About Molly

Molly is a writer, speaker, and humorist-for-hire. She worships the holy trinity of good Southern living: a porch, a pie, and a pack of dogs. Enjoy this blog or be a darling and go check out her web site for more information: http://www.mollyduggerbrennan.com

Family Movie Night

wreck 

Oh boy, family movie night.  I remember the excitement so well.  Let’s fire up the Jiffy Pop and get ready to enjoy an educational, cautionary tale.  Why cautionary?  All movies have a moral, don’t they?  All movies educate in some way, don’t they?

They certainly do if they’re entitled “The Bottle and the Throttle” or “The Last Prom.”  As a police officer, Dad screened vehicular snuff films to driver’s education students.  Not wanting to endure technical difficulties in the class room, he would dry run his presentation in our living room the night before.  No matter how young we were, this was family entertainment of the highest order and we all looked forward to it.  Only Christmas elicited more anticipation.

Movie night is where I learned that when people bleed out, they turn a beautiful, delicate gray-blue color.  Movie night is where I was fascinated that the force of a crash can remove the shoes from your feet while they are still tightly tied, complete with neat, symmetrical bow.  Movie night taught me that brains are slippery things, and the only way to remove them from the asphalt is with a spatula.  Movie night suggested that perhaps the back window is not the safest place for an infant to ride.  Movie night revealed that windshields are unusually cruel to faces, whether they are exiting or returning.

Yes indeed, movie night was exciting.  After watching, there would be a question-and-answer period until Mom deemed it was all too creepy and sent us to bed.  As if we were going to drop peacefully into la-la land after the potent images of destruction that we’d just absorbed.  Violence is truly primal and difficult to forget.  The images invaded our little lizard brains and fermented.  As a youngster, one does not just drift into butter cream dreams after staring slack-jawed at twisting metal and blood spatter.  I wanted more; much, much more.

My favorite scenes were the ones where the car was wrapped around something, front bumper kissing the rear.  I found it remarkable that the stoic tree or telephone pole didn’t snap, didn’t give, forcing the speeding car to accommodate.  Truth be told, I always rooted for the tree.  The tree was just minding its own business, not a care in the world, when — BLAM — some drunken young stud in his mother’s sedan hits it at full force.  How rude!  As penance, the driver endured a vehicle with considerably less interior room than before, often fatally so.

And then there were the questions.  I couldn’t stop questioning what I’d just witnessed.  Why would anyone ride on the hood of a car when a comfortable seat was available?  What idiot invented the game of chicken and why did anyone go along with it?  Why would you ever get into a car driven by someone so drunk they couldn’t walk?  When a drunk driver says “I’m fine, really, I’m fine.” does that phrase magically banish critical thought from everyone else’s mind?  “Oh well, if you say you’re fine let’s go for a drive.”

I had even more questions about drinking.  No one in my family imbibed, so I had no practical knowledge of how alcohol worked. Just how much do you have to ingest before your eyeballs turn pink?  How much alcohol does it take to push you past fun into fundamentally moronic?  Is this threshold the same for everyone or is it different?  Why would you drink something that smells like cough medicine?  I thought Kool-aid was quite tasty, why not just stick with Kool-aid and avoid trouble?  No one ever got pulled over for drinking Kool-aid.  No one’s mama collapsed into racking sobs because they crashed the car while high on Kool-aid.

Another stumper I posed to my parents was this one.  If you’re drunk and crash your car, why does it seem that your chances for survival are better than if you’re sober?  Is it because you don’t realize what’s happening so you don’t brace yourself, locking your arms and legs into stiff twigs to be snapped?  Does being drunk make you bounce like Tigger, and being sober makes you crack like Humpty-Dumpty?  What’s up with some drunks just walking away from massive crashes?  What law of physics makes it possible for them to emerge from a crushed and flaming carcass of a car completely unscathed?

Why is it that the beauty queen is always the one that dies?  I learned early on from these films that being named prom or homecoming queen was the kiss of death.  By third grade, I had made the mental note to avoid all pageants.  According to these films, winning a pageant was a quick road to an early, ugly demise.  Better to be the long-lived drama club geek, than the tragically dead Snow Ball princess.

Straight A students didn’t die in these movies.  The football star and the Junior Miss County Fair ruptured and bled out like slaughtered livestock every single time.  Their death was even more assured if they had (a) just won a scholarship, (b) were scouted for professional sports, or (c) had recently gotten engaged.  Oh, the tragedy!  Obvious message:  don’t get into a car with someone who is too sloppy drunk to talk, no matter how cute he may be or how long you’ve been crushing on him or how much it will impress your girlfriends.  Hidden message:  study hard, get good grades, and be way too geeky for the sports stud to ever want to drive you home guaranteeing your continued health.  It’s the better way to go.

Lesson learned?  Don’t drink to the point where embarrassing YouTube videos can be posted of you.  Don’t drink to the point that people can write on your face with permanent marker and you not realize that it’s happening.  Don’t drink to the point where you think you can really sing and that American Idol should just hear your rendition of Purple Rain.  For God’s sake, don’t ride with anyone who has.

The Catfish and the Bicycle

goat driving

(Friends:  I am trying this story on for size.  It is indeed based on truth but it doesn’t feel quite right to me yet, so I’m crowd-sourcing guidance from y’all.  I welcome all comments and suggestions.)

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Now I understand that my sister and I had a peculiar childhood. With both parents in law enforcement, expectations for us as budding young Southern ladies were skewed towards a paranoid place. I don’t know how normal our upbringing was, I honestly doubt I’d know normal if it tapped me on the shoulder and introduced itself.  It was normal for our clan, that’s all I can say.

The Manson murders happened when I was just approaching puberty. My mother never saw the world the same way again. She was suspicious before the trials, but seeing young girls convicted for such sadistic, blood-thirsty acts put a potential monster behind every beaming cheerleader’s face.   She counseled me to be wary of girls who didn’t “act right.” Being Southerners, not acting right could mean a girl didn’t compose proper thank-you notes, or that she was fixing to disembowel you. Not acting right was a confusing catch-all category, but whatever it meant, I was to avoid it.

So my sister Lynn and I were expected to be young ladies; well-spoken, well-read, and well-mannered.   In contrast, we were also expected to never ever to be the girl that ends up in a shallow grave down by the river. If someone tried to hurt us, we were to scream, gouge, bite, kick, and do whatever disgusting thing was necessary to live. If you look up schizophrenia in the dictionary, it may reference my early years. Be a delicate flower of a girl, kindness personified, but if you have to, use your thumbs to pop a guy’s eyeballs out of his skull.

Where I grew up, everyone learned to drive as soon as they could see over the steering wheel, around twelve or so. In a farming community, this makes sense. The trade-off for driving lessons was learning to load, shoot, and reload a handgun proficiently. These two activities were linked because no matter what family vehicle you were in, there was going to be a pistol under the driver’s seat. Unless you were in the pick-up, then there were shotguns in the gun rack plus the hand gun under the seat. I can’t imagine why boys weren’t lined up around the block wanting to date me in high school.

In my husband’s family growing up, if you couldn’t fall asleep you were encouraged to get up and do something useful. Read, do crafts, anything productive yet relatively quiet. In my family home, if you couldn’t fall asleep you kept your ass in bed. Rambling around in the middle of the night meant you might be an intruder, though I don’t know who could possibly be stupid enough to try to break into our house. Being mistaken for a prowler, well it could get you shot.

Car trips and outings meant we played the Observation Game. It was probably to keep me quiet, but it did teach me a skill. Think of it as the policeman’s version of “I Spy.” We’d be rolling along in the car, or walking along the street, and I’d be quizzed. How many people did you see in the car we just passed? Describe the man who just came out of the hardware store. What was he carrying? Which way did he go? You’d better be able to describe his face, not just his clothes. You did not get points for clothing. Where’s the closest exit to where we’re standing right now? If the path to that door is blocked, where’s the next best one? Get most of these questions correct, and an icy Nehi soda was the prize.

These were our formative years. Call them unusual, call them bizarre, call child protective services, it was what we knew. It was my parents’ way of protecting us from Very Bad Things. And there are always very bad things in the world. As adults, my sister and I often pass for typical, well-adjusted women until something happens that triggers our stand-up-and-fight-back.

Lynn now has two little girls and is raising them by herself. She’s getting by. Lynn found three beat-up but workable bicycles at yard sales so she and the girls can go biking on Sundays. She keeps the bikes in a decrepit shed behind her house. It ‘s an open shed which might collapse if you look at it cross-eyed, but there’s been a rash of bike thefts in her neighborhood and it’s the safest place for them.

One night while washing dishes, Lynn notices movement in the backyard. Someone is trying to steal the bikes! Not thinking twice, she grabs a butcher knife from the dish rack and runs out the front door just as the thief was coming down the driveway, pushing her daughter’s bike.

He stops — rookie mistake — because my sister is still running full throttle at him, waving a big knife, and screaming, “You drop that bike or I will gut you like a catfish!”

