There isn’t one morning I wake that I don’t need a fresh batch of mercy. I pull back the curtain to look outside and there it is without fail. Sometimes the sun shines bright. Other times, the sky is overcast and drizzly. The thing that matters most is that this new day has arrived and with each new day, fresh mercies.
This time of not rushing when I wake is the thing I love most about working nights. This is the time I sit and have coffee with God. I never know what He’ll lead me to meditate on in those moments. I just take His hand, open my heart and do my best to listen. Sometimes I simply play songs for Him on my harmonica. Today I felt compelled to read.
The day before Thanksgiving last year, I looked out my kitchen window and saw my grandkids playing in a mountain of leaves.
This year, I looked out my kitchen window and saw my grandson’s dog having a seizure.
T.J.’s love for dogs is larger than life. Their love for T.J. is even larger than that. So big is their love that it isn’t a good idea for postal carriers to come near the child. So big is their love that T.J.’s own mother must exercise caution when she disciplines him. One dog in particular has started growling his disapproval over this very thing.
T.J. named his own dog Woody. I don’t know what went wrong with Woody. I only know that he was energetic and ornery on Tuesday. By Wednesday, he was not.
While waiting for our time slot with the vet, Woody’s condition worsened. I felt physically ill. Heartsick. These are the things in life you don’t plan for. Can’t plan for. Those times in life when you are stripped down to circumstances beyond your control and everything else becomes trivial. Like finishing the two casseroles that were already in the works. Or cleaning the house the way you thought you would.
Woody went to Heaven just after 5 p.m.
I tried to be productive in some way but the heaviness of my heart depleted my brain cells. Instead, I left the house early and went to work my final night shift before Thanksgiving day. It was there that I remembered what I had read this morning in that treasured, unhurried time: In everything, give thanks.
It felt impossible under the weight of the unexpected. Then I realized we aren’t required to give thanks for circumstances that suck so badly. But in those sucky circumstances—those times when the reasons aren’t so obvious, we should offer thanks.
Those small mercies, so often unnoticed.
I closed my eyes and remembered Woody surrounded by grown kids of all ages—family, friends, neighbors— speaking softly to him, petting him, laying down in the grass with him, easing him from this place into the next with all the love they had to offer.
I thought of my grandkids visiting relatives in Texas this week…not in the mountain of leaves in my backyard…relieved that they didn’t have to watch their beloved Woody suffer.
I thought of other pets lost—the way my kids prefer to journey together down this road of inevitable fate—the way they fall into a familiar choreography of loss in which the steps are never forgotten.
I thought about the love of my life…the way he has always taken care of our kids, other people’s kids—and has kept me in spite of all the kids I’ve brought home and the dogs they’ve brought home. The way he quietly waits in those last moments…those sacred moments before he puts shovel to earth and carries those dogs so tenderly to their final resting place.
After a peaceful night at work, I signed out at ll:15 p.m. instead of 4:45 a.m. which gave me plenty of time to finish all that had been left undone.
Breezy and I worked together in the kitchen as we always do the night before Thanksgiving. She turned on Christmas music…the first of the season, just as she always does. As Louis Armstrong serenaded softly in the background, the house began to smell like a holiday and we found comfort in ritual.
Three hours, one casserole, and four pies later, the last pan washed- dried- put away, I stepped outside with garbage in hand, being careful not to look toward the lonely dog run. Instead, I looked toward Heaven and wondered if Woody was as energetic and ornery on this Thursday morning as he was on Tuesday. And even though my day was no longer new in this backward schedule of mine, there was such abundant mercy remaining that I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
…did not ruin my weekend:
The friendly, entertaining barista at the next stop.
The drive home with the windows down, Breezy next to me…
…enjoying the beautiful, sunny, 75 degree temps…
…and the Halloween decorations throughout the neighborhood…
…passing the happy guy riding his bike…
…and another happy guy walking down the street playing his guitar…
…and all the while, awesome music played on the radio.
Getting an endorphin rush in the warehouse with 3 of my 4 kids on Saturday night…
…the way they gather in kitchen every Sunday and fill it with laughter.
