Monday, November 17, 2008

Leader of the Herd

I think I am the leader of the herd. Every evening, as I watch TV, there is my Snowball at my feet or laying on the back of my chair. If I am in my office on the computer, my Tiger or Little Nut are usually in there with me too. Tiger likes to proofread my material. Pepper Dean runs in and out, visiting for awhile and then checking out the rest of the house. All of the above mentioned names are my cats. The only one who is anti-social is Phoenix, and she is usually in the bedroom.

And then there's Betty. Betty is my dog. She is more than a dog. She's my surrogate child (I'm 44 with no children) and my constant companion. She reminds me to laugh out loud once in a while with the tilt of her head. She reminds me it is okay to wag my tail and enjoy life. Needless to say, if I am in my office, she's there too. If I am watching TV or cooking dinner, she's there too. By the way, she is a very good Chef's assistant and excellent dishwasher.

When it gets to be around 10:30 pm, she gets antsy, staring me down, telling me it's time for bed. As we make our way to the bedroom, there she is, on my heels. As I sit on the bed going through the TV channels for some end of the evening entertainment, in file the "kids", one at a time. They all have their "places" on the bed. They hop up and take a quick bath and then curl up for the night. Betty has a stuffed dog pillow that is her spot. She even has her own mini-quilt for those chilly nights.

When we are all settled in for a good night's sleep, I'm sure we are a sight to see. I can only imagine it, but I know it's cute. And I'm proud to be the leader of the heard of such discerning characters.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Crystal of Interest: Malachite

I have a piece of malachite that has been a friend for many years. Technically it is not a crystal, but a mineral. I chose it as my first installment in this series of posts because of its versatility and beauty. Malachite is a beautiful mineral of varying banded green hues, that has numerous uses and is chemically known as copper carbonate hydroxide. It is found in Congo, Namibia, Russia, Wales, England, Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

Malachite is a dense and nontransparent stone, and serves different purposes for different situations. It absorbs energy instead of transmitting it, so it is a good stone to help with the purging of negative energies. Holding it in your receptive hand helps calm the nervous system and steadies stormy emotions. It is used in protective magic and can be worn to guard against negativity and physical dangers. It is considered a traveler's stone, protecting against harm along the journey. It is an excellent stone for the grounding of higher energies when working towards a goal.

Malachite is also helpful in situations of the heart. Wearing a necklace with the stone close to your heart helps increase your ability to love. In turn, that helps attract love to you. Wearing it to bed also aids in a tranquil nights sleep. If held, it helps ward off depression. Focusing on the bulls eye design of the stone is an excellent concentration tool for meditation, or when placed on the third eye it assists with inner vision.

It is said that if you put a piece of malachite in each corner of a business or a small piece in the cash register, it will draw customers and the business will prosper. Green is also a color to use to help attract money or prosperity to you.

Malachite's appearance changes with each piece and from one side to the other. A piece that has two circles on one side can change through the center and be only one circle on the other side of the stone. Within the intricate designs and circles of malachite exists great energy and flow of motion. The deep green colors are very soothing. All in all, malachite is a wonderful all around stone to have in your collection.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Other Side of A Turkey

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it brings back memories of my childhood and all the amazing country cooking my Mom did. Holidays were no exception. Growing up I was always mesmerized at the skill and efficiency my Mom put food on our dinner table. I thought she must be a magician or something. I was allowed to sit on a stool, out of the way, and watch very quietly. Sometimes she would allow me to help stir something or cut potatoes. I was eager to help with anything, waiting for the day it was my turn to create that magical buffet. And arrive it did.

At the age of 12, I asked permission to cook the family’s Thanksgiving Dinner. It was an undertaking of giant proportions for my first attempt at the magical buffet. With the help of my Mom, we laid everything neatly on the kitchen counter in an orderly fashion. A habit I still use to this day in my professional career as a Chef. Going over the menu again to be sure everything was there, I was ready. Then I promptly banned her from her own kitchen, of course until I needed her. Even in my unbridled excitement, my hands steadily wielded knife and spoon. Timing every dish to arrive on the table like synchronized dancers arriving on stage. At least it mostly went that way.