There’s a battle cry my family can rally behind. She got the bike back. No filleting necessary.

New Magazine Column is Ready for You

Beach Pie 3

 

The Jan/Feb 2016 issue of Blue Ridge Country magazine has hit the streets and it is bigger than usual.  It’s the travel issue, telling you all about wonderful places to visit in our area.  Call it our vacation planner issue.  Anyway, my travel-themed column is ready for you online and I hope you enjoy it.  It includes a recipe, a first for me. Of course, it’s a pie recipe.  Y’all know me.  Here’s the link.

http://blueridgecountry.com/newsstand/mill-creek-stories/the-car-wants-to-go-to-north-carolina/

 

 

The Permission Pixie

(It is that time of year again.  Ho-ho-holidays!  So I’m running one of my most popular posts again as a reminder for all y’all.  Remember to take a well-deserved holiday nap or two.)

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‘Tis the season. Fa la freaking la.   I got your jingle bells right here, mister. This is the time of year when multitudes of people run around like chicken missing heads, worked into a frothy frenzy over what absolutely has to be done, oh my God, like now. NOW!

Stop it. The timeline from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is full of food and the people you love. That’s all that’s necessary. So I’m going to give you a huge pass this year. I am secretly the Permission Pixie. Shhh, don’t tell. It’s my super power.

I, the Permission Pixie, grant you permission to ignore the urge to put up eight trillion blinking lights on your house. I don’t even put up a wreath anymore. In fact, I decorate so little these days my neighborhood thinks I’m Jewish.  Shalom, y’all.

I, the Permission Pixie, hereby give you permission to ignore all invitations that require you to make something. No cookie exchanges ever again. The pressure to show up with something other than a package of Oreos is too stressful. Cookie exchanges bring out latent Martha Stewart perfectionist tendencies and all of a sudden, it’s a world championship beat-down for who made the most elaborate cookies. Knock it off. You don’t need to graze through eighty kinds of cookies in a month. You’ve got to leave room for the really good stuff, like pie.

I, the Permission Pixie, give you permission to stop wrapping gifts like you are set decorating The Nutcracker Suite.   I have two words for you: gift bags. Easy-peasy, life is breezy gift bags. I have taken this to the extreme and use brown paper lunch bags with a bright ribbon. I am a sucker for anything industrial-chic that is also industrial-cheap, and brown kraft paper is a favorite of mine.

While we’re on the subject of gifts, I give you permission to stop giving non-consumable, (fruitcake will still damn you to Hell’s sticky spots) store-bought gifts to any person who is over the age of twelve. I say twelve because there are just different rules for little ones during the holidays, but you do get permission to cut back on gifts for them, too. There is only so much plastic crap one child needs, so don’t lose your mind, okay?

Black Friday is a day dedicated to showing the world everything that is embarrassing about America. It is commerce without care, it is greed without good, it is frenzy without friendship. Black Friday makes us all look like excitable, dim-witted sheep, bleating and trampling our way to a 20% discount on stuff made elsewhere. Stop it.

Special note to men. Do not buy your woman any gift with a plug. The exception is the Hitachi Magic Wand neck massager (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) in which case go right ahead, you scamp you. If not the Hitachi, things with plugs are appliances. Appliances mean housework. Housework sucks a big bag of sourballs. Enough said.

I don’t know anyone who wants another “dustable” around the house, no matter how adorable or commemorative it may be. I know lots of people who crave time. Time with friends, time with children, time away from children, time to sit down and drink a whole cup of coffee in peace. Time to talk and to listen. Give time. Give people what they need and want.

If a friend would stab a hobo to get five hours without her kids, give her a coupon for babysitting. If a friend complains about her lack of organization, gift her with a certificate to help sort out her closet or her office. If a loved one arrives home from work exhausted every day, give them a homemade dinner all frozen and ready-to-go, complete with reheating instructions. If your friend loves to garden but is unable to keep up with it then give an offer to pull weeds for a morning or make potted gardens together in the spring. A gift of your time is more splendid than anything you could buy. This extends to teenagers, too. Give them a gift of an afternoon at the movies, or the water park, or something they just don’t get to do. They’d much rather get that than a Christmas sweater, believe you me.

Why am I so anti-commerce during the season? Well, it’s not that I don’t like things. It’s that I despise the pressure to provide them. This season pokes an emotional blister of mine from my starter marriage. Every year, dear old Starter would wait until Christmas Eve, grab his car keys and grumble his way to the mall. He’d stop at whatever jewelry counter was closest to his parking spot and grab something. Then he’d grumble his way home, complaining that his work day had been interrupted. After dinner I’d get the gift, complete with the agonizing details of how difficult and tedious it had been to go get this thing for me, you’re welcome.

Why even bother? Every year I’d get some sparkling item that was extravagantly expensive, but so loaded down with bitterness that I hardly ever touched it. What was the point? So if anyone asked, he could tell them that he spent $5,000 on a bracelet or ring, or earrings, because he was such a magnificent provider. Inevitably, they’d ask to see it. Nope, it’s in a drawer. I need to get a HAZMAT team to scrub all the animosity off before I can safely wear it. That’s not a gift. That’s a reminder that you married the wrong person. That’s evidence that it’s not getting better. That’s your invitation to hit the road. Ho ho hot tail it outta there.

Let me be your Jacob Marley.   Listen up, dears. Whatever you give this season, give it with an open and tender heart. Do not give a gift because you “have to.” Give a gift only if you truly want to. Give of yourself, not of the mall, as much as possible. Tell people you love them. Act like you love them. Spend some time treating yourself kindly, too.   Take a nap and eat some pie.

Dog Rescue Reminder

Biscuit at Vet Office

This is Biscuit.  We adopted Biscuit from Operation Paws for Homes, a terrific rescue group that pulls dogs from high kill rate shelters in the South and brings them to the greater DC area (Virginia, DC, Maryland, and Pennsylvania) for adoption. They have a phenomenal success rate and a group of volunteers who, if they turned their attention to world domination instead of dog rescue, would rule the world in six weeks, tops.

This post is a reminder to all that adopt a dog from the Southern states where heart worms are rampant, that you really should have your dog retested for heart worms four months after you bring it home.  Heart worms can take four months from the date of infection to show up in the bloodwork.

Biscuit is happy, healthy, and heart worm free.  She is the most naturally polite dog I’ve ever owned, a real joy to work with and train.  If you’re interested in learning more about Operation Paws for Homes, go to their web site:  http://ophrescue.org  or just browse the national database for rescue groups and adoptable animals, http://petfinder.com.

All Kinds of Happy

I have not posted here in a while.  I’ve been on deadline for another project.  But that project is going really well so I thought I’d post a representation of my mood.

As an introvert who works from home and overthinks every stinking word she puts on paper, these good days are to be celebrated.  I hope you’re happy and healthy today, too.

happy tulip pug

Punctuation Matters

typewriter Andre Govia

This clever Dear John letter perfectly illustrates why punctuation matters.  Exact same words, only the punctuation has changed from one version to the next.

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Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior.

You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy – will you let me be yours?

Gloria

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Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior.

You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

Yours,

Gloria

Middle Management

MoseyOney the Magnificent

Pictured in the top photo is Mosey, our current Great Dane.  The bottom photo is of Oney, our first Great Dane who passed away in 2010.  Their personalities are so similar that Mosey may actually be a reincarnation.  To explain the Dane way of approaching life, Gruff suggested I re-run my column about Oney entitled “Middle Management.”  It originally ran in 2008.  If you’re thinking of adopting a Dane, it should be required reading.  I love this breed, but it seems that it is because they most closely mirror my own psychology.  I know, I need help. 

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We have a black and white Great Dane named Oney. The name Oney rhymes with pony and was the name of my great-aunt, Oney Lavinnia Davis. My great-aunt Oney never married despite having many suitors. She suffered from seizures and did not want to run the risk of passing that on to children. She loved all children but whenever anyone was pregnant, she always hoped that they would give birth to a robust, red-headed boy. Aunt Oney had a real thing for red-headed, freckled boys and I’m certain if given half a chance, she would have kidnapped Opie for her own.

My great-aunt was an industrious woman, gifted with all things involving needles and threads or fabric. She was a wonderful seamstress, fashioning extraordinary formals for my cousin. She was an accomplished lace maker, knitter, and crocheted all my dolls’ wardrobes. She had her daily activity schedule and stuck to it. So does my Great Dane.

My Great Dane Oney is devoted to her routine. From morning to night, she has a plan. Upon rising from bed, she heads directly downstairs to the living room sofa for a post-sleep nap. She believes in starting the day gently and how better to ease into things than with a nap? Then there’s breakfast, eaten with appreciation and grace. After breakfast, the pace quickens and it’s time for her first official pass of the day. This means that she absolutely must go out and inspect the entire property. It’s important for her to establish that during the night we were not invaded by marauders, cutthroats, or groundhogs. Once perimeter security is confirmed, it’s time for the post-inspection nap.

