Monday, April 27, 2009

Camp Dutch Oven Cooking

At our family reunion (see earlier posts), I prepared a camp dutch oven meal for everyone. They were thrilled with the results and many of them had no idea what I was talking about when I told them I was going to do it! We had a pot roast cooked with potatoes, carrots, and onions. What is a "camp dutch oven?" It is a cast iron dutch oven with three legs and a flat lid. The stubby legs allow air to flow underneath as the coals cook, the flat lid is to hold hot coals. You can do anything with a camp dutch oven that you can do with your stove or oven at home. When the pile of coals turn white, place about 8 or 10 underneath the dutch oven and cover the lid with coals. For a pot roast such as I cooked, the cooking time is about an hour. Ours took longer because the 5 pound roast was still partially frozen when I placed it in the oven. I had carried it all the way from New York to Alabama, frozen and wrapped in two layers of foil in my cooler. After two days of driving, it was still frozen almost as solid as when I left New York on Thursday morning!!!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I'm home!

My vacation was truly wonderful. I am happy to say that after driving over 2000 miles through 8 or 9 states, I never saw one automobile accident and close to 99% of the drivers I encountered were driving sensibly.

I'm including a picture of those of us that met at the lake on my "ancestral" property! (See earlier posts). It kind of brings a tear to my eye looking at this picture. Those "old folks" you see. . . well, we were once just little kids (my cousins and me). Where does time go? (That's me on the far right in the white shirt). Most of those you see in this picture have roamed those woods many times over the decades. . . I am glad we were all able to arrange our schedules to meet up there again for a really fun day. I remember giving my cousin, Ken, a hug, the last time I saw him that weekend and saying, "We gotta do this again, Kid." He said, "SOON".

A few random thoughts as I look back on the last week and a half.

My cousin, June, and her husband, showed up after this picture was taken. She handed me a zip loc bag and said, "I found this when I was going through some old boxes. Thought you'd like to have them." All I could see was envelopes when she first handed me the zip loc bag. A closer look took me by total surprise. It was a half dozen or more letters that my father had written to his parents in the early 40's when he was in World War II. I opened one and read a few lines aloud to everyone else. We all laughed at some of the time worn news!!!

I think it is so very important to stay in touch with relatives. I know. . . it is so easy, in this rat race world we live in and with people scattered everywhere, to overlook people who we were once close to. But please make an effort to stay in touch with your family. I think you will be glad you did.

The South has the best and cleanest rest areas along interstate highways. . . they put the North to shame!

I ended the week by spending a few days with my son, John, and his wife, Jen, and "MY boys" (grandsons!), Kevin, Jake, and Andrew. Grandchildren are God's rewards for growing old. I have been extremely blessed with two wonderful sons, two exceptional daughters-in-law, and three of the greatest grandchildren anyone could ever dream of having.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Road Trip, continued

After a long, enjoyable day on our family land, some of us went to the river front home of Kip's parents. What a place! The next morning I enjoyed my coffee, sitting on their large deck overlooking the river. Later Kip treated us to a boat ride and we enjoyed the sights along the way. After lunch we headed for home - Pam, Ken and Aunt Ileen back to Jacksonville, and I drove to Pensacola, my hometown. I spent just enough time there to visit my Dad's grave, visit some relatives who weren't able to join us at the reunion, eat some seafood and then headed toward Richmond, Virginia to visit my son and his family, John, Jen, Kevin, Jake, and Andrew.

Tomorrow I return to Rochester and it's back to work on Tuesday. It has been a great trip. I'll post pictures when I get home, unpacked and back to my normal routine!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Road Trip!