In our Southern tradition, there were mounds of fresh vegetables transformed into delicious side dishes. Fresh potatoes mashed to soft mounds, green beans canned from the summer bounty with a ham hock peaking out form the middle and giant sweet potatoes swimming in brown sugar and spices with golden brown mini marshmallows perched on top. Plump golden corn, sliced carrots, and sweet green peas, all smothered in sweet cream butter. There was fresh baked bread, rolls and cornbread. The aroma of cinnamon and spices from the pies still baking in the oven filled the air. It was like a food Heaven.

Then there was the turkey. The center of attention of whole table! I was so proud when I brought it in and sat it in front of my Dad for his approval. Browned to perfection with our family’s special stuffing peaking form the inside. It just made your mouth water just smelling it. My Dad picked up his knife and gently pushed the carving fork into the breast of the bird, but something was wrong. The fork would only go in a couple of inches. With everything going so right, of course I thought immediately I had cooked the bird too long and it was tough and dried out. While my Dad inspected the cause of the unyielding bird, the whole family just held their breath until he voiced his verdict. Finally, he just rolled the whole thing over and began successfully carving, to the delight of everyone and the shock of myself. As it turned out, I had cooked the bird upside down! That was one of the juiciest turkeys we had ever had. The fluids from the dark side had tenderized and moistened the breasts as it lay in the oven cooking away. That was when I learned there was nothing wrong with the other side of a turkey.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Awaiting the ripening of cherry tomatoes.

This year I have not had the money to finance my passion for heirloom tomatoes like I have in the past. And this year is the first year I had a digital camera to document my achievements. So this is my achievement this year and my anticipation for the first signs of pink on the sweet little round orbs that are teasing my taste buds.

History can date the tomato back to around the Thirteenth Century, when the natives of Central America began growing and using the tomato as a food source. The Spanish Conquistadors are credited with spreading the tomato, through their ocean voyages, to southern Europe, the Caribbean, and the Philippines; where they eventually distributed themselves around the world. Tomatoes were thought to be poisonous by some peoples because they are classified among the nightshade family of plants. Thought the plant itself is toxic, the fruits are enjoyed both cooked or eaten raw.

Tomatoes are found in so many delicious recipes, you can go for years and make a different dish every night. I have one recipe I love using fresh tomatoes to make a salsa called Pico de Gallo. The recipe follows.

Southwestern Chicken over Pasta Alfredo
with Pico de Gallo

4 Servings Pasta of choice, cooked, drained, cooled and set aside
4 Chicken breasts, boneless and pounded to equal thickness
Blackening spice

Alfredo Sauce
1 quart heavy cream
5 egg yolks
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
Parmesan cheese, grated

Pico de Gallo
2 medium sized tomatoes, diced small
1 small onion, diced small
1 small jalapeƱo, diced small
Small handful Cilantro, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste

Make Pico de Gallo and set in refrigerator to allow flavors to develop.

Mix together ingredients for Alfredo Sauce, minus the Parmesan cheese and set aside.

Season boneless chicken breasts with the Blackening spice to desired level of heat. Lightly coat the bottom of a heavy skillet with cooking oil and heat to medium high. Place the chicken breasts in the skillet, with the smooth side of the breast down first, and turning to cook the other side. Cook chicken through.

In a separate sauce pan, heat 3/4 of the Alfredo Sauce until it begins to bubble around the edges. Add your pasta and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese in the pan. Make sure you do not overload you pan when completing this step. Make in two batches if necessary. Sauce will begin to thicken, make sure all sauce is heated through and pasta coated. Use reserved sauce if necessary, or store in refrigerator for up to a week to use at a later time. Remove pasta from heat. Sauce will thicken more as it cools.

