ And that is what happened. God made all sorts of wild animals, livestock, and small animals, each able to produce offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:24-25, NLT).

What I’m about to say is going to make some people mad – possibly even some people in my family. I’m sorry, but I’ve held my tongue for too long. This morning’s events pushed me over the edge, so I’m just going to tell you how I feel. I want to write it while the knot it still in my stomach, because otherwise I won’t say it. I’ve gone for years without expressing these thoughts in public, but now there’s no holding back. (I’ve stepped on people’s toes before, so what’s one more time?)

Here it is:

I wish every puppy mill in the world would go out of business. I wish everyone who ever paid a dime for a dog bred for profit would spend five minutes at an animal shelter. I wish spaying and neutering were free the world over, because then no one would have an excuse for dumping puppies at the river, or shooting their puppies’ mothers, or abusing their animals because there are too many of them and when it comes down to whom to feed, we humans win by necessity.

The world is overpopulated with unwanted animals. The shelters are full beyond capacity – especially the no-kill shelters like the Humane Society of Independence County, where we had to take Cocoa and Licorice this morning.

Am I hypocritical for leaving two puppies at a shelter whose staff said they were already full? Maybe. Bruce and I were prepared to bring them home with us for a while if we needed to, but the shelter folks found a cage and said they’d take them.

That leaves me with the responsibility to find homes for these two babies. Because in the short ride to the shelter from Kennedy Park, where we found them and their sibling (whom we couldn’t find when it was time to leave), I became their Mama. (They didn’t realize it, I’m not sure whether Bruce knew it, but I knew it.)

Bruce said we couldn’t keep them. My brain knows that’s true, but my heart wanted to make room in our small house alongside our two queens of the roost, Salsa and Pepper. Bruce’s heart is softer than mine in many ways, but his head prevails in these matters. (It wouldn’t have taken much to convince him, though. After all, our carpet is already spotted with Pepper peepee and strewn with Salsa hair.)

You wanna know something about shelter people? They don’t leave their jobs at the office. They take their jobs home with them (sometimes quite literally), and they don’t leave at quitting time, or arrive just before start time. Many of them don’t even get paid for this – in dollars at least. They get paid in puppy love. And they give it right back.

When we arrived this morning at 9:15, people were there, even though the sign on the door said they didn’t open until 11. Two hours before the doors officially open? Now, that’s puppy love. (And kitty love.)

At 9:15, the door was locked, but they let me in with my sob story.

“Someone abandoned three puppies at the river, and the third is lost but we have the other two in the car. Do you have room for them?”

The answer was no – they had just taken in 17 dogs yesterday (16 of them were from underneath one house, and the owners had shot the parent dogs). The shelter was bursting at the seams.

They asked exactly where we had found the puppies, because if it was inside city limits, maybe we could take them to the city pound. But Sue, the leader of the pack (I use that term endearingly), called the city’s phone number and got no answer.

Next thing I knew, as I was discussing with Sue the unfairness of puppy life and the pros and cons of forced neutering, someone was busy finding a cage. While I didn’t even realize what was happening, my new babies were taken from my arms and put inside the cage with some water, blankets and – very important for busy puppies – toys.

(Shelter people’s hearts are softer and warmer than my babies’ fleece blankets.)

Before this, while the puppies were still in the car, one of the staff had seen the brown one and squealed with delight, “A chocolate one!” (Okay, maybe she didn’t squeal outwardly so much, but she was squealing on the inside – I know it.)

She picked up chocolate baby from Bruce’s lap, cuddled her next to her face, and immediately named her Cocoa. (Sorry, I didn’t get the staff member’s name. Is that really important? We know the dog’s name. 🙂 )

We went through the ritual of trying to figure out what to do with these babies, me all the while thinking I was going to get to put them back in the car and bring them home for a while, and next thing I knew that darned cage was there and my new babies were in it.

What? You’re keeping them? Yes, no one answered at the city.

Well, this is happening too fast. I have to say goodbye to my new babies already. Much too fast.

So Mama said goodbye to her babies, but she couldn’t leave without giving the black one a name. We have Cocoa and … how about Licorice? (We’re big on food names in our household.)

They liked my choice, said they hadn’t had a Licorice before, and that was that. Bruce and I drove off and resumed our lives as the parents of two – not four – dogs.

So back to my point. Two points, actually:

One, animal-shelter workers are underappreciated, and unsung. I’m singing it now, though. They’re special and wonderful beyond measure. They have big hearts.

