Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dad's Garage

From the archives...
A few weeks ago, my friend’s father passed away while she and her mother were looking through the many and varied items in his garage.  He had been lingering in his body for several days and they had been keeping watch over him.  Finally, to get a bit of reprieve they went out to the garage to start sorting through a lifetime’s accumulation of stuff. I felt that it was fitting that he would choose this moment to leave, knowing they were looking at the odd assortment of items he had chosen to keep over the years.  I imagined that he couldn’t quite hear their comments from his bed, so thought, “Well, this might be as good a time as any to sever all ties to this body and drift over to the garage for a look and a listen.” 
I smile as I think of this scene, because I remember my father’s garage in all its messy, yet somehow organized glory.  Oh my goodness, I loved that garage almost as much as I adored my father.  In the garage I could get to know my true, authentic father.  He didn’t really have a lot of say in the decoration of the house.  He put up with the pink bedroom and the fuzzy toilet seat covers and the bric-a-brac in the china cabinet without saying a word.  But, in his garage, where he reigned supreme there was none of my mother’s input and I could get a glimpse of the real man that was my father.  I never dared to go out there when he wasn’t there.  But, when he was working at his metal lathe or fighting with some engine overhaul I could spend as much time as I liked as long as I didn’t talk, touch or make noise.  I would gaze in wonder at decades of accumulation stuck between the stud walls, hanging on nails from the ceiling and tucked into shelves and cupboards he had made.  Where had this come from and how had he gotten it all in here?  I knew that he built the garage shortly before I was born, so all of this was placed purposefully by him, yet it looked like three lifetimes’ accumulation.  Of course, there was the usual assortment of tools for every purpose.  My dad could do or fix anything, so a man must have a wide variety of tools.  But, in addition to the usual sledge hammers, pitch forks and chisels were other mystery tools that he had fabricated for specific purposes.  There was the special rake for removing leaves from the gutters and another one for removing leaves from the ditch.  There were rolls and rolls of tape for every purpose and an entire drawer devoted to gloves.  One time he was putting a new starter on my International Scout.  A trailer had rolled over his foot a week or so before so he was on crutches and I was designated to retrieve the tools as he needed them.  He was able to tell me, “I need the 11/16” socket that is in the first bank of drawers, third drawer down, upper left-hand corner, fourth socket from the top of the drawer.”  I would find the drawer filled with perhaps two hundred items, but he was never wrong as to the needed item’s location.  Almost all of these tools were engraved with his name.  I still am amazed when I think of man who valued his belongings so much that they all bore his name and that he knew where every single item was located. 
Dad had a safari hat hanging from a hook above the one window in the garage.  I always wondered where it came from and when he had worn it.  I guess I could have asked, but then if the answer had been mundane I would have been very disappointed.  I preferred to think that in a past life, way before I was born he had traveled to Africa on safari to stalk lions and zebras.  He was a quiet man, not given to talking about the past, so you never knew.  I placed the hat in the same category as the blue fishing pole that was so stout you could have caught a hundred pound fish.  We lived near mountain lakes and I had been fishing with my father any number of times.  But, that pole was not for the lake trout he usually caught.  No, that thing was from a far greater adventure.  Perhaps, marlin fishing off the coast of Florida from a huge yacht before he even knew my mother.  My dad, the man of mystery.
He loved Will Rogers’ folksy style and had a framed picture of him hanging above his workbench. The caption at the bottom read “Beloved American”.   That was my dad.  He worked hard, loved his country, always voted, watched the news every night, enjoyed the outdoors, raised a huge family and at the end of the day was simply a humble, loving man who was doing the best he could.
He’s been gone from this life for many years now, but lingers with me often.  It is usually when I am using his yellow-handled hacksaw engraved with his name, or when I am religiously watching the nightly news or when I’m fixing some broken down item that I found at the dump.  I sometimes catch him smiling down at me through Will Rogers’ eyes as I get a glimpse of the framed picture that now hangs in my messy, yet somehow organized garage.  Dad, I’ll always miss you, but am comforted that your spirit is within me every day that I live.  How about we go on a safari?  Just you and me.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


We woke this morning to a new down comforter of snow.  Beautiful.  Then, about 7:00 the wind kicked up.  Then, it kicked up another notch.  Noel went out to assess the conditions and came back with his report:  "I think you should cancel your day.  It's bad and getting worse."  So, I settled in for my own little blizzard party.  Oh my goodness...what should I do with an unexpected day?  Well, I did a bit of this and a bit of that all morning and it felt good to not have a strict agenda, especially after the hustle and bustle of the holidays. 

