Sunday, January 31, 2010

Family - It's Where You Came From

One of the things that has been occupying Grams these days is planning for my family's first ever family reunion. My family name is Skelton.

My grandfather, Charles Ira Skelton, died long before I was born. My grandmother, Dotsie Zachary Skelton, affectionately known to all of us as Granny, lived in a little tiny house in Bryans Mill, deep in the piney woods of East Texas. They had five children. All three of the boys, James, Buster and Charles, married and had families. Among them they had 13 children. Aunt Nava never married, but she was much beloved by all of her nieces and nephews. Aunt Ava married but had never had children of her own.

To the best of my recollection, Granny died sometime in the late 1970s. She was an amazing woman and quite a character. She was the glue that held our family together and we all loved her dearly. For many of us, she was the one constant in our lives. She was always there in that little house which was always a safe place to go. I promise that in the near future there will be a blog post dedicated solely to my Granny.

Before we moved to the coastal plains of South Texas in 1964, we often lived with Granny in this little house. At varying times some or all of the grandchildren and some or all of her adult children and their spouses lived with Granny. After we moved 500 miles away, we only got to go back and visit Granny a couple of times each year. We rarely saw any of our cousins after that. We simply lost touch with them. Over the last 45 years, we've only seen each other a few times for short visits and family funerals.

Last fall, my brother Charlie, my sister Bylinda and I spent a day together in the Hill Country. As we sat and talked that day we decided that the time has come to get back in touch with the family.

Bylinda took on the job of building a contact list for our first cousins. She was able to locate many of them. She forwarded the list to me and I went to the internet and to Facebook and started tracking down the others. Between the two of us we've been able to contact almost all of our first cousins. And we're working on identifying their spouses and descendants.

What I have found so far, though not yet confirmed, is that my grandparents, Charles & Dotsie Skelton, have at least 94 descendants. My grandparents' five children had a total of 13 children which makes up my generation. Twelve of the thirteen are still living. (My cousin Tommy died in 2000. I didn't even know until we started this research.) We have 24 children. As far as I can tell from my research, so far those 24 children have 24 children. That generation is still young and just starting to have children. When you add all the spouses, I have Identified 94 descendants to date. I really had no idea that there were that many of us.

The sobering reality is that, none of my grandparents' children or their spouses are still living. That means, my generation is the oldest living generation of this family. The oldest of my siblings and cousins are only in their sixties and not a single one of our parents is living. That's not encouraging news as we approach our "golden years." My dad was the baby of the family. He lived to be 78 years old and I think he outlived all of his siblings by quite a few years.

There will be value in finding out our collective medical history. There is so much I don't know. I know my family has had problems with morbid obesity from way back. I know Dad had a series of strokes as well as hardening of the arteries which is what ultimately caused his death. I don't know what any of the others died from. It would be good to find out, just for the sake of sharing that medical family history.

But what I'm really looking forward to is getting re-acquainted with my cousins, people who came from the same roots I did. I've learned from my research that we've made great lives for ourselves and are very successful. I haven't seen these cousins in years and I don't know any of their children, but I know they have beautiful families. Granny's descendants have taken all sorts of career paths. We are teachers, artists, engineers, designers, social workers, stay-at-home moms, preachers, and accountants, just to name a few. But we have a common bond ... we all came from and were shaped by a Granny who loved us. I know she would be proud to know that the Skelton clan is prospering and growing.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Grams Made Crock-Pot Chicken Tacos

This is a great recipe for feeding a crowd. It will easily feed 12 ladies. My bunco club loves it. The best part is it cooks in the crock pot while you're doing something else.

5 large boneless-skinless chicken breasts (frozen)
2 cups picante sauce
1 can Mexican corn (drained and rinsed)
1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)

Place frozen chicken breasts in crock pot and add picante sauce. Cook on high for 5 hours. Remove chicken breasts. Shred chicken breasts using 2 forks and return to crock pot. Mixture will seem watery at this point, but the shredded chicken will soak it up. Stir in corn and beans and continue cooking for one hour.

Serve with all the fixings for tacos -- including lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and corn or flour tortillas.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Which Kind of Person Are You?