And, two (here’s the part where I might step on your paws), if you never thought about the implications of paying for a pure-breed dog or cat and how that perpetuates the overpopulation of shelters, or the abandonment of helpless animals in ditches or under houses or along a fast-moving river (we don’t know what happened to the third puppy this morning, and I bet there were more than three to start with), think about it now. When you shell out your hard-earned money for a pet, I hope it’s because you really, really love that animal, because it may mean another one – maybe a mixed breed – has to be put inside a cage until the no-kill-shelter folks can find a home for it. Or until the city “euthanizes” it because there’s no room for the rest of the unwanted animals that were brought in, sometimes in batches of 17 – or more.

I don’t want any human to go hungry because his livelihood was taken away. But I wish pet breeders would find another line of work.

There are plenty of incredibly great animals out there who need good homes. I know this for sure – I met several of them this morning.

UPDATE: Since I posted this earlier today, Sue went out and found the third puppy sister. She couldn’t stand the thought of that little furball being left out in the frigid air all alone overnight, with no siblings to cuddle up with. Did I mention it was 36 degrees this morning when we got to the river?

Oh, and they’ve renamed Cocoa; she’s now Mocha. The third sister is Midnight (I had tentatively suggested that name before I thought of Licorice but wasn’t sure whether anyone heard me).

The three sisters are safe, warm and loved now.

We think Cocoa Mocha and Licorice (and Midnight) are Labs. If you’d like to rescue one (or both all) of them, or to donate money or time, or if you just want information on the Humane Society of Independence County, click here for the website, call (870) 793-0090, email hsicshelteroffice@yahoo.com or visit the shelter’s Facebook page.

If you live outside Independence County, Ark., please find a shelter near your home and consider donating your time and/or money.

Share this post:
Share

Only half the BS, but twice the fun!

One of my favorite things about being married to Bruce is that we laugh a lot. We laugh at our dogs, at each other, at life – at pretty much everything. We’re pretty silly people, and we love to laugh.

Laughter is healing. Just two weeks ago, we attended the memorial service of a dear friend … and we laughed. The chaplain and the loved one’s son – both of them spoke at the service and told funny stories of the person who had just died. In the car on the way to and from the service (a six-hour round trip), Bruce and I, along with my mother, reminisced about our friend … and laughed. Barney would have liked that.

While Bruce and I are similar in many ways (both analytical, pragmatic, left-brained types, both trained journalists [it’s how we met], both lovers of words and books), we are also very different in some ways (the key difference being our approach to matters of faith; I’m a born-again Christian, and he’s an atheist).

And while we have similar senses of humor, there are some differences: He’s more into things like Monty Python than I am. I’m more into a toned-down version of MP; give me Food Network’s Alton Brown any day (he’s the best comedy writer on TV, in my opinion). Bruce likes AB, too, but I am more likely to watch a Good Eats marathon, while he is more likely to watch all of the Monty Python movies or TV episodes without moving from his spot on the couch – while I do a few loads of laundry, pay some bills, balance the checkbook, bake something, paint my fingernails, write a blog post, check my email and catch a few episodes of Law & Order on the other TV. (But the division of household labor is for another post … which, in the interests of marital unity, probably will never get written.)

Bruce and I are both “writers.” At the art and craft of writing, he is the more elegant. When we were copy editors at the same newspaper, he could write me under the table when it came to headlines – still can. He has a way with words, both written and spoken, that I don’t possess. I plod along, hoping to make someone think, or do, or laugh (and a combination of the three wouldn’t hurt); my writing kind of disappears into its pedestrian nature. (The same could be said of our running styles. He is efficient, light on his feet, can finish a workout in no time flat, and I’m there plodding along, just trying to get enough oxygen to my lungs so that I don’t collapse before the finish. I wear shoes marketed to “heavy runners.”)

Sometimes he and I follow the rules, and sometimes we break them, but usually not the same ones at the same time. I’m more likely to be rigid and legalistic in how things should be done, and more likely to be frustrated with him for not following said rules … until it’s the other way around. Sometimes he chooses to be the good boy, standing in contrast to my rebellious streak.

And a lot of the ways we communicate, with others and with one another, are different. That can be frustrating at times (he’s sanguine on some topics that I think are important and worth some effort, and I try to put a positive spin on things sometimes when he tends to be negative; we both can get defensive and a little testy when we’re tired or stressed, but usually it’s not at the same time – there again, we tend to balance each other out).

With the “positive spin,” you never know which pole one of us will be sitting on. OK, sometimes you know. For instance, when our merry band of runners (I’m talking about the remnants from the women’s running clinic, not the local, official running club we belong to) gets together on a new course for the first time, the ladies always ask Coach Bruce the route. “Are there a lot of hills?” is one of the first questions.

I quickly figured out – and I try to spread this gospel – that when you need information about hills, you don’t ask Bruce. Talk to Suzy.