The 62–7 victory for the Saints. Who Dat!
I was 12 years old when I first became captivated. My grandmother (Othermother) was an artist who painted portraits, nudes, and landscapes. She planted beautiful gardens and made sure she placed everything just so. Sweet William always stood facing the Naked Ladies. One year, she received this book as a Christmas gift.
I’d sit for what seemed hours, fascinated by both the colorful artwork and the whimsical bits of trivia. As an adult, it was the first thing my eyes would search for when I stepped into her formal living room. It was always there, right on the coffee table in front of the velvet sofa that we were not allowed to put our feet on, to the left of the Norman Rockwell book. When I’d settle onto the sofa and open the pages, I was there again. A child-like fascination would take over and this is the feeling that will always be attached to the memory of Othermother’s house.
One summer night only a few years ago, I came home to a visitor. He stood waiting with a lantern in one hand and looking every bit like he was ready for an adventure. Out of the darkness, Breezy came running up, breathless as if she’d just finished a powerful sprint. “I’ve got a story to tell you.”
“Tell me,” I insisted.
Still breathless, she took her finger and pointed to the letters on my t-shirt: POLICE.
I’ll spare you the details of the kidnapping that took place that night but I will say this: Breezy and Bethanie can move like Ninjas and run like the wind. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship with Phinneus. Here are some of our favorite memories.
Will Rogers International Airport
Refreshing beverage at Margaritaville Cafe.
Enjoying the artery-blocker special at Port of Call.
Hanging on Frenchmen Street with Long Lost Brother, John Hyman.
Second Line at Satchmo Summer Fest.
Bonding with Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Robert Olen Butler.
Raising money for new equipment for Nola Firefighters. Firefighter calendars, anyone?
Spending a little time in Tennessee with these guys (and girls) from Paranormal State . Ryan Buell, above.
The beautiful Katrina.
Costume party with Josh Clark, founder of Light of New Orleans Publishing, author of “Heart Like Water” and editor of “French Quarter Fiction: Newest Stories of America’s Oldest Bohemia and “Louisiana in Words”.
Also pictured is photojournalist Ride Hamilton.
This gorgeous creature is Lee Barclay, editor of “New Orleans: What Can’t be Lost”.
Hanging with Kermit Ruffins during filming of Good Morning America, Super Bowl Weekend.
Watching the Krewe of Barkus Parade with a friend.
Basking in the glow of Super Bowl XLIV Sainthood . Who Dat!
Between military P.T. and Jujitsu Tournaments, the guys around here are often mindful of what they eat. This happens to be one of those times and I’ll confess…it wouldn’t hurt me one bit to be mindful at the moment.
Chili is one of those things that you can cook and use for “planned-overs”. That’s what my mom calls it. We make a huge pot of chili mostly because we usually have a house full of people–but also because small portions can be re-heated for the next couple of days, packed in a lunch, or frozen for later.
Here’s a healthy, easy recipe that people around here love. Chili shouldn’t be complicated so the hardest work this recipe requires is the chopping of vegetables and the browning of meat.
To help eliminate excess sodium, put the beans into a colander and rinse well with cold water before adding them to the other ingredients. No extra salt will be added because the canned tomatoes have more than enough.
You will need:
An 8 quart stock pot or Dutch oven
3 packages of ground turkey, browned
1 large onion (or 2 small), chopped
1 large red bell pepper (or 2 small), chopped
1 large green bell pepper (or 2 small), chopped
That will be the most labor-intensive step. Brown the ground turkey. Sauté the onion, red, and green bell peppers in about 2 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet. When they are all cooked, put veggies and meat into a stock pot and add:
1 can Del Monte Zesty Chili Style Tomatoes (diced)
1 can Del Monte Zesty Mild Green Chili Tomatoes (diced)
1 can Del Monte Zesty Jalapeno Tomatoes (petite diced)
1 can Del Monte Mexican Recipe Tomatoes (stewed)
1 can Northern Beans (don’t forget to put in colander and rinse with cold water)
1 can Black Beans (rinsed)
1 can Pinto Beans w/jalapenos (rinsed)
1 can Ranch Style Beans (I don’t rinse this one)
All canned goods are 15 ounces, give or take. Be careful not to strain yourself while opening the cans.
