Archives for January 2013

The Sweetest Girl

Yesterday we had to say good-bye to a member of our little family.

We’re not really sure how old Ally was – she found us about fourteen years ago when she decided that our street looked like a fine place to stop and rest awhile – so we always pretended like she was an ageless angel dog. She was gentle, patient, loyal, funny (oh yes ma’am was she ever), and as sweet as she could be.

My husband would tell you that she’s one of the best friends he’s ever had.

And our little guy would tell you the exact same thing.

Ally loved chasing a laser pointer, treeing cats (but only in her sleep), curling up on a Costco dog bed, waiting to see what might fall from the kitchen table, riding to school with Alex, indulging in an occasional plain McDonald’s cheeseburger, and sleeping in our foyer so that she could keep an eye on the whole house. She also cultivated an impressive appreciation for white bread.

She was the best dog. And from the time she found us until the time she left us, she brought us so much joy.

We will miss her like crazy.

Some Linky Dinks

Here’s a collection of stuff I’ve loved reading / looking at / pinning / etc. and so on and so forth.

The Day I Went To A Brothel by Debra Parker – If your heart has been craving some words that are full of grace and conviction and hope, here they are.

one thing we’re waiting for (and why it’s time to stop) by Emily Freeman – There’s such a gentleness to Emily’s writing, and I especially love the way she handles our tendency to compare and feel left out.

– One my struggles with politics and some of our current social issues is that more often than not it seems like no one ever takes time to listen – really, deeply listen – to the other side. Plus, I get tired (just being honest) of hearing what and who people are against as opposed to what and who they’re for. It seems like somewhere along the way we’ve gotten so consumed with our agendas that we’ve decided that it’s no longer necessary to be kind – and we’ve forgotten that we can love people even if we disagree with them.

(I’m totally talking to myself in that last sentence, by the way.)

(Maybe that’s one reason the tone of some of our national discussions makes me so crazy – because I see parts of myself that I CANNOT STAND.)

Last night on Facebook my friend Jennifer linked to an article about a gay activist’s unexpected friendship with Dan Cathy, the COO of Chick-fil-A. And y’all? I cried when I read it. Can’t stop thinking about it, in fact.

– Because I am very academic and fancy, I wrote a post about this season of The Bachelor over at Ree’s blog (and listen, it was my great joy to spend some time focusing on The Bachelor after the emotional trauma of Downton Abbey on Sunday night). Anyway, if you have some amaaaaaazing thoughts about this group of amaaaaaaazing girls, feel free to chime in.

Ten grown men have been playing a game of tag for 23 years, and IT. SOUNDS. AWESOME. And mildly terrifying. But mostly awesome. (via)

Melanie’s book, the very, very funny Sparkly Green Earrings, releases next Friday. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that. :-)

– Sometimes I act like I’ve forgotten this (available on Etsy):

Source: etsy.com via Sophie on Pinterest


It’s good to remember.

Downton Abbey Thoughts (SPOILER ALERT / ALERT OF SPOILERS / BIG RED FLASHING WARNING SIGN ABOUT SPOILERS)

When I was nine or ten years old, I watched a made-for-TV movie called Champions: A Love Story. It starred Jimmy McNichol and Joy LeDuc, and even though I have never seen any other performance by Joy LeDuc in the thirty-plus years since Champions: A Love Story, her name is forever etched in my memory because that movie marked me. It was the first time that I wept uncontrollably while watching TV. And honestly? I think I grieved that movie for a solid week. I just couldn’t get past it – it was too much sadness for my fourth grade heart to take.

(And listen. I have no idea why I was watching a made-for-TV movie when I was nine years old.)

(I also watched Dallas and Knots Landing.)

(All I can say is that I was the youngest child by ten years. My parents must have been exhausted.)

Anyway, I have always thought that Champions was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen on TV. Well, that and the time Laura died on Knots Landing, which happened when I was in high school and somewhat more capable of dealing with TV tragedy. And even now, if you were to lock me away in a room and force me to watch an endless loop of Champions, Laura’s death scene, and Terms of Endearment, I’m pretty sure that I would cry until I fainted or at the very least hyperventilated in a most unflattering fashion.

But as of last night, we can add one more contender to the aforementioned list.