Fully rested, Oney is ready to take on more management duties. She simply can not abide displays of frantic energy of any kind. Screaming toddlers send her straight to bed. Border collies make her insane. If the English mastiff, Joe, and the Basset hound, Clara Jack, start to roughhouse and tussle, it must be stopped. Oney will get in between the two and try to block their contact as they pounce at each other despite her efforts. When that fails, she will put her paw on Clara Jack and push her to the floor. “When in doubt, stand on ‘em” is her leadership mantra.

More important to Oney than crowd control is resource management, or rather the allocation of the rawhide chew bones. We have three dogs, and I always buy four bones because this is not my first rodeo. I’ve learned that when you’re passing out something with the desirability of a large beef rawhide bone, having plenty keeps peace in the pack. Invariably, and for the life of me I can’t explain why, one bone will become “the one.” It, above all other bones, will be the most delicious, the most desirable, and the most sought after bone in the house, maybe even on the whole planet. Now skilled manipulation and strategy become important. Here is where Oney shines.

If Clara Jack has “the one,” there’s not much hope of getting it from her unless one of Clara’s favorite humans comes through a door and she bounds over to them in greeting. Then the bone can be snatched away. That’s a tough scenario to manufacture, so Oney just has to be patient, in position, and wait for opportunity to present itself.

If Joe has “the one,” there’s no waiting involved. Joe sees himself as Head of Security here, and will bark ferociously at the front window at anything that seems askance within a two-mile radius of our property. All are warned. There’s a 200-pound mastiff watching you. All Oney has to do to get the bone is to bark once or twice. Joe will run to the front window to man his security station, barking the whole way. Oney will snatch the dropped bone and run upstairs. After Joe is through securing the house, he’ll return to where the bone was and wonder what the hell happened. I’ve seen this played out too many times to think it’s a coincidence. It’s sneaky, it’s devious, it’s effective; by God, it’s middle management material.

A variation of this maneuver is when Oney has “the one” and Clara Jack has been patiently watching and waiting for her opportunity to pull a quick grab-and-go. I’ve seen Clara sit there over an hour, observing, inching closer, her desire for the bone vibrating off her body. Oney gets tired of the bone but doesn’t want Clara to have it for reasons known only to Oney. Oney will get up, carry the bone right past Clara to a sleeping, oblivious Joe and drop the bone beside his drooling maw, making sure that he wakes up during this process. Joe rouses and thinks that the rawhide fairy has visited and starts to chew the gift. Clara who has devoted over an hour of her time to the pursuit of the bone just stares in disbelief.

Now that Oney has reaffirmed her superiority, it’s time for the official evening inspection of the property. Deer, foxes, and bear are warned that this is dog country, and not to defile the kingdom by trespassing during the evening hours.

Most of the day’s tasks completed, the pace mellows again. Evening meal is eaten, followed by a sound pre-sleep nap on the sofa. All dogs are officially off-duty now. There is sincere snoring until the word is given that it’s time to crawl up the stairs and officially go to bed. Oney’s last management duty of the day is to allocate sleeping space to all on the bed. Gruff and I have reserved spaces, and the three dogs meld themselves into the remaining nooks and crannies. The Basset overheats easily so she prefers space under the ceiling fan, but Oney and Joe both want their blankets thrown over them and tucked in before the lights go out.

Life as a middle manager rocks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Old House

A brand, spanking new column is up at the Blue Ridge Country magazine web site.  It’s entitled “This Old House.”  I am tickled pink with this one, as it gives y’all a fairly accurate peek into our life here in the Valley.  It’s less Country Living and more Psychology Today than you might guess.  As always, your comments are welcomed both here and at the magazine site, where they’re constantly evaluating my popularity and/or law suit potential.  Love y’all.

Mill Creek Stories Column: This Old House

Homemade Ice Cream: It’s Officially Summer!

peach ice cream

My Grandpa Buck did not cook. He was up at dawn and out in the fields or the barn early and didn’t come back to the house until he smelled dinner or it started getting dark. As far as food was concerned, it was just something that magically appeared twice a day when Grandpa sat down at the kitchen table.

Every summer though, my Grandpa would pick buckets of peaches from the trees on the farm and make ice cream. He’s do the whole thing, start to finish, from the peeling to the churning without any help from Grandma at all. That was the only time I’d ever see Grandma eat more than one helping of anything. She always had at least two bowls and they weren’t delicate, tiny, lady-like bowls either. Everyone loved peach ice cream, but no one enjoyed it more than Grandma. It simply was not summer in our family until you’d had a bowl of Grandpa’s peach ice cream.

Like most of my favorite foods from my childhood, the peach ice cream recipe eluded me. I simply could not get a version that satisfied my nostalgia, no matter what concoction I tried. I blamed the lack of my own dairy cow, or a different variety of peach, or growing conditions, or pasteurization, or newfangled ice cream makers on the lack of peachy perfection. What was I doing wrong?

I still don’t know why Grandpa’s ice cream was so much better than mine, other than it was made by someone who loved me and always made time for me. That goes a long way towards making food delicious. I will fondly remember an expired tin of Spam if it was shared with someone who deeply loves me. Love is the ultimate seasoning, and don’t you forget it.

As far as the holy grail of peach ice cream goes, I have finally had my eureka moment. The good folks over at http://www.seriouseats.com put out a recipe for strawberry ice cream that I modified and it is completely wonderful. It honestly does my Grandpa Buck proud. I offer it to you so your summer can be complete. Go make your own wonderful memories. Life’s too short not to eat the ice cream.

 

Grandpa Buck’s Peach Ice Cream, Updated

Ingredients:

1 farm stand sack of fresh peaches, approximately a quart or 2- 1/2 pounds, does not have to be exact

2 Cups half and half

1-1/4 Cups sugar, divided into 1/2 Cup and 3/4 Cup

1/2 Cup light corn syrup

4 Tablespoons liquor, no more than 80 proof, vodka, bourbon, amaretto, or my favorite for this application, Cointreau, which pairs well with and enhances fruits

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, if needed to counter sweetness

Directions:

Preparation:

Peel the peaches, remove pits, then slice enough into thin slices or small cubes to make 1 Cup. You need these to be small to avoid forming ice crystals which are definitely not fruitalicious.

Combine the tiny peach pieces in a bowl with 1/2 Cup sugar and the booze and let sit in the fridge for a minimum of two hours. I left them overnight. This is where the science happens. The alcohol prevents the fruit from becoming icy, hard, shards in the finished ice cream. You’ll thank me later.

Take the remaining peach chunks and puree in a blender at high speed until smooth. If you are using a different fruit, you may need to strain the mixture to remove seeds or fibers. The peaches did not need straining.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining sugar, corn syrup, half and half, and peach slurry. Whisk until married. Taste mix and adjust with the salt and lemon juice as needed. Cover and chill in the fridge until very cold. I left mine overnight.

Making Ice Cream:

Take the chilled blended peach base (not the small bits) and churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

When the mix is just about finished, take the peach bits out of the fridge and drain off the syrup but do not throw it away. The syrup is fabulous in iced tea, lemonade, margaritas, or daiquiris. Add the peach bits to the ice cream and churn no more than a minute.

Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put it in the freezer for at least four hours to harden. I know, I know, that’s almost impossible for those of us who have impulse control issues, but it is important for the finished product. You’ve gone to all this effort, don’t slack off now.

Cook’s Notes:

Strawberries and mangoes also work well with this recipe. Have fun with it.

Also, don’t freak out about the corn syrup.  It improves the texture.  Calm down about the high-fructose whatever, you’re making ice cream, the best ice cream you’ve had in forever.  Let it go.

Self Improvement Unlocked

Partners in Crime

 

I have always been a self-improvement book junkie. I haunt the Self Help section in the book store.   I love the feeling I get standing there, so full of possibilities. Yes, I can lose 20 pounds! Yes, I can get organized! Yes, I can have more money! Yes, I can enjoy the most satisfying relationship ever! I am hooked on the potential. I get the same feeling in an office supply store, or an organization Mecca like The Container Store, or even a fabric store, and I can’t even sew.

I am completely smitten with the idea of becoming a better me. No more bad food choices. No more procrastination. No more avoiding exercise. No more clutter. No more sketchy money habits. No more sleeping late. No more dust bunnies the size of a Buick.

I am also completely smitten with the idea of all those improvements happening magically while I sleep. I am a hardcore hedonist at heart and not much for muscling my way through a huge, sustained effort to achieve, well, anything. For a while I even deluded myself that if I bought the self-help books, the attribute I sought would be part of the purchase. “Thank you for buying the newest book on weight loss, ma’am. I’ve slipped some self-control in the bag for you as your gift with purchase.”

Recently though, I have been making some major progress in becoming a better version of me. I’ve lost eight pounds. I’m getting up earlier. I’m getting more accomplished. I’m keeping the house picked up. All my floors are mopped. I’m going outside several times a day and moving much more. I am loving this new way of life.

