Maddy-isms: 20 Life Lessons I Learned from My Dog Maddy.

I had to say a last “goodbye” to my dog, Maddy, earlier this year. At least 16, she lived a full life, but it’s never easy to lose a best friend. Maddy was a stray when she found me. She locked eyes with me and I knew she would be coming home with me. We had 16 years together during which her energetic (to the point of spastic) personality  occasionally pushed me to my limits but always entertained. She was smart, she was spunky, she was a bit of a bully sometimes, and she was happy! Just a joyous, entertaining, and ebullient presence in the home.

She will always be missed, but she taught me so much over the years. Each of the following Maddy-isms gives a glimpse into her personality and most of them have a great story behind the lesson. I am grateful to have known her. These are the lessons I learned from my girl Maddy.

Maddy laugh

First impressions matter, so leave your mark as high as possible.

Make eye contact, it could make all the difference in the world!

Wake up every morning expecting exciting things to happen.

Then get excited about the things that happen.

Greet the ones you love with as much enthusiasm as possible, no matter how short your absence.

Keep a regular schedule. Always eat your dinner at the EXACT same time every day.

Little can be mighty!

If you’re going to be bossy and rule the roost, at the very least, be cute about it.

Never let someone go into the kitchen alone.

Ask for what you want. If you don’t get it, keep asking until you do.

Communicate clearly. If you can’t find the words to express yourself, act it out. If that doesn’t work, rely on your herding instincts.

Always follow from in front. You may trip a few of the people behind you, but at least you’re sure to get there first… even if you don’t know where “there” is.

Only pick a fight if you’re sure you can win.

Never hold your favorite toy out the window of a moving vehicle.

Never settle for one cookie if you can get two.

If mom says “no”, go ask grandpa.

It’s much easier to be brave when the big dog is on the other side of a closed door.

If you’ve got short legs, learn to jump.

Life may be rough, but it just takes one day for everything to turn around.

Life is short, go at it with unabashed enthusiasm!

Maddy jumps

 

Independence vs. Interdependence

There was a time in my life when nothing meant more to me than my independence. I took great pride in my self-sufficiency. I felt humiliated if there was ever a time when I needed help with something. I wanted to do everything for myself. I wanted to need no one. Ever.

This attitude landed me in the doctor’s office one day when I was in my early 20s and had just moved apartments, without help from anyone, without getting any sleep for several days on end and shortly after receiving a promotion at work that had brought on a great deal of stress.

I thought I was possibly having a heart attack, but after a brief conversation with me on the circumstances of my life, the doctor put down his clipboard and looked me in the eyes and told me that I was experiencing panic attacks and suffering from anxiety and stress – not a heart problem – yet.

He suggested rest and he suggested that I quit trying to do everything myself.

It was good advice.

Today, I still value my independence. I have a strong feeling that I always will. That stubbornly independent streak is pretty much ingrained in the fabric of my being. But I also value my support system.

Instead of feeling humiliated when I have to ask for help, I feel humbled. I’m humbled that there are so many that I can call on for assistance. Grateful for friends and family who come around me in times of need and lift me up. So very thankful that there are others who are willing to come alongside and help shoulder a burden when it becomes it too much for me on my own.

It never ceases to amaze me how interdependent all things are. None of us exists in a vacuum – no one is truly independent. The symbiotic relationship between all living things is so much more complex than most of us realize.

It’s one of the things I have been most fascinated by as I learn more about permaculture and establishing a network of plants that can function together to support each other, provide strength for their neighbor’s weakness, protect each other, nourish each other, have their own moment to shine and then fade into the background so another can grow.

I read an interesting report following Hurricane Irma’s destructive path through Central Georgia. It was about the damage caused to pecan groves and the number of trees that were lost to the wind’s power. The interesting thing that they discovered was that the pecan groves where peach trees were interplanted among them, the pecan trees fared much better than the groves where pecan trees stood alone.

I think it’s a beautiful example of how we are meant to stand together in the face of adversity and challenges. When we support each other, we can all stand tall.