Refine the flavor with:
Fresh garlic, minced (1 or 2 tsp)
Chili Powder (about 2 tsp)
Roasted ground cumin (about 1 tsp)
Cocoa powder. Yes. Cocoa powder. (about 1 tsp)
Brown sugar. Trust me. (about 1 tsp)
Chipotle Tabasco (about 2 tsp)
¼ cup jalapenos, chopped (optional)
Simmer on low heat for about 45 minutes, stirring frequently. If you won’t be facing the dreaded military tape measure or weigh-in-scale, you can serve this over tortilla chips, topped with shredded Colby-jack cheese. If you must toe the line, this chili is awesome without anything extra.
When my phone rang yesterday morning, I learned that my father-in-law had passed away. He was 85 years old.
Around here, we called him Grandpa Mac. He was a humble man who was born and raised in Arkansas. He met the love of his life in Ohio while serving in the military. After his service, they raised their four children on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. He was a hard working father who not only ran his farm but took to the roads driving a truck to better provide for his family.
I’ll never forget the day I met him. I’d married his son in a quiet ceremony in the presence of my two sons and best friend. When my husband called to tell his father the news, he was knocking on our front door within hours. Eight hours of driving distance separated us so on one hand, I was impressed. On the other, I knew he was fearful. Fearful that some primitive cave woman had hit his son over the head with her club and dragged the poor, unconscious man off to her cave without even the benefit of kicking and screaming because he was….well…unconscious.
I’m pleased to say that his fears were alleviated after a couple of days.
We had the privilege of having him live in our neighborhood for a couple of years. His kids were scattered in four states from Wisconsin to San Antonio. Sometimes Albuquerque and Australia. When he lived in our town, he was an 8 hour drive from all of them (with the exception of the other continent, but that’s a given).
We realized the importance of establishing rituals in that short time. Our ritual with my father-in-law included a home-cooked breakfast at our house every Saturday morning. After breakfast, the guys would head out to purchase building materials for whatever project we had going on. If there were no projects, they’d go to an old swap meet. And then one year, Grandpa Mac decided to buy a boat.
They’d take the boat out after breakfast on Saturdays and it always broke down. Always. When the boat wasn’t dead in the middle of the lake somewhere, it was dead in the corner of my backyard with something underneath that didn‘t resemble grass and looked as though nothing green would ever grow there again. The neighborhood kids thought a dead boat in the corner of the yard was great.
Eventually, Grandpa Mac moved to San Antonio. The boat went and my backyard got bigger but we missed our rituals. We missed him.
We were lucky enough to spend time with him at a family reunion in the summer of 2009. A couple of weeks later, he came knocking on our front door again, a brave old Arkansas boy taking a road trip alone in the month of July because he’d gotten such joy from seeing all of his kids in the same place at the same time. It’s like he’d gotten a second wind and decided to go visit the individual families from Wisconsin to San Antonio all over again–as if the family reunion was a basket of chips and salsa that left him hungry for Carne Asada Black Angus Ribeye Al Macho.
We’re thankful he was so hard-working and humble, so protective and loving. So adventurous.
My phone rang this morning before I was ready to wake up (I work vampire hours). My own father had locked his keys in the house as he was heading back to work after lunch. I jumped out of bed, threw a coat over my robe, put shoes on my feet, but didn’t do a thing to my wild hair before stepping out into the freezing temps to drive a half mile to his house. He was sitting down on a very cold porch when I pulled up. We visited for a few minutes and hugged a good hug before we went our separate ways. And I knew that if he locked himself out every morning for the rest of winter, I’d jump right up and do it all over again.
I’d do it all over again just for that hug.
…and I’m not talking about my favorite football team. Not right now, anyway. (Geaux Saints!)
I’m talking about the physical therapists who helped my dear friend through a lengthy recovery process that will get her out of a wheelchair and put her right back into the world working all sorts of mischief.
They deserve the cookies she wants to bake for them.
Dawn’s Triple Chocolate Mocha Cookies
Preheat oven at 275 degrees.