But, this afternoon was devoted to snow removal.  We bundled up and trudged out into the still howling wind and horizontally blowing snow to assess the damage.  Drifts everywhere...across the driveway, in front of the garage, about three feet on our walkway, no county road to be seen.  So, it was back into the house to get even warmer clothes on and to grab the implements of winter: 

snow shovels, bigger snow shovels, brooms and bigger brooms. 

After a couple of hours we got our four-wheel drive Rodeo dug out and a pathway to the garage.  Then we tackled the drifts by the garage doors.  We both looked at the three-foot high and 10-foot wide drift across the road (and that's just what we could see through the blowing snow).  Our measly shovels weren't a match, but we would NOT be defeated! So, we got the Rodeo out, put it in four-wheel drive and gunned it over the drift.  Okay, so we did that.  We had nowhere to go.  Wait!  We could always go to the post office!  So, out to the highway, down the hill and over the river and through the, I'm geting carried away.  But, we did make it to the post office (nothing but junk mail, wouldn't you know). 

So, I guess the afternoon has pretty much gone like this:  shovel a drift or two of snow, come back into the house to warm up with a hot buttered rum, go back out to dig a while and then back into the house for a wee bit of brandy to warm the toes, and then back out....      Do you get the alternating pattern here? 

At least I embrace living in Montana.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Continuing Story of Miss M

Many of you continue to ask after granddaughter Margot's health.  Thank you for your concern and well wishes.

We were delighted that she was able to join us just after Christmas for a couple of days.  And we're even more delighted that she is doing quite well, indeed.  She continues to need oxygen at night and when being chauffeured around town.  She also continues with the sleep apnea monitor at night....peace of mind for Mama and Daddy, I'm sure.  She is almost off her anti-seizure medicine now.  Another "sleep study" is scheduled for April.  It was supposed to be at the end of January, but the sleep center is booked up until Spring.  Hopefully she will then be breathing well enough to no longer need oxygen at all.  

She is a quite wonderful toy and we
all enjoyed playing with her and dressing her up. 

She suffered through many a photo session, although she jealously guards her smiles when a camera is in the vicinity, preferring to stare intently at the lens. I'm sure she's just practicing for her hat modelling career.

But, I finally got a shot of those little rosebud lips curved into a smile.

We all look forward to the day when the patches that hold her nasal cannula in place can be removed forever. Then we can kiss those sweet, soft cheeks.  No matter, she is getting what she needs right now...we can wait. 

And we breathe a little sigh of relief when we think of how differently it could have gone if she didn't have such knowledgeable, experienced folks who had a hand in her care. 

We know that angels hover over her continually and again, we breathe a sigh of relief in this knowing. We loved having you here, our sweet baby.   (Too bad my ransom note didn't work.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Magic of Christmas

