Snakes and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

Science has helped to solve one of the great mysteries of my life. Finally! I see the value in science. Antibiotics? MRIs? Wireless communications? The atom bomb? These are OK, but I just had the ultimate encounter with science. I got my results from the doggie DNA company — I know the breeds that are in Nick, my dog!!
Matt and I have the sweetest, gentlest, funniest, fastest, whiniest, humpiest dog ever. He is our boy, and we love him dearly. I rescued him 5 years ago. My sister and I walked into a PetSmart to look (and only look) at the puppies. There were all these precious little puppies, most of them mutts, all of them begging for attention. I spotted Nick, however, and it was love at first site (on my part). I picked him up and didn’t put him down again until we got home with him. He instantly became a large part of my life.
But I’ve always wondered “What is he?” Mutts are the best dogs, but you don’t know what you’re getting. With pure-breeds, you know that there are certain character traits that you can expect, but what do you do with a Heinz 57 dog? Does he have Labrador or German shepherd in him? I’ve had people stop me and say that he looked like a Rhodesian Ridgeback (had to look that one up). He’s thin and fast, so maybe he has some greyhound in him?
So, when I saw on TV that doggie DNA kits had been invented to help pet owners like me to identify the breeds in their mutts, I was all over it! Matt thought that I was crazy. Would knowing what he is change how I felt? (Like finding out that he had poodle in him was a deal breaker?) No, but curiosity was killing me! I had to wait to save some money (curiosity isn’t cheap), but I was able to buy my kit in early November.
The kit arrived, I swabbed Nick’s mouth, sent the kit back, and began to wait. And wait. And wait. And today, my patience was rewarded with Nick’s breed certificate.
I don’t think it unusual to want to know what Nick’s “made of”. Don’t we all want to know what we’re made of? Isn’t that why some people jump out of airplanes or try to climb Mount Everest? I know that for we humans finding out what we’re made of is more about our inner characteristics and qualities. Will we be brave in a scary situation? Will we make the right choice when faced with an ethical dilemma? We spend a lifetime figuring out these things about ourselves. We learn as situations test us, as we face happy times and tragedies, as people move in and out of our lives. It would be so much easier if we could take a DNA test and know that we are genetically programmed to be kind or to be cranky, like a Labrador is prone to chew. But alas, no test exists to figure out what we’re “made of”, so we continue to learn about ourselves as we go.
My feelings for Nick haven’t changed at all since I know his breeds. It does help explain why his nose stays irritated and explains where he got his muzzle, but Matt was right after all — he’s really made of sweetness and unconditional love and I knew that all along.
P.S. Collie, Australian Shepherd, Shetland Sheepdog

Cooking With Idiots

Matt and I had a great Saturday yesterday. His schedule for the past week had been such that he and I had spent no time together. So, we went out for breakfast, took a nap, watched one of our favorite movies (“The Bourne Identity”) and did a little Christmas shopping (for ourselves). Matt also planned dinner by preparing a stew in the crock pot — it simmered all day, filling the house with great smells.

The stew was really good. We, like most families, especially two-member families, often find it easier to grab a bowl of cereal, a sandwich, etc., then to go to the trouble of cooking a full meal. Thus, when one of us do cook, it is a special treat.

The only small complaint that we both had about the stew was that there was too much garlic in it. Garlic is like a lot of things in life — a little bit is good, a lot of it is deadly. And there is a thin line between “right amount” and “too much”. This is true for M&Ms, vodka, ice cream, and “Beverly Hills 90210” reruns. First-hand experience with garlic is essential when cooking.

I will never forget my first real cooking experience with garlic. Like many people, it was only after graduating from college that I was forced to cook for myself (or others). I discovered recipes — what a great invention — a how-to for creating a dish. Cooking wasn’t that hard — why did people complain?? Get your ingredients, add this, stir in that, bake at this temperature, et voila. Supper.

Thus, I decided to try lasagna. Since I had been so successful with earlier recipes, I wanted to try a complicated lasagna dish, or at least more complicated recipe than what I had grown up with — hamburger, noodles, ricotta cheese, spaghetti sauce. I picked out a recipe that called for Italian sausage, where the sauce wasn’t from a jar but made from scratch, where there were three or four different kinds of cheese. I was ready to turn it on for the lasagna.

Everything seemed to be going well until it came time to add the minced garlic. The recipe called for 3 cloves of minced garlic (I remember the exact amount 15 years later). I had purchased the prepackaged jars of minced garlic instead of mincing my own (I may have wanted to try something more complicated, but I didn’t want to do more work than absolutely necessary). I added the required amount of garlic. Five minutes later, I thought the wallpaper was going to start peeling off the walls.

Through the tears streaming down my eyes, I tried to discover why the fumes were almost visible in the house. Rereading the recipe and then the jars of garlic, I realized my error. One clove of garlic was equal to 1/2 tablespoon of the minced garlic from the jar. I had misread the jar and thought that 1 clove of garlic was equal to 1 jar. So, three jars of minced garlic had gone into my lasagna. I estimate it to be about 167 cloves of garlic.

We did not eat lasagna that night. We could barely live in the house for the next week. I learned to read, reread and often have someone else read the “this amount equals this amount” directions on any jar of ingredients. And I don’t eat anything that makes my eyes water (or repels vampires, zombies, inferior friends).