Arrange pasta on plates, placing chicken on top. Sprinkle additional cheese on top and finish with nice spoonful of Pico de Gallo.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Promote The General Welfare - What Happened To It?

"Promote the general welfare". Directly from the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America. I want to know what ever happened to "Promote the general welfare"? Before I go any further, I want to state that I am not a political person. I am however, a person who believes in fairness all around. I would like to see honesty and compassion prevail in this world. Now, with that said, on with my train of thought.

"Promote the general welfare", what ever happened to that?? Lately it feels like promote the welfare of the rich people and corporations. Or whoever lines the pockets of the politicians. I don't care if it is a "campaign donation", it still influences the person getting the donation. The rich are getting richer and all the tax breaks and the poor are getting poorer and just a little "stimulus" check. What a laugh!!

Just as an example, I'll use the ever increasing price of gasoline. This has created such a gigantic snowball effect. Increases in food costs, utilities, consumer goods, service fees, everything!! Everything except our paychecks, that is. It costs us more to drive to work, buy our food, pay for utilities! But our paychecks remain the same, except now they have to go alot further!!

The people with money seem to get all the donations. Money, tax breaks, clothing and products for endorsements, only to name a few. My back is getting a little tired of carrying all these rich rear ends around. Especially now that my health is no so good and I can only work part time. I am actually not supposed to be working at all, but I can't get my bills paid that way.

So yes, I want to know what ever happened to "Promote the general welfare"? It has gotten lost somewhere. We need to find it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Re-Discovering Myself

Recently, I have been trying to figure out what to do with myself. Since my Heart Failure in January, I am trying to figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life. At least for the next couple of years. I keep trying to figure out what I can do to support myself financially, that I am good at and have an interest in. For the past couple of years, I have been pondering my various skills and interests to plan for my future when I am no longer able to be a chef. But circumstances have pushed that up by many years now.

I have so many interests and am good at a lot of things. I cook, I create, I write, I garden, I craft. I love paperwork, of all things. I have been rolling around the idea of bookkeeping for years now. I want to try and get classes in as soon as I can afford them or get some financial assistance, maybe a grant or something. Or I'd like to use my culinary skills and sell items through a website. Where I live is fast becoming a wedding destination and hand made food gift items are picking up. I could even ship for people getting married in other areas.

With all of these ideas, I get so excited and even mock up website ideas or menus. But, then I loose my drive. I become insecure and afraid to proceed for fear of failing. I think a lot of that follows me from my childhood. My father, may he rest in peace, was an alcoholic. He never encouraged us to do anything but get a job when we were old enough and get out of the house. I want to let you know though, before he passed away, he quit drinking and was a very encouraging father. But we were all grown up by then. And some scars are still there.

I think I will get a business plan of some sort together and set up a meeting with a local restaurateur whom I worked for for many years. He is a very shrewd businessman and I value his opinion on the economics of our area. But I am intimidated by him also. I do not want him to think I am stupid.

My Mother's Heart Is Mad At Her - Again!

My Mom is in the hospital today. She has to have a pacemaker put in. Actually, she is in surgery as I write this. My Mom had Heart Failure six years ago. We tease each other about being on some of the same medications. I had Congestive Heart Failure in December of '06 and again in January of this year. My Dad always said I was just like my Mother. Except he was trying to make it an insult. Little did he know when he was trying to insult me, he was actually complementing me.

My Mom was in the store getting groceries when she felt funny tingling in her left arm and she felt dizzy. She was smart and asked for medical assistance and not blow it off and drive home and ignore it. Her heart rate was only at 30 beats per minute. That is way too low!! The doctor said that the electrical impulses in the top chamber of her heart short circuited and the impulse was coming from the bottom of her heart. But it was not strong enough to keep up. Hence, the necessity for the pacemaker.

