Friday, December 29, 2006

I'm Being Formally Charged With Parental Misconduct

I'm working on a different post, but I just had to break in for a minute to report that my daughter, who has been pleading, begging, whining, nagging, and crying about her VERY intense need to GO TO THE RESTAURANT AND SEE AUDREY (her favorite 4-year-old peer, whose parents own and operate the new Italian restaurant that we've been frequenting in town--I believe Bella thinks that Audrey and her parents just happen to be there every time we go) for the last 5 hours, has pulled out the big guns.

She just threatened to call the police if I do not meet her demands. And also to not be my best friend any more, but the police thing was way funnier.

Seriously: "Mommy, I have to tell you, that if we do not gototherestaurantandseeAudrey RIGHT NOW, I am going to CALL THE POLICE."

I nearly wet myself. And fortunately, while I was typing this, she changed tack, and came and hugged me, told me she was sorry, and that she would "try very hard to be good...if we can just gototherestaurantandseeaudrey."

Good thing she changed her tune, too. Otherwise I'd have had to call the police. And because I have a healthy respect for law enforcement (and because we already decided to do so hours ago), now we're off to THE RESTAURANT. To see Audrey. And hopefully snag some drool-worthy spinach manicotti...after we've each eaten a homemade herbed roll as big as our heads.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Merry Christmas, Y'all, and They Lie When They Take Out Your Tonsils

They do. They say that you won't get all those sore, raw, swallowing-razorblades throat infections. Ha ha ha ha. You just won't get TONSILITIS, not technically, anyway, because you no longer have tonsils. What they don't tell you is that you'll still get sinus/throat infections, which will feel pretty much just like tonsilitis, with acute pain, and bright red stripes, where your tonsils used to be. Nice.

So we had a very nice Christmas weekend, most of which I slept through. I put a metric ton of Christmas photos up on flickr, but that's all I've managed to do for the last week, pretty much. Bella's sick, too, which is really fun, and now she has a referral to an allergist. Dangit. I guess it was too much to hope that she'd escape the scourge of allergies that her father and I suffer.

I have a ton of stuff to blahhhhhg about: Our first real visit from Santa in our own home; the recent frolicking of puppies; Alex nearly burning our house down IN HIS SLEEP; the fact that when my husband and I promise not to give each other Christmas gifts WE LIE; me actually setting the oven on fire by engaging the "self-cleaning" option...and, oh, yeah--that day I nearly got tossed into Gitmo for taking pictures in the Wal-Mart parking lot. I kid you not. It took TWO police cars to head me off at Lowe's for my "suspicious behavior." Because I am hard-core like that. Ah, well, those stories will have to wait a while. At least until I can swallow without wincing.

In the meantime, I have discovered the secret to flattering home photography. Hand the camera to the nearest 4-year-old. Around here, that usually assures at least one of two things that minimize flaws in raw photography, those being...

Overexposure (in the case of digital photography, I guess that means "over-flash"):

...and shooting sliiiightly out of focus:
That's me doing Carole Lombard. Or Veronica Lake. Or a pirate. Someone with one eye, anyway. I had just done my hair (this, in itself, is close to a semi-annual event, me "doing" anything to my hair besides washing it) to go to my family's Christmas Eve party, and Bella wanted to take a picture of it (see previous comment on the rarity of my hair being "fixed") before I got dressed. Which is good, because there are NO pictures of me from the party, because I passed out on a sofa in the den pretty much as soon as we got there, and woke up just about in time to leave. Woo-hoo, Christmas fever! Literally!

Oh! And my sister has come partially out of the flickr closet, and has some cute stuff from Christmas up, as well. Witness the hotness of Andrea and my MOM:

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

It's Really Good That They Don't Have Opposable Thumbs

UPLOADER'S DESCRIPTION: "Standard Poodles are among the smartest dogs in the world. They are eager to learn. Watch 2-year-old Cleo gain skill as she plays Volleyball with the kids. At first she sends the ball into the net or over the fence. But soon she is setting the ball up and hitting it over the net to everyone's delight. Cleo has learned many tricks, but this time she just joined in the fun and caught onto the the idea that the ball had to go over the net. The laughter of the kids was reward enough."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Burglar Alarm

Oh, the wit of that title. In that, I am "alarmed" over the possibility of burglars, and also that our home's security alarm was triggered tonight. Twice. And I'm royally freaked. You are surprised, I know, seeing as how I am normally the very model of calm and serenity.

So, we were at church tonight, happily enjoying the choir's Christmas cantata, and whispering to each other about how much we were looking forward to being back in the choir ourselves after Christmas, while Bella watched the dancing angels* in wonder. About 15 minutes in, Alex's cell-phone vibrated, and it was my sister. She knew where we were, so we knew she wouldn't be calling unless she had a reason. Turns out, our home-security company had called her (why didn't they call US, by the way?) and reported an alarm at our house. Alex left at that point, opining that it was probably a false alarm, while I sat and wondered whether it was a fire or a break-in, and he got back home on the heels of Chip, Andrea, and the County Sheriff's Deputy.

Security logs show this as the likliest scenario: Someone entered the back door (no finger-pointing here regarding who left that unlocked; hint, hint) of our home--the alarm gives you 30 seconds to enter the disarm code--and then moved far enough toward the hearthroom to trigger the motion-sensors. This set the alarms wailing, which in turn sent Nefarious Intruder hastily on his way, as well as summoning police.

The good news is that the the deputy got here quickly, even before my sister and her husband, who only live 6 miles or so away. Oh, and that we are all (so far) safe and sound, and in possession of all our worldly goods (HAHAHAHA, our "expensive possessions", don'tcha know...whew!) and poodles. Nothing stolen, nothing burnt to cinders...although, Delta, the standard poodle in residence--all the others are of the miniature variety--did nearly get shot by the deputy. We usually leave her in the bathroom while we're gone, and that's where she was when the alarm went off, and where she was, um, discovered by the deputy as he was doing a gun-drawn, room-to-room check of the house. The way he put it, I believe, was, "I was a Navy S.E.A.L., but that scared the crap outta me." A big black blur of fur and teeth, bursting from behind a closed door in a potentially-intruder-occupied home in the woods will have that effect, you know. Fortunately, both Delta and the deputy exercised good split-second judgment and reflexes, and no one was injured. But guess who's going in a crate from now on? Smaller poodles were all safely secured in theirs, and going bug-nuts-bananas at all the commotion. If I were a burglar? That would be nerve-wracking, the poodle hubbub, and I would have to leave. Of course, the notion of me burgling anything is pretty hilarious in itself, as I'd have such an attack of nerves in the first minute that I'd probably manage not only to set off all alarms, but also to lock myself inside while knocking myself unconscious.