Bruce has been running for three-quarters of his 52 years. He refers to hills as “bumps.” Suzy will give you the straight talk. She is a newbie like you, overweight and overstressed, physical ailments, job pressures, crunchy knees, whiny attitudes and all. Coach Bruce is not trying to put a “positive spin” on hills; he actually believes they are MERELY BUMPS. We have established in previous posts that he is insane (I believe he was brainwashed in running school), so we know that when you want to talk hills – unless you’re in a gas-powered vehicle – talk to Suzy.

So when we were wogging (walking/jogging) this morning, I by myself because my surgically “repaired” knee was feeling funky, I got to thinking about hills, and the different ways that Bruce and I approach them (not so much physically but philosophically).

And I came up with this handy formula that pretty much fits the way we approach most matters of communication:

(B + S) / 2 = A

In words: Take what Bruce says, add what Suzy says, divide by two, and there’s your Answer, somewhere in the middle.

So if you just remember that simple formula, you’ll get only half the BS but twice the fun. And you’ll be A-OK.

Share this post:
Share

The Big Waste

We Americans are spoiled.

But you knew that, right?

I just finished watching a Food Network show that made this fact all too plain. Called The Big Waste, the show featured four Food Network chefs – Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, Anne Burrell and Alex Guarneschelli – who were challenged to create a multi-course gourmet banquet for 100 people.

The catch: “You can only use food that is unwanted, rejected or otherwise deemed unsuitable for sale – waste food headed for the trash.”

To gather their bounty, the chefs visited meat shops, fish markets, orchards, farms, bakeries and grocery stores. Every one of these locations had a sickening amount of wasted food. Examples:

  • A chicken had a wing that was broken in processing. The farmer said they couldn’t sell it because the consumer would think the chicken was diseased or otherwise not fit to eat. “They think there’s more to it than just a simple broken wing.”
  • Eggs at one small farm varied in size from walnut to, oh, maybe the size of a plum. Not sellable because they weren’t of a uniform size or all the same color, farmer Brian said. “Brian throws away around 2,000 eggs a year, but the estimated number of wasted eggs in America is 5 billion,” according to the show’s narrator.
  • After a wholesale meat seller produces center-cut short ribs, the leftovers are discarded because people “don’t know what to do with this end of it.” As Chef Michael said, “Customers fall into habits, and so do we. … It’s good to see stuff [like this] because it makes us think.”
  • Cabbage at a you-pick-it farm had been tossed to the ground – in the middle of the crop rows – by people who thought the heads were too small or too wilted (the outer leaves only) or for some other unknown reason. The farmer estimated a 40-50 percent waste of his produce. Chef Bobby said, only half-jokingly, that those people should be charged a penalty for picking and then dumping perfectly good food on the ground (and for someone else to have to pick up, I would add). At the same farm, beautiful, blemish-free stalks of corn had been bent over in a hurricane, but the pickers passed them by because they weren’t standing upright.
  • At one grocery, peas had spots and carrots had small bruises, joining lots of less-than-picture-perfect produce heaped onto discard piles. At the same store, containers of ricotta cheese had been set aside for disposal, one day past the “best before” date. Shortbread imported from Scotland was being hauled out because it was “past its best-before date.” But as long as the date isn’t an expiration date, many products are safe to use past “the date,” the narrator said.
  • Hundreds (thousands?) of peaches at one you-pick-it orchard were tossed onto the ground because they were “not quite perfect.” Tomatoes at the same farm had a few cracks from too much rain and were similarly tossed – destined for the farm’s massive compost pile.

All edible food. All considered waste.

About 40 percent of the food produced in the United States isn’t eaten, according to the narrator – enough waste food to fill a football stadium every single day. The grocery store owner with all the not-so-pretty produce and the ricotta approaching its “best before” date actually thanked the chefs for taking the food off his hands; otherwise he would have to pay the trash folks to haul it off.

In an unusual twist, Anne met a “freegan” – a man name Robert who “tries to avoid consumerism at all costs.” He said there’s a misconception that all “people who go through trash for their food are homeless people or people with need, and it’s not [true]. I have a good job, and I have a nice home, and I do this because I want to and because it’s there.”

All things considered, Robert seemed like a reasonable guy, and he helped Anne dumpster-dive through a supermarket’s trash, a location he frequents for the discarded food. Much of the food was in packages (containers of quinoa salad a day before the sell-by date) or had peels or rinds that made them safe for rescuing (avocadoes, mangoes). (I don’t think they took the unwrapped bagels or loaves of bread.) I don’t know about Robert, or you, but this is where I would draw the line. I wouldn’t be afraid to take soon-to-be-discarded produce from a store owner or manager who explained why it wasn’t on the shelves, but items already in the alley trash would be very iffy for me. (Mom, I know you’re glad to hear me say this.)