 

Chai Lattes: how I became my own barista

My love affair with chai tea lattes began many years ago when I was working in a college town where coffee shops were in abundance, and though any one in particular might not stay in business long, there was always one within easy distance of my drive to and from work.

But when I no longer worked there and was working in the same small town where I live, I had to say goodbye to one of my favorite treats.

Then about a year or two ago, my Dad got one of those single serving coffee makers and I rediscovered my love of spiced tea and warm milk all over again!

But, woe is me, I don’t have a magic machine of my own and I really didn’t want one. I was, however, determined to find a way to make the perfect latte at home. The internet led me to many fine machines. Some of them so fine that they cost nearly a thousand dollars. I kid you not.

So, I set my sights a little lower… really and truly I didn’t need a machine that would steep my tea… I just needed a way to make some nice frothy milk. Well, they make machines for that too. And nifty devices and all sorts of gizmos. But here’s what I discovered through a little trial and error of my own.

To make the absolutely perfectly sublime latte, you need (wait for it)…. A pot. And a whisk. That’s it folks. When it comes right down to it, all you need are two kitchen tools that I can almost guarantee you already have in your kitchen cabinets.

Now, when I want a delicious chai latte, I need go no further than my own kitchen and in little more than 5 minutes, I can enjoy the warm, comforting tastes and aromas of a perfectly steeped tea blended with splendidly frothed milk. All for the fraction of the cost of a coffee shop brew and without the need to go into debt for a new kitchen appliance that will spend most of its lifetime being in the way. (Oh… and I use all organic ingredients, so it’s way better anyway!!)

Here’s how you too can become your own barista!

All you need is one small pot, chai tea (bags or loose, however you prefer), sugar (or IMG_0200sweetener of your choice), water, spoon, whisk and mug. I use Tazo organic chai tea bags (which I buy by the case from Amazon), organic whole milk and organic sugar to make mine.

First heat some water to boiling. I usually put about 1 cup in the pot, but use less than half that amount (it’s hard to boil half a cup of water).

Pour over tea and let steep for at least 5 mins. Five minutes works well because it’s longIMG_0203 enough, but also gives you just enough time to froth and heat your milk. As you can see in the photo, I like strong tea and use two bags. Be sure to use only a small amount of water, you’ll need room in the cup for the milk.

I also like it pretty sweet, so I usually add between 2 and 3 spoons of sugar – depending on my mood.  🙂  I go ahead and add the sugar when I first add the hot water and stir to dissolve it completely. Set your timer for 5 minutes.

IMG_0204.JPGNext, discard any remaining water from the pot (use more or less of the 1 cup depending on how strong you like your tea). Add 1 cup of whole milk to the pot over medium to medium high heat. And whisk. Heat the milk almost to the point of scalding, but once it starts heating, don’t stop whisking. If it threatens to boil over (as it is doing in this photo), simply lift it from the heat and whisk some more. Reduce burner heat if necessary. By the time your timer goes off for the tea, the milk should be sufficiently heated and frothy.

Pour the heated milk over the steeped tea using the flat of a spoon to hold back the froth, gently stir your milk and tea, then spoon the remaining froth on top. Sprinkle with cinnamon. And voila!

You too are now your own barista! Give yourself a nice tip and go enjoy your very inexpensive yet luxuriantly delicious latte.

***As always, I do not get paid to mention any specific brands, nor am I personally endorsing them, this is just what I happen to use.

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Life overcomes

I was recently given ten fruit trees from a friend who was moving. It was necessary to transplant the trees during the heat of the summer – not an ideal time for the move. But I am happy to report that nine of the ten not only survived, but are now thriving in their new home!

People and plants have a lot of things in common. Life in general, though complex beyond human comprehension, when pared down to its simplest form was created to survive. Even with the odds stacked against them, nine little trees dug their roots in and flourished. (We won’t talk about poor number ten, the jury is still out on that one).

Life overcomes, that’s what it was designed to do. It fights, it pushes, it seeks, it adapts, it goes on.

We’ve all seen it in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The poignant photos of people literally clinging to life… hanging on to whatever they were able to in order to keep from being swept away and under. Even the wildlife. Stunning photos of wild animals swimming toward humans on boats, instinctively knowing that they needed to overcome their fear of humans if they wanted to survive. And they did.