How the Heck are we Going to Get This Thing Home?
Much has been written about the magic at this time of year.  Poets, songwriters and authors have supplied us with endless examples of the wonder of Christmas.  We willingly believe that reindeer fly, Santa Claus can enter and exit through chimneys and that snowmen come alive with the benefit of old felt hats.  Even the true Christmas story has a magical quality involving brightly shining stars, angels talking to shepherds and a baby born to a virgin mother.  But, I believe I have discovered the true magic that is Christmas, and it has to do with one of the symbols of the season…the Christmas tree.
With the advent of warmer weather and new snowfall I was eager to get out and enjoy the world of white.  I suggested to Noel that we snowshoe up by Lake Mary Ronan.  Never to be one to go somewhere without a definite purpose he said, “Well, if we’re going out we might as well look for our Christmas tree.”  So, the backpack was quickly loaded with the essentials:  a thermos of hot chocolate enhanced with peppermint schnapps, toilet paper, a saw and a camera to capture the event.  Did we think to put on our waterproof snow pants?  Of course not, we were concentrating on the important stuff.  When I saw some sort of rope and handle contraption go into the pack I kind of wondered what it was, but figured its purpose would be eventually revealed, which it was.
We are lucky to live near all sorts of forest land, so we knew we would have our pick of thousands of potential trees.  We were confident that we could find just the one.  Well, the higher we got the more snow we encountered and the berms on either side of the road grew pretty high.  Noel finally pulled up in front of a locked gate crossing a logging road and said, “Let’s try our luck up here.”  I figured I was already pretty lucky that the gate was closed and locked and that we were leaving our four-wheel drive Rodeo on the outside of the gate as Noel has a habit of not giving much credence to “Road Closed” signs. 
I wasn’t daunted by the depth of the snow because I was sure that my handy dandy LL Bean snowshoes would keep me safely on top of the mounds.  In fact, I was feeling pretty perky as I snaked my way between the strands of barbed wire, up and over a small hill and back down to the road.  At least the road was down there somewhere about three feet below the snow I was standing on.  I was also feeling pretty smug because I hadn’t fallen down and I turned back to give Noel some helpful advice on how to get through the fence and side step down the hill.  Even though he didn’t say so, I’m sure he was grateful for my hints.  In fact, I’m pretty sure he couldn’t have made it without my help. 
Anyway, off we trudged up the road.  I must admit that it was slow going.  We kept stopping to look at first one tree and then another.  It was pretty tough to see what they really looked like under pillows of snow so it was necessary to knock the snow off the branches to truly get an idea of the tree’s shape.  My method of hitting each branch individually with my mittened hand was a bit slow so Noel took to diving in and heartily shaking the trunk of the tree to knock off the snow.  I tried this method once, but succeeded only in dumping snow past my coat collar and down my back.  I decided that Noel was much better at that technique so I graciously gave that job to him, politely ignoring the wet spot developing down the back of his jacket.
I wasn’t sure why Noel was sticking so close to the road because the good trees had probably all been cut down by the road.  I preferred spying trees up the mountainside, bounding up the hill (well, maybe I wasn’t bounding, but it sounds good) and then calling to Noel, “I think I found it!”  I couldn’t understand why he was so slow to come up the hill, but he eventually would make his way up to me.  But, in the time it took for him to climb up to me, the tree would have developed a crook in the trunk or it was actually two trees growing very close together, or it had one side that was practically bare.   I couldn’t understand how this happened again and again.  I’d find the perfect tree, and magically in the time it took Noel to climb up to it, the tree had changed.  Oh well.  I kept at it for a good hour, going further and further up the road.  For some reason, Noel kept saying that he liked this one tree we’d seen on our way up, and he started extolling its virtues.  It wasn’t too big, it was full at the top and it was the perfect color of green.  But, just then I did find the perfect tree up the mountain.  I said, “This will be easy.  Look it’s way up here.  We can cut it down and it will have lots of momentum and will roll down the hill.”  And again, Noel started listing the virtues of the other tree back down the road.  He finally ended the litany with “and Shelley, it’s right on the road.”
I replied, “Okay.  I’ve got it…let’s take both of them.  Then when we get home we can decide which one is best and the other one can be used for boughs.”  I thought he looked a little incredulous at my suggestion but I might have been mistaken.  He began again, rather patiently, as if he were talking to a child.  “Shelley, this tree is about eighteen feet tall and I don’t think it’s just going to roll down the hill.”
“But, we have that really high ceiling this year and it’s the first year we can have a really tall tree,” I said as visions of its decorated glory stretching up to the ceiling beams filled my eyes.  But then, my vision cleared enough to see Noel making his way back down the hill.  What could I do but follow?  He had the saw. 
Disappointed, but determined not to show it, I started down the path back to the first tree.  I turned to say something to Noel, but realized that he was not right by my side.  I turned and looked just in time to see him tumbling down the hill.  I’ve heard of this maneuver being called “a__ over teakettle” before.  I’m sure you get the idea.  It seems that he’d caught the toe of his snowshoe under a fallen tree and his forward momentum sent him…well, like I said, I think you get the idea.  I was reaching for my camera but wasn’t able to get a picture before he was up and dusting himself off.  Worse the luck.
Well, we backtracked down the path we’d taken which was a little above but parallel to the logging road.  I hadn’t realized how far we’d come and I kept thinking that the first tree that Noel was talking about was just ahead around the corner.  It really was quite a distance and I realized that maybe dragging the eighteen foot tree in three feet of snow for almost a mile would have been a bit too much.  But then, it really was a great tree.
Eventually we got back to the tree that I had started to think of as “Noel’s choice.”  It would do, I suppose but was quite a bit smaller.  I was hoping he would say, “Oh, I guess this is a bit small….let’s look around.”  But all he did was take out his saw and crawl underneath it.  “Are you sure?” I asked.  “It’s perfect,” came the muffled reply. 

