Whet Your Palate with Foods from the Present and Memories from the Past

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My Danish grandfather had several pigs that were kept in a pen near the back garden. If it was “pig slopping” time, I was there. The snorts and squeals of the pigs as they gulped down their food made me giggle. The smell of the mash mixed with whatever leftovers were available from the house, garden or dairy barn seemed intoxicating. Those pigs really knew how to scarf down a meal.

Feral Pig

Feral Pig

When people “feed their faces” or “chow down” on foods they love, I’m always reminded of those blubbery fat hogs. One of mankind’s favorite pastimes is eating. A phrase spoken around the world in many different languages is: “What’s for dinner?” When my children were still toddlers they would crowd around my legs and ask “Time for eat?” They were not only hungry. They wanted it now!

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“The Cook” 11×14 acrylic on canvas

Sometimes I stressed out about what to feed them. I wanted to provide something nutritious that they would enjoy, and I needed to stay within my budget. I didn’t want an anxiety attack every time I had to prepare a meal.

Solution: “The menu Plan.” I literally planned out a full month of assorted meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Now I had something to work from when I went shopping. I didn’t have to worry about food because I knew exactly what we were going to eat and when. I knew the ingredients were waiting somewhere in the cupboards, the freezer or refrigerator because I’d purchased them myself.

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When there were leftovers, I’d incorporate them into the menu. Two big hits were omelets and fried rice. Both used miscellaneous meats or vegetables in small quantities that could be folded into an omelet with cheese or stir-fried into rice. Hidden veggies were eaten with added bacon bits or ham to sweeten the pot.

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Cooking became an art form. I fashioned make-ahead meals and blended together the makings for cookies, cakes, and muffins. All I needed to do was add egg, oil, and milk and the rest was already done. I look back now and I wonder how I found the time or energy. I was a volunteer, I worked as a free-lance writer, and I had a large family. I think one reason may have been “lack of fear.”

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There was a time when parents didn’t have to hover over their children and worry that they might be snatched out from under them by some pervert or kidnapper. My parents certainly never had to worry about me. I roamed the neighborhood and played outside for hours exploring the world I lived in. I rode my bicycle home when I was hungry. My mother knew my haunts and she knew whom to call. I never felt restricted or tied down. I seldom felt afraid.

Food no longer seems to call us back home. We can buy it almost anywhere. In fact, more people eat out than ever before. They either eat fast food or buy take out and eat at home watching T.V. Our society eats on the run and does far too much snacking. Nutrition sometimes gets lost in the balance.

When my kids were still in college, I’d get a phone call asking for a recipe they remembered. Today they have their own recipes and children of their own. Even holidays don’t involve the time and effort they used to. Store-bought items take the place of the time-consuming hot rolls of the past. Potatoes and gravy are now prepared for you. Even a “home-cooked” turkey can be purchased from your supermarket.

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Although the traditions of the past come in a new form, and busy working mothers don’t have the time to prepare a full spread; people still enjoy sharing food and laughter with those they love. Ordinary food will always taste better in good company. Perhaps that’s what those snorting pigs were trying to tell me so long ago” “Bon Appetite!  Let the good times roll – oink, oink!”

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Interludes of Happiness are the Underpinnings that Strengthen the Soul

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“Americana” acrylic on canvas

Just when you think your life is on an even keel, something or someone wipes the gloat off your face and you’re down. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s this: Change is inevitable. Unpredictability is the norm.

The in between times when love seems never ending, when peace pervades your universe and you think nothing can go wrong that’s just when it does. Those prime times are short and fleeting. They come and go like breathing in and out. They arrive just before or shortly after a crisis.

Make the most of these tender moments because they never last. They are what memories are made of when we have nothing else to live for. These heavenly highs help relationships weather the uneven tides of emotion and anger. They give life zest and nourish a heavy heart.

"Kindred Spirits" 30 x 24 mixed media on canvas

“Kindred Spirits” 30 x 24 mixed media on canvas

Think of these pleasant pauses, these cherished nanoseconds as seeds. They can’t be saved or stored except in memory; but they can reside within us and provide a web of interconnecting fiber that can give our life structure and continuity. These interludes of happiness “relieve the darkness of the past and the gloom of the present.” (C.H. Spurgeon)

Like a flickering light in the gloom of darkness, these seeds of joy gives us hope, sustain us, and keep our feet planted on solid ground even when all of life is crumbling around us. This kind of strength is what makes heroes out of common men. When a tragedy happens, they respond. They just do it, never thinking about the risks to their own mind or body nor their inhibitions and weaknesses.

Human capacity is never fully tested on this earth. Knowing that somewhere within us is the action needed to meet our convictions is reassuring. Manufacturers and engineers know all about tensile strength when it comes to machinery and materials. Tensile strength is all about the ability to be stretched or pulled out of shape before breaking. Even though human beings are not machines, they are still resilient and capable of super human fetes when necessary.