Alex had left Bella and I at church, so once the po-po was gone, he had to come back and get us. We visited for a half-hour or so with people at church (with me entertaining vivid and colorful mental vignettes featuring Nefarious Intruder hiding in our storage building or elsewhere on the property, watching the house and waiting until we left for church to break in, and/or also not fleeing the property upon the alarm sounding, but rather, hiding in wait to see how quick the response time was) after the performance, and would you like to guess what happened next? That's right, another alarm. This time, it was just the motion-sensors. Since Alex had deadbolted all the doors before coming back into town, this meant that no one had entered the house this time. I felt a momentary sense of relief as we hurried back home to silence the second alarm, thinking, "Oh, good, it was all just a problem with the alarm."

Except. The first incident included a DOOR alarm being tripped, not just the interior motion sensors. Dangit. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that, and come to a conclusion that allows me to sleep. Which, ha ha, not likely. But, the way my mind works, I didn't even consider THAT troubling fact until well after running up against the possibility that Nefarious Intruder, rather than being "frightened away" by our alarm that first time, had instead HIDDEN IN OUR HOUSE, and was waiting to messily disembowel us all upon our return. Yep, that's how I roll, inside my head. Also, I just NOW realized that an intruder could have (but obviously didn't) entered the house through a broken window, which would also account for bypassing the doors but triggering the motion-sensors.

When the security company phoned us about the second alarm, they told us they were calling the police, like they had done the first time, so we fully expected the same deputy to be waiting on us. Only he wasn't. Instead, there one. At first, as we wound down the driveway toward the house, I thought his car might be parked out of sight on the other side of my truck, but it wasn't. Well, that was probably good, because this was surely a false alarm. Unless. Unless Nefarious Intruder had ambushed and dispatched the deputy, then put him in his own car and driven it out of sight, coming back to wait for us. Except Nefarious Intruder couldn't have done that, because he was still hiding in my house, with all the doors locked. Right?

DO YOU SEE the joy of being me in a crisis? Isn't there some kind of job, like a sort of actuary, in which you project potential negative scenarios for a given situation? For crisis preparedness, or some such? I should HAVE that job. I would amaze everyone.

So now, while my daughter and husband both blissfully snore, I am sitting up in bed, a rigid, tense, panic-stricken bundle of nerves, straining my ears at every noise and frantically scouring the internet for causes of false alarms. So far, the only even halfway-likely thing I've found has to do with PIR sensors and Automatic Temperature Compensation. We did build a small fire in the fireplace today, to toast marshmallows with Bella, and thought we'd doused it, but it had come back to life in our absence. Theoretically, a gust of wind could have blown down the chimney, momentarily displacing some heat from the fireplace into the cool room and creating a heat-signature "movement" that triggered the alarm. This theory would be more convincing if it were less than 70 degrees outside.

It would also help if there hadn't been that pesky DOOR alarm first and foremost. I mean, what are the odds of a "false alarm" with the motion sensor coming just an hour after a door alarm? I'm furiously searching for ANYTHING that could explain a false door-alarm, but am coming up empty-browsered. The muscles of my back, from tailbone to neck, are aching from being constantly tensed for the last three hours. When I walk, I have a stabbing pain, which Alex insists is anxiety-based, in my lower abdomen, with every step of my right foot. I've got the motion sensors set and the door to our bedroom locked--that second part is not for security, but to remind me, should I wander in the night, to disarm the sensors before stepping out the door. Every time one of the six dogs currently enjoying bedroom priveleges stirs, I jump out of my skin. There is a taser at my elbow, with which I will most likely painfully stun myself at some point during the night.

And as I'm writing, I've just thought of a small, heretofore overlooked security weakness here. Which I'm not telling, on the off-chance that Nefarious Intruder in reading this. (And, if you are, just do me a favor and leave a list of demands taped to the mailbox. Anything we own that you could possibly want, just tell me and I'll leave it by the street for you, if only you'll quit messing with my head. Also? WE ARE UPGRADING, so end your thoughts of exploiting any current "gap" in our security. This place is going TANK. Also also--just wondering--did you enter our property from the back and totally MISS the multiple large blue "Protected by BlahBlah Security Systems" signs, or did you just not believe them?)

ALLAY MY FEARS, Internets! Also, can I live with you? Insert nervous, gibbering laughter here! I am halfway to nervous breakdown over this. The adrenalin will not stop, no matter how many times Alex laughingly assures me that Gary Busey is not, in fact, holing up in our attic. I'm ready to move. Subdivisions are just not looking so bad, right now. Let's have some neighbors. NOSY neighbors! That watch your house all the time! I'm also considering adding more large poodles. Or, you know, a pair of komodo dragons. In other words, if you're coming over, CALL AHEAD.

Let me take this opportunity to thank my thoughtful mother for the gift of a security system, my priceless-beyond-words sister and her wonderful husband for dropping everything and rushing to our house even though we were only a few minutes farther away at the time, and the sharp ex-Navy S.E.A.L. (Did I mention the "Expert Marksman" medal above his badge?) sheriff's deputy who secured my house while NOT shooting my dog. I totally appreciate the tense quality of that situation, and I've had quite enough pet loss this year already.

*And now, the short post I was actually planning for tonight: Notes on a Christmas Cantata.