Me and the puny tree
Well, it took a while to cut through the trunk and I couldn’t understand why because it looked so puny.  But, by the grunts and groans coming from underneath the bottom branches I understood that it may be puny, but it wasn’t giving up without a fight.  And all the while I helpfully stood and balanced the top so it wouldn’t fall over and hurt Noel.  Finally, he gave one last grunt and said, “You can let it go now” and the tree fell over, revealing Noel crouched in the snow in soggy jeans.  “Well, that was fun,” was all he said.  So, I proceeded to drag the thing up to the trail that we had come down.  And that’s when the magic happened again.  That scrappy little tree had grown in height and in weight just during the time it took Noel to cut it down.  I dug in my snow shoes, set my arms and legs, gave a gigantic tug up toward the trail and…the tree did not budge.  Noel stood there watching and quietly said, “I think we should take it down the hill to the road.”  I looked down and didn’t see any way between the trees.  I started to argue, but knew that he probably wouldn’t help drag it up even if it was shorter, and there was no way I could do it by myself.  So, I grabbed the top, put my whole back into it and rotated it around.  And down we went by fits and starts until Noel’s snowshoe got caught under a fallen tree again and he did another somersault down the hill. The tree was on top of him, which I figure was a good thing because at least he didn’t roll as far this time.Well, after he dug himself out as I held the top of the tree we managed to get it down the road.  Noel fished in the pack and out came the rope and handle affair I’d seen earlier.  “I use this hunting when I have to drag the game,” he said as he looped the end over the butt of the tree.  I figured that now that we were down on the level road and with his handy gadget the whole operation would get a lot easier.  So, as he tugged it toward the Rodeo I reached for my camera thinking that I would walk a few feet in front of him leading the way and taking pictures every so often to mark his progress.  I was already thinking about writing an essay about the joys of Christmas tree hunting when Noel cut into my reverie.  “I really think we should two-person this.”  Well, I tucked my camera away and grabbed one side of the handle. 
That’s when I was reminded yet again of the true magic of Christmas.  By the time we got that tree down the hill it had grown even heavier and the rope handle contraption didn’t seem to help at all.  And then, to make matters worse, the logging road had magically gotten longer, the snow deeper and the Rodeo further away.  Finally, we rounded the last corner only to remember the locked gate.  “How the heck are we going to get this thing over?”  Well, somehow with a lot of grunting and groaning we got the thing heaved over the gate and then we sort of climbed up on the Rodeo to haul it up on the roof.  Several branches stuck on the roof rack and I heard a loud crack as Noel gave one final push to get it all the way to the front.  “I guess those branches will have to go by the wall,” I thought.
When we were finally standing on the ground again and the thing was tied to the roof I gave Noel a huge victory hug.  But, instead of hugging me back he just sort of toppled over in the snow bank with me on top.  I don’t know…his balance just isn’t what it used to be.  His jeans were really wet now, but I wisely decided not to remind him that he forgot his snow pants at home.  Instead, I looked up to the roof to admire our work.  This thing really did grow after it was cut down.  It covered the entire roof of the Rodeo.  I was surveying this huge mass of green branches when Noel said, “Gee I wish we’d cut down the other one too so that we’d have an extra for boughs.”  I’m pretty sure he was being sarcastic, but I didn’t say anything because I realized that he understood the magic of Christmas better than I did…that trees can grow after they’re cut down, that roads become longer in direct proportion to the weight of the burden and that going downhill is a bit easier than going the other way.  But, I may understand a bit more that he thinks I do.  Because, I know that with a thermos of hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps I can get him to do pretty much anything.