I live away from my family and having to deal with health issues from long distance is not fun. I have placed many long distance calls these past two days. I would have gone home and given my support in person if I was not financially strapped right now. I'm not sure what I would have done if it was more serious. My sisters would have probably had to Express me some money. My heart condition has put me out of the work force full time right now. I am a professional chef and I am no longer able to handle the demands, or the heat, of the job.

Joyous news!!! My sister just called and my Mom came through the surgery with no complications!! The doctor said her pacemaker will keep her heart rate above 60 beats per minute. We all figure she will have so much more energy now. And maybe her memory and concentration will improve. She had been showing early signs of dementia, but maybe this was the problem. Time will tell.

I'm Still Alive

I haven't been paying much attention to this site for awhile. Evident by the last time I even wrote anything for it. I wonder if what I have to say is interesting to others and should I be writing a blog?? Then I think, this is for me and is a journal of my thoughts and emotions. I always tell people that getting your emotions out is good and to not keep them bottled up. But I do hope someone will get some insight from my ramblings. :-)

Monday, March 31, 2008

Teach Your Children Accountability, Please!!

The other day as I walked through my living room, I caught a part of an old episode of The Andy Griffith Show. This episode was one where Opie had broken a window at a neighbor's house and his Pa said it would cost him his allowance for a couple of weeks. There was another person in the scene and he asked why Pa was so rough on the boy, it was just a window. He wanted to know why he just didn't bail the boy out? Well, the Sheriff said if he bailed him out this time he would expect to be bailed out every time. How true!! This got me to thinking about my own childhood.

Growing up, I was one of five children. We all had chores to do that were compatible with our ages. My brother helped my dad with repair of the buildings and taking care of the farm, my older sister helped in the kitchen, my two younger sisters got little kid jobs at the skirt of my Mom. Me, I was the one that took care of the animals on the farm. And we all worked in the family garden. But back to my topic. We all got allowances each week, but if something happened like breaking something, we were responsible for it. There was no arguing about that. I value what I learned as a child and I think it has made me a very responsible person.

Too many children are given everything they ask for without learning the value of what they are getting. I see too many parents giving in to children's tantrums in the stores, just so they would not have to deal with them. Growing up, my siblings and I would have never dared make a scene in public! My Mom was not a crewel person, but she expected proper behavior. Discipline is a lost art when it comes to raising children these days. It has become confused with abuse, mostly by snotty nosed do-gooders who they themselves could have done with a spanking as a child. We had everything we needed, a nice house to live in and plenty of food for our bellies, and at Christmas time Santa Claus treated us well. But as a child, if the "crime" warranted it, I was spanked. More than anything, it broke my heart. But I learned from it, that whatever I had done was obviously not the right thing to be doing.

Being taught right from wrong and being made accountable as a child, has made me the adult I am today. I am not a perfect person, that does not exist. But I try to do my best everyday and treat people the way I want to be treated. I respect other people and their property, and if I want something, I work for the money to buy it. I do not steal what someone else has worked for. I make the money I have get me what I want, and if I don't have any money, then I need to work to earn more so I can get what I want.

My boyfriend is a perfect example of what I am talking about. He smokes cigarettes and drinks beer, but rarely has enough money to support his habits. So his mother buys it for him. He's 38 years old!! I like to have a beer too, but if I don't have the money I don't bum from other people for it. I make sure the bills are paid first and then play if there is any left over. One of my sisters is teaching her children to be responsible. They get cell phones, but if they go over their allotted minutes, it comes out of their allowance. They are allowed to have mostly what they want, but they work for it. This is the way children should be raised. Being accountable for what they do and what they want. I'm not saying a parent shouldn't be there to get their child out of a bad situation, but make them stand on their own two feet.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My Heart Is Mad At Me

My family heritage is that of mostly German influence. Physically, I am a statuesque woman, who lately has put on some weight in the middle. However, my whole life I have always been a very strong individual, lifting more than a lot of males I knew. Growing up on a farm sets a standard of labor and hard work basically for the rest of your life. That life gave me purpose and values that now that I say it, gives my a topic for another article. But back to my present subject.