We will see it again when the raging fires are finally tamed throughout the Western States. Life will overcome. Barren, blackened, bleak landscapes will be transformed as new life rises from the ashes – tiny tendrils of green will push through the black and unfurl beneath the sun.

As Hurricane Irma wreaks havoc throughout the Caribbean and now inches it’s way on Florida’s shore, life will once again be put to the test. The news will be full of destruction and sadly, there will be deaths. But watch for life.

One of my favorite tv shows from earliest childhood memories was Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Something about him was always very soothing and reassuring. In an interview once, he said that his mother always told him to look for the helpers in any disaster situation – they’re always there.

And it’s true. If you look, you’ll find the good. You’ll see the helpers. Life overcomes.

 

Forest Gardening: foray into permaculture

Permaculture is sorta-kinda my latest obsession. I have had a growing interest in the principles and concepts of permaculture and have, as I am prone to do, researched it to “nth” degree over the past couple of years. And I have taken tiny baby perma steps in my garden beds. But recently, I’ve begun to move from researching to planning and putting into action.

For the uninitiated, permaculture is a relatively (as in the last 25 years or so) new term that combines elements of a stable or “permanent” nature to “agriculture”. But it’s also very much a way of life and a way of looking at and valuing life defined through symbiotic relationships within the natural world, conservation of resources, elimination of “waste” (not as in pooping, but as in using all outputs so that nothing goes unused – though poop comes up in that equation a lot!), working with and not against nature, and community (as opposed to rugged individualism).

This summer, I took an online course on permaculture design offered free of charge by Oregon State University. The design project I chose was my own yard which is roughly 1/4 acre. (Design pictured above.)

My vision is to turn my lawn, which consumes resources, into a forest garden which produces resources. Converting grass to a fruit orchard with perennial herbs and other edibles, a small meadow of wildflowers (to encourage pollinators and insect predators), a berry patch with blueberry bushes and strawberries, and garden spaces for annuals like tomatoes, peppers, and other veggies.

One of the really cool things about permaculture is the use of plant guilds or grouping plants together that are mutually beneficial. But, I’ll get into that in a later post as my own food forest develops.

I should explain here the concept of a food forest or forest garden. The concept is pretty straightforward, looking to nature – a forest – and applying those same features to a designed, food-producing garden.

Upper canopy tree layers can be nut and tall fruit trees; the secondary layer is made up of smaller fruit trees; the shrubs and brush layer can consist of blueberry bushes; vining plants such as raspberry and blackberry can grow vertically in the forest garden; with a ground cover that can consist of strawberries, alpine berries, and culinary and medicinal herbs and spices.

Another key feature of the forest garden is using perennial plants that, once established, take less labor and cost to maintain. The plants also work together to reduce the need for both fertilizers and pesticides.

It truly does sound like a fairytale forest, and though I’m experienced enough to realize it will be anything but a fairytale, I’m looking forward to being able to tell my forest garden story!

 

 

A trip to Helen, Georgia: Who Says Adulting can’t be fun?

Remember when you were a kid riding in a car with the windows down and feeling wind on your face and catching the air currents with your hand? Or what about having a sleepover with your best friend? What if we did that more as adults?

I recently got to take a week-long vacation with some very good friends. We went for drives and walks in the woods, watched fireflies twinkle in the night, ate ice cream, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. Sometimes as adults, we need to take the time to just have fun.

We had a great time in North Georgia and next time you’re up in the vicinity of Helen, you might want to take the time to check out some of these stops.

The Nacoochee Village Tavern and Pizzeria is a great place for a quick meal. I had the 12 IMG_9381inch Sweet Green pizza made with basil and pine nut pesto, fresh tomato and mozzarella. The server recommended adding ricotta and it was a good call. There was plenty to eat and plenty to save for later!

For a completely different kind of dining experience, there is the Stoval House B&B which offers farm to table dinners and brunch on Sundays. Our service was a little more homey than expected, but I don’t want to say anything too negative about the older gentleman who waited on us… let’s just say I’m pretty sure he was just filling in for someone or something.