You will need:
1 stick butter flavored Crisco
1 cup dark brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp Kahlua
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 Tbsp instant coffee
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
6 oz Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate chips
6 oz Hershey’s Kisses (milk chocolate), chopped
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Put first 3 ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Cream these ingredients together on medium speed for about 4 minutes.
1 tsp pure vanilla
1 tsp Kahlua
Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Take it a bit higher for another 2 minutes.
1 ¾ cup flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp instant coffee
¼ cup cocoa powder
Gradually mix in dry ingredients on low speed until well-blended.
6 oz Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate chips
6 oz Hershey’s Kisses, chopped
1 cup pecans (optional)
Drop cookie dough by spoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes. Don’t even think about leaving the kitchen. I’m serious.
Check the cookies at the 5 minute mark. You’ll want them cooked around the edges, but kind of fluffy in the center. Stand right by the oven door and keep checking on them. You’ll want to take these out before the center looks completely done because they taste so much better that way. These were meant to be soft and chewy, not crispy.
Remove the cookies with spatula and transfer onto a plate (or parchment paper) to cool.
Put them on a beautiful platter and take them to the Saintly People who put up with you for the last few months. Let them know that your friend completely understands the orneriness you’ve just put them through…and for that, she finally gave the secret recipe she created for Triple Chocolate Mocha Cookies…and that I don’t do this sort of thing for Just Anybody.
These would be heavenly with a cup of White Hot Chocolate.
Here are the recipes you asked for. I wish I could be there with you when you make them…but because you moved so far away 19 years ago, I can’t. Maybe you could just come here so I could put these recipes right into your hand…
Not too realistic, huh? Ok. I’ll go ahead and send them your way because I love you so.
New Orleans Style Red Beans
You will need:
1 pound kidney beans and 1 pound small red beans (soak overnight)
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp dried oregano, crumbled
½ tsp thyme
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper (or more)
1/8 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp olive oil
10 oz smoked ham, cut into ½-inch dice (about 2 cups)
10 oz andouille sausages, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise ¼ inch thick (about 2 cups)
1 large sweet onion, finely chopped
5 large celery ribs, finely chopped
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
2–4 bay leaves
4 cups chicken stock
4 cups water
4 Tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Steamed white rice for serving
Combine the garlic, 4 tsp kosher salk, oregano, thyme, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne, and chili powder in small bowl.
Heat the oil slightly over medium heat. Add the ham and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned (about 4 min). Add andouille and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned (about 5 more min). Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, and bay leaves and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables soften (about 10 min). Add the spice mixture and cook, stirring until fragrant.
Add the stock, the water, and the beans and bring to a boil. Cover and cook the beans over low heat for 1 hour. Stir in 2 Tbsp of the parsley and cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the beans are tender and the liquid is thick (about 1 more hour). Stir in the remaining 2 Tbsp parsley and season with salt and black pepper if needed. I love to add a couple of dashes of Chipotle Tobasco for a little something extra.
Serve over steamed white rice. This is best with garlic bread or corn bread.
Then you’ll need dessert:
White Chocolate Bread Pudding
You will need:
8 oz French bread, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 ½ cups whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
½ cup sugar
18 oz good quality white chocolate, coarsely chopped
7 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 275*. Arrange bread cubes on baking sheet and bake until light golden (about 10 min). Remove from oven and cool bread cubes completely. Increase oven temp to 350*.
Combine 3 cups whipping cream, 1 cup milk, and ½ cup sugar in large, heavy saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Add 10 oz white chocolate (about 1 ¾ cups) and stir until melted and smooth. Whisk yolks and eggs in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in the warm chocolate mixture.
Place bread cubes in 2-quart baking dish. Add half of chocolate mixture. Press bread cubes into chocolate mixture and let stand for 15 minutes. Gently mix in remaining chocolate mixture. Cover dish with foil and bake for about 45 min.
Uncover and bake until top is golden brown (about 10 min). Transfer to a cool spot and cool slightly.
Bring remaining ½ cup cream to simmer in heavy, medium saucepan. Remove pan from heat and add remaining 8 oz white chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
Serve pudding warm with warm white chocolate sauce.