Over the years, I have been a very healthy person, rarely catching cold or anything else. My family doctor would tell my that I was healthy as a horse. Not an image I was fond of, but since I love horses, I let is go as a compliment. I always had mostly physically challenging jobs, standing and lifting, carrying and pushing. Working myself above and beyond because I knew what needed to be done and I got it done. But three years ago it caught up with me. The doctor referred to it as "walking heart failure". I never realized what was happening when it happened.

It was Christmas 2004 and I was walking back from my boyfriend's mom's house which is just two houses over from us. My heart started racing and I got hot and dizzy and my eyesight sort of went dark, then it went away. This happened three times on that short trip, each incident only lasting 5 to 10 seconds each. So when I got in our house, I sat down and rested but remained tired. Which wasn't anything new, I was always tired. My position as a Kitchen Manager at a local restaurant was very demanding. I was the one who my boss rode constantly even though I tried to make everything perfect. I was the one who stayed late because the Front Manager was late again, for whatever reason. I was the one who worked the shift if one of my employees called out sick. I was working almost 70 hours every week and my "Boss" still wasn't happy or helping me. But that dedication to my job took its toll on me.

Again at Christmas time, but in 2006, I ended up in the hospital 2 days before Christmas Eve. I was having Congestive Heart Failure. I had been sick with a chest cold for a week, and it wasn't getting any better. I could only get a few hours sleep at a time before the coughing would rack my body. On the night in question, I was able to lay down for some sleep and felt that maybe I would be able to sleep at least half way thought the night. But that was not to be. I woke up with a little tickle in my throat so I got some lovely hot tea, with honey and lemon. It didn't help. The cough got worse and worse and I started spitting up a little bloody mucus each time. After coughing for an hour, I woke up my boyfriend and told him it was time to go to the hospital. His mother drove us and I got in the back seat of her Jeep. I couldn't sit in the seat, I had to be on my knees and hang over the back because if I sat down, I couldn't breathe and felt like I was suffocating. This was not a very dignified way to make my way there, but at least it was night time and no one really saw me.

After much attention from the medical staff in our local emergency room, I stabilized and was able to breathe again. I even got some sleep. The cardiologist I had seen once before visited me the next morning before letting me leave the hospital. He prescribed some medication and scheduled me with an appointment in his office in a week, and I went home. Stopping by the pharmacy on the way home was a shock though. The prescription medicine costs were off the charts!! I could feed my boyfriend and I for a month with the money I spent on what the two prescriptions cost. I "felt" better and you can't see your heart, and I didn't have any more problems so I didn't keep taking the medicine and I didn't go see the doctor the following week. No money to spend on that anyway. I had just been downsized from the company I was working for and unemployment didn't pay that well.

So this brings up to January 2008. Again, I had a cold, or I guess what I thought was a cold. I was fatigued and coughing, with a slight fever. Again, sleeping was at a premium. I couldn't walk from one room of my home to the next without having to sit down and catch my breath. It hit me that this was the same as a year ago, give or take two weeks. My boyfriend was at his mother's and I called him and told him I needed to go to the hospital, because it was happening again. So off we go. In the ER, I was sent for an X-ray and then a CT scan. Neither of them could show anything. My cardiologist came the next morning and ordered what is referred to as a MUGA scan. This test finally confirmed what was really wrong with my heart. My heart only pumps half the necessary blood through the heart with each beat than what is needed. This explained the extreme fatigue and shortness of breath I had been suffering while working as a Catering Chef in the months previous to this. This is also complicated by a Left Bundle Branch Blockage. A left bundle branch block indicates that one of the electrical pathways in my heart is not functioning normally. By definition, it does not mean that there is a blockage in one of my coronary vessels.

