Thursday, September 30, 2010

Seriously Saucy

Bread pudding with bourbon sauce was the goal for the day
Don didn't like what he called bugs, so we made it a different way.
Apricots, cherries, and nutmeg made the pudding good;
Cajuns use what's on hand in creating all their food.

When it came time to make the sauce, we used no bourbon after all;
A bottle of Jack Daniels came to hand in the closet in the hall.
Nobody seemed to notice the sauce had a little different flavor;
There didn't seem to be any complaints as this dessert was savored.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Talking About Tara

An absolutely perfect fall day in Atlanta,
Rocking on the veranda overlooking a manicured lawn.
Soaking up the ambiance that Scarlett must have enjoyed
Before Sherman burned the heart of Southern Hospitality.
Red beans cooking in the kettle in the perfect kitchen,
Everything in order, as in a Southern home it should be.

The busy Buckhead boulevard seems many miles away
From this backyard heaven under dogwood and magnolia trees.
What a gift I've been given to create my Cajun cooking
For the particular palate of my friend, an executive chef.
I like to think I'm Scarlett in this imaginary movie
But I know I'm more like Prissy just trying to do my best.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Commercial Kitchen Cooking

I'm hanging at a mansion today,
In the most perfect kitchen,
Feeling oh so wealthy,
And it won't cost me a thing.

Today we're making red beans,
With lots of Andouille sausage,
In a big steam kettle,
And I can hardly wait.

I'll love to be working
In a commercial kitchen,
Cooking up good things
For lots of folks to eat.

I'll hang out with Chef Holly,
Making her honey's favorites,
To feed all his friends
As we party him to paradise.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Luscious Lava

I feel fulfilled regarding chutney "needs" now, but I still have plenty of fruit for pear butter, waiting to be pressurized. Meanwhile, I've discovered a whole new pear passion.

Mamie has been talking with great enthusiasm about Esther's pear honey. I came across this concept several years ago while searching the internet for pear preservation recipes, but I had no need to try it until Mamie kept mentioning her longing.

I was at a pot luck lunch honoring one of our precious people who recently died, when I came upon Esther. We got to talking about this delicacy that Mamie so desired, so I asked Esther her secrets. After coming home with a basic list of ingredients, I went online and found proportions and procedures, just in case I had any extras of the pear pearls that Richard had peeled.

I did end up with a few cups of Richard's pear pearls waiting for a home, and Josie had handed me a ripe pineapple a few days ago. Why not try something new? With a bit of whirring in the food processor, the pineapple and pears were ready to be cooked down with sugar into the golden elixir called pear honey.

For those who have never made jams and jellies, cooking down jam is like living in a kitchen with a spitting volcano. The syrup is so thick that it becomes superheated on the bottom of the pot, so that every time a bubble or a stirring spoon breaks the surface, a few balls of the molten luscious lava fly onto everything in their path. This can cause some serious damage to the skin of anyone unwise enough to be within range. And if the temperature isn't regulated just so, the whole stove and floor surrounding it become a hardened lava field upon cooling.

The pear honey is as good as it looks, so I'm now anxious to get a taste test to Esther and Mamie. Will it pass the muster of the canning queens?

As for the pear butter, I just won't have time to finish it today because I'm going back to Atlanta to finish preparing for Don's Party Into Paradise. After pressurizing the pears, I'll simply stick them in the freezer. I will, hopefully have our Coker Creek Kitchen Club going at the Smoky Mountain Christian Camp very soon after I arrive back here. Then, all the parties interested in sharing methods for good old down-home cooperative cooking and other homey endeavors can congregate for some family-style fun.

Maybe it will be the beginning of our very own Coker Creek Creative Camp, sort of like Foxfire and other folk schools, but probably more full of fun.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Trying To Train a Chicken

I went to see Mountain Mama and was a bit alarmed by the long scratch from her ear, across her cheekbone, all the way to the bridge of her nose. It looked like she had been sword fighting like The Three Musketeers. She is ninety, after all, so we worry about her health. I asked her about it, and she started laughing.