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But our dinners were good, I had the pan fried trout. For those not accustomed to Southern cooking, you may wonder why the vegetable sides come as “vegan optional”; but for those of us who grew up eating some peas with our side of ham, well, we kind of wonder why anyone would want the vegan option.

While our service left us all a little confused, the views were fabulous, the weather was perfect for eating out on the porch, dinner was good and the desert was amazing. Definitely worth a visit. (Get the Buttermilk Pie!)

Habersham Winery is a nice stop if you enjoy a little wine tasting! Be sure to try Granny’sIMG_9365 Arbor if you like a good dessert wine – it was definitely my favorite. Coffee lovers will enjoy the Jumping Goat (chocolate covered coffee beans are must-get treat while you’re there). You can pick up your Southern cooking essentials at Nora Mill Granary – the Spoon Bread mix is worth the trip all on its own.

Support local artisans and get a truly unique souvenir by purchasing something special from one of the many local potters. I brought home a few things from The Willows Pottery which features the work of several artists who you may get the chance to meet while you’re there.

For those of you who have never been to Helen, it’s a bit of a tourist destination most known for its Oktoberfest celebrations. The town is built to resemble an alpine village and is a little over the top for my taste, but there are still some shops and places worth checking out.

IMG_6801If you have kids to shop for, or if, like me, you are a big kid yourself, check out Tim’s Wooden Toy Shop. I love the spinning tops and have a collection of them myself! 🙂 If you’re one of those people for whom everyday is Christmas, you’ll want to check out the Christmas Shoppe on the North end of town (Santa and his sleigh are out front so you can’t really miss it). To satisfy your sweet tooth, stop in the Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen for hand crafted chocolates that are worth the drive.

For eats, The Meeting Place serves breakfast all day… the country fried steak hit the spot for me. I also had a really great bison burger at Cowboys and Angels (though I was beginning to wonder if they had to saddle up and ride the range to hunt down the buffalo, it ended up being worth the wait)!

But enough about shopping and eating, the area abounds with natural beauty that can’t be missed. There are more parks, waterfalls and stops than I can mention, but be sure to check out the State parks in the area. It doesn’t matter what time of year you go, you won’t be disappointed with the views.

Just remember when you head out hiking: wear comfortable supportive shoes, pack a snack, stay hydrated and you might want to pick up a hand carved walking stick while you’re at it.

Some of the places featured in the slide show below are: Anna Ruby Falls, Brasstown Bald, and the Sautee Nachoochee Indian Mound. (Slideshow also features photos from two separate trips to the same area, some were taken during the summer and some in fall).

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The value of hard work: a lifelong lesson

Sometimes in the workplace I have found myself wondering what has become of a good, solid work ethic? Workers who do just do enough to get by, complain about everything, call in sick at the drop of a hat, or won’t pick up a pencil off the floor if isn’t part of their job description.

Sometimes I feel like I’m part of a dying breed.

The photo featured at the top of this post is my Dad.  It shows him here doing one of the things that he did best. No, not balancing a heavy ream of paper on his head, but working hard.

I don’t think Dad ever sat any of us kids down and told us about the value of hard work, commitment to a job, or what can be accomplished with a little elbow grease. He didn’t have to. He demonstrated it EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Maybe more so than most kids, we got see him in his work environment. When he drove a truck here in the US, we often accompanied him. As little kids when we lived in Chattanooga, it was a special treat to get to ride along with Dad as he made deliveries overnight.

When we lived in Mexico, we often went with him to the print shop where most days, he was the boss and the worker and we “helped” out. And for four of those years, we lived right next door to his place of work.

Dad never had to tell us that no job is too insignificant or beneath your notice. If it needs doing, do it. He never had to tell us that if we didn’t know how to do something, we should figure it out – find someone who can show you, read the manual, get it done.

He never had to tell us that we should respect everyone – equally. That wasn’t a lesson, he sat us down to tell us. He DID it. Whether it was the pastor of one of our supporting churches or the local drunk who showed up at our gate once a week or so… he treated them equally with respect.

