It’s been too long!

I’m finally back in my blogging chair, after 3 weeks of prep for selling our house. It’s been a busy, exhausting existence as I cleaned out closets, touched up paint, boxed things up, and whipped our house into “show palace” quality.

Pedey Dog is especially exhausted by all the pre-moving festivites

Pedey Dog is especially exhausted by all the pre-moving festivities

The house went on the market Friday, and we’ve had 8 showings and are entertaining 2 offers. Gotta love the red-hot real-estate market in the great state of Texas.

Please tell me the prospective buyers looked in this linen closet, which hasn’t been this tidy in years. IMG_9096

Ditto the pantry, hall closet, and downstairs linen closet.

I defy any member of this household to say they can't find what they're looking for in here!

I defy any member of this household to say they can’t find what they’re looking for in here!

Closets this neat & orderly fill me with a crazy amount of happiness.

Closets this neat & orderly fill me with a crazy amount of happiness.

I'm tempted to leave the closet door open!

I’m tempted to leave the closet door open!

In the process of getting this place ready to sell, we’ve taken the age-old real-estate advice of “de-personalizing” the house: removing personal effects such as framed photos and the collection of assorted clobber that migrates under magnets on the refrigerator door. While I haven’t packed up every personal artifact, a lot of it is gone.

The former "gallery wall" has been cleared and is now part of a spacious, but boring, hallway.

The former “gallery wall” has been cleared and is now part of a spacious, but boring, hallway.

The “after” picture is a lot less interesting.photo-3 When I shared this photo in celebration of my #1 son’s birthday last week, my friend Michelle texted me to say “Wow, your house looks empty!” and my friend Christy said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen your kitchen desk totally cleared!” 935156_10201180197613955_485530324_n

It’s true. I always have a basket on the corner of the desk full of papers, unopened mail, magazines I intend to read, etc etc. Somehow the pile in the basket would just grow taller as more things were added but the papers and mail sat undisturbed and the magazines grew dusty. Every once in a while I’d empty the whole basket in a frustrated purge, but the basket itself was a mainstay.

Not anymore. This house is still occupied, but the everyday detritus has been ruthlessly culled. Box after box of stuff we don’t need in the near future went out the door and into storage (thanks, Ed; aren’t you so glad you have a pickup truck and extra space??). Tons of stuff went to Goodwill, where shoppers will be “poppin tags” aplenty with the pile we donated.

I'm so glad this stuff is at Goodwill instead of in my office!

I’m so glad this stuff is at Goodwill instead of in my office!

While I was aggressive in my culling, I did also try to forecast what we might need access to and at what point in this process. It’s rather like a triage; the stuff we definitely won’t need (holiday decor, specialty baking pans, and winter clothes, for instance) got boxed up first and were out the door. Stuff we may need between now and when the new house is ready at the end of the year went out the door as well, but is a bit more accessible. I’m not usually a big-picture thinker, but am trying hard to forecast what we need at the ready versus what can go into the deep recesses of storage. The one thing I did not account for was the crazy-cool weather we’ve been having. Field Day at my favorite girl’s school dawned with the temperature a mere 42 degrees — down-right cold for us thin-blooded Texans. She wanted to wear one of her cute hand-knitted scarves, and was a bit peeved at her overzealous mother when she learned that the winter accessories had been packed up and shipped out. How was I to know that Houston would have the coolest temps in the history of weather recording?

With the end of the school year approaching, our needs and our schedules will be much more flexible (and if we need a scarf at any point between now and the end of the year, I’ll take full responsibility for my short-sightedness). A big plastic bin of summer clothes, a few swimsuits, and a pair of flip-flops will suffice from June through August. But once school starts, we’ll still be a few months away from moving into the new house, so we will need a slightly bigger wardrobe, a more structured schedule, and the ability to find things when we need them.

It’s an adventure.

My favorite girl said she hopes the house sells fast, so she can go back to living like a slob. Both kids are sleeping on top of their comforters, rather than under the covers, so it’s easier to make their beds every day. I’m on constant patrol for any stray item not in its proper place or any rogue crumbs not wiped from the kitchen counters.