  • It was really good. Thank you, choir!
  • Seriously, there were dancing angels and shepherds. I've done a lot of public singing, and have performed in a few light opera stage productions and musicals since the age of 6. But I'm telling you, there will not come a day when I feel comfortable performing interpretive dance in front of my CHURCH. You guys who did that? PROPS TO YOU.
  • Baby Jesus was played by two different actual BABIES. No one cried or even fussed. One of them slept all the way through a gorgeous, moving solo, sung by the young lady playing Mary, who was holding the baby for the whole thing.
  • I wish I had a photo of the computerized sound-and-video control area, behind which I sat tonight in the balcony. Wow. Again, you people who made all that stuff work? Wow.
  • Kudos to the directors for opting to use the children's choir WITHOUT the aid of taped, canned voices "assisting" them. Our kids might not have been as polished as the "pro" choir on the recording, but the raw, natural quality of those little voices more than made up, emotionally, for any small mistakes in timing or pitch.
  • Again, on the dancing: Those of you who appeared on that ledge atop the baptistry? Mad respect, because had that been me, you'd have heard something like, "Glory to God in the highest, and peace--" SPLASH. Unless the baptistry was empty at the time, in which case it would have been a solid, reverberating, THUD.
  • Sneaking that Easter theme into a Christmas program? Made. Me. Cry. Twice. Little warning next time before you go manipulating my emotions like that. And good job.
  • I tried to leave Bella in the nursery with the other little kids for the performance, but she would not have it. "I want to hear Grandmommy sing!" And to her credit, I did not have to ferociously whisper, "Do I have to take you out of here?" until the very last song. Good job, Littlun.
  • Thanks to Mr. Dan for calling to check up on the status of our break-in. When Alex hung up the phone, I said, "I LOVE HIM." And I do.
  • As a matter of fact, I love my church family. A person's spirituality, and personal relationship with God, is absolutely individual, unique, and intimate. But if you manage to find a comfortable, edifying, enriching and fulfilling church home, it can only nurture that personal relationship. It's your treasure on earth, and I have a renewed appreciation tonight for my treasure. Thank you all.
Now, seriously: who's coming to stay with me until I'm no longer afraid to go to sleep? Also, does anyone feel like chatting? Say, all night? Come on, a few of you could take it in shifts. It's only 6 hours or so 'til sunrise.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

How To Tell When You've Really Driven A Point Home

You're guiding your four-year-old daughter in making labels for Christmas gifts. She asks you to draw examples of images she might use to decorate the labels, so that she can pick and choose from several when deciding what to color onto the labels next. You make line-drawings of familiar Christmas symbols, such as Stars of Bethlehem, wreaths, ornaments, bells, holly leaves and berries, gift packages, Santa hats and snowmen. (You realize that you're heavy on the secular imagery here, but also that babies in mangers are HARD to draw.) The last one you draw is a little Christmas tree, complete with tiny decorations and a teeny gold garland. Now for the finishing touch.

"And to finish it off, let's put a star on the top, with the gold crayon--there's your Christmas tree!" you say.

To which your child answers, "And let's draw a little person there, NOT TOUCHING IT."

(P.S. That is not my house, nor is that me in the background, nor is that boy-child mine. I WISH. Little Blondie in the giant chair, there, is mine, lucky me! And lucky her for having a grandmother who allows juice-boxes on that pretty furniture. Where that woman was when I was growing up, I do not know.)

Monday, December 11, 2006


Christmas Hearth

My hearthroom is kind of, finally, coming together the way I want it to. I think. There are still a million things it "needs," but at least the feeling of it is getting closer to what I've been wanting. When we moved it, it looked nice, but the feel was just...cold. It is nothing now if not warm. Moving the dining table out of the corner (to accomodate the Christmas tree) was just what I needed to unlock my mindset about the room. We built our first fire of the year tonight, since it was cold and wet and dreary out, and we sat and ate our dinner at the table in front of the fire, with the lights down and candles lit. Ohhhhhh, it was homey. Makes me want to throw dinner parties and wear crinolines and pumps, and hastily yank off my starched apron when the doorbell rings, as I set out the canape tray on my way to the door, checking my lipstick in the reflection of the silver serving tray...

*ahem* Sorry. Got lost in a Donna Reed moment, there, for a minute. Anyway, I'm inviting Tony over first, because he's local, and he would totally NOT make fun of me if I did wear crinolines. Or a poodle skirt, for that matter. Anyway. Hearthroom. Fireplace. Candles. Christmas.

And yeah, a matched fireplace screen and set of tools are on the to-do list. They just come after the energy efficiency evaluation, the insualtion of the attic, the leaking toilet, the shattered basement window, the chimney-sweeping, the extra fencing, etc., etc. etc. See, we have PRIORITIES. But more to the point, why are you mocking my lack of proper fireplace paraphernalia instead of doing what you SHOULD be doing, which is examining the soot-stain on the bricks just above the fireplace and telling me how to clean it. It was like that when we moved in, and we only had one fire last year. At the rate Arkansas weather is going, it will take us five years to go through our current supply of firewood.

I know. I know. You're looking at the display on the mantle, and you're TERRIBLY impressed, and probably picking up the phone to alert Southern Living Magazine of my undiscovered design talent. Because, puting some votives in front of some Christmas-tree ornaments, and then flanking them with bundles of cinnamon sticks? GENIUS, you're thinking. But wait. There's more. No, really. Take a breath. Because then? After that? I PUT MORE ORNAMENTS IN A SHINY BOWL, and set them on the table. And then, not satisfied with that, I DID IT AGAIN. And--AND! There is a large candle in the middle! With FOUR wicks!

Christmas Table

Yes, it's like magic. And no, don't be too intimidated to approach me for decorating advice, because I have totally not let this wild talent go to my head. And as for the ACTUAL talent on display up there above the mantle? That would be purchased art. Because, you know, sometimes I just can't be bothered to do it ALL myself. *ahem* The photographs of the candlelit wall sconces on brick are by Stacey Campbell, titled "Bring It On Home To Me," and you can purchase the same print from her--I won't mind. She has lots of other wonderful stuff, too (she's even having a SALE right now), and has recently been featured on! The central painting is an original, titled "Impossible Vacation 2," by Andrea Pratt. Andrea has more artwork that I love than I have wall space upon which to hang it all, could I by some miracle afford to buy it all. So you should buy some. Seriously. It's only gonna get more valuable as time goes by, you know, so get in on the ground floor. (Disclaimer: I have ZERO financial interest in either one of these artists' work. I am just a happy customer.)

Thank you to everyone who had kind words for me about the untimely passing of Eugenius, son of national champion Genuine+// and our own Impulse Anastasia; grandson and great-grandson of the immortal stallions *Bask and *Muscat. The doctor who performed his necropsy phoned today, and confirmed that he did, indeed, have a severe twist of the colon with a significant necrotic section, and that the cause was "sand colic," a new and horrifying thing for me to deal with at this location. Curses on this land that bears no grass. I will be researching horse-management techniques that differ from what I've experienced before, so at least I have this beautiful colt to thank for letting me know what I might expect with the other horses on the property, so that I may better learn how to avoid such a fate with anyone else. Rest well and run hard in those greener pastures, my fine boy.