What happened? It wasn’t all me. I hooked up with a relentless motivational partner, a real Marine Corps drill sergeant of a beast. No excuses, no waiting, no putting it off, no sirreee. I adopted a puppy. I got a gorgeous, six-month-old, Belgian Malinois, Energizer bunny of a puppy named Biscuit.

Now usually, I am not a puppy person. My habit is to rescue older dogs, kind of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get situation that offers few surprises and far less training. With an older dog, you know its size, temperament, and habits. It is already past the teething phase, so you get to keep your furniture intact. Housebreaking an older dog consists mainly of pointing to the doggie door. Boom. Done.

Puppies are totally adorable, but in a dictatorial kind of way. I watch Biscuit sleep and my heart melts. While my heart indulges in puppy pitty pat, my brain can’t help but think, “Damn, she’s recharging.”

Sleep in until eight? I don’t think so. Dawn’s first light is your new rise-and-shine. You can’t say “just a minute” to the last two inches of a puppy’s colon. Stay inside and read? Nope. You’ll be going outside every two hours, no matter the weather or heat index. Even with regularly scheduled walks, you’ll end up mopping more than ever. Your floors will gleam. Puppies are single-minded and if their brain is fully occupied with a rousing game of keep-away, it won’t process the “Yowza, gotta pee” signal until it is far too late to get outside.

Are you in the habit of dropping your belongings just wherever when you come into your house? Yeah, that’s not going to work. Anything below four feet is in imminent danger of becoming confetti. I have an added twist because we also have an adolescent Great Dane who is Biscuit’s partner in crime. Mosey is just fourteen months old, can rest her chin on the kitchen counters easily and can stand up and nudge the upper kitchen cabinets open. It seems that she and Biscuit are tag-teaming me. Biscuit, whose nose is amazing, gives directions to where the rawhide chews are hidden and Mosey pulls them down from the cabinets. So anything of real value in this house is now crammed behind closed doors or sits above six feet. My house has never looked cleaner.

You can forget about leaving fast food wrappers in your car. You can forget about setting something down “for just a minute.” You will never be able to open a cellophane package without your dogs doing their very best Biafran orphan impersonation. Evidently, all cellophane sounds like nummy treats to dogs, even if it’s just a pack of light bulbs. If you want privacy while you go to the bathroom, you should’ve named your pup Privacy, because you will never pee alone again.

Misplacing your cell phone used to be just inconvenient, now it triggers a major panic attack. “Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, I do not want to have to take you to the emergency vet. Tell me you did not eat my iPhone.”

I know it sounds like I’m complaining but really, I could not be happier. Finally, I am getting up early, losing weight, cleaning my house regularly, getting lots of sunshine and fresh air, and saving money by not buying all those self-help books. Hey, maybe I should write one.

The Puppy Plan for a Better Life

by

Molly Dugger Brennan

Chapter One: Adopt A Puppy

Chapter Two: Take Care of Your Puppy

Chapter Three: Live Happily Ever After

The End.

Yes, I’m Puppy Insane

I have been quiet for a month or so and I apologize for that.  I do have a legitimate excuse.  I have adopted two young dogs within the last month and they are running me ragged, but in a good way.

Mosey is a 14-month old Great Dane who was available through an ad on Craig’s List.  It was my first Craig’s List experience and to tell the truth, I half expected it to be the kind of experience that gets made into a cautionary TV movie, or even worse, an America’s Most Wanted special.  Naturally, I took my husband Gruff with me.  It all turned out beautifully and now I have an adolescent, 100-pound Great Dane pup.

If you’ve ever raised a puppy, you know how relentless they are in exploring.  Now, imagine that same mischievous pup being tall enough to rest her chin on the kitchen counter, stand up and nose the upper cabinets open, and grab the dirty dishes out of the sink and take them off to lick them, preferably while reclining on something upholstered.  How many times a day do I ask myself, “What was I thinking?”

The second pup is a seven-month old Belgian Malinois, a super intelligent and high energy breed that is favored by the military, police departments, and border patrol.  A movie is coming out this summer, entitled Max, about a Malinois.  I really hope this movie shows how much training and work is necessary to make these dogs into happy, productive dogs because you don’t want an intelligent dog bored and frustrated in your house.  That doesn’t end well for anyone.

It would break my heart if this breed suffers from the “101 Dalmatians” syndrome.  That’s an actual thing, where everyone enjoys a movie featuring a breed of dog and rushes out to get one, not understanding its exercise or training needs.  One year later, the shelters are overrun with those dogs.  If you marry the wrong person, you divorce them.  If you get the wrong dog for your lifestyle and can’t make the effort to make it work, they end up in rescue, shelters, or worse.  Don’t go through doggie divorce.  Save yourself the guilt and pain.

Hold up, you say.  Molly, you’re not exactly an athlete.  You don’t even like to sweat.  Why would you ever take on a Malinois after what you’ve just said?  Good point.  One, I have owned a Belgian breed before, a Belgian Tervuren.  It was a great experience though he was an adult when I got him out of rescue and then spent lots of money and time training him properly.  Two, I am training this dog as a service dog for myself so I needed a working breed.  Thankfully, I work from home so I can spend several hours a day putting this pup through its paces.  Between the training, and the Great Dane chasing her through the house and yard, she is exhausted.  An exhausted dog is a well-mannered dog.

So this will forever be known in my diary as the Summer of the Pup.  Wish me luck.  I will need it.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mosey

Biscuit and her ears

P.S.  A great big shout out to my husband, Gruff, who suggested we get these two dogs.  This man loves me, not in a flashy dozens of roses way, but in a more meaningful, everyday, makes me happy way.  There is no one else for me than this man, who thinks of me, my comfort, and contentment constantly.  I will love you always.

Livestock in the Bedroom

Joe Normal Pose

(This is my mastiff Joe who passed away this week just shy of his 12th birthday.  I wrote this piece years ago when I first adopted Joe and am rerunning it in his honor.  I have never met a dog more devoted to my well-being than this boy and I will miss him forever.)

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Economically, times are tough. Those that have spending money are finally showing a bit of well-placed caution, and those that don’t have money, well, the decision to become fiscally conservative has been made for them. Economic distress is so close that everyone is feeling its hot, sour breath in our ears, whispering terms of anxiety and fear.

We Americans are strong. We will adapt. We will come through this and be content and prosperous again. Though right now that we’re in the middle of this financial fog and trying to cope, we’d love a gigantic cocktail of scotch and Xanax, hold the ice. Yes bartender, I would like to run a tab.

As people are being shoved into tight corners and having to make painful choices, it is often the most blameless that bear the first, confusing cut. The family dog, particularly if it is a large breed, often finds itself dumped in a shelter through no fault of its own. Large breed rescue groups and shelters are being overrun with owner-relinquished pets as people are being forced out of their homes into an apartment or worse.

If you and yours find yourself having to live in your car, there is no question that Meatball the mastiff doesn’t quite fit your current situation. It’s not Meatball’s fault. He’s grown into 200 pounds of fur-covered familial devotion, but your new reality is that you have a Ford Taurus as a home address and two children sharing the back seat. Meatball has to go. He is an innocent, bewildered casualty of the current economy and it is just not fair.

My heart aches for Meatball. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a total sucker for a large dog. I am absolutely potty about lumbering, heavy-jowled monsters. My husband’s favorite breed of dog is the Labrador retriever, which I consider to be just a medium-sized dog, practically petite. We decided to adopt another rescue dog this year to join our two, Oney the Great Dane; and Clara Jack, the Basset hound from Hell. In a fit of unusual practicality, I was leaning towards something smaller this time, even bedroom slipper size, like a Pug.

Then my husband Patrick proved to me once again that he truly does love me all the way down to my toes. He said no. Even though it would have been so much easier on him, he said no to a small dog, because he knows I really do love and prefer large. He reminded me of the joy I’d known with our late Bernese Mountain dog, Bubba, who was convinced I’d personally hung the moon. Patrick told me I had to get an enormous male dog who was as smitten with me as Bubba had been, insuring that domestic bliss would be achieved. He even went so far as to bolt a twin bed onto the side of our king-size bed giving room for all, so no one would be left out of the pack while we slept.

So with Patrick’s encouragement, I found my very own Meatball. An English mastiff the size of Jupiter, he was available through the Southern States Mastiff Rescue group. I met him at the foster home where he was staying. He sniffed me once and promptly jumped in the back of my car. It was a done deal as far as he was concerned. I probably would have acted a bit more coyly, but that would have only wasted time. He was mine, I was his, let’s get on with our lives.

He is now called Joe. He plays with his sisters, likes my husband well enough, and absolutely adores me. And when it comes bedtime, a thundering herd of 420 combined pounds of dogs clomping up the stairs and settling in for the night sounds like disgruntled cattle.

I have never slept better.

Rhea’s Rules

Dandelion

No matter how old a woman is, no matter what kind of relationship she had with her parents, there are certain life events that compel her to call her mother. Sometimes, it’s to celebrate. Sometimes, it’s to complain. Sometimes it’s simply to say, “Ha! I told you so.”