But, as Robert said, it’s crazy to throw out perfectly good food; he said he would “like for there to be one day that I could ride from one end of Manhattan to the other without any food that’s still edible being put out.” I agree.

Anne invited Robert to the banquet, to dine among the restaurateurs, critics and other foodies and judge how the four top chefs succeeded in their mission.

I have to stop here and say I know what you’re thinking: With all this talk about dumpster diving and the retrieval of less-than-perfect, perishable food from certain disposal, what about safety – is some of the food as spoiled as we Americans are?

Don’t worry – with each batch of food the chefs took back to the kitchen, they had a food-safety inspector come in and examine it. Most of it passed, save a chunk of prosciutto that was 43 degrees – or 2 degrees higher than is considered safe. Prosciutto is cured, preserved meat, Anne argued, that would be safe even at 2 degrees above the limit. But the inspector wouldn’t pass it. You could tell that Anne had trouble with this one. She knows how prosciutto is produced and said she would be taking that chunk of meat home.

Despite that small setback for the culinary crew, it was heartening to know that a safety inspector examined the chefs’ finds. It would be easy to sensationalize the matter of American waste and disregard the fact that we have real issues with food safety and the system that purports to oversee it (but that’s a whole ’nother post).

In case you’re wondering how the chefs fared in their mission, they succeeded; they found enough destined-for-the-dumpster food to feed all 100 guests one appetizer, two entrees, a side dish and three desserts – all gourmet fare.

As Chef Anne kept saying, this makes me really sad.

And as Chef Alex said, “It’s making me even think about my own standards and how absurd they’ve become.”

As it did for each of the four chefs, this experience changed the way I look at fresh food, especially produce. I usually pick over the apples in the grocery store, examining each and every one to make sure it is bruise- and hole-free. After all, who wants to eat a bruised apple? (I must have had some kind of premonition about the show, though, because the last apples I bought had a few bruises; I have simply been cutting off the small bruised areas and eating the rest.)

When it was all over and the 100 guests had been fed (and satisfied – one food critic could be seen trying to scrape the last little bit of sauce with his fork), each of the chefs – many of whom I’ve seen waste food on their own TV shows – had something to say about their experience:

  • Bobby: “I have a different sense of what the definition of waste is when it comes to food now, because we just need to learn how to use it.”
  • Anne: “Makes me think twice whenever I put anything in the garbage.”
  • Alex: “I think now when I do buying for my restaurants I’ll think a lot about not minding so much nature’s imperfections.”
  • Michael: “It’s very, very eye-opening. I tell you, when I go to the grocery store now, I’m gonna to buy the holey apple with the spot.”

There is more to be said on this vast topic, but thank you, Food Network, for giving the subject some star power. Maybe a few people will sit up and listen, and maybe the conversation will continue.

If you live in Arkansas and know of excess food that is edible but destined for the dump, or to help out with a tax-free donation, visit Potluck, Arkansas’ only food-rescue organization.

Share this post:
Share

Running on full

This morning, seven of us (Bruce, me and five of our merry little band of running women) tackled the racecourse of the upcoming Penguin 10k/5k for Special Olympics in Batesville.

This was our second time out this year, all of us together. We had a bigger group last week, but those of us who weren’t out of town or ill today got our behinds out of our warm beds and braved the 36-degree weather (sunny but cold) to gather our courage, our winter apparel and our timing devices to walk/jog/wog the course at 8 a.m. (The photo below is from last week – it was too cold today to get my camera phone out of my pocket!)

Catina, Lisa and Shannon (tiny dots) on the White River bridge, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012.

I got an iPhone for my birthday a few weeks ago, and I downloaded an app called RunKeeper. It tracks my mileage, time, pace and other things that help me know how I’m doing.

Last week it tracked our run pretty accurately. We did a tiny bit more than 10 kilometers, which would be 6.2 miles. I recorded 6.5 on my app.

Today, about halfway through our workout, RunKeeper stopped “keeping” so well. We seemed to be on pace at 3.2 miles, just before we got to the golf course. But once on the course, we suddenly jumped up to 6.5 miles. By the time it was over, it had us at 16.02 miles, but in reality we had gone just 4.5, according to my buddy Phyllis’ device. (We all decided not to do the entire course – some of us had to leave to meet friends, and the rest of us decided we’d trained enough today; after all, it was only our second time at this distance for most of us after being in hibernation mode for several weeks.)

Long story short (I know: too late!), none of this really matters to me.

