Thursday, September 29, 2011

The real Mama Grizzly

This afternoon, I had to make a stop on my way home from work to pick up the dogs. They spent the day at the "spa" (getting all cleaned up for Auntie Karen's visit this weekend) and were looking/smelling nice and clean when I picked them up. Knowing that the first thing they want to do when we go outside is to go potty, I grabbed their leashes and steered them to the closest grassy spot, which happens to be behind the back door of the dog spa establishment. Just as they were getting comfortable, there was a great ruckus.

I looked up just in time to see two large dogs (off leash) running towards us. Their human yelled for them to come back. Fortunately, one of them obeyed. But the remaining dog -- a very large Boxer, seemed determined to get to my little doggies.

Things happened so fast, it's hard to process now, but the Boxer appeared to be about to bite the neck of one of my dogs. Suddenly, a rush of adrenaline surged through me. It was a feeling I've never had before. Although it sounds incredibly stupid now, I grabbed the scruff of this unfamiliar Boxer with my non-dominant hand (which was suddenly very strong -- hey, maybe the gym is paying off) and tossed him aside like a used paper towel. Not for a second did I think that this dog could -- if he wanted to -- bite off a finger or my hand or my whole arm, for that matter. (That fear came later as I was driving home.) My action jolted the Boxer to attention, and immediately, he high-tailed it back to his Mom.

My dogs are both fine -- thankfully. In fact, two hours later they're just as normal as can be. I, on the other hand, am beginning to show signs of post traumatic stress disorder. It's kind of freaking me out now that I reacted so . . . fearlessly.

In most places in this country, it's illegal for dogs to be off leash. There are reasons for this, people. Dogs are dogs, and therefore will follow their own instincts, meaning they won't always be 100% obedient. Most likely, the Boxer only wanted to play. But how was I to know for sure? I reacted the only way I knew how. I, Alpha Bitch, protected my pack.

Don't mess with my little grizzlies.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011



WARNING: Don't watch this video if you're arachnophobic. This spider took up residence in the Accidental Watermelon Patch at the farm. When I tried to take her photo, she started doing this bungee thing on her web. I'd walk away, she'd stop. I'd get close, she'd start bouncing. SHE'S moving the web, not me. Gee, I never realized I had that kind of an affect on spiders!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cooking school

Now this is a REAL kitchen.

I went to my second cooking class at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte yesterday. Our topic was "Taste of Provence" - Provence being an area of southern France, of course! (I learned that there are at least five distinct types of French cuisine; Provence style or Provençal being one of them. It's very Mediterranean in style, with lots of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and usually some sort of citrus like orange or lemon.)

Under the direction of Chef and with the assistance of four JWU students, we put together an ambitious menu of the following:
  • Consommé Madrilène
  • Carré d'Agneau Persillade (rack of lamb encrusted with a parsley mixture)
  • Ratatouille
  • Haricot Verts a la Ail (green beans in garlic)
  • Poutrine de Volaille Farcie en croûte (chicken breast in crust)
  • Eggplant gratin
  • Thun Provençal (tuna Provence style)
  • Creamy Semolina with Bay Leaf & Parmesan
  • Bouillabaisse
  • Roasted Pepper Puree
I've been trying hard to eat a vegetarian (if not fully vegan) diet lately, so I was unable to sample much of what we cooked. Also, I found that working with the meat kind of bothered me.  So I focused on the veggie dishes, such as the eggplant gratin, and I chopped vegetables for the other dishes. Here are some photos:

Tuna Provençal


Chicken breast in crust

Rack of lamb

My veggie plate.
I'm gonna try to "veganize" some of these dishes, in particular the Creamy Semolina (which was a lot like polenta) and the Chicken Breast in Crust (maybe with Quorn???) I'll definitely be making the Ratatouille recipe. In the meantime, I signed up for a baking class in January. Looking forward to that one!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Scenes from McAlpine Creek Park

A few weekends ago, I got up extra early for a Saturday and headed over to McAlpine Creek Park to participate in a 5K. I arrived ahead of the crowd, so I had the chance to take a look around before the event started. This is an awesome park, and it connects to the Charlotte Greenway System.  (Note to my Indy friends: the Greenway is kinda like the rail trail system there, e.g., The Monon.)

The trail is clearly marked for a 5K, so even if you're not in an organized event, you can easily measure your distance. About two-thirds of the 5K is in the woods, so there's plenty of shade for these hot North Carolina summers. Most of the trail is flat, but there's at least one hill that got my heart rate up when I climbed it. You have to sort of double-back a bit and walk around the lake to get the full 5K in, but it's such a pretty walk, es no problema.