My own mother has been dead for almost twenty years now. Even so, I still catch myself reaching for the phone when something fabulous or funny happens, thinking “Mama will get such a kick out of this.” When I touch the phone, I get jolted back to the here and now from the there and then. I don’t know what number to dial anymore.

Shortly after my mom died, I met Rhea Thomas. Rhea became my surrogate mom and dear friend until last month when she too passed away. Rhea had a certain set of life rules and in her honor I am going to share them with you now.

Ask for what you want. Rhea developed this into an art form. I’ve been with her in a restaurant and she somehow got the waitress to give her not one but two of the tea pots they used in their service. And here’s the kicker, the waitress apologized that they had not gone through the dishwasher, but she assured Rhea that she had personally rinsed and dried them. I was paying for lunch and all I got was a lousy receipt. Though I’m only sharing a couple of examples, it happened all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, Rhea was not pushy and did not act entitled. She didn’t beg. She often didn’t even ask for something, just commented how much she would love to find one just like it for herself. Boom! Gifts falling out of the sky from total strangers. Have mercy on your soul if you owned something with the Galo de Barcelos (the lucky Portuguese rooster) on it. She adored the lucky black roosters. Absolutely had to have them.

We were both realtors and one day on Tuesday Tour (the day realtors look at all the new listings) we went into a house that had a Portuguese rooster table cloth. (Awww Jeez. Here we go.)  Rhea started complimenting the home owner on her table cloth and reminiscing about Portugal. We left, finished touring houses that day, and that was that. Except it wasn’t. The homeowner took that table cloth, washed and pressed it, and told her listing agent to make sure that Rhea got it. Asking for things without actually asking was definitely one of Rhea’s superpowers.

If you didn’t get what you wanted the first time, ask again. Persistence pays and Miss Rhea was nothing if not persistent. I knew her well enough so that if she asked where I’d gotten something, I would just hand the item to her. It saved us both a lot of time and I did not mind.

It’s in the basket. Rhea made things pretty in her home. She loved baskets. We had a running gag. Whenever I asked her where something was, she’d reply that it was in the basket. Which basket? There were dozens. She had baskets for shoes, for paperwork, for reading material, for make up, for lap blankets. Her refrigerator was organized with wicker baskets, condiments in one, leftovers in their own, canned beverages in another. She wrapped her spare rolls of toilet paper in pretty wrapping paper and stored those in a basket. The lesson here is that you deserve to live in beauty and it’s not expensive to do that. Live with what pleases you and your home will be a happy sanctuary.

Pick your team. Surround yourself with calm, competent, trustworthy people. If you need help, drama queens will not do. Choose your friends, your doctors, everyone who enters your life by invitation, very carefully. Surround yourself with people who lift you, appreciate you, and will be there for you when you need help most.

If you were not designated as a member of Rhea’s team, you could talk until you were blue and she’d just nod occasionally. Unless you were fond of watching her nod, you might as well have been speaking to a cinder block for all the attention your words were going to get. Go buy yourself a bobble-head doll. The lesson? Save yourself confusion and heartache. Only listen to the people who truly have your best interest at heart. Everyone else can go pound sand.

Show up for life. Some days it’s hard to get motivated. You feel like hiding under the blankets. Let’s be honest, perky rarely happens naturally. But Rhea believed that you had a contract to fulfill. You had to show up for life. You didn’t have to do much once you got there, but a basic effort to participate was required. You’d be surprised how much goodness can happen when you leave the house.

We had a friend and co-worker, Barbara Tinsley, who had cancer. Twice. It ended up killing her, but not before cancer took her teen-aged daughter. So if anyone had earned the right to curl into a fetal position, it was Barbara. I visited her one day and she told me that many a day she’d be lying in bed feeling defeated, and she’d remember Rhea’s rule, “You’ve got to show up for life.” Barbara would drag herself out of bed, get dressed, and show up at the office. Once there, she’d feel better. It helped.

So if you don’t take any other rule of Rhea’s to heart, follow this last one. It will make a difference. It will improve your circumstances. Good things will happen. While you still can, make sure you show up for life.

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(You may be wondering why I chose a photo of a dandelion to illustrate this piece. Rhea was a dandelion. She was bright, cheerful, dependable, strong-willed, and she bloomed wherever she landed. A dandelion is a fine thing to be. It’s a compliment.)

Affording Doughnut

Doughnut 1st Day

(This piece was originally posted on my old blog.  I am running it again in honor of Doughnut, who passed away on Monday.  Sleep well, my little clown.)

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Are you financially secure? Is your retirement plan fully funded? Are your children’s orthodontia needs, wedding plans, and college tuitions all paid? Do you have piles of cash just lying around your house, collecting dust? Well my friend, you are exactly the type of person who should adopt an English bulldog.

I am convinced that the English bulldog is the only animal on the planet that makes the platypus seem smartly designed. The bulldog’s whole head is so convoluted and badly put together that the eyes, the teeth, the ear canals, and respiration can only be described as totally jacked up. “Jacked up” is the official medical term used by my veterinarian, who bred English bulldogs until he came to his senses.

Why would breeders make something with so many inherent weaknesses? In a word, adorability. Humans are hardwired to go all squishy when they see something with an oversized, rounded head, big eyes, and a snub nose. I believe this coding was to bond us with human babies even when they were screaming loud enough to rupture your eardrum, but the response is indiscriminate. Show a human something that has a wobbly, balloon-like head with large blinking eyes and we become goo. How else could Hello Kitty, a rudimentary sketch of a cat’s head, have become a mega-bazillion dollar industry?  Adorable sells.  Big time.

English bulldogs have adorability to spare. Even when they’ve matured past puppyhood, they still reduce humans to blubbering baby talk. “He’s mama’s squishy-wishy cutie-patootie, yes he is. Aren’t you, baby? Aren’t you my darling little pudding pop?”

God help me, I am a new bulldog mother and I am completely smitten. Before I adopted Doughnut, I read all the papers on bulldog health problems. I told experienced bulldog owners that I had found an article calling bulldogs a $5,000 check waiting to be written. I thought it was a joke. I laughed. Their response was different. They said, “Really? That figure seems low.” Uh-oh.

I did it anyway. I found a photo on http://www.petfinder.com and fell in love. I saw swinging jowls, mismatched ears, nubbins of teeth pointing in all directions, and a face only a drunk mother could love.* That’s the one for me! Thank God I’m married and not actively dating anymore. If this bulldog thing is any indication, I just can’t be trusted to choose wisely.

I have had Doughnut just two weeks now. His first surgery is booked for this Tuesday, when he’ll have his ear fixed and a massive amount of dental work done. Did you know that teeth can point straight back and up towards one’s ears? Apparently they can, though it doesn’t help one chew.

I am optimistic that Doughnut is hale and hearty in all other areas. He does appear healthy. My vet has thoroughly examined him and uttered the classic, qualifying line, “He seems quite sturdy. . . for a bulldog.”

Take pity on me if you see me on the street corner behind a card table, selling baked goods to raise money for vet bills. It means that I have adopted the canine equivalent of a money pit. But I should have known that. After all, I adopted a bulldog.

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* “. . .a face only a drunk mother could love” was the reaction of my friend, Al P., to Doughnut’s photo. It was a phrase I fell in love with and had to use. Thank you, Al.

New Column at Blue Ridge Country Magazine

My latest column is on the streets now in the May/June 2015 issue of Blue Ridge Country magazine.  It is also online in the digital version.  This column is entitled “It Takes A Village” and once again, I was lucky enough to get Joseph Mackereth to provide a lovely illustration to support the piece.  The link to the column is:

http://blueridgecountry.com/newsstand/mill-creek-stories/it-takes-a-village/

The Mailbox

mailbox

Those of you that have read me for any length of time must surely remember me talking about the “Motive Mailbox.”  If I ever kill my husband, this damn mailbox will be the motive.  If not, here’s the short version of the story.

I bought a brand new, beautiful, sturdy mailbox in 2003 and the installation thereof went onto Gruff’s To Do list.  The mailbox has resided on the floor of the living room, next to the television, taunting me ever since.  No longer.

My mailbox has been properly installed (in March 2015) and is the most gorgeous mailbox the post office has ever approved or seen.  I am absolutely giddy about it and have already been outside to clean it with Windex and soft cloths.

So take heart, those of you waiting on Honey-Do list items to be accomplished.  It can happen. Even after a dozen years, it can happen.  Well, it happened because we had a house fire and contractors were here anyway fixing stuff and they tackled the mailbox, but let’s not quibble.  My mailbox is up and I love, love, love it.  Now I have no motive.  Life is good.

 

Birthday Cake

Patrick Bday Cake

So here’s the birthday cake I made for Gruff.  When you say the words “birthday cake” to a diabetic, we automatically start thinking of how we can oomph it all up to there’s a whole lotta bang in a single serving.  From the bottom of the slice on the left to the top on the right, you have chocolate cake, dark chocolate buttercream frosting, cheesecake (genius, huh), cherries, chocolate cake, and a thick smear of dark chocolate frosting.  There was ice cream as an option, for anyone wanting to guarantee the evening would end in a diabetic coma.  Boom.