The one family member who has not yet been disturbed by the flurry of recent activity in and around the house is Piper. She’s thoroughly enjoyed her car rides when prospective buyers have come to look at the house. As long as her food bowl is filled twice a day, she doesn’t care what goes into a box or is moved to storage. 21169_375804029207062_1452133213_n

 


Celebrating another year of my favorite girl

Last year’s photoglut for Macy’s birthday was so much fun that I’m doing it again. My favorite girl turned 11 yesterday, and after a jam-packed weekend of celebrating, we’re all exhausted but smiling at all the fun we had. image

My girl has a unique blend of steely determination and all-encompassing kindness. She may well be an “old soul” based on the compassion and insight she possesses. She pays attention to the little things, like having flowers waiting for me when I get out of the hospitalIMG_3356

and giving me a week off from cooking dinner — the best gift I’ve gotten in a long time!IMG_0750

She’s the type of kid who makes it easy to be a good parent: she does her homework as soon as she gets home from school, brushes her teeth without being asked, keeps her junk-food intake in check, regularly tries new and healthy foods, and keeps an eye on the clock so she can respect her bedtime.

I know…kinda sickening, isn’t it? Don’t be too jealous; I do have a 13-year-old boy at home, too.

As conscientious as she is, she’s equally wacky. For career day at school, her choice wasn’t a veterinarian or a teacher. She wanted to be the lead singer for KISS. I’m sure her teachers were very impressed.

She used the same costume for Halloween, which made it easy on me!

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Miss Wacky insisted on wearing a rainbow afro wig when she went to see Madigascar 3 at the movies. Just like the zebra character in the film, she rocked it!IMG_3061

Goofing with her piggie is her favorite pastime.DSC_6159

IMG_0165Although cutting a rug is one of her favorite things to do, too, and she’s an excellent dancer.167189_1746379908546_4716390_n

She has a keen interest in ok serious obsession with lotto scratch cards. I have no idea where she discovered scratch cards, but she’s asked for — and received — a few for all the recent occasions.IMG_0742

Along with scratch cards, my favorite girl has developed a love of cooking and spends a lot of time in the kitchen. Her latest savory creation: customized pot pies, so that each member of the family could get exactly what they want. IMG_0756

She’s earned $800 from baking cookies, brownies, and pies in the last few months for a class trip to Washington, D.C., this summer.563534_4268875367041_352268049_n

There were cookies for all the holidays, including Halloween550366_4863010660052_1799773870_n

and she perfected the M&M cookie. Yum!23902_10200139726802835_2046760115_n

She even baked her own birthday cake this year, and it was beyond delicious.IMG_0779

She loves to read and carries a book pretty much everywhere she goes. IMG_0112

IMG_3602She has her own sense of style and loves to strike a pose. IMG_0250

DSC_6106_2This girl makes a splash everywhere she goes.IMG_3266

She has a smile that can crack your heart right in two. IMG_0268

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This time last year, she still looked like a little girl.IMG_2426

All that is changing, however; this year’s birthday dinner found a young lady on the receiving end of the Happy Birthday song. image-1

That’s ok; she’ll always be my little girl.


Not bad

It’s been two weeks since my knee surgery. A fortnight, as they’d say on Downton Abbey. While I’m not one to sit still by preference, I would rate this healing process a solid “not bad.” It’s certainly nothing I would choose; I much prefer to be a perpetual busybody. Being constrained by my body makes me crazy, and I used to fight it mightily. I still hate it, but am coming to accept it. I’m not one for horn-tooting, but I’ve gotten a lot better at convalescing since cancer and infection so rudely interrupted my life. Put a knee surgery, albeit a complicated one, into that context and you’ll see what I mean. I’ll never love being grounded, and I’ll always yearn to be able to do more, go faster, move freely, and aim higher, but I’m doing ok. A solid “not bad.”

Physical therapy started in earnest on Monday, despite the Labor Day holiday. I was definitely laboring in my PT session, no doubt. While a good, hard workout leaves me spent and satisfied, a good, hard PT session is an entirely different animal. Making my battered knee do things it doesn’t want to do, like bend and straighten without hiding behind a limp and an outward-swinging cheating motion, is hard work. Convincing my knee that going down a set of stairs is not cause to sit down and cry is rough. My trainer is a hard-ass with no sympathy and no mercy — just the way I like it. Yesterday I was surrounded by real athletes — not adrenalin & endorphin junkies who pursue fitness but athletes who live & breathe by their sport. Watching them grind out a crazy-hard workout while I felt desolate by the endless floor exercises my PT requires, I noticed the green-eyed monster creeping in. Yep, I was jealous of those able-bodied guys whose bodies sailed through increasingly difficult exercises. Burpees with a 3-step box jump? Easy. Overhead press with gigantic plates and metal chains thrown in for extra weight? Cinchy. One-arm rows while balancing one-legged on the Bosu ball? Piece of cake. Their form is impeccable, their bodies never lagged, and their muscles rippled showily beneath their dry-fit clothes. I was flat-out jealous.