It seems that she was trying to train one of her chickens. Mamie has very nice nesting boxes for her hens, so she makes every attempt to have them lay in them; but,she says that some chickens are rather opinionated about where they want to roost. One of her layers didn't agree with Mamie's motel plan, so she set herself up on the top of a door that is still opens to the outside.

Mamie was fed up with the cheekiness of this chicken, so she decided to give her a nudge in the right direction, which would have been down to her real roost. She shut the door, hoping to have the bird relocate herself to her proper place. This method sort of worked. The hen was dislodged; in her hurry, and with a flurry, she flew down to Mamie's head. Darkness had descended,so the hen apparently thought that Mamie's hair was a nice warm bed of straw at a comfortable height and distance for her to reach in one leap.

The startled Mamie didn't see the hen hopping off her perch; all she felt was something landing on her head. This led to the natural reaction of giving whatever it was the brush off. This hen was having no part of this, and grabbed Mamie's cheekbone with her claw, hanging on for dear life. Mamie's hand was already in brushing motion, so she's left with scar from her duel with a hen hanging on to her squatter's home.

Mamie's mountain daughter tended to her wound, and it seems to be healing nicely. But I am left wondering exactly who trained whom.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Three Cheers for Chutney

Richard peeled and diced pears with care
To give our gift stash a certain flair.
Chutney's better by far than any other spread
That competes for space under our bed.

I like pear butter; don't get me wrong,
But once I tried chutney, I sang a new song.
The complexity of flavor in this exotic mix
Makes my taste buds stand up and do flips.

It's hard to describe what makes it so tasty,
With firm morsels of pears, it's never pasty.
The ginger adds a certain spice,
And the tart cranberries are ever so nice.

I eat it on turkey, and pork roast, and ham;
For toast, it makes a really fine jam.
I like it alone, out of the jar with a spoon.
The flavor's so special, it makes me swoon.

We give it away as Christmas presents;
If the Magi had it, it would have been pleasant
To present some of this chutney to the Holy Family,
A little something as tasty as tasty can be.

For families that are holy and families that are not,
We like to give food gifts from our cook pot.
We love to play Santa for the adults kids,
While they're planning holidays that flip their lids.

A little something to soothe troubled souls
Is the object of our holiday goals.
If we can bring a smile to Santa's face
We feel that we've won the holiday race.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Muscadines and My Man

Talk about explosive personalities. Not only are my emotions land mines waiting to detonate, it seems that most things I touch are either going to explode or implode. I made such bilious green muscadine jam last year, that I decided to really be careful and create marvelous muscadine jam with this year's crop. Well, life is what happens when we're making other plans.

I had so many muscadines I could barely fit them in my largest pressure cooker. Being an impatient person, I still filled the cooker past the "legal" limit. I was actually pleasantly surprised when the pressure cooker neither exploded nor blew the pressure valve across the kitchen.

After a cool down period, I ground the mess through the food mill and came up with mud-colored mash. I pointed this out to Richard, who allowed as it looked like sick baby's poop. Upon reassuring him that Mamie said it would come out okay in the end, he quipped, "Most poop is better after it comes out of the end." So much for his culinary encouragement.

Because of Deborah's impromptu birthday bash and having to go to Atlanta for the second of Don's Party Into Paradise planning sessions, this was as far as the jam juice got before being refrigerated until a later date. Today was the day for jamming.

After a relatively event-less first batch, I had to remake the second round because I can never do any repetitive task the same way twice. I don't know at this point if it's my ADD or my senility.

Having come to the limit of my ability to concentrate, I decided to freeze the rest of the mash for future jam sessions. The stove was, at this point, beyond recognition from all the burned sugar and dribbled jam. This is where my major missteps came into play.