Best Gifts

My co-worker went to his 5-year old’s Christmas pageant today. When he returned to work, he regaled us all with stories of how Donovan and his fellow kindergartner students performed. The students decided that, like the Magi, they would give Jesus presents and were instructed to give Jesus the things that they love the best. They drew pictures of their gifts and told the audience what they were giving to Jesus. Many gave their favorite dolls, their Wiis, their plasma TVs, even their little sister — because those are the things that they love best.
I had to laugh at the student that gave his little sister. I would have given up my little sister, as well, when I was in kindergarten, but not because she was the thing that I loved best, but because she was disrupting my world. Until Ashleigh was born, I was queen of the world, top of the heap, the cat’s meow — you get the picture. And suddenly, I was sharing the spot-light. The applause wasn’t just for me any more.
I would like to say that I quickly got over my sibling jealousy and embraced my new sister. But, I didn’t. For most of my young life, I struggled with my need to be the family “It Girl”. Luckily, I took a big dose of the antidote known as time and maturity. By my late teens, I had learned what a treasure I have in my sister.
Ashleigh is someone that I love beyond words. She has grown up to be an amazing mother and a tremendous woman. She exhibits strength, confidence and a serenity that I have always admired (and often envied). When I observe her with her children, I am moved by her wisdom and her patience. She is a woman that I am proud to know — and I am lucky enough to be her sister.
I applaud the young kindergarten student who gave Jesus his little sister — sounds like he learned much earlier than I did to cherish his sister. Hope that he continues to cherish his sister, because sisters are treasures, better than any gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Christmas Cards

I just joined Facebook, which is just one more way to completely eradicate the need for face-to-face contact with other people as well as further diminish the number of real letters and cards that are sent through the mail. Nothing comes through the mail anymore except circulars and Geico Insurance mailers. (Thank goodness for the number that you can call to stop credit card offers, or two of those per day would still be coming, as well.) With the invention of bill pay on-line, most of my bills don’t even come through the mail, any more.
But, this time of year is different. I love to go to the mailbox during the holidays. CHRISTMAS CARDS! During the month of December, I get an average of one card per day. The days when two or three come are the best. A card, a letter, a picture — a real, honest-to-goodness piece of mail that someone addressed, licked and stamped. For at least 20 seconds, I was on some one’s mind.
I am a Christmas card junkie and hoarder. All my Christmas cards are displayed on my fireplace mantle (and this year, this is the extent of our Christmas decorating). Each year, after Christmas, the cards are stowed away, and the pictures are placed in an album. I have Christmas pictures of all my friend’s children, their dogs / cats, their vacations, etc. in my photo albums. I do not toss away at the end of the holiday season — I save and cherish.
What is my fascination with Christmas cards? I’m not sure. And I don’t send out particularly great ones myself. I don’t include write-ups of what I’ve been doing the past 12 months (hint: working, sleeping, working, occasional trip, working) because there are usually no great dramas or milestones (thank You, Lord, for the lack of drama). This year was the first year that I sent out a “picture” Christmas card.
Yet I absolutely love getting Christmas cards from my family and friends. I love knowing that people were thinking of me, putting me on their “Best Wishes” list, going to the trouble in this day and age of instant messaging to find my address and addressing (ah, the tedium) an envelope. When I look at my mantle and the number of Christmas cards, it’s a visual reminder of the sheer number of people in my life that care for me and for whom I care.
I don’t suppose that most people know that when they send me a Christmas card they are saying more than “Happy Holidays”, “Merry Christmas & Happy New Year” — they are also saying “you are loved”. Back at you all.

Out of Control

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to sit down and put down any thoughts. A whirlwind of activities and events have been taking place around me, and sometimes I have literally felt that I have been observing the proceedings rather than actively engaging (or directing) them.

The lack of control (or the perception that I lack the control) has colored much of my life and played an important part in my outlook, attitude and mental health most of my thirty-ahem-odd years. It’s amazing how anxious and nervous and rattled we humans become when we don’t feel like we have the answer, the we know the outcome, that we’re prepared for the unexpected.

I recently read a daily devotional that described how flying and surgery are two of the few times that people knowingly and willingly give up all control — we board a plane / lay on a operating table, buckle our seat belt / close our eyes, and allow the pilot to lift us off the ground / anesthesiologist to put us to sleep and the surgeon to cut us open. And we have little to no say in how they perform those tasks.

I have a hard time letting go, letting the chips fall, saying que sera sera. There is so much that is, well frankly, just scary out there. Yet, my powers aren’t super and my knowledge is omniscent. I’m vulnerable and prone to make errors. So, what is the answer?

I’m not sure. It’s as simple as that. I don’t know, but I’ve made it thirty-ahem-some years without screwing it up too badly. I think that some of it is not taking yourself too seriously. I think some of it is leaning on your family and friends when you need help (and when you don’t). Some of comes down to (as Tracy Jordan from “30 Rock” said) “Live every week like it’s Shark Week.” I’m pretty sure 100% of it is trusting in the Lord.

There is a song by the Indigo Girls in which the question is asked in the chorus “What would you give for your childhood fears?” I’ve thought about that question a lot over the years — what did I fear when I was young? My friends not being my friends any more; Mom and Dad being mad at me; not getting the “cool” pair of jeans or sneakers? In retrospect, those seem like such silly, small fears that who wouldn’t trade their scary, adult fears (mortgages, lay-offs, divorces, addictions, etc.) for their childhood fears. But I wouldn’t. I think that I’m better equipped now to handle my big, scary adult fears.

So, I’m feeling a little out of control. Lord, before You take this plane off and perform my surgery (cause I’m putting this into Your hands), could I get a drink, an insurance policy and a hug?