There is a Facebook post that a few of my friends and family have posted lately. This is it.
Shame on you America: the only country where we have homeless without shelter, children going to bed without eating, elderly going without needed meds, and mentally ill without treatment - yet we have a benefit for the people of Haiti on 12 TV stations. 99% of people won't have the guts to copy and repost this.
I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't responded to these posts. At first I thought I would just ignore it. After all, we're Americans and this is what Americans do. We share our bounty with needy people around the world. And frankly, I thought that if enough of us just ignored it, it would just go away. But now I've seen it posted by a couple more people in the past few days and I can't just let it go any longer.

To be honest, I was absolutely speechless at the lack of human kindness displayed for all to see in this post. What I wanted to say at first is "Really? Are you that unkind?" or "Hey redneck, your stupid is showing."

These posts are from people whom I consider to be decent people. Seriously, I know them. They treat their dogs well and take care of their kids. Generally speaking, they have respect for seniors and people in authority. So what's the deal with this unwillingness to help the people of Haiti? After all, this fund drive is a uniquely American thing. It's one of the things I love most about America. Making a contribution is completely voluntary. No one is twisting your arm or holding a gun to your head. If you don't want to give or can't afford it, don't do it.

Well, now that I've had a few days to think about it and stew on it, I find that I do have something to say about it.

To all those who posted I ask: What are you personally doing about "homeless without shelter, children going to bed without eating, elderly going without needed meds, and mentally ill without treatment"? For that matter, what are you personally doing about those affected by the earthquake in Haiti?

If you are using your personal resources to make the USA the kind of place where homeless people have shelter, children don't go to bed hungry, elderly people can get the meds they need, and the mentally ill get all the treatment they need, then go ahead and criticize the Hope for Haiti Now telethon and fund-raising drive. By all means feel free to complain about individuals who are sending money to help a nation that was already one of the poorest nations in the world, where the death toll will possibly reach 200,000 people, where hundreds of thousands of people will never know what happened to their loved ones. On top of all of that, millions who once had at least a bare-bones home to live in now have no safe place to put their children to bed at night. Millions of people's already meager existence is now unbearably reduced to sleeping in a park or on a street and standing in a line to get food. Complain about people who are trying to provide safe drinking water to a place where they can't just turn on a water faucet and give their thirsty children a drink. Don't make a contribution to provide medical care to a country where surviving the earthquake with a just a broken arm or leg now means tens of thousands of people will be amputees, because there is not adequate medical care, too few doctors and not enough antibiotics.

But, I'm willing to bet that virtually every one of the people who have posted this on their Facebook status feed don't work with the homeless, the hungry, the mentally ill, or the elderly. And ... I hesitate to confuse two totally separate issues ... but I bet they don't support health care reform in the USA because they're afraid it will raise their own taxes. Never mind that minimally adequate health care for every American should be a right not a privilege. In my opinion, your health care should be provided just like your police and fire protection are provided with your tax dollars. But that's off the topic at hand.

Personally, I'm sick of people with this kind of attitude. If you are one of them, then shame on you. You see, in my experience there are only two kinds of people in the world. There are those who do things and there are those who complain about what other people are doing. It's true of parenting, it's true of volunteer work, it's true in neighborhoods, it's true in churches, and it's true in the workplace.

So, if you personally can't get behind the effort to assist in Haiti, at least shut up and get out of the way. We'll be happy to do it without you! But, when you are the one who needs help, and some day you will be, I hope someone has your back. And, I know they will, because that's what Americans do ... they stand up for people who need help.

If you haven't already contributed, you can donate at Hope for Haiti Now or one of many other reputable organizations. To insure your donations are going to sound charities before you send them your hard-earned money, visit GuideStar and check them out.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Grams Made Scrambled Eggs with Spinach

When I was a kid, my dad used to make scrambled eggs with spinach for Sunday night supper. I absolutely hated it. But I recently ate a delicious spinach souffle and it reminded me of Dad's dish. I looked around the internet and found a recipe which I have modified to make it similar to what Dad made. Don't be put off by the idea, this is terrific for brunch, dinner or a side dish.

12 ounce package baby spinach (or 1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon half and half
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Coarsely chop the baby spinach leaves. Heat oil in a large heavy skillet and cook the onion until crisp tender. Stir in garlic when onions are almost done. Add the chopped spinach and cook, stirring often, until spinach is tender, about 5-7 minutes.