I’m still swollen, bruised, and slow. My form is decidedly old-lady, and just getting onto a couple of the weight machines was tricky. On a normal day, I’d just hike my leg up and hop onto those machines, but these days, my steps are slow and borderline shuffling, and hiking up a leg and hopping on aren’t on the menu. As I struggled through my workout, right leg shaking angrily with the effort, I realized that those athletes who looked so effortless were out of place. They’re NFL players, and the season has started. So…why aren’t they working out in far-flung cities, with their teams? Two had just been cut from their teams, and one didn’t get asked back at all. They had a bigger problem than I have with my rehab: they’ve lost their jobs and are scrambling to find another spot on another team. So while their bodies haven’t stopped them from doing what they want, circumstances have. I’m guessing they feel as much stress and frustration as I do, and who knows — they may look at me enviously, because all I’ve got to worry about is a few months of rehab while their very livelihood is on the line. 

Perspective. Once again, perspective smacked me upside the head.

I guess I needed that little reminder that while I’m “not bad,” I could be a whole lot worse.

Today is a day of rest & recovery. At the end of yesterday’s session, when my trainer ordered me to rest today, I balked. Rest?? I’m just now starting to see some progress. My range of motion is better, and I managed to use a different cardio machine than just the bike (my least-favorite, by a lot). I’d worked up a good sweat and was starting to catch a glimpse of a decent workout, after a bit of a dry spell. I didn’t want to rest & recover, I want to go, go go! Later that evening, though, as the muscle strain and soreness and the ever-present tightness around my kneecap set in, I understood. So today I will stay out of the gym. I will rest & recover. I was tempted, though, after I dropped off my middle-schooler, to run on over to the gym as is my routine. One day away, and I miss that place like a lovesick crackhead, as Ke$ha so eloquently says.

Since I’m grounded for the day, I have plenty of time to figure out how to clean up this:

Our little piggie found a lipstick in my purse and after she tried it out, she got some on the carpet.

pink is her color!

Not bad, Piggie. Not bad.

 


Celebrating the ordinary

It’s Day 5 of Marie’s gratitude challenge, and after a rotten night’s sleep and an early-morning wake-up call from Princess Piggie, I’d really like to crawl back in bed. I could be grateful for that, right? That would count, wouldn’t it? I purposefully left my bed unmade, on the off-chance I might fall into it as I walked by after dropping the kids off at school. But I’m not a good napper and usually awaken feeling worse than before, and then my sleep cycle would really be disrupted, and things would get really out of hand.

Instead, I’m going to pretend that it’s an ordinary day and dive into my most favorite and decidedly ordinary breakfast: old-fashioned oats, almond milk, blueberries, raspberries, and a sprinkling of almonds. Nothing fancy, not at all trendy, perhaps too carb-heavy, but a little spot of ordinary worth celebrating, especially on this sleepy day. 


Puttin’ up corn

This is one of those posts that I feel needs a disclaimer right up front, because I already know I won’t be able to convey the fun we had, the experiences we gained, and the relationships we forged. The disclaimer should be something along the lines of the ubiquitous drug companies’ list of side effects for the various prescription drugs that populate print and TV advertising. Perhaps something along these lines: This post is intended to document the immense fun and incredible experience of a few days spent in northern Louisiana with an amazing family. This post should not be read while enduring a dismally empty social calendar or a puny vacation fund. This post may cause severe envy among readers who were not invited. Consult a psychotherapist if the side effects persist for more than four hours after reading, or proceed  to the nearest emergency room if you find yourself entertaining thoughts of showing up in Bastrop, LA, unannounced.

Ok, I feel better now.

The more I think about it, the expanse of this experience cannot be contained in one simple posting, so there will need to be multiple installments. This, the first installment, is gonna cover the trip itself and the corn. Oh, the corn.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m not a fan of car travel and try to avoid it at all costs. That said, I would get in the car right now — not even 24 hours after returning home — and make the trip again. That’s how great this trip was. My favorite girl and my best boy and I packed up the car and headed out of Houston Tuesday morning, not knowing what lay ahead in the 400 miles between our house and our destination. Little did we know that we were in for the experience of a lifetime. 

The first time my dear friend Amy invited me to her family home in Bastrop, LA, the timing didn’t work out; never again will I allow another event to stand in the way of going to Mama’s house.