I think I can speak for my siblings when I say that we all learned those lessons without necessarily articulating them, it was just something that we took for granted. I don’t think any of us are afraid to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty when we need to. We find satisfaction in a job well done, not for the praise or the pay, but because there is an inherent value in the work itself.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I love you!

This photo made possible …a tribute to my friend and dog trainer!

When you’ve moved as often as I have, you accept that “goodbyes” are a part of life, but that doesn’t make them any easier.

I met my friend Beth about 8 or 9 years ago when I signed up for a dog obedience class.

You see, I had THREE dogs and it was a bit overwhelming. No one ever starts out saying, “I want three dogs”. It’s one of those things that just sort of happens.

Maddy (a beagle mix) found me via my mother. She turned up out at a rural church where my mom worked as a secretary. I went out to have lunch with my mom one day and, knowing there was a stray dog on the premises, did my absolute best not to look down on my way from the car into the church. I was successful!

But as I was opening my car door to leave, I felt something brush against my leg… and I looked down. And that was that. There were these big, soft brown eyes looking up into mine and – long story short, we belonged to each other.

Maddy started off timid and afraid of everything. She was about 1 year old and had clearly been kicked and mistreated by humans and perhaps attacked and chased by other dogs. When walking her on a leash, I had to carry her past dogs barking from their side of the fence.

That didn’t last very long. Once she realized she now had a “pack”, she turned into a bit of a bully. Of the three I now have, she rules the roost.

It was about five years after Maddy came into my life that I sort of acquired the other two: Dottie and Claire.

My sister and I were walking our two dogs one night at the nearby park when we spotted some strange shapes moving around in the parking lot. On closer inspection, we realized that it was five puppies someone had dumped out and left to fend for themselves. It was January, and temperatures were already dropping to freezing and only getting colder.

So, of course, we rounded them all up and took them home. Again, long story short, two of them ended up becoming permanent members of my family!

At the point this narrative begins, Dottie and Claire were now 2 years old, about 60 pounds each and a whole lot for one person to handle! Claire, little Miss Personality, was boisterous and outgoing. Dottie, the runt of the litter, was so crippled by fear she could barely function outside of the safety of the house and yard.

I needed help. And that’s when I discovered that the local technical college had basic dog training on their current schedule.

I signed up! I chose Claire as my guinea pig. She was the most social and laid back of the bunch, so I was hopeful that she would be the one least likely to make me look like a bad dog parent. I was right. She was a model student.

Beth is a great teacher and Claire not only went through basic, but also manners class and a class for therapy dogs. Beth also helped me in my own home, working with Dottie to build confidence and bring her out of her shell.

And throughout this process Beth and I became more than trainer and client, we became friends!

I’m so grateful for her in both these important roles that she has played in my life. Life with my three dogs improved dramatically with her help. She taught me how to train them and she worked with me and with them and I can never thank her enough!

Over the years, her friendship and encouragement have also meant the world to me.

So, when she told me last week that her house had sold and it was official – she was moving. It hit me hard. I hate “goodbyes”, even though I know they’re necessary… I still hate them.

That’s one of the reasons that I can’t agree when I hear people slamming social media for causing people to become more isolated or for keeping people from having real connections with others.

I love that Facebook has enabled me to stay connected or to reconnect with people that I’ve had to say “goodbye” to over the years. I love that I can watch their kids grow up through pictures, or celebrate joyous moments, or laugh at the mundane, or grieve together over losses.

I love that in many ways it takes those “goodbyes” and makes them a little more like “see ya later”. No, it’s not the same as time spent face to face, but it sure beats losing touch altogether!

*The featured photo for this story was made possible only through the hard work and dedication of an excellent dog trainer and an even better friend! (They are actually all three in a down stay long enough for a photo!) We are all going to miss you, Beth! “See ya later!!!”

 

Gardening: hope for the future and ties to the past

Gardening is all about hope and faith in tomorrow. We plant a seed with the expectation that, should everything go well, that little seed will germinate, sprout, grow and mature.

But the act of gardening is also deeply rooted (pardon the pun) to the past. Those seeds were produced in a previous season, sometimes even years or decades earlier. For many cultures, generations are closely linked through seeds – carefully planting, harvesting and storing seeds – passing the collective knowledge down the line over the course of centuries.