In a small bowl, beat half and half with eggs, salt, pepper, and thyme. Add the egg mixture to the skillet and cook and stir so the eggs scramble with the spinach, about 4-5 minutes longer. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.

To make this recipe as a main course, use 6-8 eggs and increase olive oil if needed.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Favorite Picture(s)

A couple of days ago, my friend and fellow blogger, the Yummy Mummy tagged Grams to post my favorite picture of all time. This has been a very tough choice for me. I've sifted through hundreds, if not thousands, of photos of my kids, my parents, my family. I've looked at photos of births, baptisms, Christmases, Independence Days, vacations, family reunions, and a plethora of other celebrations. I finally narrowed it down to just a few photos and I did ultimately choose one favorite.

This photo of my parents is among my favorites. It was taken on their wedding day. Mom was a war bride and just a short while later she would be expecting their first child while Dad would be in Europe fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. But they look happy and full of promise in this picture. The dress in the photo was a dark green, she kept it for many years. Notice that she wore socks on her wedding day. It always makes me smile.

I really like this photo of my children dancing together at Katy's wedding reception. It was very nearly my favorite of all. I love the way they are laughing and having a good time. When they were little and fought with each other a lot, my mother-in-law promised me that some day they would love each other. It didn't take as long as I thought and I can really see it in this picture.

Another favorite is this one of Katy and Travis right after their wedding. It was taken just outside the church after the ceremony. All the guests and the rest of the wedding party had already gone to the reception site. The photographer captured this shot from a distance and I don't think they were even aware that he was still shooting. What I see in this moment is how tenderly Travis is holding Katy and the joy in the way she has opened her arms to him.

I also must include this photo from Nick and Marie's wedding among my favorites. Clearly the photographer told him to look serious. Something that is completely foreign to Nick, so much so that it made Marie laugh out loud. I think they look like models.

And then there is this photo of Grams at 2 years old. I think I was pretty darn cute and I've always loved this picture.

And, what kind of Grams would I be if I didn't have at least one picture of our little princess among my favorites? I especially love this one of Ezra and Katy which was taken last fall at her Aunt Catherine's wedding. By the way, Grams made the dress that the little princess is wearing.

But, if I have to narrow my choice to just one favorite, here it is. It's a snapshot of Katy and Nick when they were little. Katy is about 3 years old and is clutching her ever-present stuffed animals while looking completely and, I think a little smugly, innocent. Nick is about a year old and for some forgotten reason is crying hysterically. But I'm sure Katy had nothing to do with it. This photo cracks me up and I love it. It captures the moment so accurately.

Okay, so maybe I cheated a little by sharing more than one favorite. But to be fair, Grams is a lot older than Yum so I have a lot more to choose from.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Grams Made Crock-Pot Beef Burgundy

We recently saw the movie Julie and Julia. It inspired me to look for a recipe for Beef Bourguignon. I'm not really interested in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It sounds too hard to me, but I ran across this recipe for the crock pot. It's perfect for a hearty dinner on a cold evening.

1 1/2 pounds beef, cubed
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper
2 cups red wine
1 large onion, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, diced
4 bay leaves
3 tablespoons dried parsley
1 can (14 ounces) beef broth

Mix flour with salt and pepper. Heat oil in skillet. Dredge beef in flour and brown in oil. Transfer beef to crock-pot. De-glaze skillet with wine. Pour wine over beef. Add remaining ingredients to crock-pot.

Cook on high 1 1/2 hours, then reduce heat to low and cook 2 more hours. Remove bay leaves before serving. Serve over noodles or rice.

(Use whatever cut of beef and whatever red wine you have on hand. I used eye of round roast and cabernet-sauvignon.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

This Is Our Local Mountain

Last October, immediately after climbing Enchanted Rock, we were enjoying lunch and a beer at a beer garden in Fredericksburg, Texas. As we relaxed and recovered from the hike and climb, my daughter had the nerve to ask, "What we were going to do next?" Grams was incredulous. Couldn't we just bask in the glow of our recent accomplishment? "Boy" I thought to myself, "I just met a major goal, couldn't I just rest on my laurels?"

But once I recuperated I realized my daughter was right. Grams needed something new and challenging to work toward. Since then, we've been looking around for a new challenge. I think I've found it. We're going to walk across the Corpus Christi Harbor Bridge. The bridge has fascinated me since we moved to Corpus Christi in 1964 and I've always wanted to stand at the top and look around.