And to all a good night.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Bright Copper Kettles, etc.

That's what I'm trying to do with today. I cannot dwell on what happened with 'Gene yesterday, because it was just horrifying. For those of you who'd like to skip directly to the "brown paper packages tied up with string," you should skip the next two or three paragraphs, which are only there because I have to get it out.

To sum it up, I was able to keep my colt comfortable throughout the night and into the morning with painkillers. He was pretty much out of it, but he was quiet, calm, and at least not suffering terribly. But then the vet was not able to get here when he estimated, and by late morning, I'd run out of drugs to give him. The pain broke through, and there was nothing I could do, but watch, talk to him, and cry. And then when the vet did arrive, he had a far different protocol than our other vet for euthanasia. I don't pretend to understand all the factors that were at play, and I'm trying not to compare this experience with the easy, relieved passing of Montrachet, but this was...not like that. I noticed that different drugs were used, but had, and have, no idea what that had to do with what happened. And as for what did happen, I'll just say that rather than feeling like a mercy, this felt more like a murder, and I'll never get it out of my mind. I know that the euthanasia had to be done--he was beyond saving--but I'd have much preferred he'd have been able to just close his eyes, sigh, and go to sleep with his head in my lap, like his grandfather did earlier this year.

But that wasn't how it went. I keep thinking of that scene from "The Green Mile," in wich the weasely psychopath guard "forgot" to soak the sponge on Edward DeLacroix's head before electrocuting him. For those of you with veterinary backgrounds who are wondering, all I can tell you about the difference between this experience and that one, was that with Montrachet, two injections were given. One put him gently to sleep, as if for surgery, and the other stopped his heart, and it was easy--a relief. Two shots. For Gene, there was a preliminary shot, but he didn't seem fully sedated, and that was followed by opening a port into his jugular, to which was attached rubber tubing and a one-liter bottle of fluid, running full-bore. I can't describe the horror of the actual death, but to say that it took what seemed like an eternity, and it wasn't over until that liter bottle was empty. Compare that to 'Chet's passing, which took less than a minute, all told, and you have an idea of the state I was in by the time it was over. My desperate hope and prayer is that what I witnessed was purely a physiological reaction to the drugs, and that the sweet colt was already "gone" by the time it was happening.

Enough of that, and I apologize to anyone who's been emailing or calling while I have been deliberately not communicating. I thank everyone who commented or emailed with sympathy, those of you who don't feel that "it's just an animal," and wonder what I'm getting "all worked up" over. Before this year, I had owned and bred horses for over 15 years, and had never lost one, ever. Had some close calls with colic, and a couple of bad injuries, but never one I couldn't save. 'Gene's body will be going to the state lab Monday morning for necropsy, because I just have to know what went wrong. This is also when I thank Alex for dealing with the truly--for me--unthinkable parts of all this, and doing the things that had to be done, all alone (including somehow getting an 800-pound horse's body onto a trailer), while shielding me from the cold reality of it all. Thanks, Honey. This is the kind of thing my dad would have taken on, once upon a time, and you'll never know what it means to me that you were there for me.

So. Now to concentrate on the positive. Today is our wedding anniversary. We're still together, still committed to making this ridiculous arrangement work (I mean, seriously, who came up with this whole marriage business, anyway? Didn't it occur to anyone that even "normal" people get on each other's NERVES? And that Alex and I are both more than a stone's throw from "normal?"), and we love each other and our little family of three like crazy. When I was obviously upset yesterday, Bella orchestrated a "Belinda sandwich," which is her way of making everyone hug, with one person in the middle. I sure didn't have that when I was single. So there's that.

And speaking of family, the rest of mine is also the best in the world. My mom worked like a dog all week to orchestrate the office Christmas party last night, and I made us miss it, because I was busy being wadded up in a fetal position, crying and taking Xanax for several hours. (And on another positive note, that was the first time I'd cracked open THAT bottle for quite some time, so we're getting better with the weird anxiety-thing.) There's that.

I have the kindest, most thoughtful blog-friends EVER.

The dogs are all doing well, and puppies are starting to walk and look especially adorable.

It's FIGHT NIGHT. (Yeah, I know, it's also our anniversary, but, uh...we're going to see some boxing. If--I mean, WHEN--Jermain wins, we will probably jump up and down and hug, and that's romantic, right? Plus, my husband will allow me to mention, probably several times, how very PRETTY Jermain is, without repercussion.)

Wanna argue with me about that? Didn't think so. Watch for us on HBO tonight--I will be waving at YOU, I promise!

It's a beautiful day in Arkansas. Cold, for once, which is rare enough that we actually appreciate it, and bright and sunny.

Isabella has been the most delightful child (I mean, she always has been, generally speaking, but I'm talking strictly BEHAVIOR now) in the western hemisphere for WEEKS now. I'm starting to wonder if, after Christmas is over, I can just go ahead and start in on the Santa Claus business for next year. Would it work for a whole year? Or is that just cruel?

And then, my MOO cards came today! I took some terrible pictures of them, but please believe that the actual cards look MUCH better than my lame photographs. I'm wholeheartedly endorsing these little gems, and am coming up with forty-leven uses for them already. These are my "blog cards" for when people in the "real" world say, "Your what?"

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Prognosis Negative: Updated

Just an update on 'Gene (now with further updates at the end of this post): The doc called a few minutes ago with results of the labwork, and it's not good. What he found indicates a lethal intestinal necrosis, what we call in horses a "twisted gut." It's not something they come back from, unless it happens to occur on an operating table...which, obviously, is never the case. I used to think that was funny, the thing about a twist colic being too late "unless it happens on the operating table." Not funny any more.

So, where we're at now is that we have enough painkilling drugs to keep him comfortable through the night, if he lives that long, which is doubtful. If he DOES live that long, the vet will come out first thing in the morning and euthanize him. A year ago, I had never had a horse of mine die in all the years I'd had horses. Now, this will be the third.

I just want to throw up. And then find a dark room somewhere and not come out for a long time.

If it matters, which it really doesn't, this was the only horse I had that represented 3 generations of my own "family" of horses. He is also the nicest product ever to come of my own breeding. Had he lived out a natural lifespan, he might have been with me for the rest of my horsekeeping days.

He is, and was, a fine colt. A very fine colt. May his end, if it must come now (and barring a miracle of unprecedented proportions, it must) be easy, and quick.