Merry, Merry Christmas all!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dinner Party

Well, we pulled it off.  Noel and I decided a year ago that it would be great fun to have Noel's office Christmas party at our house this year.  And we did. 

Oh was fun.  Oh was a lot of work.  Oh yes...we couldn't have done it without Aubrey's help.  Oh yes...we're all tired, but satisfied that we did what we set out to do. 

The folks that work in Noel's office are just a grand bunch of people.  The kind you want to celebrate with.  The kind you want to share your house with.  The kind you will happily spend hours preparing for because they deserve a special night.  The kind who deserve only the best. (Yes, I know those are all sentence fragments..sorry.)

We decorated the house to within an inch of its life.  I've trialed appetizer recipes for three weeks.  Noel planned on making two of his best dishes...pecan glazed ham with brandy sauce and seafood fettucini.  We shopped for all of the ingredients on sale or at Costco.  We borrowed tablecloths, napkins, dinnerware, serving dishes and other countless items.  Aubrey came up to help prepare and then serve.  We made, lost and re-made many lists, to do lists, guest lists, food and beverage preference lists.  Here's a bit of handy advice.  Never try to do a sit-down dinner party for sixteeen with nine beverages, six appetizers, salad, two entrees and dessert in your head.  The average brain simply cannot contain it all.  But, in the end my stomach contained it all! Interesting concept...that. 

Here are a few pictures of the food.  Oh's making me hungry just looking at these photos.

Cheese Straws

Pork Riblets

Spinach Feta Triangles

Seafood fettucini in progress

Salmon Mousse

White Bean Dip

We got so busy that we forgot to take pictures of the entrees or the food on the plates or the cake.

But, here are a few pics of the table settings and beverage tables.


I've wanted to do something like this for my entire adult life.  I've had parties before, but not like this.  Like I said, we pulled it off and if everyone had as good a time as I did, then we have some happy friends, indeed.  

I'll put the recipes on the blog if you want.  Much of the food could be prepared ahead of time and made use of ingredients that are easy to work with, but look extra special (like puff pastry dough).

Would I do this again?  Not tomorrow.  But, I was looking at the appetizer recipes in one of my favorite cookbooks this afternoon.  Shhhhh...don't tell anyone (especially Noel or Aubrey). 

In fact, I just looked over and saw that Henry, the teddy bear looks like he's already had too much Christmas and I have a sneaking suspicion that Noel and Aub feel just about the same.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Most Excellent Venison Stew

I thought I would post another venison recipe.  If you are into holiday cooking and baking, then tuck this one away for a great January stew.  I adapted it from the Silver Palate Cookbook.  My friend, Deb introduced me to this cookbook several years ago and it's an often used, must-have on my cookbook shelf.  Check it out here.  I omitted the chicken gizzards (I'm not making that up) and actually simplified the recipe quite a bit....which is quite amazing because this isn't something that is thrown together quickly.  HOWEVER, it is well-worth the effort.  Noel pronounced it the best venison stew he'd ever had, which I think is quite an endorsement.  It has so many layers of flavor!  I know the family in New Zealand have pretty easy access to venison as we do in Montana, but I'm sure it would be great with beef, too.  Plan has to marinate for 24 hours.
2 cups of dry red wine
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 2 limes
2 large bay leaves
2 whole cloves
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced bite-sized
2 ribs of celery, slices bite-sized
1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed
½ teaspoon tarragon
Pinch of dried thyme
¼ teaspoon freshly crushed black pepper
1 juniper berry, crushed
½ teaspoon salt
Combine marinade ingredients in a large glass bowl and stir will.  Add:
3 pounds of lean venison cut in 1-inch cubes.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 day.  Turn meat 1 or 2 times in the marinade.
Here's a look at the final product so that you can salivate while waiting for the marinade to do its work.

Remove meat from marinade and dry thoroughly with paper towels.  Reserve marinade.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy skillet.  Brown the cubed venison a few pieces at a time, and with a slotted spoon transfer them to a bowl.  Add additional butter to pan as needed.
Transfer all the venison to a large pot.  Pour in 2 tablespoons gin and ignite.  That's the really fun part.
Sauté 3 strips of bacon until crisp.  Crumble and add to the pot with the venison.  Reserve bacon grease.
Slice ¼ pound mushrooms.  Sauté in bacon grease until tender, about 5 minutes. Add more butter, if necessary.  Add mushrooms to the venison in the pot along with the marinade (including all of the vegetables initially put into the marinade).  Set pot over medium heat and cook.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer about an hour.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Serve with love to your favorite people.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

She's at it Again!