This birthday cake has been brought to you by the makers of Lantus Solostar insulin, when you absolutely have to celebrate but your pancreas isn’t up to the challenge.  Lantus, for people with the self-control of a mosquito.

 

Steak and Fries

steakfrites

This week is my sweet Gruff’s birthday. I will take him out to dinner and I already know exactly what he’ll order for his celebration meal. He’ll get steak and fries. How do I know? He is very fond of red meat in any form so steak is a definite and I have seen him order — for his two side dishes — fries and fries. I did not have to muster psychic powers to figure this one out. I can even picture his face when he sees the plate headed his way.

I have a console table in my upstairs hall where I have a collection of framed quotations. I’m kind of a type font nut and love meaningful sayings as a decorative item. I sneak them in all over the house but most of them are upstairs on this table. One of my most favorite says, “Marry the person that makes you feel like you do when you see food coming in a restaurant.”

I only hope that after all these years, I can still match a sizzling plate of steak and fries in Gruff’s heart. Happy birthday and best wishes for many, many more to you, my love.

Avast, Ye Snow-Crazed Land Lubbers!

We have been experiencing brittle, hateful weather for so, so long that the pack of Wonder dogs are considering mutiny.  Head pirate Clara Jack is summoning her band of sunshine-starved cohorts to hijack the Subaru and head to Key West.  Hide your jewels and car keys, the Basset is on the move!

Clara as Pirate

Zombie Apocalypse

thriller_michael-jackson

 

I was supposed to be folding towels. I was actually flipping TV channels and procrastinating. What do we have here? It’s a show called Doomsday Preppers. It was news to me that there’s a subset of the American population spending buckets of cash to hoard supplies for some impending very bad thing. Not sure why, but I suspect that the people who manufacture canned Spam started this whole movement. Brilliant marketing if they did. I didn’t give it a second thought until months later.

“Our government is going to collapse within six months. What have you done to get ready?”

What? I was just the “plus one” attending my husband’s company picnic. No one told me there was going to be a pop quiz.

“The name’s Bob. Bad things are about to happen. Have you stocked your basement with food and water?”

“Um, I don’t have a basement.”

“When it all goes down, you’ll die if you haven’t prepared. I’ve got an entire room filled with first aid supplies, water, ammo, and canned goods. You’ve got to be ready or you’ll starve!”

Oh, I get it. Bob here is a doomsday prepper, just like on TV. Worse, he’s an urban prepper. He lives in Washington, D.C. Bless his heart.

“Bob, you’re operating under a false assumption. Let’s just say there’s a Martian invasion. Food does not disappear. Distribution does. All that food that you’re used to seeing in your grocery store? It gets stuck in my backyard with nowhere to go.

You see, I live in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. We are Ground Zero for all that is tasty. It is rich with farms and food. We don’t starve. We don’t die of thirst. I have three working springs and a creek on my property. Even if you don’t count all the backyard chickens, pigs, and goats, there is an abundance of goodness within easy walking distance of my house.”

Poor Bob looked confused. I elaborated.

“Within roughly four miles of my front door there is: a hydroponic tomato greenhouse, an ostrich farm, a deer farm, a trout farm, an organic beef, pork, and lamb farm, two vineyards, five apple orchards, three dairy farms, at least six beef cattle operations, several corn and soybean farms, silos full of feed corn and grain, a couple of moonshine operations, and here’s the biggie, Bob. There are at least thirty commercial poultry houses chock full of chickens and turkeys.”

Bob’s bottom lip was trembling. He needed me to suffer so all the time and money he’s invested in his expensive end-of-days hobby would be validated. Bob was all kinds of sad that maybe, just maybe, I was going to be fine without a case or two of Spam squirreled away. It looked like Bob would be happier if I did not survive. This was beginning to hurt my feelings. Even so I decided to throw him a bone, cheer him up a bit.

“You just never know, Bob. I can see a situation where the Shenandoah Valley runs out of food. We’ll probably waste all our feed corn by converting it to ethanol, letting our animals starve. Then we’d wipe out a huge portion of farm land by putting in an oval track and bleachers. When the zombie apocalypse comes, I’m sure they won’t be broadcasting NASCAR races so we’ll use up all our precious resources just to have a little fun.”

Fifty Shades of Grunt

handcuffs

SAFETY NOTE TO PARTNERS OF PEOPLE WHO READ/WATCHED/LIKED 50 SHADES: (added 11 Feb 15)  Even if your partner found this book — and now movie — titillating, it is not guaranteed that they will accept having these same things done to them. If you know that they would indeed enjoy this type of play, do not cheap out and get your toys from a hardware store. Zip ties are off limits as well as scratchy ropes no matter what the movie did. Do not improvise. Do not buy sex toys that are labeled “For novelty use.” They are not safe and have not been tested to be used in the way you are planning. For your relationship’s sake your goal must be, “A good time was had by all.”

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(Article originally appeared on my old blog in 2013.)

Does your sex life need a kick in the pants? Well America, I know that when I want to read something titillating to get me into a romantic mood, I always look for sophomoric prose and insipid innuendo. Pitiful editing and lame dialogue gets me so hot. That’s why I’m a huge fan of the uber-blockbuster, Fifty Shades of Grey.

E. L. James, yep that’s a pseudonym, wrote a humdinger of a trashy trilogy after she read Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight trilogy. I haven’t read Meyers’ work, but I think it involves sparkly vampires, hunky werewolves, and one pale, angst-ridden teenage girl. I also heard that it has sold a gazillion copies worldwide and launched the careers of several nubile actors. In other words, it’s a monster money machine.

Ms. James’ homage to Twilight is well on its way to mega-profitability, too. This sexy stunner is set in Washington state, a steamy locale if ever there were one. (What was wrong with Aruba?) The motherland of flannel shirts, fog, and frappuccinos makes the perfect setting for a fresh college girl to meet a billionaire, that’s with a “B” folks, a billionaire who is fairly fresh himself at only 27 years old. He’s mysterious, he’s attractive, he’s young, he’s brooding, he’s a billionaire, so of course virginal Susie Sorority is going to get a slick case of the thigh-sweats for this guy.

Well, why shouldn’t she fall for the incredibly wealthy, but emotionally bruised man? What woman among us hasn’t let our sympathies sweep us into dating the misunderstood bad boy? Young women have a soft spot for a stray dog of a man. We have that weakness for men that don’t pull up in a limo, so think how vulnerable this baby girl is. Thankfully we grow out of this need to nurture once we learn that there’s always mange, fleas, and possibly rabies included in the package. Men who are stray dogs have attained that status because smarter women have already kicked them to the curb. Lesson learned.

Unfortunately Miss Anastasia Steele (I’m not kidding you) has not learned the wily ways of the world yet. Mr. Christian Grey (once again, I am not making this up) preys on her innocence and entices her to his Red Room (where’s Fellini when you need him) of lightweight BDSM pleasures.

Okay, this could be romping good fun. This could get the juices flowing in a marabou feather boa kind of way. But it doesn’t. Why? Apparently old E. L. programmed certain phrases into the function keys on her keyboard and randomly hit them every so often, you know, like a coke-addicted chimpanzee would. The repetition in this short book is without precedent. Ms. James’ word choices becomes distractingly fascinating in themselves.

If my Kindle search engine is to be believed, and it’s as good as anything else in this story, our little flower about to be deflowered, Anastasia says, “Jeez” 81 times and “oh my” 72 times. There are variations on the word “crap” such as “oh crap,” “double crap,” “holy crap,” and my personal favorite, “triple crap” combined for almost 100 occurrences.

Ana blushes like she’s having a stroke, approximately 125 times. She also rolls her eyes every five minutes or so, making you want to climb through the pages and bitch-slap her like the immature brat she is. In the brief interludes between eye-rolls, she raises her eyebrows. Jim Henson would not ask one of his Muppets do this much facial manipulation to convey emotions. It would have been overacting, even for Miss Piggy.

There are a combined 128 “frowns” between Ana and Christian and 125 “grins.” Schizophrenia is not pretty, people. Ana no longer has a bottom lip, having bitten it a whopping 35 times. Maybe that’s why she can’t speak articulately any more as evidenced by the staggering number of times that she and Christian “whisper” (195 times) or “murmur” (200 times) or “mutter” (50 times). Obviously this book is not for the hard-of-hearing, what with all the whispering going on.

Whatever hotness may have been achieved within these pages, whatever sensual pleasures unfolded, whatever tingle were to transpire are completely obliterated by the repetitive, lazy language.   When you can turn reading into a drinking game, “Ahhh, she’s blushing again, take another shot,” then there’s no story. There’s no connection to the reader. The book is the literary version of a cheap Chinese knock off of a designer hand bag. From a distance, it looks like a book. But once you start reading it, the handle falls off and the seams split.