I'm on vacation this week. Thursday I began my road trip to "points South". First, a little background. I left my native South and moved to Rochester, NY in 1974. For many years, I didn't see my cousins who I had grown up with and who, as children, we were close. My father died six years ago and for the first time in 30 years, I saw many of my cousins again. Amazingly, we picked up where we left off all those many years ago. At my dad's memorial service, I saw Kenny again for the first time since my wedding day in 1970. "Kid," I said to him, "the last time I saw you, you were a skinny little shy kid." To which Ken quickly responded, "Yeah, well last time I saw you, you weren't an old woman!" (Never try to get the last word in with Ken. It ain't gonna happen.)

So the first stop on my vacation was to Butler County, Alabama. This is where my father and his siblings were raised. There is rural land here that has been in my father's family for over 100 years. My cousins and I have planned for several months to meet on this land for a family reunion. I brought one of my camp dutch ovens and prepared a pot roast with potatoes and carrots. Aunt Ileen and her children, my cousins, Pam and Kenny, came from Jacksonville and brought a salad. Rita and her husband, Kip, from Andalusia, brought an oreo pie that she made. Kenny and I, "certified gun nuts" brought our guns to do some target shooting. . . that was REALLY fun!!! Bruce and Richard came up from Pensacola. June and her husband came for awhile. It was just a fun day, getting together again on land that my father and aunt and uncles lived and played on generations ago.

Although it was a long 1200 mile drive from New York State to south Alabama, I enjoyed the ride. I watched Spring come alive as I drove South. The dogwood blooms in the woods through Kentucky and Tennessee were beautiful. I played many of my CDs on my car stereo as I drove along. But probably most important, this drive was a pleasant change of pace from my everyday work life. "Why don't you just fly down?", someone asked me before I left. I think there is something very refreshing about driving along, enjoying the countryside, letting your mind relax, free of stress and the rat race.

Watch for more posts in the coming days and when I get back home, I'll post a few pictures.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bo, The First Dog

Okay, it's well known that I'm a dog lover, big time. I just don't understand why some in the media and the general public are complaining about all the hoopla given the arrival of the Obama family's new dog, Bo. It was a front page story in the Washington Post, it's been all over the prime time news shows and on the web. To all those who are complaining, go play in the street. . . during rush hour traffic!

I'm a news junkie, constantly checking out the news websites, watching CNN and Channel 13, our local television station. Often I find myself wearing down with all the bad things that are happening locally and nationally in the news. My accountant even told me to stop watching CNN and stop checking my investment websites. I'm sure many of you can relate to that.

But when the focus turned to Bo and watching the Obama girls with him, well, that brought a smile to my face and I could actually feel stress draining from my body. I laughed at the photo of Obama running in a hallway with Bo right behind him.

Whether you like dogs or not, research has proven dog owners tend to have lower blood pressure and general overall good health. Dogs help us deal with stress and anxiety. When I come home from work, weary from the office politics that I put up with all day, I tell Molly about it and she listens to me and then she wags her tail and licks my face, as if to say, "Okay, that's too bad, but can we go for a walk now?"

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spring Flowers

Spring is slow to come this year. Today is a bright sunny day but it is still rather cold. But this is New York State! My neighbors' forsythia bushes are just beginning to turn yellow. My lilac bushes out back are covered in buds but are a long way from those big beautiful blooms that will come in May. Of the dozens of daffoidills that I have in the front yard, there is one lone bloom, seen here.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Aunt Sally

As I lay in bed this morning just after sunrise, my mind somewhere between being asleep and almost awake, my thoughts turned to the days of my early childhood. I remembered Aunt Sally. Aunt Sally was my paternal grandfather’s sister who died in her late 80’s when I wasn’t much more than 10 years old. I haven’t thought about her in years so why was I remembering her now?

Aunt Sally was a petite, frail woman and by the time I was old enough to have any permanent recollection of her, she was bedridden. I can picture her lying in her bed in a small, cheerfully decorated bedroom. A gentle breeze from the window brought relief from the hot Alabama summer day. She was sitting up in bed for our visit. A thick white, nylon rope, tied to the footboard of her bed was there for her to pull herself up. Aunt Sally had short, silky gray, curly hair and a smile was always on her face.