Well, sister Joey is at it again.  The other day I received an invitation.  It read: "Ugly Sweater Ornament Party...bring 2 ornaments and wear your ugliest sweater.  This is a girls only party."  Well, I couldn't find a terribly ugly sweater at my favorite thrift store, but I sure did find some ugly pants.  Get this...they're Tommy Hilfiger,  honest!  I can show you the label (and did, repeatedly last night).  I'm not sure on which planet these are considered stylish, but I am pretty sure I don't reside there.  Anyway, this is what I looked like when I left.  When I asked Noel to take my picture, he said, "You mean, outside?"  as if I would scare the neighbors or something.  I figured I would make a splash at the party, though.  I am pleased with how the whole ensemble went together.  The bow matching my hair was not intentional, but a nice surprise none the less.

 You can see by these pics, that clearly, I was not the only one who got into the spirit of the party.  Get a load of Jenny's crazy vest, coordinated perfectly with her socks and poinsettia sweater.

An amazing sweater dress and tights,
80's style!
Lisa and the twelve days of Christmas graphically represented on her sweatshirt. 

And niece Rachel proudly showing off her teddy bear coat and her expanding belly at the same time.
Well, after a few munchies and quite a bit of wine, the ornament exchange got started.  Somehow, we all had to shoot pool using this miniature pool table and it had to do with where our birthdays fell in the year and if we got a ball in the pocket we got to choose a gift-wrapped ornament. And then some people shot pool for folks who couldn't be there and, well.... I really didn't ever get the gist of the game, but everyone ended up with an ornament and seemed happy with what they got (but I'm not sure how much of that was due to the wine.)

And just when I was getting comfortable in the kitchen chowing down on more of Joey's incredible appetizers, they started another game.  By that time I had been able to down another glass of wine and I truly never got the idea of this one, but I think they made up the rules as they went along because there seemed to be quite a bit if discussion surrounding the play.  It seems like we were to roll dice that were handed around on paper plates and doubles meant you got to choose a wrapped ornament and then they brought out little timers and we did it all again and some people got their ornament taken away, but in the end everyone had a smile on their face and an ornament in their hand.  So, I think all is well. 
At least I know that I'm happy because Rachel and I got the prizes for being the best dressed at the party. 

I'd like to dedicate my award to Tommy, for being such an incredible designer.

Before Noel and I got married he said, "Okay, I want to formally bequeath to you all of my friends and family.  They will be loyal to you for the rest of your life, just as they stood by me no matter what I did."  Little did I know what a gift he gave me that day.  I would not trade this goofy, chaotic, noisy, sometimes overwhelming, incredibly loving family for all the gold in China.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday Musings

I was unwrapping some Christmas decorations the other day and found a copy of this essay I included in our Christmas cards last year.  Many of you have already read it, but I think it bears repeating this holiday season, or any other season for that matter. 
I’ve been thinking about blankets of security.  I’ve been thinking how our families can and should provide an insulating layer around us against the buffeting winds that we often encounter in the world.  Take this past month…my son, Joe drove out from New Hampshire in his pickup truck to retrieve another pickup that my Mom had given to him in her will.  This old pickup, a GMC, is the one I learned to drive in, and it hasn’t been far from a garage in many, many years.  The plan was to buy a tow dolly and haul the old, tired thing back across the country and fix it up to drive.  Well, Joe also came out to build a couple of ladders for us.  I so admire his woodworking skills and spent many happy hours being his apprentice as he carefully crafted ship ladders out of slabs of poplar.  Completing a project, talking about whatever came to mind, working in silence and just being together was sincerely one of the best times of my life.  But, let me get back to my point.