"With These Hands -- Wonder" oil on canvas

“With These Hands — Wonder” oil on canvas

These seeds of hope, faith, happiness and joy that grow to fruition within us make us stronger, more teachable, and more bendable. This ethereal structure helps us to endure sorrow, pain, anger, hatred, envy or the loss of a loved one, the failure of business or marriage. This foundation is what helps you get up when you fall, and why you take one step after another even though you don’t feel like walking or going anywhere.

Savor the good times. Remember them in the bad times. Make more of these moments every chance you get. This is the web or safety net that will give you courage when you need it the most and the resiliency to hold on a little longer when your heart is breaking.

Sea Swirls

“Sea Swirls” 24×18 acrylic on canvas

Change comes to all of us. Nothing stays the same. Ride the waves, my friend. Your life’s journey will sometimes lift you up and at other times slap you down in the grit of despair. Don’t give up in the heat of the moment. Coast and surf until you gain some traction. You will survive.

(This blog was delayed by the unforeseen, but it also gave me my subject matter.)

Helping another Person, an Animal or a Worthy “Cause” Lifts us in the Process

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For the most part human beings are a compassionate lot. We hate to see suffering of any kind, especially that of our four-footed friends.

When wildfires began to tear through the states of Victoria and South Australia, koala bears were the first victims. Arboreal by nature (tree living), these marsupials were literally “up a tree” when the blaze trapped them; a eucalyptus tree, specifically, where they breed and feed. Koalas spend most of their time high above the ground clinging to the trees with their claws. On the ground they are slow moving and cumbersome.

According to news sources, the “first fire victim was Jeremy the koala taken in by the Australian Marine Wildlife Research and Rescue Organization. Jeremy has become the poster bear for the koalas’ plight.”

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Now four other organizations have teamed up to treat him and the other koalas they know are out there. Special mittens sewn from clean 100% cotton material have been made for Jeremy. They work like burn dressings and must be changed often.

“The International Fund for Animal Welfare is requesting koala mitten donations from around the world. If you’d like to help, here is a link for the Koala mitten pattern  which should be made from clean 100 percent cotton material, like old sheets or tea towels. Follow the directions carefully.

According to Josey Sharrad, “Just like any burn victim, koalas’ dressings need changing daily, meaning a constant supply of mittens is needed by wildlife care takers.  Some burned koalas can take up to a year to fully recover. It also doesn’t hurt that they look damn cute in their mittens!”

Donations can be sent to IFAW, 6 Belmore Street, Surry Hills 2010. From there, the IFAW will allocate the mittens wherever they’re needed most.

I was so touched by this tragedy and the sweet photos of these adorable marsupials that I had to do my part by spreading the word!  There is nothing in the world more satisfying than helping others and that includes these helpless animals.

As I was raising my children, I nursed baby birds, turtles, dogs and kittens back to health. Sometimes I succeeded, and sometimes not. We lost a wonderful black dog named Buttons because he ran into the street chasing after my son. When he was hit by a car it broke all of our hearts. We buried him in our back yard.

Wild creatures have special needs and sometimes do not respond to our efforts to heal them. Gladly, professional teams of experts have the required knowledge to know and understand the specific needs of each species.

In Florida, professional teams have rescued and healed pelicans, sea turtles, manatees, dolphins and whales. Even with expert knowledge, a few fail to thrive. It is encouraging to see the interested people who crowd the beaches when a healed survivor is released. The earth belongs to all of us, and we should do our part to protect these defenseless creatures.

Cruelty in any shape or form should never be accepted. Intentionally starving, neglecting, or torturing an animal in anyway should not be tolerated. How we treat the innocent and unprotected says a lot about us as individuals. All life should be respected and cherished.

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“Bella Bellissimo” 16×20 acrylic on canvas (SOLD) Commission a dog portrait in oil, acrylic, pastel

This Little Piggy doesn’t Go to Market!

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Feral Pig

Feral Pig

They are having a “pig run” in Southwest Florida. According to the news, these runs allow people to hunt feral pigs and exterminate them. Before you protest, let me assure you that the residents will be pleased. Here are a few reasons why:

Feral pigs run wild in Florida, usually under the cover of darkness. These oinkers are also called “wild boars,” wild hogs,” or “razorbacks.”  Sound intimidating? They are if confronted. Their tusks are sharp and from three to six inches long. They can run fast and swim well which is why they seldom get caught, except when outsmarted by a hungry alligator looking for filet of pork. In this case, being pigheaded doesn’t help.

Are they good to eat? I saw a feral piglet left behind by a roaming herd. He was plump, pink, and rather juicy looking, I thought. But wild pigs are seldom eaten, unless you’re willing to risk the parasitic worms that embed their flesh or the myriad diseases they carry. The early settlers roasted feral hogs for dinner. These hardy folks lived in such primitive conditions, that they probably died of malaria or old age long before the effects of the worms kicked in. Many of them tried to keep domesticated pigs of their own, but the feral pigs managed to breakdown their fences and interbreed, creating more wild hogs.