A year or so later, I recall going to her funeral at a tiny rural Baptist church, surrounded by tall oak trees, with a cemetery outside. It was at the end of a long, narrow dirt road. The church had seating for no more than 75 people and it was packed beyond capacity for Aunt Sally’s funeral. Children sat in their parent’s lap so there was more room for seating. Women were dressed in their Sunday best with stylish hats and gloves, typical of 1950’s custom.

A soloist, accompanied by a piano, sang off key. That was long before the days of professional vocalists and musicians performing in churches. The pastor, in his late 70’s, and definitely not as polished as today’s clergy, rambled on in a monologue that caused me to squirm and ask, “Is this almost over, I need to go potty.”

For years after her death, my relatives often talked about Aunt Sally. These conversations always focused on Aunt Sally’s positive outlook on life in spite of the fact that she had lived through the Great Depression and other burdens that life brought her way. She found joy in everyday life. You just felt good after being around Aunt Sally, I was told.

I was jolted back to the present day as Molly began pawing at me from my bedside, letting me know it was time to get up and let her outside and then feed her.

Later, I sat with my coffee in my living room, with Molly clamoring for my attention. My thoughts drifted back to Aunt Sally. How is it that over 50 years later, a distant relative who I spent little time with, could have such a grip on my thoughts, I kept asking myself? I picked up Molly’s ball and rolled it across the room for her to fetch. CNN was reporting on yesterday’s shooting rampage in Binghamton, NY by a nut case who decided he couldn’t deal with real life anymore. A short time later, there is breaking news of yet another shooting in Pittsburgh with 3 police officers hit in gunfire. There is the world economy. . . people losing their jobs. . . desperation almost everywhere you look. In my own job, I am faced daily with frustrating office politics. I suspect my situation is no different than everyone else who is fortunate enough to have a job these days.

Aunt Sally lived through a lot of personal and national problems. Yet back then you didn’t hear of people going on shooting rampages or protesting in the streets. Immigrants that came to this country were welcomed and they worked hard to learn our language and assimilate into our culture. Everyday people learned to deal with whatever life brought their way in a positive way.

Now, don’t think for a minute that I wish we could go back to the days of yesteryear. . . after all, I couldn’t get along without my e-mail jokes from friends, or the blogs that I follow, or the status I have today as a woman. Remember when a married woman could not get a bank loan because she was “of childbearing age”? And a divorced woman was looked at with scorn. Mutterings of “Suzy, you can’t play with the Smith children, they come from a broken home” were common.

We’ve come a long way. But I think the lessons of resourcefulness and perseverance from days gone by still hold value today.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Rain, Rain, Rain. . .

Just about everyday as I walk in to work, you will see me carrying a large umbrella. . . even if the sun is shining and there are no clouds in sight. I have been caught too many times in a downpour to walk from the parking lot without my umbrella. In fact, I had two large umbrellas so that I would always have a spare. A few months ago, one of my them became hopelessly destroyed in a violent windstorm while I was trying to stay dry. It was beyond repair.

Yesterday afternoon, I had taken no more than 10 steps away from my building when I realized I left my umbrella at my work area. I had already worked past "quittin' time" and I just wanted to get home. . . besides, it didn't "look" like rain. So I walked on to the car.

This morning all of New York State and beyond is covered in heavy rain. I must have been a sight walking in to work. I was wearing my spring coat with hood, which is also a rain coat, my backpack and I was carrying a small LLBean tote bag. I placed another rain jacket over my back to cover my pack and stuffed my tote bag inside my coat. I came to a side road with traffic and I just walked out in front of the cars, daring them to run over me. . . after all, they were dry inside their car!

Right now my two coats are spread out to dry over empty chairs. They were just too soaked to try to hang in the closet with other coats nearby. Lesson learned: First, buy another spare umbrella and Second, don't leave the car or my office without an umbrella!