As is my habit, I labeled a couple of zipper closure bags with contents and date; I then ladled in pre-measured muscadine mash. After zipping, the bags would be ready for the freezer. Except for the little problem with the zipper on the first bag failing, spewing beige blobs all over the counter and stove-top. At least the closure on the second bag held, allowing me to gingerly carry it to the auxiliary freezer with which Richard shares his work-shed.

I so softly placed the bag on top of other frozen foods, being careful to lay it flat for efficient use of storage space. As I turned to close the freezer door and retreat from the shed, the dam (or is it "that damn zipper?")burst, spewing what looked like a mudslide all over me, my clothes and Richard's work-shed. Now, I had debris from two tsunamis to tackle.

I laughingly called Richard to see my latest "Perils of Pauline." Bless his heart, the same man who always told me that he'd call 911 if one of the grandchildren was left in his care and exploded in his or her diaper, calmly began cleaning the similar-looking mess out of his shed while he sent me to the showers to wash myself up. He didn't even laugh at me, just took out the hose and started spraying the
shed floor.

Chivalry comes in almost infinite incarnations.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Gift of Soup, With Strings Attached

I cleaned the freezer out of last year's veggies,
Forgetting that the green beans had strings.
I made wonderful tasting vegetable soup,
With its own dental floss, of all things.

Richard suggested that I add some heft,
So I added a good bit of spaghetti.
The extra cooking softened the strings,
So I guessed the soup was then ready.

I gave some to Mountain Mama
Who said of strings, she's not afraid.
She liked the part about having built-in floss;
She is certainly not a bit staid.

Since we had about four gallons,
There's enough soup to be shared;
Although we'll have to be careful of those
Who of stringy beans might be scared.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Drama Mama

Do you know how hard it is for some of us to be "no drama" mamas? When I was coming up, women weren't supposed to think for themselves. They were supposed to have two coping strategies, terrible tantrums and illness. When one didn't work a "lady" could immediately take to one's bed.

Southern women even had "fainting couches" back in the "good old" days. Of course, these strategies were only effective at getting women out of work, and couldn't be employed well by women who had no servants. This lack of supplying servants on the husband's part could sometimes be made up for by having a passel of children and assigning all unpleasant duties to the oldest of the brood. I was not the oldest.

I had two older siblings, a brother and a sister. I also went through the first years of my life with several servants coming in and out of our lives. I was absolutely born to be a princess, but something terrible happened long about the time I turned four-years-old. We moved and my mama's rich uncle died, leaving her not a penny for servants or other household help. All the foot stomping and temper tantrums in the world couldn't bring my magic wand back into working order.

This didn't mean that I took to becoming useful. My closest little sister wanted desperately to be big, so I watched while she worked at mastering all manner of talent. I followed my big sister's lead and became ill every time things weren't going my way. I was content being left alone in La-La Land.

This worked pretty well until I became a wife and mother myself. I had absolutely no skills to take with me to that table. What was a princess to do? I had managed to learn to cook, so I took to the kitchen and never wanted to come out, except to write an occasional poem or throw a lavish party. This made me popular, but kept me in La-La Land until I hit any bumps in the road. Then my fall-back position was to fall into bed, especially if a river of tears didn't wash away my woes.

Now, here I am at almost sixty, still crying rivers of tears, but now while I work my way through, which so often does still involve party preparations. If only I could figure a fuel that didn't seem so dramatic; maybe people would be less likely to head for the hills when I start rumbling. And in a teeny tiny hamlet like Coker Creek, it's plain old unseemly for a married woman to act out in public.

Thankfully, Richard likes a lot of hot sauce, but many don't know what to do with a such a drama mama.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dancing With Don

You’d be surprised how much planning has to be done for a proper Party Into Paradise. We’re under a lot of pressure to do Don’s departure up right; after all, how many of us will ever have the opportunity to make a presentation at a governor’s mansion? Folks are flying in from all over the country to fete their friend and mentor in the window washing industry and in how to grab for the gusto in this life.