Trying to eradicate wild pigs is like swatting at flies. They breed like jack rabbits, they’re elusive, and they’re always on the run. What do they do in the wee hours of the morning? They uproot people’s lawns and flower beds searching for seeds, acorns, roots, fungi, worms and snails.

Golf club owners are terrified they will plow through their turf and cost them thousands of dollars in damages. Homeowners cringe when they see their well manicured lawns turned into a mass of overturned clods.  How do I know this?  Our back yard was once feral-pig-plowed. Other yards in our neighborhood were also hit. In some cases, it’s an easy fix — simply stomp the uprooted sod back into place; in other cases, not so easy.

A friend of mine had her front lawn feral-pig-plowed three times. Living alone with a disability, she hired a lawn service to put her yard back together again. She paid for service twice. On the third time around, she complained to the Home Owners Association.  Her persistence paid off, and she got money back for her piggy bank.

Living in Florida is not always pork chops and gravy, but it does provide an endless supply of stories for my blogs.

Wary Pheasant

Wary Pheasant

Dogs I have Known and Loved

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"Winston" 9 x 12 oil on canvas

“Winston” 9 x 12 oil on canvas

As a child, my family lived in an upstairs apartment over my grandmother and grandfather Larsen’s big corner home. Black walnut trees hovered like giants over my head, and two tall pine trees spread their prickly branches killing any vegetation beneath. It was a great place to hide once I found entrance.

I was not allowed to have a pet except gold fish, but I didn’t let that stop me from dragging home every stray cat in my neighborhood, but I’ll save that for another article.

My first experience with a real pet was as a young mother when a chiwawa named, Penny, spent six winter months with us. My two toddlers were delighted. Penny was my Uncle Wilford’s best “bitch.” He was a breeder, and called me one day saying that Penny was in need of a rest and would I mind watching her for a few months.

I knew Penny from my visits at my aunt and uncle’s house Southwest of town. This was more than a hobby for them, it was a second job that both devoted time and love into. I agreed reluctantly as our tiny rental home was already crowded, and the cement floors in winter were moist and cold.

Penny turned out to be a delight and never any trouble whatsoever. She slept on our enclosed back porch which was freezing cold, but she snuggled in a box full of blankets and seemed to sleep warmly, even though we could see her breath and ours before she came back inside.

Skipper came next, a free rescue dog we obtained in Phoenix that was part Schnauzer and part unknown which became apparent later when he turned into the ugliest, scraggly haired dog I’d ever laid eyes on. By this time we had four kids who loved every bone in his scrawny body. Unfortunately, a new job in New Jersey and a long move across country demanded that we give him to another loving pet owner.

Lady and Buttons joined our family several years later in Kansas City. My husband found two strays running along the highway and fearing for their safety brought them home. It was love at first sight for the children. Lady was a white and black spaniel and Buttons was a mix of terrier and mutt. They never had accidents in the house, but spent much of their time in the backyard.

One day while picking beans in our small garden, I noticed that the pods were covered in dog hairs. The dogs had been chasing squirrels and black birds out of the garden while I praised them, but in the process had ruined the produce in the process. Have you ever tried to wash dog hair from a fuzzy green bean? It’s almost impossible and requires each bean be washed separately.

My husband wasn’t pleased. He was also disappointed in the children who were supposed to learn responsibility by taking care of the dogs. He never gave them a warning or a second chance, just stuffed the dogs into the car and took them to the pound, leaving me behind to explain their fate, mop up my children’s tears and comfort their hearts. 

A cruel and thoughtless move I felt. Those of you who know and love dogs will understand. I’m surprised the children were given another chance to experience animal companionship. But after another move brought us to Minnesota, the door was opened for yet another waggley tailed pup that wound itself around our hearts.

My son, Chris, won a Soap Box Derby at a Cub Scout event, and the prize was a little black puppy; part of a litter from a Lhasa that belonged to a friend. My youngest son, Quinn, who cried the hardest when Lady and Buttons were sent away, adopted the pup immediately. They were like two peas in a pod.

He called the dog Buttons after the one he had lost. Buttons was smart as a whip. He’d jump up in the air to catch popcorn and seemed to understand many human words. He was lovable, loyal, and playful.  He followed Quinn everywhere.

One day, Quinn was playing outside. Buttons knew he was out there and whined and whined to be let out. By chance, Quinn’s dad was working in the garage and accidently left the kitchen door ajar as he went back to work. The main garage door was open. Buttons slipped through the door and ran to where the sound of his beloved master played. A car going down the street at just that moment tried to brake, but it was too late. Buttons was injured beyond repair and died instantly.

We all mourned that beloved pet. We tried a replacement with Pooky, a tiny Shih Tzu, but Quinn refused to bond and continued to mourn Buttons for a long, long time.