You can make this in advance and re-heat covered for 30 minutes, if necessary.
Don’t worry about the calories. Just book a trip to New Orleans, walk your way around the Quarter, climb winding staircases, and participate in as many Second Lines as you can find.
Alex came over for Special Time this week. It was awesome.
It always is.
I dropped Breezy and Alex off at home to bake Gingerbread Cookies while I drove off in a different direction to help pick up a new workout device for Ty (Alex’s dad).
But that’s a whole other story.
Alex was excited. Not only does she love to bake– she told me they had just read the story of The Gingerbread Man at school that day.
I went off to meet Alex’s dad to pick up his new workout device. A whole other story…
When I got home from my adventure with Ty, the entire house was filled with the fragrance of ginger and molasses. The girls were at the table decorating the fresh, baked cookies.
Meanwhile, I went to work on Chicken and Dumplings.
While my part of the kitchen was set to simmer, I turned to see how Alex was coming along.
And I saw this:
She had taken a few little bites.
She didn’t want them to run away.
With a fate like this, who could blame her?
I figured it was time to write you a letter. I think of you often and wonder what kinds of things you might be doing. I imagine there are all sorts of fun things to do where you live now. I imagine you having a favorite friend…someone who makes you smile and laugh and forget about all the sadness and heartache that even little people feel on this big, crazy, beautiful earth.
I didn’t know my favorite friend when I was little like you. That’s ok, though. I met her when I was 25 years old. I liked her because she wasn’t so grown up and dignified that she forgot how to play. She was a goofball like me, so we started having all kinds of fun.
Pretty much immediately.
We spent our days swimming, jogging, eating, dancing, singing, and getting into all sorts of mischief. Of course, we were grown so we had jobs to go to and children to take care of—and we did do those things—but we also played. Sometimes I believe that is one of the most important things a grown-up can do. The more you play the less you frown and I’m pretty sure that is why my friend is so beautiful.
When she was very young, she was in a car accident. Her femur bone broke and busted right out of her skin. Her hip shattered. She spent a long time in the hospital. Surgeries, rods, and all kinds of scariness I don’t like to think about. I wish I had known her then so I could have brought her food and books to make her smile because that’s exactly what she did for me one year when I had to have my knee taken apart and put back together again. I love food and books so she brought me a pound of m&m’s and a Playgirl magazine. The m&m’s were very good but the magazine was very naughty.
She does naughty things like that sometimes.
Even so, she’s a wonderful friend. The grown-up world can be a very painful place and when I’ve walked through those difficult times, she has taken my hand, spoken healing to my soul, and turned my tears into laughter. She does these things in her own unique way, almost anonymous– as if she wants me to believe that my sorrow has magically disappeared and she didn’t do a darned thing to make it happen.
After many years, her injured leg started giving her trouble. The first procedure her doctor tried didn’t make it better and then one day, you were there to help try something new.
My friend cried the day she learned about you.
It has been a few months since her surgery and she is coming along just fine. She’s working hard to make her leg strong again. She can drive her sexy car now, too.
But let’s not talk about sexy cars.
Let’s you and I talk about playing at the park.
I will make sure she does plenty of fun things with that new, precious cartilage coming to life inside of her knee. We will walk many miles, dance to great music, and do plenty of second lines with the most beautiful umbrellas you’ve ever seen.
We will T.P. houses and run away before we get caught because my friend still does naughty things.
Probably always will.
When she comes to visit me, I will take her to the park for a picnic—maybe we’ll have sandwiches, Cheetoes, Twinkies, and Sundrop— and then we will play.
When I close my eyes and imagine you, I think this might be something you might like to do.
Sometimes in life, people have imaginary friends and give them real names. I know you are real but I’m going to give you an imaginary name. To me, you are Bernadine Halla. Bernadine– because you need an old lady name like the rest of us. Your old-lady-sounding-name means “brave as a bear”. You also need a beautiful name so Halla means “unexpected gift”.
It suits you so much better than Juvenile Donor.
Thank you, little one.
You are brave as a bear, a giver of unexpected gifts, and so very beloved.