This is nothing like the ease with which we can bury our dead at a funeral facility where the staffs are all instructed to speak in soft voices and smile such gentle smiles. Where we are encouraged to choose from a Chinese menu of official options for caskets, cremation urns, services and songs. Don wanted us to have nothing to do with all that. He even left a list of his favorite songs to be played while we party.

Our group comes over to Holly’s for supper, and laughs out loud at the stories we’ve all got to tell about Don and his wacky ways of relating to his world. We’ve got Molly, a marketing manager who works for the governor helping to plan protocol, Bob, a professional photojournalist and editor working on photos and the eulogy, Mary, a corporate executive assisting her journalist husband in choosing the proper pictures and keeping him from crying as he remembers all the good times he and Don had getting the greatest shots.

Professional project manager Art is putting all the pieces together to come up with a multimedia presentation that will do Don proud. The professional technowizard, Scotty is consulting on the equipment and programs and is scheduled to set up the video and sound systems for the service at the mansion and the after party at the across-town clubhouse. Richard will do last-minute framing of the photos chosen for Don’s “shrine.” I’m pretty sure there have been heads of state who have had less talented folks working on their send offs.

Executive chef Holly and her mom prepare the suppers for our planning sessions, while Richard and I tend bar, and generally help where we can. Our big parts will come later when we apply my cooking and catering skills to preparing the mostly Cajun menu that was requested by our honoree.

The ever-patient Richard will provide a steady eye and hand to videotaping the service. He is also going to apply his sobriety skills to being the designated driver, transporting the many party people safely to and from their hotels. He supplied this same skill when we celebrated Holly’s fiftieth birthday in the same area of Atlanta, so we know he’s prepared for whatever the guests may say and do.

I feel honored to be a part of this wonderful group of “pretty damn terrific” people putting their passions into the finale for their friend. I guess you could call me the producer and director of Don’s final dance.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Still Sexy at Sixty

We celebrated Darling Deborah with all her favorite foods;
She's had a really rough year, so we wanted to lift her mood.
We made the most chocolatey chocolate dessert we could find
And pulled a devilishly delicious shrimp pasta recipe from my mind.

JJ, Billy, Eugene, and Cassie with her school girlfriend
Created a birthday pageant that was really the living end.
They crowned Deborah Birthday Queen and draped her with a cape,
Presenting gifts and flowers and, of course, that chocolate cake.

All sang happy birthday before we settled down to feast.
The musicians were in fine fettle, so Deborah's joy increased.
When we saw her last she was smiling like a little pixie;
She's the first of my friends who is still sexy at sixty.

From Hell to Here

Sometimes to save souls, one has to go to hell to get them,
Accepting on faith that their friends will provide a saving limb.
Many times, many people have seemed to lose sight of The Path,
Taking a detour to wait for those who may otherwise finish last.

When we were children, we were taught that the only way to salvation
Was to swear eternal allegiance to the Christian God and to our fair nation.
Back then we had bomb alerts and hid under our desks,
Because the Russians were coming with bombs and arrests.

We were told that they would torture us to denounce our beliefs;
The fact that Jesus forgave Peter's denial gave me great relief.
I figured I could lie to those heathen communists;
The Holy Spirit knew my heart, so I may still make God's list.

Many have stood at the gates of hell to keep my soul from dying,
While I insisted that I wouldn't leave while I heard my family crying.
Now I feel my fight is over; it is time for me to rest and pray.
The little me feels safe and clean again, so my soul can come out and play.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Few Quick Questions

When I ask a question, I mean no disrespect;
I just don't accept all the dogma from those that we elect.
I don't believe that any guru, shaman, preacher, or priest
Has any more line to holiness than those we honor least.

I love the faith of little children, and the joy they find within,
Until someone convinces them that they were born in sin.
What is a small child to do to erase the parental taints?
Aren't even those who died before birth already little saints?