So, Joe left, towing the GMC behind his pickup and made it only as far as Homestake Pass before his truck blew its engine and he was stopped dead in his tracks.  I am certain that my Dad was looking down from above and said, “That boy is not going to make it and I’m going to help him break down pretty close to home so that the family can take care of him.”  Well, ultimately my brother Bob and his son Wes retrieved Joe and both trucks.  Over the course of several days Bob and his wife, Joanne fed Joe Thanksgiving dinner and took care of him as if he was their own son.  Bob and Wes helped him replace almost every part on the old truck and then they sent him on his way again.  This time, the ol’ GMC and my boy made it all the way across the country and he is home with Dad’s pickup and life can go on.
So, I’ve been thinking about the incredible blanket of support wrapped around Joe during this time.  I called upon my Dad’s spirit more than once to help guide the tools as they fixed up the truck.  Bob and Wes gave unselfishly for days as they replaced part after part.  My daughter Aubrey was there with a place to stay and home-cooked food.  Noel and I helped any way we could from a distance.  And Joe was insulated from the sometimes fierce winds of the world until he could make it on his own again.
When all is right with the world this is what families do.  We envelope our children with enough safety to give them confidence and a springboard for launching themselves into a world that can sometimes be harsh and bitter.  From my parents I came to know that I was always loved and this knowledge gave me the confidence to be the individual that I am.  Now, I know that not all experienced safety in their families when they were children.  But, pretty much everyone I know has worked to provide security for his or her own children.  Sometimes the contrast of knowing what we did not want when we were growing up helps up to know what we do want for future generations.  And yes, I have felt the spirits of our parents and my dear brother Jack as they continue to watch over and guide us.  I know they live just outside my view and this knowledge gives me immense comfort.
By the end of this Christmas season, Noel and I will have been with each of our children.  We will bask in the warmth of their love and a shared sense of history.  We will marvel at the wonderful people they’ve developed into, see them nurture and support their own children, and we will be reminded that somewhere along the way we did something incredibly right.  My heart swells, as I know that this is the only Christmas gift we need.
This holiday season, may you be enveloped with your family’s love.  May you be supported and give support in return.  May you and yours be bolstered by the bonds that families share so that you may enjoy the best that 2010 brings.
                                    You are needed.  You are loved.
Merry Christmas!


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Joe's Curried Venison Meatballs

Hunting season ended a week ago, and I know that many folks were pretty successful.  Hopefully, the deer that ate my tulips last year is now in someone's freezer.  In honor of our brave Montana hunters I thought I'd post one of my favorite venison recipes. Joe used to make it quite a bit, so we tend to refer to it as 'Joe's venison'. It's a hearty, comfort food kind of a dish.  And it's a break from turkey leftovers which are still haunting my refrigerator.

Curried Venison Meatballs
½ cup of tomato juice 
1 cup soft bread crumbs 
1 ½ pounds ground venison
1 small minced onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Shape the mixture into about 24 balls, then roll in flour and brown quickly in 3 tablespoons of hot oil.  Pour off fat. 
Cover meatballs with:
The rest of the big can of tomato juice
½ teaspoon seasoned salt
dash of pepper
½ teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons curry powder
½ cup of cheap and dry red wine
Cover and simmer very slowly until half of the liquid is gone...about an hour.  To serve, spoon over hot buttered noodles.

It's good. Trust me.

Memorable Meals

So, what memorable meals have I had during my life?  A great question to ponder.  Thinking back over many, many wonderful meals I can remember some remarkable, some surprising, some catastrophic, and some that turned out to be more food for my soul than food for my body. 

When the kids were in grade school, their father and I established “cooking night”.  Since there were five in our family and five week nights, it seemed the perfect solution to spread out the meal prep chores.  Memorable meals definitely ensued.

I remember the time that Aubrey used spicy hot, spiced stewed tomatoes in spaghetti sauce along with the traditional Italian herbs.  As I recall, she made spaghetti most every week and we tolerated the monotony far too long.  After the spicy sauce fiasco she was banned from making spaghetti for a long time.  And I remember when I came home from work and Joe had cooked an entire turkey dinner with all of the trimmings for his cooking night.  Casey spent years perfecting his chicken marinade which later became the star attraction at my mom’s Fourth of July barbecues.  Speaking of those….I remember my brother Jack feeding us bits of Casey’s chicken and marinated venison straight from the barbecue holding a meat fork in one hand and a can of Budweiser in the other.  He called it Vitamin B (the beer, not the meat).