UPDATE: He's gone, and by the end, it was not a "good death." I am trying not to even think about it. Suffice it to say that it did not go as peacefully and quietly as this did. Different vet, different drugs used, way different exit. I am very upset. (There's a little more, as much as I could stand to write down, here.)
Further Proof That Arabian Horses Will Do Any Darn-Fool Thing You Ask of Them

Thanks to Sue for the heads-up.

As fate would have it, I post this while keeping watch over our 3-year-old Arabian colt, Eugenius, who fights for his life tonight against a particularly merciless colic. Bloodwork and other clinical analyses are pending overnight, but the last word from the vet, as he left, was "If he's not up and much improved by morning, we need to put him to sleep." Not a lot of room for hope in that, is there?

I have had quite enough horse-related tragedy in one year, thank you. This is ENOUGH. I give.

Fight and pull through, 'Gene. Please.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Manna From Canada...nna

Manna From Canada...nna

Oh, boy! Snackies! In the mail! "Shreddies" = Wheat Chex, only better. "Smarties" = M&Ms, only not as good (but still good in their own way, if you know what I mean). "Wild Pacific Smoked Salmon" = Main ingredient in high-class, late-night snack, for our post-boxing anniversary celebration this Saturday. And here's where it gets serious.

Yeah. Americans? Listen up. I got stuff to tell. Like the revelation from the previous post, about the non-drain microwave method of cooking "Kraft Dinner," or the wide availability of over-the-counter painkillers that actually WORK, wasn't enough, I've learned of more that the Canadians are keeping from us. Some stuff, like the macaroni thing, and the OTC codeine, are probably because we're just too stupid to be trusted with complicated cooking information or free access to effective drugs. But now, I'm suspecting another category of subterfuge--I think that the Canadians might be keeping certain good things from us because we JUST DON'T DESERVE THEM.

And then there is an additional subset, as illustrated by the famous Multi-Cultural Canadian Death-Candy, in which we don't deserve the goodness AND are too stupid to be trusted with it, but I addressed that last year. Thank heavens my Canadian friends keep me apprised of such things, so that I don't live my life in a state of America-centric oblivion.

CeCe had told me before about the glory of ketchup-flavored potato chips. I responded in the way that many of you are undoubtedly responding now: "Yeah, C., whatever you say. Potato chips that taste like ketchup sound just graaaaaaayyyyyyt. And then maybe I'll have some poutine." (turns aside, gagging)

So. The box sat there for most of the day, even getting put away in the pantry for a short time, and then curiosity got the best of me. I opened the box to find two shiny silver bags of chips inside. Late that night, I opened one bag, carrying it back toward the bedroom and absent-mindedly fishing out a tomato-red chip to tentatively sample. My mistake was that I kept walking, because I got to the threshold of the bedroom at about the same time the unearthly burst of ketchup-y bliss hit my taste buds. By the time I realized it might be best to keep this find to myself, so as not to have to SHARE, it was too late. If my facial expression hadn't given it away, then my exclamations, such as, "Great Jumpin' Cats, this is the best potato chip I've ever tasted in my whole entire life," made secrecy a lost cause, and soon Alex and I were fighting like stray dogs over every last shred of ketchup-tater goodness. Then he got up and HID THE OTHER BAG. Up high, where I couldn't reach it even if I could find it.

Skeptical Americans? I hear you, but I'm telling you, this stuff is...WOW. These chips don't just taste like ketchup, they allow you to taste everything that makes up ketchup: tomato sauce, vinegar, salt, pepper...mixed with potato. MMMMMMMMMmmmmmm.

This is powerful stuff. And THEY DON'T WANT US TO HAVE IT. Canadians? You could make a fortune selling this stuff on eBay. It's got better profit potential than 222s or Viagra. And we can't get it, apparently, from any U.S. distributor. Which is odd, because there IS a U.S. distributor for the brand.

So--how about it, my Neighbors to the North? Who wants to be my Old Dutch pipeline? All we have to do is figure out a way that it doesn't cost 4 times the value of the chips simply to ship them, and we are in BUSINESS. I guarantee that I can provide a steady stream of potential ketchup-chip junkies. Just get me the stuff.

And hey, look--I'm at least 63% deserving!
You are 63% Canuck!

Good for you! You make me sorta proud. Yeah, sorta proud, not really proud, but sorta proud. You show potential and that is something to be sorta proud of. If you actually did well, then I could be really proud, but you didn't so I'm sorta proud.

How Canadian Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Monday, December 04, 2006

I DARE YOU, Challenge 2: Dinner On Hand

Read on for the current challenge, and follow the results on the pages of the "I DARE YOU" discussion group on

If you're like me, the query "What's for dinner?" brings a near-homicidal rage dangerously close to the surface of your brain. If you're like most people, it causes at least some stress. If you're a super-organized, Bree Van deKamp Stepford-wife, then you know the answer for at least a week in advance, and always have fresh produce, multiple sources of quality protein, every shelf-stable staple imaginable, a full stock of spices, and garden-grown herbs at your fingertips at all times. Go away, and make some homemade pasta, or something.

Is she gone? OK, then. The rest of you, gather 'round. Here's our chance to help each other out, and have a little fun in the process. If you're like me, then December is usually a tight month, money-wise. If you're not like me, read the first paragraph, so you figure it out. Anyway. One of the things that I must challenge myself to do from time to time, especially when I have so many things to spend money on all at once, is to prepare meals FROM MY PANTRY. Meaning, using whatever I have on hand, in pantry, regrigerator and freezer. I've been doing a lot of that lately, which is timely, coming on the heels of my "Taste of Love" posts. I've resisted the urge to pick up any "little something" from the grocery store, forcing myself to use up what we have before buying more groceries. This is especially important if you're grocery shopping using the Crazed Coupon Clipping Obsessive-Compulsive Method.

This weekend, we (by which I mean, mostly Alex) cleaned out the refrigerator, and I was slightly apalled at the sheer volume of perfectly good food that had expired before it had a chance to get eaten. For example, we threw out two full cartons of eggs that were long past their "sell by" date. In the first place, why was I buying all those eggs? In the second place, I couldn't come up with some meal, during all that time, that incorporated "the perfect protein?" Not even a Saturday morning plateful of scrambled eggs, maybe with some pancakes? Sheesh. At this rate, I'm NEVER going to grow up to be my mother. The good news is, our supply of puppy parvo/distemper vaccine is good until the spring of 2010.