I am not, and never will be, an elite runner, and no matter what RunKeeper or any other wacky device tells me, I will never run a 4-minute mile.

That’s okay. I like where I am. My life is full. I have enough.

Since Bruce and I moved to Batesville in 2010, we have been happier than we have a right to be. We love our little community, we love our friends – old and new – and we love running together, whether just the two of us or with a group.

I have embarked on a journey to fitness, and it has had hills and valleys that have made me stronger, wiser and more compassionate.

I forgot to blog yesterday about my weight, but it was 3 pounds more than last Friday. Ouch.

That’s partly because I knew I was going to start tracking my food intake, and I was strongly leaning toward rejoining Weight Watchers Online because I really like Weight Watchers and I now had the capability of using the mobile app. (I had tried to find a calorie and activity tracker that I liked, but none compared to WW.)

I sort of had Jan. 14 in mind to rejoin because that’s the date I joined last year. 🙂 So I was eating like there was no tomorrow. But when the scale indicated 3 pounds heavier in just one week (188 pounds), I knew I couldn’t wait another day. I joined Friday, Jan. 13.

I’m still 18 pounds slimmer than I was a year ago, but gaining back 10 of the 28 pounds I had lost is disheartening. It makes me kinda mad at myself. I don’t want to make excuses, so I won’t mention the holidays (you can enjoy the holidays without going overboard, and I did go overboard) or my knee surgery as excuses. Those can be deterrents to weight loss, but I could have found other exercises while my knee recovered; I didn’t.

I’ve learned a lot of things in the years that I’ve been overweight, and some of them I’ve had to learn, relearn and learn again.

And that brings me to my point (you knew I had a point, didn’t you?).

I’ve been overweight for about 20 of my 49 years. In those years, I’ve read lots and lots of articles and a few books about how to lose weight. I’m glad to say I’ve never tried any of the crazy, dangerous ways. My method has always been to eat less and move more. But even the eating-less part can be unhealthy sometimes, when it’s the wrong type of food. I’m gradually learning to get rid of the stuff that isn’t so healthy and substitute good, healthy, fresh, whole foods.

But it has taken baby steps.

I have lost weight and gained it back. I have gone through periods of eating good, whole foods and periods of nasty, fattening junk foods (thank you, God, that You’ve allowed me to survive this despite my efforts to kill myself with fat and sugar).

It is a journey.

I have a couple of goals now. Previously a weight-loss/fitness goal for me was just that: all for me (and maybe my husband). Now I not only want to get healthy for me, I want to do it in a way that I learn good lessons to help others.

I’ve already learned lots of lessons – some good, some bad, although I suppose you could say that any lesson that makes you wiser is a good lesson.

If it takes me another two years to get down to a healthy weight, so what? If in that two years my journey can help someone else be wiser, gain courage and motivation and get healthy, it will be well worth it. We will learn from and gain encouragement from each other.

I don’t think I’ll ever have it all figured out. But I do believe this to be true: God intended us for community. If we can fellowship together, learn from one another and build each other up, that will make me really happy. And healthy.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV).

Share this post:
Share

Farewell, Barney Sellers

My family said goodbye to a dear friend on Friday.

Barney Sellers, faithful husband, father, grandfather – and friend – passed away on Jan. 2, 2012, at age 85. He and his wife, Betty, had just celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary on Jan. 1, and he died about three hours after midnight.

Barney was an award-winning photographer, known for capturing on film everything from civil-rights marches to celebrities to heads of state, including at least two kings: Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll (happy birthday, Elvis), and “Martin Luther the King Jr.,” as the hospice chaplain who spoke at his memorial service jokingly told the gathering.

But I knew him as a gentle man devoted to family and friends first and to taking pictures second.

When Barney retired to Batesville after 36 years as a staff “photog” (as he called it) at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, he and Betty Sue moved across the street from my parents in 1988, while I was in college at ASU. Barney and I had that in common: We both earned journalism degrees at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, not too far from Barney and Betty’s old stompin’ grounds in Walnut Ridge.

While he and my dad became fast friends (they both loved to tell stories, and lots of them), I looked to him as a source of teaching. As a student journalist, I, too, was interested in photography. Beyond technical skills, however, the tips I picked up from him had more to do with composition than f-stops and shutter speeds.

Dad and Morgan at Barney’s

Barney wasn’t one to photograph people – although one of my favorites is a black-and-white picture he took of my dad and niece sitting together on a bench in Barney’s front yard when Morgan was about 3. And, as a favor, he took my wedding pictures (and wouldn’t accept payment). In fact, it was on my 14th wedding anniversary last week that my mother told me of his passing. (If you subscribe to The Batesville Daily Guard, take note of Page 1 of the Jan. 3 edition, which features not only a photo of Barney accompanying the article but a shot he took of downtown Batesville under a huge full moon.)