And then I remember when we were all at Conti’s Restaurant in Maine celebrating Joe’s graduation from boat building school when Noel splurged and ordered the lobster for eighteen dollars.  When his order arrived there were two huge lobsters draped over the sides of the platter…and they were sitting on a bed of clams.  Eighteen dollars!  He fed the entire table of eight. 

And I remember one very special breakfast that I had with my dad just a few weeks before he died.  It was just fried eggs and toast, but for once he was able to eat and we sat there at the old dining room table and he joked and drank coffee and it was just like old times.

Then there was the recipe for Swamp Cabbage that was so secret my mom kept it in the lock box.  She used to always make it in this huge roaster when no one was around so they wouldn’t see how she made it.  My dad got the recipe from a woman who made him promise to never give it to anyone except his wife.  They honored that promise.  But then, one day when mom knew she didn’t have that many more years in this world, she presented it to me like the true gift it was saying, “Your dad promised that lady he would never give it to anyone, but I got to thinking…I never did make that promise.  So, here you go.  But, you need to promise me that you'll make it for your brother Bob every once in a while.”    The original was written on the back of an old receipt that looked like it had been through a world war.  Who knew it was really called Chicken Almond Rice Casserole?  To us, it will always be Swamp Cabbage.  No one ever questioned the name, even though it doesn’t contain a bit of cabbage.  And how the heck did it ever get named Swamp Cabbage, anyway?

So, this is really a long-winded way of saying that I’ve decided to post a recipe now and again.  Some will be old favorites; some newly discovered.  Cooking and eating together have always been a huge part of our family celebrations.  Cooking is part of who we are.  So, I want to share some of my favorite recipes.  May they help you produce memorable meals with those you love. 

By the way….feel free to share.  No need for a lock box.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Marriage Toast

The other night I was looking through a 3-ring binder and came upon a toast that I had prepared back in 2007 when Casey got married.  It surprised me, because it was totally unrelated to the rest of the contents of the binder.  My first thought was, "Hey, maybe I should post this."  But after I read it, I decided that no one would be interested in a marriage toast.  I put it back in the binder and closed it.  But then, the little voice in my head (or does that voice live on my shoulder and whisper in my ear?...never really sure) made me pull it out again.  I'm trying harder to pay attention to these whispers, so here is the toast. 
Perhaps there is someone out there who will read this and it will resonate with them.    Or perhaps, it is to reiterate how lucky I am to have acquired these wonderful children by marriage. Or just maybe, it will prompt someone to tell their loved ones that they do love them...and why. 
Whatever.... here it is, along with pictures of my dear children and their partners from July of 2007.
As far as I’m concerned, the reason that we are here on this earth is to find joy.  As long as we are living a truly joyful life, we know we’re doing the right thing.
I have been so blessed…I have had a life filled with joy.  And a large part of that is due to my three wonderful children.
I read a quote a couple of weeks ago and it went something like this.  “When you make the decision to have children, you also decide to live forever with your heart outside your body.”  I think that truer words were never spoken.
Part of my heart lives in Maine with my oldest son, Joe.  Part in Montana with Aubrey, and now part lives in the Seattle area with Casey.  And for the last few years I’ve been filled with joy to see them grow into fine people.  And they have found absolutely perfect partners.
Joe, you and Katie found each other several years ago.  Katie, you are perfect for Joe.  You have adventured so many wonderful places in the world.  You’ve acquired all kinds of education together.  You put up with his endless projects. 
You are steadfast and I love you.
Brad, it seems to me that you and Aubrey were both searching for yourselves when you found each other.  And your marriage has grown as you’ve built your lives together.  It has withstood trials that would have made other marriages fall apart.  You’ve been to Iraq and back.  You’ve built your home and careers.  And now you’ve given us those two bundles of joy, Jacob and Christian.  Thank you for your honor.  You, too, are perfect and I love you.
And just when you think that life can’t get any better.  It does!  Kylene, you came into Casey’s life at the perfect time.  Thank you for knowing what you wanted and pursuing it.  You have brought grace into our lives.  You are perfect for Casey.  And I love you.

They say that you’d better be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.  I say, be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it and SO MUCH MORE!!
So, I would like to honor and toast all my children and their perfect partners. 
And here’s to Joy!