Mama and Papa and the infamous Sanders sisters — Gina, Holly, and Wendy — rolled out the red carpet and put on the dog for us. First stop when we arrived at Mama’s house was a tour of Papa’s garden. I’d heard about this little slice of heaven and was beyond happy to see it with my own eyes. My iPhone photos do not do it justice. The first thing we saw upon entering Papa’s garden was asparagus, and I’m kicking myself for having missed its harvest.

Once it’s past its prime, the stalks grow tall & reedy while the tops run to fern. Beautiful, IMHO.

I will be back in the spring for the asparagus. Mark my words, Papa!

Next is the cabbage. The plants are huge, and the ruffly leaves are pretty enough to be part of an elaborate floral arrangement. The heads, however, belong on a plate, sliced and simmered to perfection.

There’s okra!! Be still my heart:And eggplant. Good grief, it just keeps getting better!

Our little piggie would lose her mind if she saw this watermelon, growing fat and ripe in the sun.

There are scores of bell peppers and tomatoes. If there’s anything better than a homegrown tomato picked from the vine, you let me know.

And then there’s corn.

Sweet corn.

My favorite girl couldn’t wait to get her hands on some of Papa’s fresh corn.

Amy took a step into the thick of things —  literally.

The corn was the star of the show, and one of the main reasons we drove to Mama’s.

We were going to get to help put up corn.

For the uninitiated, “putting up corn” refers to the process of picking, washing, blanching, de-kerneling, and freezing the delectable veggie. We’ve been on the receiving end of some of Mama’s corn, lovingly transported from Louisiana to Houston and carefully guarded and doled out upon special occasions.

This is good stuff, people.

There’s a reason Mama’s corn is referred to as “liquid gold.”

Here’s how it works: Papa picks the corn early, early in the morning once he’s deemed it ready. He can tell when it’s ready by looking at it on the stalk and by experience.

Know how many ears of corn each stalk produces?

Go on, guess.

Think about how tall and wide each stalk of corn is, and guess how many ears are waiting to be picked.

Two.

Yep, just two ears per stalk.

(I guessed 6. Silly city-slicker).

So the fresh-picked corn is piled up, ready to be shucked.

My favorite girl couldn’t wait to get going on this part.

Awwww, shucks!

As we shucked, Papa had his knife ready to deal with any soft spots on the corn.

He also handled any interlopers.

The pile of shucks grows.

As we shucked, we tossed the ears into a bucket, ready to be toted into the house.

A few ears didn’t pass Papa’s strict inspection. Not quite up to snuff for us, but perfectly suited as a tug-of-war between Molly & JoJo. After all that tugging, JoJo needed a snack.

Before long, the shucking is done…

…and buckets full of corn are in the kitchen, ready for the next step.

After the shucked corn is toted inside, it’s got to be meticulously washed. First the sink is scoured, then each and every ear is scrubbed and de-silked under hot water. While this step is the most laborious part, you know this germophobe loved it.

Scrub-a-dub-dub! It’s early, early in the morning and my hands were already pruney from all the scrubbing.

We brought in some extra help for the last of the cleaning. My favorite girl and Amy’s youngest, Carter, were happy to assist.

The cleaned ears pile up in the sink, ready to go into the boiling pots.

Finally, the last ear is cleaned!

After a quick 3-minute boiling, the corn goes into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. The smell in the kitchen at this point was quite simply intoxicating.

Once cool enough to handle, we ran the ears through the corn cutter. It removes the kernels and the milk. This is where the magic happens, people.

The container of water to the left of the cutter serves an important purpose: we dunk the shaved ears into the water, then run them back through the cutter in the opposite direction, to collect every drop of the milk. 

As we ran each ear through the cutter, Mama’s giant metal bowl slowly began to fill with liquid gold.

Time for a little break, to rest our arms and replenish our flagging energy. I truly can’t remember the last time I had an ice-cold Coke, and glory be, it was delicious. Even without any rum.

A few of the prettiest ears were spared the cutter and put up whole. 

The rest, though, went into individual bags to be frozen.

We processed 192 ears, which translates into 17 quart-sized bags of liquid gold.

Each bag was lovingly placed into the freezer, like putting a baby to bed. 

If Mama and Amy weren’t looking, I might have been tempted to kiss that corn good-night.

Once the corn was put to bed, we loaded up the discarded cobs onto the 4-wheeler’s trailer. By the time they’ve been de-kerneled and milked for every drop of goodness, they look like a foam roller used for painting a wall.

Usually Papa takes the used cobs into the woods and leaves them for the local wildlife. This time, however, the cobs went to Papa’s friend’s house to feed his wild hogs. My favorite girl wasted no time wrangling an invitation to go see these hogs for herself.