Why would Our Creator continue making pagan babes
If there is no way that their souls can be saved?
I believe that if we give our lives over to loving ways,
The spirit of holiness will spread to all who for it pray.

Friday, September 17, 2010

More Muscadines

All the grapes seem to grow under the vines and leaves;
I have to crawl on the ground, the fruit to retrieve.
I never met Mamie's man, but he couldn't have been too tall,
Our maybe he sent his kids to pick whenever they started to squall.

I really need a toddler next time that we pick grapes,
Or maybe I could try to train a family of apes.
The only thing that may be a problem with that plan,
Is I doubt that very many grapes would end up as jam.

The toddlers would drop them on the ground and not pick them up.
The apes would sit down on the job and on the fruit they'd sup.
Last year's batch of muscadine jam was a sight to behold;
It was a rather shocking green instead of a burnished gold.

Muscadine Madness was a sad joke of a jelly;
Even Santa wouldn't put that stuff in his belly.
This year I'll know better than to add any color magic;
The green hue of last year's jam was quite literally tragic.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Free-Falling Fruit

Mountain Mama Mamie was in fine fettle today;
She called to say the muscadines are ready to be put away.
She had been feeling poorly the last time we came by;
She had sleep-over company, so we knew she wouldn't cry
While we were in the city with our widowed friend.
But her company and aches and pains had come to an end.
It was time to come pick grapes for jams, jellies and wine;
I told her we'd be over as soon as we found the time.

Greta had already informed me that her pears were ready for me;
She was tired of the crows getting all that fell from her tree.
I had told myself we were finished with canning for this year,
But I can't resist the gifts of new fruits as they appear.
Last year we had no pears for our cran-pear-ginger chutney,
And my godchild Gary has asked for pear butter from me.
A garden is God's way of keeping us from having too much pride;
The people who guaranteed success obviously lied.

We have to bow to God's whims regarding the bad weather,
And we must push ourselves to gather when things are better.
God lets many other creatures feast upon our soil;
There are times when we have no reward, no matter how hard we toil.
Of course the old-timers always have theories about what went wrong;
Something to do differently next year is their favorite song.
Sometimes I think hunter-gatherers were smarter than we are;
They simply enjoyed Nature's gifts from places near and far.

Traveling with the seasons, following the beasts,
Like manna from heaven, they acquired their feasts.
Now, here we are attempting to control the land,
Convincing ourselves that Nature needs a hand.
We sweat, and plow, and fertilize with chemicals,
Never paying much attention to Nature's rules.
I'm sure that we could live on what occurs naturally,
But we'd have to be content with what we're given for free.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Movable Memories

Some call them senior moments,
But that doesn't apply to me.
I never could remember anything;
I went from ADD to senility.

I like to say that the mind
Is like a computer's CPU,
But when our brains get too full,
There's little we can do.

There should be an external drive
Where we could download the overflow;
When we needed this information
To our jump drives we would go.

Our ear canals could serve as
Our data retrieval ports.
We'd simply plug in external drives
For information of all sorts.

What would even be better
Is we could trade memories,
My trip to the dentist
For your vacation overseas.

Wouldn't the world be lovely
If we could walk in each other's shoes,
By simply plugging into another's memories,
And replacing ours when we choose?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ladies of Love and Laughter

The ladies were lovely and a whole lot of fun.
They may be with churches, but not just one.
The quilts they make are not for UT;
They're made for Children's Hopital, you see.
These gals have hearts as big as the earth;
Each one giving whatever she's worth.
Pastor Lynda is very good at recruiting;
For community efforts she has everyone rooting.