Because last night? The fourth episode of Downton Abbey season three looked Champions: A Love Story straight in the eyes, motioned for it to come a little closer, then pointed its finger and said, “Have a seat, amateurs. And watch THIS, Joy LeDuc.”

Oh, people.

HERE COME ALL THE SPOILERS HERE COME ALL THE SPOILERS HERE COME ALL THE SPOILERS

ONE MORE WARNING ABOUT THE SPOILERS

I should’ve known, really, as soon as the doctor said that Sybil was doing great and everything looked normal and her body was doing exactly what it was supposed to do. I SHOULD’VE KNOWN. But it wasn’t until the two doctors got into a shouting match – with Lord and Lady Grantham taking different sides – when the part of my brain that has seen way too much episodic television started to think, Oh. I fear that this is not going to end well.

And that scene? With Tom bawling his eyes out on one side of the bed while Lady Grantham begged her baby girl to live? BRUTAL. All I could do was just shake my head and cry. Because who’s kinder than Sybil? Who’s more gentle and more loving than she is? I can’t remember what Mrs. Hughes’ exact words were, but she said something along the lines of “She was the sweetest spirit of anyone in this house.” AND SHE WAS, Y’ALL.

(Yes, I know that she’s fictional character. But just indulge me because clearly I’m having a bit of a moment.)

So anyway. I just needed to share in my TV sufferings a little bit this morning. Because no kidding: my feet had barely hit the floor this morning when I thought about what happened in last night’s episode, and I pretty much wanted to crawl right back between my covers.

And though it wasn’t at all intentional, I just realized that I’m wearing lots of black today.

Have mercy.

My Place

I had only been married a year or two, I think, when Oprah started doing a segment called “Remembering Your Spirit” at the end of her shows. I actually have pretty vivid memories of that particular season of “Oprah” because we’d just bought our first house, and whenever I’d sit in my very own living room and watch an episode of “Oprah” on my very own television set, I felt a little bit like I thought grown-ups were supposed to feel. Granted, a lot of the “Remembering Your Spirit” stuff struck me as kind of New Age-y, but every once in awhile there would be an idea or a story that would strike a chord with me.

One afternoon Oprah used that last segment of the show to talk about the importance of creating a “personal space” in your home, and she featured a woman who carved out a space for reading in the corner of her bedroom. There was a beautiful chair, a pretty lamp, a few favorite books, a good candle, and a blanket. It was nothing fancy, but the woman alluded to the fact that after the push and pull of a busy day, that little space had become her sanctuary, a place where she could wind down and read and recharge.

When the show was over that day, I thought something along the lines of Well, that sounds very fancy. Even still, I’d think about that little space when I’d rearrange a room or shop for a new piece of furniture. At the time, though, I just didn’t see a need for a place in my house where I could sit and read and journal and drink my coffee. I wasn’t exactly in a routine with my quiet time back then, and if I wanted to read, I’d just pile up in the bed and read. Or pile up on the couch and read. Or pile up in the guest room and read.

It was a simpler time.

Once I became a mama, though, I started to identify with that need for a “space” – just one little area of our house that I could claim as my own. I tried making an office area in our bonus room, but the chair up there was really uncomfortable, and I had to turn my back on the room in order to sit there (a terrible idea when there’s a toddler running around). Once we moved in this house, I tried the office thing again, thinking it would be a great place for reading and devotion times – but I realized that I didn’t like being confined to a desk. I moved a chair into the room off of our kitchen, but it was really low and kind of awkward for coffee drinking and Bible study. I finally piled all my books and Bibles on the breakfast room table, and I’d just shove it all in a chair when I was finished.

Sometime last spring, though, I started sitting on the little gold sofa in the room off of our kitchen when I’d do my Bible study homework. I bought the sofa at an estate sale in my hometown, and it’s probably my favorite piece of furniture in our house, mainly because it makes me feel connected to the place where I grew up. Eventually I started sitting there in the mornings – in those sacred 30 minutes when I am the only one who’s awake – and I found a little table that’s just big enough for a stack of books and a cup of coffee. I sit there most Saturday mornings, too, when I have the luxury of extra time to read or study or catch up on various Interweb shenanigans, and I sit there late at night, when everybody else is asleep and I want to get a little writing done.

I haven’t really thought about it very much, but early yesterday morning, when I made my way to my corner of that sofa (with coffee in hand, of course), it dawned on me that that little spot is my sanctuary.