It’s shoddy work about a young man who could legally be classified as a stalker and a girl too naive to leave her house alone and it has made E. L. James money hand over fist. The movie rights were bid up in the multiple million dollar range and the book has squatted on the venerable New York Times bestseller list for an abysmally long time.

So, congratulations to E. L. James for her burgeoning bank account. Congratulations on her chutzpah to throw this manuscript out and see what the public thought. Congratulations to her for so thoroughly taking to heart that old P. T. Barnum quote, “No one ever went broke underestimating public taste.”

No P.T, they most certainly did not. In fact they made buckets of cash while they whispered, blushed, holy crapped, and rolled their eyes all the way to the bank.

 

Serendipity

orangutan

(I feel like I need a hug this week.)

 

It’s been a rough couple of weeks around here. The house is cold because the house fire left a Mack truck sized hole in the living room wall. I mean, it’s covered now with cheap plywood and blue tarp, but it is frigid outside. I guess frigid is a relative term, so I’ll elaborate. Our night temps on Monday are projected to be 6 degrees. Single digit, six, just 6 degrees. Barely higher than that for the next few nights.  I’m not a big fan of ambient temperature less than the sum of my fingers and toes and here we are in the midst of a cold wave that doesn’t even require all my fingers. As my Yankee in-laws might say, it’s wicked cold. Six degrees. Now there’s a fine night for a fire in the wood stove. Oh yeah, I forgot. That’s the reason I have a gaping maw in my wall.

So, I’m a little brittle. Peevish. Ask my husband. He’ll say “snappish.” Short-tempered. All is not right within my world. The word “bitch” is not inaccurate this week. I am in a right fine snit.  Hissy fit a coming.  Woe be to those who seek favors, donations, or “just a minute of my time.” Go ahead.  Ask.  I dare you.

In the midst of all this internal chaos and pitiful coping skills, I took a moment to listen to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. It’s a short daily program on NPR (National Public Radio) that explores word origins, poetry, birthdays of august writers, and whatever else strikes Mr. Keillor’s fancy. I would categorize it as mildly interesting fluff, except that I’m a word origin nut so it really pushes my buttons. Love it.

Yesterday they reran an old post on the 2004 paper by a British translation service that listed the ten English words they thought were the most difficult, if not downright impossible, to translate. I can not find the complete list of ten, but some of the words included were gobbledegook, poppycock, spam, and whimsy. Kitsch was also included but that word is originally German so I don’t think that qualifies as an English word that is impossible to translate.

Then there it was, shining brightly among the rest, my favorite word in the whole world: serendipity. I love saying the word serendipity. I love the melody of it. I love the way it feels in my mouth. More than anything, I love the whole idea of serendipity. It is defined as a fortunate happenstance, or a pleasant surprise, but it is so much more than that. It is a moment of good luck when you do not expect it and are not looking for it. It’s not life-altering, just a magical flash of delight in your day. Ta da, it’s the quarter on the sidewalk, the front row seat becoming available right as you ask for a ticket, the perfect parking spot just as you turn into the lane, arriving in a foreign city and bumping into a long lost friend in the taxi line.

It is Alexander Fleming forgetting to disinfect some of his petri dishes holding bacteria cultures before vacation and coming back to discover that the penicillium mold that had taken over in his absence killed the bacteria. Ta da, penicillin. Viagra was developed to treat angina and hypertension, and it failed. Ta da, head south of the belly button and Viagra rocked the house. Serendipity loves laboratories, as X-rays, radioactivity, inkjet printers, the Slinky, all were moments of ta-freaking-da as other things were being pursued.

Julius Comroe, Jr., a medical researcher and surgeon extraordinaire specializing in the heart and lungs, was no stranger to the concept of serendipity. His most famous quote on the subject is, “Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.” I have to think that old Julius would have been fun at parties.

There’s a trick to serendipity, though. You have to be open to it. You have to be wandering through life with open eyes and an open heart to catch the many moments of serendipity dropped in your path. If you have your head down, texting away, mind whirling with a Sisyphean To Do list, grumbling, multitasking yourself into numbness, you’ll miss it all.  I am sad to admit that I have been too shut down to recognize serendipity lately.

So to pull myself out of the living-room-as-a-refrigerator blues, I reviewed the more obvious moments of fortune I did not fully appreciate this past week. Insurance adjusters were prompt and more importantly, they were sympathetic and reasonable. State Farm got us a check in just three days. Contractor has been here and has started getting materials together for the rebuild. My dear friend Mary Ann sent me a surprise box stuffed with goodies. I found a $5 bill in the laundry. All things that I simply wasn’t appropriately grateful for at the time they happened. I hope I did not miss too many more because I wasn’t paying attention. If I walked past a winning lottery ticket, please do not tell me.

I guess six degrees will be tolerable. I own multiple sets of long underwear. I have four large, lovable dogs and a cuddly husband for extra warmth. There are blankets here. I have all the ingredients to make a big pot of chili. There’s a well-stocked liquor cabinet.  Who knows?  It might turn out to be my coziest night ever. How’s that for serendipity?

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NOTE:  If you are interested in listening to the Writer’s Almanac, the link is:  http://writersalmanac.org

Je Suis Charlie

I try to be funny.  Really, I do.  But sometimes I have no clue how my ideas are being received.  My writing has sometimes caused people to unfriend me on Facebook.  I have gotten bizarre comments on my blog.  I got yelled at for something I said when I thought I was complimenting the person.  I can be an absolute idiot.  I can unwittingly take awkward to whole new levels in public.  Sometimes I am just trying on new ideas, see if they stand up to being said aloud.  Sometimes I have formed opinions that do differ wildly from others. Sometimes, I am just going for the joke. That’s okay.  Differences make life interesting.  It’s a “to each his own” kind of thing. Everybody has a batshit crazy section in their brains.  Some of us open the door and air it out more often than others, maybe more often than we really should. Doesn’t mean a thing, though.

But today, my heart aches as I am reminded that some people are too damaged to understand when someone is just joking.  The news that a dozen people were killed in my favorite city, Paris, only because they worked for a magazine that published satire takes me to a dark place.  I just do not understand what has happened.

The satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo sometimes focused on uncomfortable topics, as it should have. That’s the beauty of satire.  It amuses while turning a spot light on religion, the government, egos, big business, the holy cows that flourish only when unexamined and unquestioned.

The editor, “Charb” Charbonnier, who was also one of the magazine’s cartoonists, was killed along with his police bodyguard.  He was once asked why he continued to hit issues that he knew would draw ire.  He answered that he preferred to die on his feet than live on his knees.

Ironically, just this past November Charlie Hebdo requested financial assistance to avoid bankruptcy.  Now, instead of the usual 60,000 issues it will publish one million copies of the next issue (14 Jan 2015) in defiance.  It is being called the “survivor” issue.

A makeshift memorial is growing in front of the Charlie Hebdo offices.  In addition to the de rigueur candles, note cards, and stuffed animals, people are leaving pens.  Hundreds of pens.  Pens, the most dangerous tool on the planet, strong enough to shake people’s core values, mighty enough to topple governments, are being left in memory of cartoonists and writers at a humor magazine.

My condolences to the survivors.  My condolences to the city of Paris.  My condolences to the friends and families left behind.  Joking just got real, y’all.

pen

2015 New Year Lucky Meal

 

New Year Day Dinner

In the South, we invite luck and prosperity to the new year by cooking certain foods on New Year’s Day.  Here is my celebration meal: rice and Hoppin’ John for plenty to eat because as long as you have beans and rice you’ll be okay; collard greens, the color of money, to invite cash to visit your pocket; likewise, cornbread, the color of gold, to attract wealth; and fried chicken, because there is nothing better.

I wish you health, happiness, and good fortune in 2015.  Good luck to us all, y’all!

Can You Hear Me Now?

A reader requested that I post my piece on the NSA that appeared on my old blog.  Here ’tis.  Enjoy and  thank you for following me.

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“Ms. Brennan, do you know why you’re here?”

I was sitting in a windowless primer gray room, furnished with the bare minimum of a metal table and two chairs. A man, his glasses riding low on his nose while he skimmed a file, was sitting across from me. He smelled like White-Out and fluorescent lighting, definitely a government employee.

“No, I do not. Why don’t you tell me?”

“Okay, if that’s how you want to play it. You’re here because we suspect you of aiding and abetting the enemy, namely al-Qaeda. What do you have to say for yourself?”

“I’d say you’ve been sniffing the Elmer’s. That’s insane.”

“We have transcripts here from NSA, that’s right the National Security Agency, that have you purchasing weapons, making bombs, and going to Iraq and Pakistan. Now what you got to say, Missy?”

“I’d say you’re high. It is not possible that you have transcripts of any such conversation because it simply did not take place. You could pay me all the money in the world and it wouldn’t be enough to get me to Iraq. It’s never going to make my bucket list.”

“Well, it says right here. . .”

“Give me that.” I grabbed the papers and started reading. There were a lot of blanks, referenced by the word unintelligible.