These guys look a little different than the wild hog who lives at our house!

Stay tuned for a full report on our day of skeet-shooting.


A little scare

I’ll say right here & now that the scare had nothing to do with cancer. There, now y’all can breathe.

The scare had nothing to do with cancer but everything to do with our little piggie. She fell in the pool yesterday, and scared the bejeezus out of me.

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Luckily, I was across the pool from her and was able to get to her in a matter of seconds, although it seemed like it took forever. I was holding a book in my hand that doesn’t belong to me, and apparently I was thinking about not getting it wet because I held it above my head as I swam over to the submerged piggie. I don’t remember thinking about the book, but after the calamity I noticed it was safe and dry on the edge of the hot tub, between where I started my rescue attempt and where the distressed piggie was. Funny the way we react in the midst of chaos.

Our little piggie is a curious girl, and she was sniffing a pool float that had recently been vacated by me. It has floated up against the edge of the pool in the deep end, and she must have leaned toward it to investigate it. I had my back turned across the pool and didn’t see her reach out toward the float, but I heard a small splash and saw her sinking fast. She was at least a foot underwater before she started paddling madly to get herself to the surface. She reached the surface just before I reached her, and I’m happy to report that she can indeed swim, but because she’s built rather low to the ground, I think she’d have a hard time getting herself out of the pool without some help. I shudder to think of her swimming aimlessly in the deep end, unable to make purchase and unknowing about the safety of swimming to the shallow end and resting upon the tanning deck.

So this time, we were lucky. She didn’t have to swim aimlessly and I reached her quickly. We were both quite breathless with fear, and she recovered much more quickly than I. As soon as I grabbed her, she relaxed but I still had to swim to the shallow end while holding her so I could get her out of the pool. Upon having her four feet once again firmly planted on solid ground, she gave a big shake, scratched one of her ears with a hind foot, and sashayed over to a sunny spot to dry off. It took me a bit longer to settle down.

Lately I’ve been thinking about resilience, and how ironic it is that going through something life-altering and scary, like a cancer diagnosis, would seem to make one more resilient. Before I’d looked tragedy and hardship in the eye, I would have thought that the harder the times, the stronger the person. Maybe that is true for some, but for me it seems to be just the opposite: going through hard times has made me less tough. I’m fearful now when before I was brave. I’m full of anxiety when in the past, I was not worried. I’m would up now, imagining the worst-case scenario before it even has a chance to manifest; before, I wouldn’t even have thought to go there.

Martin Luther Kind once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” That’s food for thought, and if anyone should know about adversity and resilience, it would be Dr King. In the abstract, I would wholeheartedly agree with him. In reality, however, my research seems to prove the opposite: the more crap I endure, the worse for wear I become. And that old axiom about “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” — I’m starting to have serious doubts about that one, too. Long after our little piggie was safe and dry, my brain kept replaying the scene in the pool. A continuous loop of Piper underwater was stuck on “rewind” in my mind.

According to the experts, I’m wrong. A study on adversity and resilience done by Mark D Seery, PhD, at the University of Buffalo SUNY, indicates that people who’ve endured moderate trauma are better off than people who lead a charmed life.

Dr Seery says that “while going through many experiences like assault, hurricanes, and bereavement can be psychologically damaging, small amounts of trauma may help people develop resilience.” He likens moderate trauma’s effect on our resilience to exercise’s effects on our muscles: small tears grow back stronger than before. Perhaps it’s because going through hard times forces us to become better at coping with difficulty. Nobody said life was easy, and now Dr Seery says that’s a good thing. I’m going to take his word for it, since he is an expert. I’m going to choose to believe that I’m becoming more resilient with each hit, despite the fact that it seems like the more adversity I face, the more broken down I become.

One of my favorite descriptions of resilience is in W.P. Kinsella’s short story The Thrill of the Grass. Kinsella writes beautifully about his love of baseball (in his case, the Chicago Cubs). While he’s best known for Shoeless Joe, the basis for the stellar movie “Field of Dreams,” one line in The Thrill of the Grass stands out. He refers to a character who had “fouled off the curves that life had thrown her.” I’m a sucker for a good baseball metaphor, and Kinsella knocked that one out of the park.

Fellow BC warrior Elizabeth Edwards knew a thing or two about resilience. In fact, she wrote a book called Resilience: The New Afterword. In it she writes that “when the wind blows rough, the tough adjust their sails.” Or, they fish their little piggies out of the pool.




Piggie portraits!


























THE END!