The Harbor Bridge is the second tallest bridge in Texas, and has a span of 620 feet. It was was built between 1954 and 1959. The entire bridge is 5,818 feet long, rising to a road deck height of 138 feet above the Corpus Christi Ship Channel. That will make the round-trip walk a little more than 2 miles.

The bridge had only been open about 5 years when we moved here and it seemed gigantic to then 10-year-old me. My parents had six kids and not much money. Gasoline was cheap, so driving was something we could afford to do. This was one of our favorite drives. We would go across the bridge and causeway to Portland where we visited friends. Then, after dark, we would make the drive back across the bridge into Corpus Christi . The expanse of lights across the city was always beautiful and was especially enchanting for us "country folk" who had just moved to the big city.

The pedestrian walkway on the bridge is often closed for safety and security reasons. After all this bridge spans the entry to the 6th largest port in the United States. It is the gateway to a huge petrochemical industry and a strategic military port. It was closed to walkers for several years after September 11. The walkway is really designed for emergency use only and not really intended for recreational walking. But it provides spectacular views of the City of Corpus Christi, the Port of Corpus Christi and Corpus Christi Bay.

Thanks to Facebook, I found a group called "We Walked the Corpus Christi Harbor Bridge and Survived." The above photo of the walkway is from their New Year's Day walk. They have recently organized the "First Sunday Bridge Walk." They're going to walk across the Harbor Bridge the first Sunday of each month at 9 a.m. We're going to join the group for their walk on March 7. Once again, I'll be accompanied by my daughter, Katy and my son-in-law, Travis. I've also invited my son, Nick, and daughter-in-law, Marie, to join us.

To quote Anna Herring who walked the bridge on New Year's Day "This is our local mountain so I like to climb mountains wherever I find them."

Watch this space in March for photos from our walk. And, if you're interested, come walk with us.

Grams Made Enchilada Casserole

You can't go wrong with enchiladas, but Grams doesn't have to patience to roll each one individually. Therefore, I turn mine into a casserole. That makes is quick and easy.

12 corn tortillas
1 pound ground beef or ground turkey
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1 can diced black olives
1 can enchilada sauce
16 ounces mild picante sauce
4 cups grated Mexican mix cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until onions start to soften. Add peppers and cook until crisp-tender. Add ground meat and cook until browned. Turn off heat and stir in black olives.

In a wide, shallow bowl, combine enchilada sauce and picante sauce. Dip 6 tortillas into sauce mixture, one at a time, and use them to line the bottom of a 9" x 12" casserole pan.

Top this layer with all of the meat mixture. Next put a layer of cheese using half of the cheese. Top with the other 6 tortillas dipped in sauce mixture.

Pour the remaining sauce over the casserole and top with the remaining grated cheese.

Bake until the casserole is heated through and the cheese is melted, about 30 minutes.

Serve with salsa, sour cream, or both.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mother Dunham Lives Inside My Head

Deep inside of me beats the heart of a stern English teacher. I think it's because my eighth grade English teacher, affectionately known as Mother Dunham, still lives inside of my head. Few things make Grams crazier than the incorrect usage of common words.

The one that's making me bonkers at the moment is the incorrect usage of there, their and they're. Not a single day goes by that I don't see these used incorrectly on the internet, usually Facebook, but also on a variety of blogs and web sites. I find it hard to believe that so many people don't understand the difference in the three words or never learned their correct usage. Rather, I choose to believe that they're just not paying attention, they're in a hurry, or they just don't care.

At any rate, in an effort to save my sanity, Grams has decided that a short lesson in correct usage is in order.
  • They're is a contraction of the words "they are." It should only be used in place of those two words.
  • Their is the third person possessive pronoun. It means belonging to them.
  • There indicates location or place. It's a location other than here.
Mother Dunham encouraged us to insert the words "they are" as a test for which form of the word to use. If you can substitute "they are" use the contraction "they're". If you can substitute a name, use "their." If you can substitute a location, use "there."

Grams loves the fact that the proliferation of electronic media has given voices to many people who would otherwise never be published, including Grams. Unfortunately, it has also become an excuse for poor grammar. Mother Dunham would be so disappointed. And, trust me on this, you don't want to disappoint Mother Dunham.