So I decided to cook with what I have until I just can't do it any more, and so far it's been going...well, it's been going all right, but I could use some fresh ideas. Night before last, I made a well-received casserole whose ingredients consisted of some doctored-up canned chili, a box of Kraft macaroni & cheese (that's "Kraft Dinner" for my Canadian friends, and speaking of "Kraft Dinner," if you're searching online for meal ideas incorporating Kraft mac & cheese mix, search under "Kraft Dinner" on Canadian sites, and you'll have MUCH better luck. For instance, did you know that there is a preparation method for cooking this stuff all at once, without having to cook the noodles, drain them, and then adding the cheese mix and milk? If you're American, probably not, because it's certainly NOT ON THE BOX here), a package of low-fat Philly cream cheese from my freezer, and some shredded cheddar. Haute cuisine, it was not, but it got eaten, and it used up several of the items I'd bought in bulk during one of my coupon-crazed shopping trips. Note the striking similarity between what I call a successful meal, and what brought my mother to tears 30 years ago.

Here is your challenge, which I'll illustrate with our dinner from tonight. Not only do you have to make it, you have to photograph at least the finished product, and post it on your blog and/or flickr, along with the recipe(s) used, if any. Let me know you've done it, and I'll post your link(s) here on this entry for reference, and link back to it from the flickr pages. Our first challenge, in which you were dared to show us, warts and all, the contents of your refrigerator and/or your DVR "Now Playing" pages, went over very well, and was lots of fun (and if you missed out on those challenges and they sound like fun, you may certainly still participate by joining the "I DARE YOU" flickr group or emailing me your pics).

So, getting the ball rolling: I had bought a pork loin on sale several weeks ago, and had it sliced into boneless chops, and brought it home and froze it in several meal-size packages. Got one of those out to thaw in the fridge a couple of days ago, and it was ready to cook tonight. Peered and peered into the pantry and refrigerator, and came up with the following ingredients:

  • 8 single-serving cups of Mott's Applesauce with Cinnamon, from back when I bought a kajillion of them, nearly for free, thanks to the master-couponing tips from Attilla the Mom. This severly cut into Bella's applesauce stash, and she was not happy, but she still has enough for several more weeks' worth of daily applesaucing.
  • 2/3 of a bag of Green Giant Frozen Vegetable Medley
  • One of many cans of Pillsbury refrigerated Crescent Rolls (these were, like, 12 cents each on another couponing spree) -- Helpful preschooler not included
  • LOTS of instant mashed potatoes, see bulk-coupon-logic above
  • Skim milk
  • Newman's Own olive oil (I had just thrown out 1/4 of a bottle of same, because it was stale--that was painful--and I WILL use this bottle before it goes bad.)
  • Smart Balance "margarine"
  • Minced garlic in the jar (we use this stuff like it's going out of style)
  • Wondra Ultra-Fine Flour
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Course-ground black pepper
  • Dried chives
  • Coarse Kosher salt
The chops were VERY lean, as in trimmed of all fat, so I drizzled a little olive oil onto a heated, heavy pan, then browned the chops on both sides. Once that was done, I removed them to a casserole dish. Envy my classy Pyrex, and pretend it's a LeCreuset baker, which is what I'd rather have.
Ignore the fact that I'm about to change tenses from past to present, mid-stream, and go back to the pan, still on the stove, with the leftover olive oil and pork bits. Add about twice as much minced garlic as you would if you were working with fresh garlic, to taste, and brown it. Add water that's already hot (I heated mine to almost boiling in the microwave, because I don't cook with water from the hot-water tap, and neither should you, bleccch), say about 1 cup per pound of meat. Then, sprinkle in some flour, at a ratio of about 1/8 as much flour as water. Cook at a low boil, stirring, until it thickens up, then add about a heaping cup of applesauce per pound of meat, and a splash of balsamic vinegar (lemon juice would also work fine). Cook that down just a bit, a few minutes, then pour the mixture over the pork chops in the casserole dish. Add cinnamon if you like. Bake at a low temp, about 350 degrees F, uncovered, for an hour.

When your hour is up, you can go to work on the rest of the meal, and this is where the microwave comes in handy. Enlist a helpful preschooler, if you have one, to roll up the crescent rolls and place them on a baking sheet. Up the oven temp to 375, and put the rolls on the top rack, above the pork dish.
For the veggies, uh...well, you dump them in a dish, as pictured above, cover it, and microwave on high for 10 minutes. While they're cooking, you mix up your mashed potatoes, according to package instructions, and add garlic powder, dried chives, salt, and pepper. (Note to parents: Mashed-potato-stirring makes an excellent diversion for a Helpful Preschooler, should you have one around.) When the veggies come out, remove the rolls and pork dish from the oven, set aside, and nuke your 'taters for 5 minutes. By the time you plate the rest of the meal, the mashed potatoes will be ready.

Holler at family (if you are not from Arkansas, you may simply CALL your family) to come set their places at the table, and serve. et Voila! Dinner without shopping! Now, because I have limited imagination when it comes to such matters, do share YOUR pantry-raiding genius with the rest of us! (Note to male readers: That said PANTRY-raiding.)Psssst...hey, Mir--how ya like those plates?

And just so everyone has the opportunity to play "I DARE YOU," even if you don't want to do the whole meal-planning/cooking/recipe thing, I offer this alternate dare:

SHOW US YOUR PANTRY. (Note to Mocha: I said "PANTRY.") Like the refrigerator and DVR challenges, no straightening, no staging, just open 'er up and let fly with the photography. Again, I'll go first, and no laughing at the bizarre number of bulk-purchased items (YES, we have enough cereal, Smarty-Pants) OR my Canadian potato-chips, which I'll be talking about later, because they are, quite possibly, the most perfect prepared-food item ever invented since the beginning of TIME.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Game Faces

We've got 'em on. Here's a peek, as per Jane's request a couple of weeks ago, of our little fam, dressed in red and ready to root. (Get it? Hog, root...) Whooooooo, PIG! SOOOOIEEEE! RAZORBACK! Oh, and that thing in the photo above? Is a HOG HAT. Devised specifically for smuggling bottled hooch into ballgames.

SEC Championship game. Mojo ON.

Just kidding. He does not actually wear that at home.

He wears this one. I don't know what will happen when it finally starts to disintegrate, but I'm sure there will be some sort of ceremony.

Bella puts on a red shirt, and then we HYP-MO-TIZE her.

