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.

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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

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.