Grams Made Crock-Pot Italian Roast Beef

This is on of my son Nick's favorite dishes. I serve it with mashed potatoes and a salad. It's so good!

3-5 lbs. rump roast
1 pkg. Italian Dressing mix
1 cup beef broth
2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
6 pepperoncini peppers
salt and pepper to taste

Mix together beef broth, dressing mix, and Italian seasoning. Pour over beef roast in the slow cooker. Season with salt and pepper. Add the pepperoncini peppers. Cook on low heat for 8 hours.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I've Had a Relapse (Expletives Deleted)

Since my RNY gastric bypass surgery a little over three years ago, for the first time in my adult life, "dieting" has not been part of my life. Don't get me wrong, I eat very carefully. I've spent the last three years retraining my eating and exercise habits. But as far as old-fashioned dieting goes, I don't do it any more and I never intend to do it again.

One of the most important lessons I have learned is that I am not fat; I have a chronic disease called obesity. And make no mistake about it, obesity is a disease as much as diabetes, cancer or heart disease. I had surgery for my obesity just like my husband had surgery to repair a deformed heart valve. And just like he had to change his habits after surgery, so did I.

Dealing with the disease of obesity requires a radical lifestyle change. I have completely changed many of my habits from where and how I shop to when and what I eat. Meals and snacks have to be planned ahead of time. This requires sitting down once every two weeks, actually writing down a plan, and making a shopping list. When I'm fully compliant, I enter the plan into a program that analyzes the nutritional and caloric content of everything I eat. Eating according to a plan takes away the "grazing" aspect.

Even three years later, it's way too easy to eat mindlessly. In an effort to learn to control my mindless eating I have some hard and fast rules that work for me.
  1. I don't eat out of bags or boxes. Food must measured out into a single serving portion and put in or on a dish before I eat it. I eat my meals from a salad plate and snacks go in a four ounce bowl. Putting food in a dish makes me aware of how much I'm eating and it makes me feel like I get to eat "the whole thing."
  2. I don't eat in the car. For the last 30 years I always ate breakfast in the car on the way to work. That includes, but is not limited to, such healthy and nutritious breakfast foods as pop tarts, Krispy Kreme donuts, cinnamon rolls, kolaches, sausage biscuits, Egg McMuffins, and Breakfast on a Bun. I can't even imagine eating any of those things today. Although I do occasionally fantasize about Cinnabons. But I digress. My "behind the wheel" cuisine was not limited to breakfast either. I often ate sandwiches or burgers in the car as I ran errands at lunch and it was not unusual for me to take along a bag of chips or cookies as a snack.
  3. I never fail to take my vitamins and supplements. I take them every single day exactly as instructed by my surgeon.
  4. I drink 60-80 ounces of water every day. I never drink carbonated beverages or high-calorie drinks. I don't drink any liquid with my meals or for 30 minutes after a meal. That 30 minutes gives my food time to digest more slowly and gives my brain time to receive the message that I have eaten.
  5. I eat lean protein first, then if I have room, I eat vegetables and carbohydrates. I only eat one serving of fruit a day. I limit my sweets to one serving of dark chocolate every evening.
  6. I do some kind of exercise for thirty minutes at least three times a week. This doesn't have to be strenuous exercise, usually it's just walking or bicycling.
Okay, those are the rules that work for me. But, truth be told, lately I've been non-compliant with my own rules. Nothing big, just a couple of extra pieces of chocolate after dinner or bringing the whole package of graham crackers to the sofa instead of just a serving which is two graham crackers. And, it's been to cold to exercise outside and, honestly, I just haven't done any exercise since Christmas.

I'm not what's known in post-op circles as a "scale ho." I rarely step on the scales at home. I'm just not obsessed with what the number says. I know when I've put on a few pounds because my jeans get tight. Then I know it's time to tighten up on compliance with the rules and get those few pounds off. Sometime around Thanksgiving I realized that my favorite jeans were too tight to be comfortable. But, hey, it was the holidays, so I just wore a bigger pair and kept on going. Imagine my surprise when I visited my surgeon's office on Saturday for my three year follow up, I weighed in at 197, up 22 pounds from my post-operative low of 175.
Before-300 pounds & After-175 pounds

What the heck?! How did a couple of pounds turn into 22 pounds. (Expletives are deleted here.) Honestly, my doctor was great. No fussing, no complaints, only encouragement from Dr. Patel. The only dietary change he told me to make is to add a daily protein shake to my routine. That should help me feel more satisfied which will make me eat less. Hopefully when I visit him again in April, I'll be wearing my favorite jeans, which are a size 12.