My house and my mother’s house are adorned with pictures Barney took, and I can’t recall being allowed to pay him for a single one of them. I would be at his house, admire a picture among the dozens (or sometimes hundreds) he showed me on a particular visit, and the next thing I knew the photo was double or triple matted (by Barney) and given to me or my family as a gift. Mom was responsible for taking them to the frame shop, although the birthday gift he gave me one year (an aerial shot of the White River dam in Batesville), a wedding gift (of a huge full moon above a barn) and my favorite gift from Barney – a photo of double streaks of lightning in the night sky above the Memphis bridge – came complete with frame. He was very generous with his artwork.

Barney’s newspaper years were successful and spanned decades, but, after his official retirement, he was better able to indulge his passion for rural scenes. His “business” was called Barney’s Barns and Rural Scenes, but he was more teacher than businessman. He held photography workshops, taking eager students around scenic Arkansas and elsewhere, teaching them how to see the beauty in a simple dirt road, falling-down barn or old rusty plow.

His son Stanley – or “Chobee,” as I’ve always known him – told me Friday that probably 80-90 percent of Barney’s work centered on his beloved Ozarks.

Yes, Barney saw things that no one should have to see – he photographed civil unrest in the Memphis of the mid-20th century, he went to war (serving two stints in the Navy) and he was there the day singer Jerry Lee Lewis lost his 3-year-old son to drowning in 1962. But despite that – or perhaps because of it – he was able to see the beauty in God’s creation that many of us are too busy to notice.

I remember the time he was visiting my dad at the shop Dad had built in our back yard, and Barney saw a spider web hanging from a corner of the building. Barney said, “Don’t touch that,” or some such admonition to leave the web alone. He trudged back up the hill to his house, returned with a squirt bottle, misted the spider web and shot a typically stunning picture of it, water droplets sparkling in the moonlight.

If not for Barney, I probably wouldn’t have had the “eye,” or the presence of mind, to snap a picture of the spider-web-covered jade plant in Morro Bay, Calif., when Mom and I visited in 2006. In fact, I’m sure that my affinity for photographing “plant life” over “real life” had something to do with Barney. When I spent a summer in Guatemala after college graduation, I took lots of shots of hillsides, mountains, rivers, lakes and volcanoes, and when I returned home and proudly showed my parents all my wonderful pictures, Mom said, “Where are the people?” (She is more of the “line people up like statues” school of photographic thought, whereas Barney wasn’t so much into that.)

Barney liked to tease my mom; he had a wonderful sense of humor – sometimes mischievous, sometimes dry like mine. He loved to laugh, and he loved people.

Barney’s “uniform,” as I recall it, was a pair of khaki pants, a chambray shirt, a bandanna, sometimes a vest, thick eyeglasses and – more often than not – two cameras hanging from his neck. And when he would amble down the hill to our house – whether on foot or in his Jeep on the way to photograph some dilapidated thing down some dirt road (Chaplain Brent said he was told that Barney “knew where every barn was in the state of Arkansas”) – he frequently carried a can of Coke supplemented with Metamucil. “He’d nurse that thing all day, it seemed like,” my mother recalled Friday as we reminisced on the way home from the service. To me, the Coke and Metamucil were simply part of the Barney package.

Barney was old school and had his own way of doing things (hence the recording of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” at the memorial service). According to his family, he took “thousands and thousands and thousands” of photos in his lifetime, all of them with a film camera. His daughter, Susie, had tried to convert him to digital photography but didn’t succeed. Chobee told me about all the prints and negatives in the house, in the garage, in a 10-by-16-foot storage building. Chobee had tried to get his dad to let him sort and catalog them but, again, didn’t succeed.

“He had his own way of cataloguing them, and none of us knew what that way was.” Chobee tried to reason with his dad: Someday we’ll need to know your system. Barney promised to teach him the system, but that day never came.

Barney’s health hadn’t been good in several years. His children had been trying to persuade their parents to leave the split-level house in Batesville – where Barney didn’t do well on the stairs “and kept scaring the daylights out of all of us,” according to his son Richard. They wanted their parents to move back to Memphis, where Barney’s cardiologist and other doctors were. So, even though “his heart was in Arkansas,” according to Chobee, he and Betty Sue finally left their home state and in 2007 moved back to the Memphis area, where Barney died.