I didn’t plan it that way, but oh, do I ever love it. Even when I’m greeted by a Nerf hatchet that someone forgot to put away.

What’s your favorite place in your house?

In The Event That Fried Chicken Cannot Perform Its Duties…

Yesterday we celebrated my husband’s birthday (which also happens to be his brother’s birthday *and* my friend Bubba’s birthday, so I always feel like I have lots to celebrate on January 23rd), and as we finished our traditional birthday meal of country fried steak, rice and gravy, baby lima beans and tres leches cake (oh, it’ll raise your cholesterol by a solid fifteen points by the time the sun rises the next morning), it occurred to me that I have never shared my favorite country fried steak recipe with you.

I do hope you can forgive this grievous omission.

I mean, I don’t know if country fried steak speaks to you the way it speaks to the people in my family, but in my opinion it is right behind fried chicken in terms of FRIED MEAT TREATS. It’s not the kind of thing that I want to eat every week, but two or three times a year? OH, YES MA’AM.

So here’s how I make country fried steak, which is also called chicken fried steak in some places. However, I think of chicken fried steak as being dipped in a batter, and that’s not really what you do with this country fried steak recipe. Only now I’m over-explaining. And when I start over-explaining, I inevitably start screaming “SIMMER DOWN, MAMAW” in my head. So let me take a few deep breaths and see if I can get through this recipe without burdening you with all the subpoints of my meat-selection process when I’m standing at the butcher’s case.

(SIMMER DOWN, MAMAW.)

All righty. Here you go. And unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the process, mainly because posting pictures with a recipe requires “planning” and “foresight” and “thoroughness.”

Country Fried Steak (modified from about four different recipes)

First of all, you’re going to need a large-ish non-stick skillet and a couple of pie plates. It’s good to know that in advance if you like to get all your utensil ducks in a row before you start cooking.

Ingredients:

6 pieces cube steak
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 sleeve Saltine crackers, crushed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup Canola oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

Lightly salt and pepper each piece of cube steak. Set aside. Mix eggs and milk together, then pour into one of the pie plates. In the second pie plate, combine flour, crushed crackers, black pepper, salt, chili powder, and garlic powder.

Heat skillet to medium heat, then add oil and butter. Once the butter has melted, reduce heat a little bit (so that the butter doesn’t brown or burn), and get ready to fry up some meat.

Put a piece of cube steak in flour mixture, making sure to press the mixture into the meat so that the cracker crumbs attach. Do this for each side of the steak, then dip in egg mixture, and then give the meat one more dredge in the flour mixture. Shake off excess and then put meat in the skillet. Repeat with two more cube steaks (I cook three steaks at a time in my skillet, but you want to make sure that the meat isn’t crowded). After about six minutes, flip the steaks, and allow them to cook for six more minutes. Depending on your stove, you may need to adjust the heat one way or another. The oil in the skillet should be sizzling but not smoking.

Once the first three steaks are done, place them on a paper towel to drain and repeat the dredging process with the other three. You may need to add a little bit more oil and butter to your pan, so make sure that any new oil is hot before adding the next round of steaks.

After all the meat is done, you can reserve a couple of tablespoons of the grease (I know. It’s kind of gross to think about it, but OH, IT IS TASTY.) and make homemade gravy. With two tablespoons of leftover oil and butter in your skillet and the heat turned to the low end of medium, sprinkle flour (about two or three tablespoons) in the skillet and stir to combine. Make sure that you don’t have any lumps. The mixture will bubble a little bit, and once it becomes a light caramel color, stir in about a cup and a half of whole milk, along with salt to taste and a fair amount of freshly ground black pepper.

The gravy will start to thicken in a minute or so, and once it’s close to the consistency that you like, remove the skillet from the heat and set it aside. It will continue to cook and thicken a little bit. Most importantly, taste it again and season accordingly – because there is nothing worse than some bland gravy. Nobody wants gravy that tastes like paste on top of their country fried steak and rice, you know?

So there you have it. A recipe and no small amount of rambling.

I really need to work on that rambling thing.

I’ll think about that tonight when we’re having leftover country fried steak for supper.

Enjoy, y’all!