I can't wait to come back here, especially in another month or so when the leaves start turning. Stay tuned as I'm sure I'll be writing about this place again soon!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Squash blossoms

Pretty yellow squash blossoms
Squash grows really well on the farm. Mom & Dad typically grow summer squash, most notably yellow and pattypan, and zucchini. Because of the long growing season here, they can plant it in spring to harvest in summer, and they can also plant in August for a fall harvest.

Baby butternut squash.

During my 14 years in Indiana, I developed an appreciation for winter squash. A few years ago, I gave Mom & Dad some seeds for sunburst, butternut, and spaghetti squash. They grew like crazy!

This yellow squash is *almost* ready.
This might surprise you, but there are male and female squash blossoms. Squash result only when bees or whatever come along and cross-pollinate. This may explain why single squash plants (or those spaced widely apart) don't always produce veggies, while those close together often proliferate. My Mom told me that - isn't it interesting?!!

Got any good squash recipes? Send 'em my way. There's been a whole lotta pollinating going on and we're soon gonna have a boatload of squash!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Morning glory

Morning dew on a Morning Glory . . . I was surprised with how well this photo turned out. I think it's one of the best I've taken with my iPhone.

A snack for chickens


After we finished half of one of the accidental watermelons last Saturday, I took the rinds out to the chickens. Here's what happened. All of our chickens are beautiful, but notice the cute little "odd" chicken with the feathery feet . . . she's my favorite hen. And the rooster? He's drop-dead gorgeous. I love chickens!

Last of the red hot chili peppers

Thought we'd seen the last of the chili peppers two months ago, but we found a few late bloomers this weekend. Enough to make a nice spicy tofu dish . . . or two. :)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The accidental watermelons

I'll be posting several farm updates this week; here's the first. Several weeks ago, we noticed that a watermelon patch had sprung up next to the deck at the farmhouse. No idea how this happened, unless it was the result of a random and now forgotten watermelon seed spitting contest back around the Fourth of July or something. Before we knew it, little baby watermelons started appearing, so we just let 'em grow. Yesterday we picked one of them . . . it was the largest I've ever seen, and the sweetest I've ever tasted. We picked two more today, and there's one "baby" still growing in the patch. So we'll be eating watermelons into October!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hello, world!

I've been running analytics for a while now on where people who view this blog are logging in from, and it's very interesting. I mean, you would think that only my friends and family would ever land here, but the data shows otherwise. Here's a quick look at who's stopping by -- OK, maybe not who exactly, but where you're coming from.

Top 10 countries

1. USA
2. El Salvador
3. Canada
4. Austria
5. United Kingdom
6. India
7. Belgium
8. Spain
9. Germany
10. Pakistan/Malaysia/South Africa (tie)

Top 10 US states

1. North Carolina
2. Indiana
3. California
4. Georgia
5. Florida
6. Illinois
7. New York
8. Pennsylvania
9. Virginia
10. Alabama

I get excited when I see that someone's visited from a country that I've been to before (or lived in, in the case of Austria).

Regardless of where you're coming from, thanks for stopping by. Come back again soon! :)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Our flag was still there

It's hard to believe that ten years have passed since that fateful day in world history. I say "world" and not just U.S. because the incidents of September 11, 2001 impacted us all. I wasn't in New York City or Washington, D.C. or Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I wasn't on a plane or traveling. I didn't know anyone who perished. But everyone who can remember that day has a story. Here's mine.

I was in my second year of working for a company in Indianapolis, and as a member of a business unit training team, was responsible for parts of a new employee orientation program. We had about a dozen new employees in for training that week, from all over the country. The first day, Monday the 10th, had been their broader company orientation, which my group wasn't responsible for. So on the morning of Tuesday the 11th, we were all meeting each other for the very first time, and orientation started at 8AM. I typically didn't get to work until 8:00-8:30, but of course, I had to be there earlier that morning.

It must have been around 7:30-7:40 when I arrived in the parking lot. I remember thinking as I walked into the building: What a beautiful day this is! The skies were perfectly blue, and the air had the first feel of autumn crispness.

I went on inside, got my coffee, and headed to the orientation room. My coworker, David, was the facilitator for the day, and he led the introductions. People went around the room and introduced themselves, giving their names and roles. Most were from places outside of Indy. I specifically remember three new colleagues from southern California, Atlanta, and northern New Jersey. They would all be working home-based jobs in their respective towns. After the introductions, David asked everyone to turn off their cell phones, which was the common practice during training (and why we didn't know what was going on sooner than we did). Then he handed the facilitation over to me, and I began teaching my class. It was a class about the importance of training and how to find out what training you needed to take and the importance of always taking your training by the due dates. I remember feeling a bit nervous about teaching the class because it was only my second or third time.