There are a few things I regret in life – not getting my Nanny or my Aunt Jo to teach me how to quilt (I paid for classes at a store after both of them had passed on), not getting my Grandma Tressie to really teach me how to sew garments, not spending more time with Dad underneath all those cars he worked on, so I’d know how to change my own oil … and not spending more time at Barney’s elbow, soaking up his knowledge of photography and his love for all things rural. Now it’s too late for all of that.

But if there is anything Barney taught me, it is to keep doing what you love – and to love your family and friends while you’re doing it. I’m determined to keep working on that lesson.

We will miss you, Barney.

It’s appropriate that Barney’s family had his remains deposited in a vintage camera case. On a date to be announced, his ashes will be scattered at his favorite spot in the Ozarks.

I took a small portion of information for this post from The Batesville Daily Guard and The Commercial Appeal. To view some of his work, please visit both newspapers’ websites (links above). The Commercial Appeal‘s site includes a gallery of Barney’s news and feature photos.

Share this post:
Share

3 cheers for Three Cheese Chicken Pasta Bake

I found another great recipe a few days ago, you guys, and finally had time to bake it this evening. It’s delish, and you’d never know it’s “healthy.” (I tried to take a picture, but I don’t do so well with the lighting in my kitchen.)

If you like pasta – especially cheesy pasta, you’ll love this. If you want to get your kids to eat spinach, serve them this. Even though I love spinach in salads, I’m not a fan of the cooked variety, but with this dish, I eats me spinach (to quote a famous sailor man).

As usual, I modified the recipe a bit, but mostly just in portion sizes; this time I kept all the ingredients the same except that I added a bit of dried oregano and did not omit the salt when I cooked the pasta). It calls for an 8-inch-square pan, but I added extra everything and made more servings. (I’m giving you the recipe as I found it, plus the oregano; add to it as you like.) Also, now that I have a convection oven, I’ll be adding a note about baking temperatures to the recipes I post (you’re supposed to cut the temp 25 degrees because convection baking is more efficient).

Because I made extra, I’m going to freeze one of the cooked casseroles so that when life gets busier (as it will in a couple of weeks when my class starts), I can have a hearty dinner reheated in a flash. If you want to make ahead and freeze some of it, I’m sure you could do all but the baking step and put the frozen casserole in the oven straight from the freezer. The chicken is cooked on the stove before the baking takes place.

I also bought some whole-wheat hoagie buns (Kroger didn’t have whole-wheat dinner rolls), sliced them and added garlic butter and Parmesan before baking those garlicly wonderful pieces of heaven. (OK, so that part’s not as healthy, except to my psyche.)

Don’t  forget that I have a Recipes tab at the top of my blog now; this one’s going there. I haven’t posted a lot of recipes there yet, but this one will join them!

Dig in, friends.

Three Cheese Chicken Pasta Bake

1½  cups (12 ounces) multigrain penne pasta, uncooked
9-ounce package fresh spinach leaves
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
½ teaspoon dried oregano
14.5-ounce jar spaghetti sauce
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
2 ounces (1/4 of 8-ounce package) Neufchatel cheese
1 cup shredded 2-percent-milk mozzarella cheese, divided
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. (For a convection oven, heat to 350 degrees.)

Cook pasta as directed on package, omitting salt and adding spinach to the boiling water the last minute.

Cook and stir chicken and basil in large nonstick skillet sprayed with cooking spray on medium-high heat 3 minutes. Stir in spaghetti sauce, garlic and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Simmer on low heat 3 minutes or until chicken is done. Stir in Neufchatel.

Drain pasta mixture; return to pan. Stir in chicken mixture and 1/2 cup mozzarella. Spoon into 2-quart casserole or 8-inch-square baking dish.

Bake 20 minutes; top with remaining cheeses. Bake 3 minutes or until mozzarella is melted.

Makes 4 servings, 460 calories each.

Share this post:
Share

185 pounds

I forgot to tell you in the last post that my weight was 186 (that’s 8 pounds gained since my knee surgery and subsequent down-hill slide into indulgence).

Since I wrote that post Wednesday night (I had weighed that morning), I’ve lost a pound. Friday is my official weigh-in day, so I’ll try to remember to post each Friday. My blog-every-day plan kind of hit the skids when school started in September. It was a loooong semester.

Now that I have an iPhone (a birthday present in late November), I’m looking for a good calorie-counting app. I’m trying one out but not sure I like it. If any of you can suggest a good one, please leave a comment.

Today will be a bit of a challenge, because we’ll probably be eating at a restaurant in Memphis and I’ll have less control over the food prep. Bruce, Mom and I will be going to Southaven, Miss., for the memorial service of a dear friend, Barney Sellers, who died Monday. He was featured on the front page of Tuesday’s Batesville Guard, but you have to have a paid subscription to view more than a few paragraphs online. Here’s a link to the article in the Memphis paper, The Commercial Appeal, which is free (you have to register only if you want to post a comment).