“Dude, what kind of low-bid contractor did y’all use? Over half of the transcript is missing, the other part is misheard. You can not pull law-abiding citizens off the street based on this malarkey.”

“Ma’am, I assure you that we only use the most qualified technicians possible. You can trust this transcript.”

“Oh horseshit. I worked for the government and I know low-bid when I see it. Let me tell you what this conversation was really about and you decide just how qualified your technicians are.”

I turned to the page he’d highlighted as the smoking gun of my malfeasance. It read, “Rupees for AKs to Pakistan and al-Qaeda’s high turnover to Iraq from afar unintelligible.

Suicide bombers will be there. ”

Let’s just take this line by line, shall we? What I actually said when I called my great-aunt Ruby was, “Ruby, tell A.J. to pack his yam dish and alligator pie turnovers.”

I wrecked my car so I can’t go to the picnic. Susie said she’d make her bombe dessert and be there.”

“Ms. Brennan, you could be saying anything right now to wiggle out of this. How am I supposed to believe you?”

“Well Mr. Hot Shot Investigator, if you’d looked up the phone number I called for this little chat, you’d see it was to my great aunt Ruby Fletcher, the best gardener alive in all of Scottsville, Virginia.”

“Ah ha! And how do we know that this Ruby Fletcher is not some Muslim front? How about that?”

“Well, you don’t because you obviously didn’t make any effort to find out. But I hardly think that some Muslim front would pose as the Presbyterian church organist for forty years just to support their back story.   Do you? Let’s read some more of your fairy tales.”

“Bin-Laden and Afghanistan unintelligible.

Mullah training camp, passports unintelligible trained Akbar unintelligible shooting martyrs.”

The truth was, “I’ve been loading my afghan stand with so many new blankets, I’ll have to get another one to keep up with all my knitting.”

Bubba took the train to camp, piss poor supervision there. He sprained his ankle and broke his glasses while shooting targets.”

“Now look here, Ms. Brennan, we’ve spent billions of dollars on this program and it is without peer anywhere in the world.”

“Oh I don’t doubt that. I certainly hope it’s without peer, because it is worthless. Just listen to this beauty you captured.”

“Shoot flak jacket Iraq. Unintelligible oil for Greece mosque fortune. ”

What I said was, “Shoot, I left my Falcons jacket in the car I wrecked. Hope the mechanic doesn’t get oil or grease on it. It costs a fortune.”

“So you see sir, your eavesdropping program is low-bid bunk. Now you take me right back home. Better yet, swing by the park. There’s a picnic that I don’t want to miss. You’re welcome to join us and sample some of A.J.’s alligator pie turnovers or Susie’s bombe. They’re so good, you’ll just die.”

The Three Phases of Christmas Celebration

elfshelf

There are three life phases of Christmas holiday observance. When you’re a child it’s all Elf on the Shelf. Santa’s demented NSA. The pixie version of a house arrest anklet. You’d better watch out, you’d better not pout. . . . I never liked a snitch, so the elf was thrown to the bird dogs as soon as I realized what its covert mission was. Shredded in seconds. Tell Santa about that, you tattle-tale weasel. The Elf never had a chance and would have known that if he’d bothered to talk to Barbie.  So really, he wasn’t much of an intelligence-gatherer.

I had a history of violence towards select toys. As much as my mother wanted me to be a girlie girl, I despised Barbie. Mama tried, bless her heart. I was given several Barbie dolls, and every one of them suffered the exact same fate. Within a week, I would buzz cut their hair, tattoo them with a ballpoint pen, then snap their head off and use it as a ball and their body as a bat. You don’t even want to know about my kitchen match torture, where I wrapped hundreds of kitchen matches around Barbie’s waist with masking tape and then lit them. Barbie’s unnaturally large boobs melted like ice cream on a summer’s day.

Imagine my Mama’s joy when my little sister turned out to be a Malibu Barbie addict. Half her room was littered with Pepto-Bismol pink Barbie accoutrements.   Beach houses, furniture, cars, dune buggies, clothing, Ken and Skipper, all strictly off limits to me per my mother. It’s like Barbie got a restraining order.

When I was in my twenties, there was no Elf on the Shelf. That phase of holiday revelry was more of a Whore in the Drawer. Finding my tribe of friends and celebrating heartily, boozily, excessively was all I wanted for the holidays. I had a blast. I learned how to drink without taking it to the point of becoming sloppy low-hanging fruit, although there were missteps along the way, mostly tequila-based.

I went through a serious phase of promiscuity and it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yeah, I put the ho in ho-ho-ho but dodged all real consequences of bad behavior, so yeah me. If I had not stumbled my way through that phase I would not have learned many an important life lesson. Like, good looks mean less than nothing if they’re attached to an ugly heart. I must avoid tequila because it makes me dangerously stupid. When someone says something despicable, they’re not kidding but are showing you who they really are. Believe them.  Someone sporting designer clothes and a status car may just mean that they are in debt up to their rhinoplasty. Don’t look to another person for your happiness, that one is all on you. If you can’t stand to be alone, you’re not ready to be with someone else. Good lessons, all.

Now I’ve entered the last life phase of holiday revelry, the Grouch on the Couch phase. All I want for Christmas is a good meal, peace and quiet with no soundtrack save for the snoring of my pack, and a nice holiday nap. I hate that Christmas decorations are in stores before Halloween. I hate Muzak Christmas carols on an eternal loop for three months. I hate the screaming commercials for crap that is only trotted out during the holidays because people will desperately buy anything. I’m looking at you, Chia Pet. I would rather eat a bowl of dirt than leave my house on Black Friday. I am within a gnat’s eyelash of screaming “Humbug!” Too much, too much, too much!

The Danes have a word for what I want during the holidays: hygge (pronounced hYOOguh). It means cozy in both your surroundings and your emotions. It means all is right in your world even if briefly. It requires no more than a comfy chair, or a thick pair of socks, or cinnamon toast and tea. It really only requires a sense of gratitude. Isn’t that the truth of the season anyway? Simple kindness and gratitude?

I give you my very best wishes for a lovely holiday and a fabulous new year. Hygge, y’all.

 

Attention Writers: Nice Matters

Keep Calm & Southern

Some say that being a writer requires a healthy ego. I say you better grow yourself a cast iron exoskeleton if you want to make it all the way to published. Editors, publishers, and agents are all lined up six deep to reject your writing. If you are a thin-skinned person, you are going to be wounded by the submission process. Take heart. I have advice and hope for you.

Point 1: It is not personal. In fact, repeat that phrase as your writer’s mantra. It is not personal. Your piece can be rejected for various reasons, none of which reflects poorly on you. Perhaps the editor just bought a story last week that is similar to yours. Maybe your piece wasn’t a smooth fit for that publication’s audience. Maybe your timing was off, submitting a Christmas story after the December issue was full. Maybe the slush pile reader is coming down with the flu and is hopped up on Dayquil and Kleenex dust.

Point 2: If someone takes the time to give you constructive criticism, they see potential in your writing. It’s a compliment. Thank them. Don’t lash out just because your rejection now has a name and an email address. If you are anything less than gracious to their guidance, you are telling someone that might pay you one day that you’re difficult and is that really your intended message? I hope not.

Point 3: Everyone in the publishing industry has the memory of an elephant when it comes to bad behavior. Be hateful to one editor, every editor within 500 miles will have heard the story. You may think you’re only telling off an intern at a tiny publication but at the next conference, they are regaling everyone with the tale of your temper tantrum. Editors share information good and bad, but more likely bad.

Point 4: If all else is equal, being nice matters. I don’t care how brilliant you are, people will balk at hiring you if you are miserable. If you are kind, you have an advantage. Case in point, I submitted a story to Blue Ridge Country magazine. This particular story was dear to me, as it was about a beloved family member.   The story was rejected. The editor said that it was too similar to stories provided by their featured columnist. Though I was disappointed, I still wrote a thank-you note.

I submitted another story to Blue Ridge Country. This one was accepted. A couple of months later, the editor emailed me to say that his columnist was retiring after more than twenty years. He said that the first person he thought of to replace her was me. He asked if I’d like to become a featured columnist for the magazine. Would I? My first column (Mill Creek Stories) is in the January 2015 issue. I would not have been offered this job had I been grumpy when rejected. The lesson? Nice really does matter.

 

Laugh Out Loud

I do not often laugh out loud.  I chuckle quietly.  I smile.  But I don’t laugh out loud, I mean hardly ever.  The last time I remember laughing until I cried was at “This parrot is no more!”  Maybe at George Carlin, bless his heart.  Definitely at Kathleen Madigan.  If you don’t know Kathleen, go to Youtube and find her.  She’s brilliant.  But that works out to me only laughing once every three years or so.  Not a belly-laugh kind of girl.  That actually makes me a little sad.  I’d like to be an easy laugher, but it’s just not in my DNA.

So I had to post this pointer to silly pie charts.  It made me laugh. Out loud.  If I laughed, I’m betting you’ll laugh.  Enjoy.

Funny Pie Charts