My session was supposed to end by 9:15AM, followed by another session taught by someone else starting at 9:30AM. I finished just a few minutes early and was about to excuse everyone for a bio break when David came back from running an errand. As people were standing, headed out the door, stretching, whatever, David said: "Um, I don't know if you've heard but there was just something on the news about a plane hitting the World Trade Center." The lady from New Jersey said she was really surprised a plane hadn't hit any of the skyscrapers before, since there was so much air traffic over Manhattan. However, at the time, we were all thinking (assuming) that the plane was a small plane and not a passenger jet.

During the break, a couple of people walked out into the hallways and saw that crowds of people were gathering near the many televisions throughout the building, including the one by the front entrance. As I headed back to my desk, I ran into another coworker. She was looking up at the TV and it was about that time the second jet hit and we all saw it live on TV. At that point there was a collective gasp in the crowd, and my coworker said: "Somebody's gonna get their ass kicked." Even though everyone was still confused about what was going on, I think we all knew at that point that we weren't talking "accident" here.

The live news story mentioned an American Airlines flight and a United Airlines flight, and that sent me in to panic mode because I know someone who is a pilot for one of those airlines. Instead of going back to my desk, I walked over to another part of the company to check in with Sandy. We found out that our pilot friend wasn't working that day, which was a relief. But our level of concern was still very high, and a collective panic had set in because we didn't know what else was going to happen.

Returning to my desk, I expected my supervisor to say something about what was going on. Instead, she clapped her hands together and said: "Business as usual! Business as usual!" But it wasn't business as usual. How could it be? I remember feeling disappointed in what I considered to be her lack of leadership during what was clearly a time of crisis. (To her credit, she wasn't getting much direction from her leaders at the time. But still.)

Most of us "office workers" ended up leaving early for the day. I don't know what time it was when I got home, but I remember walking out into the driveway and looking up into the sky. It was eerily quiet, because all the planes had been grounded. It was . . . surreal.

I went inside and collapsed on the couch in front of the TV, and stayed there, watching CNN as the talking heads analyzed everything, until I couldn't take it anymore. It was like that every night for at least a week. I can't even estimate the number of times I watched the second plane crashing into the tower, or the towers falling down.

In the days following September 11th, there was a change in how people at work behaved. People who were normally competitive became more collaborative. People who normally got angry and upset over the slightest thing were quiet and subdued. People were . . . nicer. And not just at work. The Indy Irish Festival was supposed to take place the following weekend, and I'd signed up to be a volunteer. My orientation was supposed to be on Thursday the 13th. I really thought it would be called off, but it wasn't. So after work on Thursday, I drove over to the building on Massachusetts Avenue where I was supposed to pick up my packet. The traffic on "Mass Ave" during rush hour is typically bloody awful, and turning left is next to impossible. Even drivers were nice, and when someone waved me to turn left, there weren't even any beeping horns or anything.

The new employee orientation program officially ended at noon on Friday, and people were supposed to return home that afternoon. I found out later that most of them (including the woman from California) had to stay until the following week because they couldn't get flights back home. I heard that the woman from New Jersey had hooked up with some people in town for a sales meeting, and they rented a car and carpooled back East, stopping in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and eventually Connecticut where the last person lived. The woman from Atlanta had family in the Chicago area, and decided to go up there for the weekend. When I heard these stories it occurred to me how selfish I had been. I should have been more sensitive to the needs of the out-of-towners. I should have invited someone into my home, where at least they could have had a "home-y" atmosphere, some good home-cooked food, and most importantly of all, someone to talk to. Even now, I feel bad that I was so into myself that week, I didn't even think of it.

This morning we've been watching the 10 year anniversary coverage on MSNBC, which started with a childrens' choir singing the national anthem. Although I've heard the national anthem thousands of times, there was something about the line "our flag was still there" that spoke to me this morning.  Francis Scott Key was inspired to write that line (and what would become the U.S. national anthem) during the War of 1812 while witnessing an all-night battle at Fort McHenry, Maryland. In the days following the collapse of the twin towers, someone found an American flag at the rubble. It had been burned badly, but it was still there. One of my cousins, a professional framing artist in Philadelphia, had the honor of working with the New York State Museum to preserve this flag, and I'm told it now hangs in a permanent exhibit in Albany. I've never seen it, but someday I hope to.

But let's never forget that this day ten years ago had a global impact. Some say it's "my generation's Pearl Harbor" or "my generation's Kennedy assassination", but I think it's much more than that. September 11, 2001 changed the world. We aren't the same. We'll never be the same again. As to whether that's a good or bad thing, I'll have to leave that up to history to decide.