Yup. No one's immune. And just as an aside to my mother and grandmother, who are thinking, "When will you ever post a photo of yourself in which you HAVE actually showered, styled your hair, and put on makeup, for the love of Pete's sake?" Uhhh...Christmas. I promise. Or maybe even sooner. Really. I swear.

*UPDATE: As we go into halftime lagging by 10 points behind Florida (curse you, Gators!), my husband just announced to me, "I HATE Chris Leak, because he is the OPPONENT, and if you say he is 'cute' ONE MORE TIME? You. Are. Going. OUTSIDE."

I laughed, but only a little. Because? I think he meant it, and it's cold out there.

**UPDATE 2: We are now in mourning. Florida fans, tread lightly, lest ye crush our fragile psyches. Anyone caught performing the Gator "chomp" shall be summarily dismissed, without prejudice, for at least the next month.

And It Occurs to Me...

...that at the time I just wrote about in those last two entries? My mother was TWELVE YEARS YOUNGER than I am now.

Talk about humbling.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Taste of Love (Part 2 of 2)

For "the rest of the story," go back a day and read Part 1.

When I was a kid, just 8 or 9 years old, my family up and moved. Again. It was, I think, my fourth new town, third state, and fifth or sixth elementary school. I'd pretty much rolled with it, because I had my family, no matter where we lived, and my little sister, who was only 3 or 4, was too little to really get much of what was going on. This most recent move took us to Fayetteville, Arkansas, and while I didn't fully understand the reasons behind it all, I saw my parents read a letter that came in the mail one day, and then hug each other for a long time, and I saw my mother crying, and smiling and laughing, while they talked about answered prayers. Even I knew that whatever news that letter held, it made them happy and a little scared, all at the same time, and that was the day they told Andrea and I that we were moving to Fayetteville, so that Dad could "finish school," and become a teacher, and go back to coaching basketball. And I can tell you, that the idea that my GROWN-UP father still had school to finish? Horrified me, because I had already developed a staunch distaste for formal education. I can recall thinking, "My gosh, is it never OVER, this school stuff?"

So anyway, then we lived in Fayetteville. I'm pretty sure we were there for the start of my 4th-grade year, so that would have been 1975, when I was eight, though I turned 9 in October of that year. We were only there for one year, but I'm being honest when I tell you that the majority of my childhood memories, the things that really stuck--the feelings, the sights, sounds, and smells, the books I read, the pictures I drew, even specific visits to the doctor--come from that single year. It was the golden year of my childhood, the year of my childhood in which I was the most "worldly," but the last year that I was still 100% little girl, not yet yoked and bound by the constraints of involuntary womanhood that would come in the 5th grade--the bras and the periods.

1976, for most of which I was 9 years old, was pure childhood for me. It was sunshine, kite-flying, bike-riding, playing with my sister, running up and down the streets and in still-undeveloped meadows...and love. Lots and lots of love. It was the happiest year of my young life. I learned, years later, how very little our family had financially, and how much my parents struggled during that time, and was dumbfounded at how I'd NEVER suspected such a thing. Sure, we lived in a tiny rented house, without much furniture, but we always had what we needed, and I certainly never felt deprived of anything. I remember a birthday, it almost had to be my 9th, on which the monetary value of all my gifts combined probably amounted to less than $40 worth in today's currency--and I remember being so happy that I CRIED. I remember this because those were the first tears of joy I'd ever shed in my life. I'd never before been so purely happy that I could not contain the emotion, and I cried. It was the year that I got an Evel Knievel motorcyle-jump set AND a parakeet, and I was overjoyed.

I didn't see a lot of my parents that year, compared to years past and years that followed, but what I do remember is a lot of high-quality time. Mom and Dad were working HARD to pay for Dad's school and support their young family, which meant that they had to be away from home a good deal, especially Dad. He coached at the local high school, he was on staff at the university, he mowed lawns, he drove a school bus, he taught elementary school P.E., and he worked nights at "Mr. Burger." And those are just the jobs I can remember, without consulting my mother for help with accuracy. I remember waking up nights, late, getting up to go to the bathroom, and seeing low lamplight glowing from a small, rickety card-table in the front room. If I went and looked, I'd see my Dad bent over a biology or physiology textbook, diagramming the anatomy of the heart, or studying kinesiology. When I'd go and hug him--and I always did--I could usually smell the faint aroma of the onion rings he'd cooked for who-knows-how-many people's dinner that night, intermingled with the smell of his shampoo and the clean white t-shirt he'd be wearing. He never scolded me for being up, just hugged me and told me he loved me, and to get to sleep.

I have a similar sensory memory of my mother, of hugging her at the kitchen table (seated grownups were at optimum hugging-height at that age, you know), and thinking, very clearly, that she smelled like sunshine. I do remember them both being tired a lot of the time, but never to tired to tend to us girls, and certainly never too tired to let us know how much we were loved.

There was a series of child-care situations, including a period of time when I walked to a sitter's house for after-school-care with a bunch of other kids. I know I hated it there, but all I really remember about it was that there was an argument, settled by voting, EVERY SINGLE DAY among the kids about the allotted television time. The choices were "Family Affair" and "Emergency" (with Rudolph Mantooth, yo). There were more girls than boys, so "Family Affair" ALWAYS won, much to my disgust. Buffy and and that creepy Mrs. Beasley doll had NOTHING on "Emergency," in my young opinion. I mean, you ALWAYS knew how things were gonna resolve themselves when Sebastian Cabot was involved, but Rudolph Mantooth, well...he was a guaranteed wild-card. So one day, I just walked past the sitter's house and took myself right on home. I think other arrangements were made after that. I also think that I fled from school, in a similar fashion, in the middle of the day, on at least one occasion, and scared the wampus out of everyone involved. I was not what you'd call an "easy" child.

We had one scary babysitter, Karen Something, the kind that, as a parent, you have nightmares about. She was really, really awful, and had her bluff in on me, keeping me quiet about her minor cruelties and negligence...until she started being mean to my little sister, and that's when I busted her out to my mom and got her summarily fired. And then we had the fabulous Trella Yates (is that name itself not just magical?), one of those rare, exceptionally wholesome and responsible teenage girls, she of the homemade snickerdoodles, piano-playing virtuosity, old farmhouse with the wraparound porch, and what seemed like at least a half-dozen cute brothers. We loooooooved her. But the best part of the day, even on Trella days, was always being reunited with Mom & Dad.