So, at age 43 my heart is mad at me. It wants me to start taking better care of myself. I won't deny being scared to death when all these words came flying at me. My cardiologist's prognosis is not the most uplifting at this time. His clinical notes included terms like "pacemaker", "defibrillator" and "could die suddenly at any moment". These are not terms that have settled very well with me. I am taking my prescription medication as directed now. Since the first incident, the medication has gone generic and I can now get them for $4 each at a certain pharmacy. Why couldn't they have that price a year ago?? Go figure. I am restricted from working and my doctor instructed me to apply for disability. That has been a nightmare. But like everyone else I need to make a living and am seeking employment form home to supplement what my boyfriend is bring in.

It's been a very frustrating 3 months, not being able to do the physical activity I took so much for granted. I play with my dog in the yard for aerobic style exercise. I want to start walking short distances and do some mild exercises at the house. I admit I am still scared of having my heart fail on me. I don't want to end up having to be confined to a bed or wheelchair. I'm not necessarily afraid to die, I'm just not ready to yet.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Writing Again

I am a little rusty with my writing skills. I haven't used them in so long, I feel like what I'm writing is rambling. Maybe that's what it should be. I loved to write as a child and even into my early 20's, but as I got older, it seemed work and all the baggage of life was more important. Writing was for "daydreamers". I've decided I want to daydream again.

I used to spend my time when I was young, sitting in the woods under a tree or beside the creek, pretending to be in a different time and creating a story in my mind about Indians and settlers. Or make up conversations of what the animals would be saying to each other. It would play out in my mind as if it was actually happening. I was blessed with a very vivid imagination. (I learned never to pass my tales off as real to my mom. But that's a different topic.) I grew up in the country on a traditional farm, with lots of acreage. There was the fields of corn, the huge family garden, the barn and numerous outbuildings, the woods over on the hill. It was a perfect playground for my imagination. But I think I left it there. At least for a little while.

My little Boo recently came into my life. (See her picture below.) It has been years since I had a dog of my own. She is such a sweet little soul and is so animated. When she looks at me I can hear what she is saying and even have to translate for my boyfriend when she talks to him. He just looks at me like I'm nuts. But my imagination is flowing again and I want to write my poems and stories again.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Be True To Yourself

Sometimes the pressures of everyday life displace a person's perspective on what is important. Really important. Through years of torturing myself, I came to realize I was miserable and for what? For what someone else thought of my clothes, or how much I weighed, or how much money I made? Over the years, I have wrestled with how I really felt and what I thought I was supposed to feel. I have decided to quit worrying what everyone thought of me and just be true to myself.

I have always tried to live my life the best that I can. Some days have been more successful then others. I have always thought a little differently than most people about religion and where we are going. I have never felt that I was wrong in my beliefs, but others made me feel ashamed and ignorant. I have been told that I was "going to go to hell". If I don't believe in it, how can I go? Why do people believe we all should think alike? This applies to almost every aspect of life.

In the pursuit of going further and achieving more, having a bigger house or fancy car, people are loosing themselves in the process. For example, my sister recently was laid off her job in a factory where she made very good money but worked long hours in a messy plant. She took a job in a flower shop making and delivering flower arrangements. I asked her one day if she liked what she was doing, and her response was, "It was okay.". I could tell by the tone of her voice that there was something bothering her. So I told her if she liked her new job, it was okay. Even if it didn't bring in the money like her old job, she was getting paid for doing something she enjoyed. She wasn't allowing herself to enjoy what she was presently doing to help support her family.

Life is only as hard as we make it. There will always be ups and downs, but its how we deal with them that makes all the difference. If we keep hope and humor in our outlook, it makes the trip so much easier. So take a bubble bath or a long walk alone. Plant a vegetable in a pot on the window sill and watch the miracle of growth, and know that you helped achieve it. Go with what your heart tells you is the right thing. Most importantly, be true to yourself. Because if you won't tell yourself the truth, who will you be able to trust.