Eda is sewing a border by hand,
While her daughter Anita by the ironing board stands.
Tina makes yo-yos that will become keychains;
Jessica is piecing, so no two quilts are the same.
Gayle sits and sews a fine seam;
Joyce is helping with several teams.
They make tissue box covers and coasters, too
For Christmas gifts, I may buy a few

Donna and Delight are comparing their thoughts
About which items will be most readily bought
By folks attending the Autumn Gold Fest.
I couldn't decide which things I like best.
I got great stories of their efforts;
I took their pictures; they were great sports.
The cookies were eaten with great gusto;
They laughed at my stories, then I had to go.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chocolate and Church Ladies

The quilting queens of Coker Creek are meeting this morning, and I plan to be there. I usually wear rather thin rather quickly on church ladies because I blurt out things that they don't even want to think about, much less hear about. Sometimes I can even upset people without saying a thing; they can see in my eyes what I'm thinking.

My mission today is to get the stories of these wonderful women who gather monthly to make quilts for critically ill kids. Their project du jour is to create a quilt with the University of Tennessee Team symbol for auction at the Coker Creek Autumn Gold Festival. This will help them raise funds to make more quilts.

I'll take along my camera to catch them in their acts of kindness; then we can create a story board for their booth at the fest. Jack and I plan to share booth space with them, if we're allowed to do so. What a wonderful way to multitask, helping Jack promote his book while helping the ladies cuddle these kids. Come to think of it, maybe Jack could go read to the hospitalized children, helping their spirits soar while their bodies are being healed.

Chocolate is purported to soothe the savage soul. I would eat some to see if it would soothe me, but I'm on Atkins, so I'll have to do the next best thing. I hear that even church ladies indulge in the sinful richness of chocolate. I figure if I soothe their souls with some chocolate, they may be less prone to being upset with what I say or what they see in me. And one can't get much more chocolaty than death-by-chocolate cookies.

If the quilting queens of Coker Creek can't retain their calm with me after they taste our death-by-chocolate cookies, I'll just have to give up the ghost.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Creation Celebrations

While it is true that I'm impatient, all my impatience doesn't move The Almighty one little bit. For a long time, I was afraid to show my impatience for fear that it would be seen as a lack of faith. It's not that I don't have faith, it's just that I sometimes have to sneak a peak into the oven to make sure that the cake is in there. I'm so afraid that if I don't peak, I'll forget about the party and miss the cake all together.

I really don't think the The Big Baker minds if I sneak a peak; sometimes I'm even asked to watch the cupcakes for a while. Of course, if I peak too often the cake will fall, and if I get distracted for too long, the cake might burn. Sometimes The Big Baker will let me vary the recipes just to give me a sense of participation. I know The Big Baker will always start a new batch if I don't succeed in my small part.

I just never know when I'll get to be the birthday girl, so I always try to have my party hat close by; and I really like to be the one to help with the birthday cakes. This makes me feel more sure that I won't miss my own party when my time comes.

The parties I most remember are the ones planned just for me, my tenth and my fiftieth. I love planning parties for other people because it makes me feel part of the celebration of their spirits. While I'm waiting for my Party Into Paradise, I feel honored to be part of the creation celebrations of others.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lots of Life

We're winding down on our home front just as all this party into paradise planning kicks in. The garden is still waiting for us to plow up our last potatoes, but I've done all the canning I intend to do, except for the bunches of beets still in the earth.

I'm not as fond of this year's grape jam, but that's because I had to use a different type of grape. These grapes were larger and darker, but produced a garnet-colored grape jam rather than the rich deep purple of the batches in years past. Oh well, the grapes were free for the picking off Mamie's trellises, and our didn't bear anything worth worrying over.

October will be quite busy beginning with Don's party on the first of next month, followed the next weekend by the Coker Creek Ruritan's big fortieth annual fundraiser, the Autumn Gold Festival. Richard and I will both be working booths, Richard collecting cash at the Ruritan roach coach and me bragging about Jack's book to generate sales.

I had hoped to have Nancy's book finished by now, but we're still running into technical difficulties with the cover. Persistence will finally pay, but it sure is frustrating getting from "G" to "O." (That spells "GO" -- for those not familiar with that colloquialism.)