An Unexpected Road Trip

Last Friday morning I had just dropped the little guy off at school when an idea occurred to me (side note: when the sweet little girl on safety patrol opened the back door so that A. could get out of the car, a Zaxby’s cup fell off of the floorboard and rolled across the pavement, which only served to confirm my theory that the back seat of my car is the vehicular equivalent of Sanford & Son, with the only exception being that Aunt Esther does not ride around with us and occasionally call me a “frog-eyed fool”).

(Seriously. That little safety patrol girl has no idea how thankful she should be that the nineteen books and six jackets on the backseat didn’t band together with the 42 gum wrappers and six empty cups and stage some sort of carpool line coup.)

Anyway, the idea that occurred to me was that an impromptu road trip might be in order. I’d been thinking about going to my hometown for a few days, mainly because Mama, Martha, and my Aunt C had all asked, “SO, WHEN ARE YOU COMING HOME?” when we’d talked on the phone earlier in the week. Plus, I’ve been trying for months to find time to get together with a couple of my forever friends, and WONDER OF WONDERS, they didn’t have any weekend commitments. So I called D, ran the plan past him, and once we worked out a few details, I hit the road.

Well, I mean, I went to work first. Because they don’t really love it if I just don’t show up. However, I feel confident that there was in fact a time in my early 20s when I did in fact decide to opt out of work for a couple of days and then proceed to make all sorts of excuses and maybe even feign an illness or four.

Oh, I was the poster child for responsibility. You’d better believe it.

I drove to Mississippi late Friday afternoon, and by the time I got there I was so wiped out that I pretty much just sat on the couch and watched a documentary about Marcus Dupree with Mama and Daddy. The documentary was great, and it occurred to me that I was essentially re-living my high school days, only my bangs aren’t nearly as crispy now and my jeans are no longer acid washed. Well, and I’m old. But besides that: NEARLY IDENTICAL.

Mama had lunch plans with some friends on Saturday, so my aunt and I decided to strike out on our own. I saw approximately 44 people that I’ve known all my life (only an estimation, of course), and I realized that one reason I could never live in my hometown again is because I would never, ever get anything done. It took us twenty minutes to leave the place where we were having lunch because we kept running into people (not literally, mind you, or else I would be wearing all manner of braces and casts today), and when we were almost to the door, I saw my friend Merritt’s daddy, along with Merritt’s sister and her kids. It was so much fun to see all those familiar faces, but I almost felt like I should’ve gone through an intensive photo identification process beforehand. It’s tricky to put names with faces when you’ve been away from a place for almost twenty years, but oh my goodness I love the familiarity of it all.

After lunch we stopped by Martha’s so I could drop off a pink sweater that I picked up for her at the SteinMart, and as soon as Martha pulled that sweater out of the bag, she put it on, posed, twirled, talked about how perfectly darlin’ it was, and then posed one more time. She had been doing a few things at home that morning, and she apologized at least six times for what she was wearing. Now mind you she was wearing a pair of black slacks and a white turtleneck sweater, but based on her sincere regrets about the stylishness of her ensemble, I think she’s forgotten that most Saturdays I tend to wander around my house in some BROKE DOWN pajama bottoms and a Life Is Good t-shirt with paint all over the bottom of it.

Eventually I dropped C off at her house, and I hit the road to meet my friends Tracey and Elise. We’ve been friends since our freshman year of college, and though I can’t really explain why, lately I have been missing my long-term people way down deep in my bones. So oh my goodness – did I ever soak up my 24 hours with those girls. We laughed our heads off and went out for a great dinner and then laughed our heads off all over again. We stayed up late and slept late and covered an impressive number of topics in a relatively short period of time. And by the time we said our good-byes Sunday afternoon, I was just – I don’t know – grateful. Because there’s just not much better than friendships that stand the test of time.

So now I’m home. Yesterday I washed six loads of clothes and caught up on TV and took my little fella out to lunch and cooked a healthy dinner that wasn’t very tasty but at least everybody pretended to like it. Today we hopped back into our normal routine, and tonight we’re going to watch a little high school basketball.

And I’ll tell you what: it’s no coincidence that my attitude and my energy level were much improved today. It’s amazing what a little time with some of your favorite people can do for you.

I highly recommend it.

(p.s. We must talk about The Bachelor at another time.)

(I HAVE SO MANY THOUGHTS.)