It was in 1976 that I saved my sister's life, which is why she has to love me forever. We were at the public pool, and she went face-down in the kiddie-pool, and I was the only person who noticed, and pulled her out, her spitting up water and gagging. It was a close call, but she returned the favor probably a hundred times over, just in the sheer number of times she stopped me from wandering into traffic in later years.

When it could be spared, I got a couple of bucks to spend as I wished, and as I wished was always a walk down to the Kwiki-Mart (not "Kwik-E-Mart," like on "The Simpsons," and the spelling of the name of this store was forever entangled in my mind with the image on the top of my dad's shallow cans of Kiwi shoe polish), for an Orange Push-Up and a Mad Magazine. GOOD TIMES.

It was a big year for me medically--I had two trips to the emergency room for injuries (stepped on a rusty can-lid and sliced my foot open once, but the resulting tetanus shot came in handy later when I ripped a slash along my thigh while sliding down an old metal slide and catching the business end of an expose screw, and Dad was on duty for both those mishaps), and was incorrectly diagnosed as epileptic after passing out during a film at school (it was assumed that the flashing lights of the movie projector had triggered a seizure, but no one bothered to ask me what the FILM was about--the last thing I recall before everything went black was some pioneer guy having broken his leg, and him screaming in agony while it was pulled back into place to be say I was a "sensitive" type would be an understatement). Now that I think of this, I have no idea how my parents paid for these things. But again, did I have any idea things were strained financially? NONE.

This was the year that I learned I had an odd artistic talent, that I could reproduce on paper anything I could look at a picture of, with great accuracy. The first time that happened, it was...alarming. It was also the year I first remember deliberately, and with intent, disobeying my mother, who had told me NOT to read Peter Benchley's Jaws, which I did anyway, and then had nightmares for WEEKS about the grim underwater death-by-shark of Hooper (yeah, I know that in the movie, Richard Dreyfus lived, but that ain't how it went down in the novel). I outed myself a year later, after the movie had come out, when I interrupted my mother and a friend who were discussing the movie by blurting out, "But he DIED, Hooper DIED, and the last thing he ever saw was the 'dead black eye' of the shark, through a cloud of his own BLOOD!" Yeah. I was smooth like that with the secrets.

This was the year of my childhood that I learned the most about interpersonal relationships with other children, the main message being that other children are MEAN. There was an older girl who took my favorite toy, my Lemon Twist. You know, if you are a girl, that you remember this toy. It was a plastic lemon on a rubber cord, with a loop on the other end. You put the loop around one ankle, and swung the lemon around and around, jumping over it with the other foot. (Later versions of this toy included an automatic rotation-counter, but back in the day, we had to do it the HARD way and count out loud with each jump.) I could lemon-jump all DAY. Anyway, Mean Girl just TOOK my Lemon Twist, and then just pretended it was hers. Just like that. I'm astounded at the nerve even today. When my dad got home, I told him about it--not because I wanted him to "fix" the situation, but just because he asked me why I was sad. He simply drove me out to where Mean Girl lived, where she was blatantly just outside playing with my Lemon Twist, just in flagrante! He walked up to her, while I slumped down in the car, awaiting confrontation, because she was just going to say it was hers, and we couldn't PROVE it was mine, and it was going to be horrible...and the next thing I heard was my dad quietly asking, "Is that yours?" to which Mean Girl mumbled something, and then, miraculously HANDED IT TO HIM. I'm telling you, when my dad got back in the car and handed me my precious Lemon Twist, he was the BIGGEST HERO THE WORLD HAD EVER KNOWN in my eyes.

My parents were constantly proving themselves larger than life to me, and I was nothing but happy with my family. It was a good family, and I'd learned enough of life, and seen just enough of other kinds of families by then, to realize, and internalize, that this was something special, this family of mine. I not only had parents who loved each other like crazy, and who loved my sister and I with an amazing ferocity, but I had a little sister who seemed to worship the ground I walked on, and who was fun to play with, and who I loved to distraction.

I had a pet gerbil. I had a parakeet. I had (of course) a poodle. I learned how to catch crawdads out of the creek with a piece of beef-jerky on a string. I brought crawdads (and all manner of other critters) home. One of these times, while my mom was trying to help me fix up a little tank for a crawdad I'd brought home, said crawdad proved itself to be, in fact, a crawMOM, and birthed about 8,042 babies in our bathroom sink. My mother calmly helped me to strain them out, one scoopful at a time, and liberate them all outside. One crawdad in captivity would have been OK for a while, I guess, but thousands was apparently testing the limits of even Mom's patience.

And one day, when Mom got home, she fixed dinner, as usual, and called Andrea and I to come and eat. Dad was working, so it was "just us girls" for dinner. We washed our hands, came in and sat down at the table, blessed our food and our family, and then looked at the fare before us. IT WAS THE GREATEST DINNER EVER! We had pigs-in-the-blanket, macaroni and cheese (SCORE! We hardly ever got Kraft mac & cheese, because Dad didn't like it...but we LOVED it), and extra biscuits. They were canned biscuits, which didn't hold a candle to my mom's homemade biscuits, but still, with grape jelly? Perfect way to finish off a meal. There were some Beanie-Weenies or some kind of baked beans there, too, but I didn't eat any form of bean back then, so I didn't pay any mind to those. Those were for Andrea, who was a Beanie-Weenie-Eater (only she picked out the weenies, which for some reason was hilarious to me, because she ASKED for Beanie-Weenies by name on grocery days, and she didn't like the WEENIES).

We dug in, Andrea and I smiling happily at each other and at Mom through mouthsful of this divine dinner. Before getting halfway through my pig-in-a-blanket, I grinned at my mom and said, "MOM. This dinner is GREAT. We should eat like this ALL THE TIME!"

It was at this point that my mother burst into tears and fled the room, leaving my sister and I staring at each other with huge bug-eyes.

It was not until years later that we talked about it and I was able to put together the whole story...and it's a story I've loved ever since. (For years, it was, "Hey, remember that time we complimented Mom's cooking and she busted out crying and ran out of the room?") And right now, when things are extremely tight for us--Alex and I--financially, and I'm wondering where all the money we need is going to come from, I find myself thinking back on those days. I'm sure that my parents were under even more financial strain then than Alex and I are now, but what hits home with me as I look back on those "belt-tightening" days is this: That those were some of the happiest days of my life.

Because they were filled, to the brim, with love.