I'm really looking forward to a visit by a friend of mine since we were in high school. She's actually the woman who picked up the father of my children on Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras Day, back when we were both sixteen. I haven't seen her for years, but I'm sure she's still a man magnet, even though we're both bumping up against sixty.

As soon as Annette leaves, after seeing all our colorful fall leaves, I'm heading south for an extended stay. My baby boy's birthday is on Halloween. I like to go down and play with people's children while they go to my wild child's Halloween party.

With a wedding to attend in Houston in November, and a visit to our newly married nephew and his wife, followed by Thanksgiving and Santa's workshop cranking up in earnest, I don't think we'll have time to be bored until well into the new year.

Oh, and did I mention that we're hoping to host several families for "Holidays in the Holler" between Christmas and New Years Day?

I warned Richard before he married me that he didn't know what he was asking for when he stated that he wanted me to bring "life into his house." I told him he may not be ready for all the life forms I brought around, but did he listen? No...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Marriage Math

I like solidarity; he likes solitude.
Of course, we like cooperation
When we're both in the mood.
Maybe our extreme differences
Are the secret to our success;
We've needed both our talents
When exposed to life's greatest tests

He is quiet and careful; I'm a rowdy rebel.
We've learned to balance our ways
To keep our relationship level.
He gives; I take,
But not only for myself.
I spread his talents far and wide,
Like his personal Santa's elf.

Every spouse should have such a chore,
Giving that doesn't drain our love;
In fact, it produces more.
Marriage can leave a legacy
Even without producing children
This is possible only when
The two are more than one plus one.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Planning the Production

We're in the process of planning the last leg of Don's "Party Into Paradise" celebration in October in Atlanta. But for now, I'm back at our "House in the Holler" (or as Richard prefers to call it "Our Tennessee Mountain Home"). I'm one of the few people brave (or brassy) enough to cook for my newly widowed girlfriend She is, after all, the GA governor's executive chef), so we're having a mostly Cajun menu. That's what Don would have wanted, and it may be the only food I know more about than Holly does.

I like any "eat, drink and be merry" approach to life and death. Anything worth doing, is worth a few good laughs and a bit of scandal. What good does it do to get old if we still have to behave ourselves? Don's exit party provides lots of opportunities for all of the aforementioned misbehaving -- just like we'd do in New Orleans, but without the Jazz band.

I'll be mostly working from home, but intend to spend the week-ends between now and then working with Don's bevy of buddies to plan a proper production for his memorial service. After all, it's not everyone who gets to be memorialized at a governor's residence. This may also give me the opportunity to spend some time with my Atlanta girl and grandgirls.

Holly's brother is a minister and the governor is a teetotaler, so we're having the after-party at Holly's neighborhood clubhouse. Richard has signed on as a designated driver back to the hotels for all the party-hardies coming to town for the functions.

I refuse to believe that martyrdom for the sake of purging guilt is productive in entering paradise. I much prefer the belief that all our good works live on after we do, so we have to concentrate our energies on what we can do well. I happen to excel at party planning and partying. Martyrdom is okay as long it's worth the price in residual good energy created by it. I'll spend my life helping (while possibly raising a little hell) rather than hurting.

I'm very good at getting away with stuff; that's one of the reasons I love the Atkins diet. I can eat, drink, and be merry while I die(t). This is part of the Cajun survival system of working hard and playing hard, and letting the good times roll.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Please Pray and Participate

While we wait to honor the departing of one spouse through death, we're sadly faced with the dissolution of another family through impending divorce. This affects all of us, not just the two adults and their two children. Our family and our society suffer from any ceasing of family stability.

I know this because of the choices I made in my marriage almost thirty-five years ago, and the ripples they started that have now grown into tsunami-sized waves. From day to day and crisis to crisis, I never know when the waves break on the shore of our lives whether I will have ridden safely on the surf or been sucked into a riptide that lands me miles from where I had been standing. This is the nature of unresolved family issues.