Not having a lot of tangible connections to my own roots, I love it when I can make tenuous ties back to a deeper history. One place I have been able to do this is in my garden.

I never knew either of my grandmothers. My paternal grandmother died before I was born and my maternal grandmother, who I did meet on several occasions passed away when I was about four – my memories are few and due to her deteriorating health, not terribly pleasant.

According to my Dad, his mother loved to garden (though what wasn’t to love – she had two sons to send out and pull weeds!). And in her garden, she always planted marigolds.

My dad told me this one day when he was taking the OBLIGATORY tour of my garden that everyone must do when they visit (when things are growing) and noted my marigolds. I also always plant them in my garden because I enjoy them and they help deter pests, but now I have one more reason to do so!

From then on, when I plant the marigold seeds, I like to think about my grandmother and wonder what else we might have had in common. I like to think that she would have been proud of me and would have enjoyed my garden tours as I excitedly point out every new bud, blossom and emerging fruit that had appeared since a previous visit.

From what I know of my maternal grandmother, I doubt she would have been much of a gardener. But I did learn a few seasons ago from my mom that her mother always preferred yellow tomato varieties because they were less acidic.

Since that time, I have always included at least one yellow tomato plant in my garden in her honor. And she was right! They are much less acidic and very enjoyable to eat fresh!

Sometimes it’s just the little things. The simple things that bring greater depth and meaning to the everyday.

Bittersweet: the taste of true friendship

I lost a dear friend this week.

As I attended her funeral yesterday, I was struck by the number of times that I heard someone say (either to me or just overhearing conversation around me) how sweet Grace was.

Yes, Grace was sweet, but perhaps what I loved most about her, was alongside the love and affection she generously showed, she was never timid about serving up a big ole healthy heap of honesty.

And let’s face it, the truth isn’t always sweet. Sometimes it’s bitter. Sometime’s it’s ugly, Sometimes, it’s a sharp jagged pill that isn’t easy to swallow.

My friendship with Grace probably wouldn’t be considered typical by most people. Separated in age by a few decades, she was old enough to be my mother, but in many ways she was kind of like the grandmother I never had.

She loved me. I knew she loved me. She loved me without conditions, preconceived notions or expectations. And I loved her.

We were closest during a period of my life when I was going through some difficult times. I was a young woman at a crossroads when a lot of decisions were made and when I really needed exactly the kind of love and friendship that Grace provided.

She supported me, she encouraged me, she listened to me, and when I wanted it the least and needed it the most, she’d hit me upside the head with some cold, hard, honest-to-goodness TRUTH.

Needless to say, we didn’t always part company with mutual feelings of the warm and fuzzy variety. Because, did I forget to mention? sometimes I don’t mind saying exactly what I think either.

I always knew I was in for it when she would sigh, roll her eyes, and start in with “I mean….”. And I knew by the time she got to “…and everything” that she had said her piece and it was up to me to take it or leave it.

I didn’t always enjoy it, but I always appreciated that I could depend on Grace to tell it to me like it was!

I don’t know how many hours I would have had to have spent on the couch at a shrink’s office to equal my time with Grace, sitting at her dining table with a couple decks of cards between us as we chatted through some nice long games of Canasta… but I would hate to be on the receiving end of that shrink’s bill!

(She will always be my favorite Canasta opponent – as ruthless and as cunning as myself – we were merciless when we played each other, relishing in the other’s defeat!)

Was Grace sweet? I don’t know in all honesty if, while she was still living, that would have been the word to first come to my mind in describing my dear friend. And I’m not sure, in the spirit of our friendship, if I can honor her memory with that description today.

But I know this. She loved with all her heart. She loved her family. She loved her friends. She loved her God and Savior. She loved her Church. And I know for a fact that she loved me.

We loved each other, we loved each other through our prickly parts, in spite of our thorns, and sometimes, maybe even because of them! There is no better testament to true love, true friendship than that.

Grace, you were truly loved, you are greatly missed, your memory will be cherished!

and everything…