I will write more about Barney in a future post. He was one of a kind.

Share this post:
Share

Prediction Run winner, 2 years running

 

I don’t like to brag, but please indulge me today as I do so. I rarely get the opportunity. 🙂

If you’ve read Suzy & Spice for at least a year, you know that last New Year’s Day I brought home the trophy in the women’s division of the New Year’s Day Resolution/Prediction Less than 4 Mile Fun Run/Walk. It means I predicted, closer than any other female in the event, the time it would take me to finish. (I predicted 50 minutes and finished in 50:17.3.)

What’s funny is that I hadn’t gone there to participate – I was there for Bruce. I saw some friends there, and they talked me into signing up at the last possible minute (I had just gotten back into walking/running a few weeks earlier, after being lazy for 10 years). I merely ball-parked a number to put on the registration sheet. You’ll have to read my 1/1/11 post – “How to win a race without really trying” – for the full irony. (I hope it makes you laugh.)

Leading to this year’s run, many of us had been complaining on Facebook that participating would keep us from going to church – or at least keep us from going to church on time, or going to church smelling good. (After all, people have to sit next to you …)

I debated and debated, and finally – late Saturday, after an incredibly great run along the course with my sweetie – that I would enter, would go to church sweaty and stinky and would just have to warn people not to get too close. I would have to miss the post-run awards ceremony, but since it’s a “fun run” it wouldn’t be a big deal, right? (Saturday evening, I had forgotten the sweatiness factor and foolishly made plans to have lunch with Mom after church, so that forced me to go home and shower; I couldn’t embarrass my mom by sitting at a restaurant sweaty and stinky. And I was only 10 minutes late for church.)

Saturday’s run was only my third time out since my Aug. 11 knee surgery. The surgeon wouldn’t let me walk or run for “three or four months,” so I had gotten lazy (and gained back some of the weight I had lost). I had done one walk in November (my knee hurt a lot), one 30-minute jog on the hotel’s treadmill on Christmas morning in Oklahoma (my knee didn’t hurt at all) and then Saturday’s Prediction Run course with Bruce (my knee hurt some, but so little that I silently said to myself, “I’m back!”).

So I entered, and again I predicted 50 minutes. After all, I had been off most of the past 4 1/2 months, so I knew my time wouldn’t have increased much, if any. (Plus we timed our run Saturday and had some idea how fast I could do it.)

Ringleader and timing master Ken must have been reading our Facebook posts, because once the last two people (a dad and daughter who – yes! – were slower than I was) crossed the finish line, the awards “ceremony” began.

And, once again, somehow I managed to take home the women’s trophy. My 50-minute prediction was off by about 18 seconds, only this year I was 18 seconds faster than my predicted time! Woohoo!

Do you realize than an 18-seconds-faster finish means I took more than half a minute off my time (remember, I was 17 seconds slower than predicted last year)? That may not seem like a big deal to you, but I hadn’t entered a race/run since my May 7 emergency-room visit for plantar fasciitis. (Yeah, you can read about that, too, by clicking here.) Granted, it was a flatter course this year, but I’ll take what I can get.

So please enjoy this moment with me, because I am not likely to have another one for 366 days (remember, 2012 is a leap year).

Some parting thoughts:

  • The prediction run is the only time I ever have or ever will beat my sweet – and really fast – friend Betsy Tucker in a running competition (sorry, Bets), because speed is not the issue; predicting your speed is. Bruce and I have been there to cheer her on as she has taken home awards and broken state records this past year. Today she and her husband cheered for me!
  • Thanks go to Cindy for helping me win this morning. She talked about not being competitive, so I took advantage of that (sorry, Cindy). I asked what she had predicted, and when she said 48 minutes, my competitive spirit kicked in. She just wanted to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the sweetness of being out there (we talked about how richly God had blessed us with the gorgeous scenery along the river and with the good health to be out enjoying it). I, on the other hand, shared that I didn’t start out to run competitively but that it sure was nice to win the trophy last year. So when she said 48 minutes, and I knew my prediction was 50 minutes, my goal was to be sure I was never more than 1 minute 59 seconds behind her. (It takes only one person and one fraction of a second to beat you, and there were no age divisions – just one male and one female winner.) I admit it, friends: I’m competitive.
  • Last year I received a “real” trophy, but, as you can see from the photo, this year’s trophy was a bit goofy and whimsical. I absolutely love it! Ken and Michelle, keep up the good work! (More on them in a future post.)

See you back in this space one year from today. I hope I have a goofy trophy to show you.

Share this post:
Share