Grace has, thus far, saved my children and their children from destruction, but this does not mean that they haven't been battered by the brokenness of their parents. Only succeeding generations will tell the tale of whether we succeeded in making amends for our sins, the sins of their parents.

Young families celebrate their marriages and the births of their children with many of their network in attendance, but how many of the people attending these celebrations commit to walking the walk with these families? Prayer is not the same as participation.

When a baby refuses to sleep and there's a toddler needing attention; when a husband is so sleep deprived that he can barely stand and still has to put in the hours to bring home a paycheck; when a young bride has spent her first pregnancy helping her mother die; and her second in a town of strangers, who is there to hold the parents, rock the babies, change the diapers?

Who will go to hell with them and raise them up out of the flames? We all need prayer, but we also need participation.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Planning the Paradise Party

Holly is hurting, but she has many sources of hugs. The networks she and Don built have produced incredible words and gifts of condolences from an international base of buddies.

Since she had Don cremated, she has much flexibility in when and where she'll hold his memorial service. The crematorium has a chapel, but I suggested even before he died, that the chapel and all the rest of the building would not be enough to hold the immense outpouring of friends and family wanting to help celebrate the life that Don shared with them.

Holly has worked as executive chef for the Georgia governor's mansion for over two decades. Her current boss has offered her the mansion as the place for her husband's memorial. Talk about being sent off in style!

Even by Atlanta standards this promises to be quite the event. Now, to the work of planning and preparing for the series of programs: transportation and lodging for people coming into town, service program, and after-party planning.

We've blocked a total of sixty hotel rooms in two separate hotels. I don't think that will be enough, but who knows how to gauge numbers for an event such as this? Don loved red beans and rice, so our meal menu started with that and we're now anticipating a full Cajun menu, but with no bottom feeders (catfish, crabs, or shrimp because Don didn't like them)and no "bugs" (Don's name for the raisins usually found in New Orleans-style bread pudding).

Don was New York Italian with all the zest for life that brings with it. I don't know how to say it in Italian, but in New Orleans we say, "Laissez les bon temps rouillez" (Let the good times roll.)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

We All Must Mourn

My grandma used to ask me,
"Do you want to laugh or cry?"
She asked me this question
Without fully knowing why.

We all must mourn our losses
As we go about our days.
My friend is fond of saying
We all grieve in different ways.

Her husband made her promise
To celebrate his life,
Instead of having her focus
On their last days of strife.

My friend is the same;
She expects me to laugh.
The grief that I'm feeling
She doesn't need to know the half.

Her life's goal and her husband's:
Making people smile;
Leave your burdens at the door,
And rest your soul awhile.

She looks like her mama,
But she party's like her papa.
Neither sickness nor death
Is ever going to stop her.

She has surely lost the most;
He was part of her daily rhythm.
She deserves to be respected
In the way that she honors him.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pretty Damn Terrific Don

Don has died. Holly is now faced with being a widow. This is something we don't know how to do. When you lose a limb, there are programs for learning to live without that part of your person, but nobody seems to have a system for learning to live without your life's love.

I joined a grief group to get some professional answers, but it's not like there are prosthetic devices for our hearts and souls. The holes in our hearts simply have to scar over as we limp along through life. Our memories and those shared with others do help in the healing, and they certainly provide a salve for the pain.

We were privileged to have several days to "sit Shiva" with Don before he crossed to the next stage of his life. If one's good works live on after we depart this life, there's a lot of Don left living. We are still collecting stories of all the lives he entered and enriched. He was really larger than life; I know there's a great deal of his positive power left in all of us.

No matter what was going on in Don's life, his constant reply when asked how he was doing was "pretty damn terrific." I've got to figure that if he was terrific even when eaten up with cancer, he's certainly even better in his perfect Paradise.

I don't know if he's resting in peace; I suspect he's throwing parties in Paradise.I do know that Don is now permanently pretty damn terific.