What all this amounts to is that I've had a relapse, just like with any other disease. It's just a relapse of obesity. And just like many other diseases, there is no cure. This is a chronic condition, but it can be controlled. I know what I have to do, I know how to do it and I know I can do it. I have the tool, I have the training, and I have the will.But I'm not going on a diet. I'm just getting back to basics with my plan for dealing with obesity. Just wait and see ... in a few months I'll be able to say "Grams Made It" back into her size 12 jeans.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Grams Made Topsy-Turvy Apple Pie

When I first saw this recipe I thought that there was no way this pie would turn out of the pie plate with all that sticky caramel on the bottom. But it came out "picture perfect." And ... it's delicious! Here is a photo to prove it.

Glaze and Crust
¼ cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon corn syrup
½ cup pecan halves
1 box (15 oz) Pillsbury® refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box

2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 cups thinly sliced, peeled apples (4 medium)

Heat oven to 425°F. In 9-inch glass pie plate, mix brown sugar, butter and corn syrup. Spread evenly in bottom of pie plate. Arrange pecans over mixture. Make piecrusts as directed on box for Two-Crust Pie, placing bottom crust over mixture in pan.

In small bowl, mix granulated sugar, flour and cinnamon. Arrange half of apple slices in crust-lined pie plate. Sprinkle with half of sugar mixture. Repeat with remaining apple slices and sugar mixture. Top with second crust; seal edge and flute. Cut slits in several places in top crust.

Place pie on sheet of foil on middle oven rack in oven; bake 8 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F; bake 35 to 45 minutes longer or until apples are tender and crust is golden brown. Immediately run knife around edge of pie to loosen. Place serving plate upside down over pie; turn serving plate and pie plate over. Remove pie plate. Serve warm or cool with whipped cream.

*Recipe from

Saturday, January 9, 2010

My Dad

Today is my Dad's birthday. James Oran Skelton was a member of "The Greatest Generation." He would have been 87 years old today. He died on June 11, 2001 at the age of 78.

Daddy was a bona fide, decorated World War II hero. He served as a tank commander under General George S. Patton and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. But you wouldn't have known it unless Mom told you because Daddy never talked about the war. He was awarded a Purple Heart after he was wounded when his tank ran over a land mine. As a result he lost most of his hearing and had part of his skull replaced with a silver plate. The story is that Mom was actually notified by the government that Dad had been killed in action. It was two weeks later that he turned up alive in a field hospital in England. Besides his Purple Heart, he also received a Meritorious Service Medal among others.

When I was little, my Daddy was my hero. I thought he could fix anything and he was lots of fun. Daddy loved all six of us kids and he loved our Mom.

I would watch for him to come walking down the road from work and run to meet him. He would pick me up and carry me home on his shoulders. In the summers he would take us swimming at the lake. On Independence Day he bought fireworks for us. He especially enjoyed shooting roman candles for us.

After we moved to South Texas, he often took us to the beach. He loved to body surf and he taught me how to do it too. We spent many hours riding the waves at Padre Island. He never liked living in South Texas, but he loved the novelty of the warm winters, often taking us to the beach for a New Year's Day swim. He taught us to beach comb for shells, sand dollars and starfish. He helped us catch hermit crabs and let us bring them home for pets, which I know my Mom hated.

He loved fishing and the Dallas Cowboys. I treasure the memories of fishing with him along the seawall on Saturday mornings and watching the Cowboys play on Sunday afternoons. When the Cowboys lost he would be in a bad mood all week. He was a great 42 player who could somehow tell exactly what every player was holding. And in his later years, he and Mom enjoyed playing bridge with friends.

Mom was a teetotaler, but Daddy enjoyed a drink now and then. He kept his flavored schnapps in the highest cabinet in the kitchen so Mom couldn't throw it out because she couldn't reach it. He used to take my husband in the kitchen and point at that high cabinet with a wink and a smile, signaling that Patrick should take down a bottle so they could both have a little nip. His favorite flavors were peach and peppermint. I bet there are still bottles stashed in that cabinet even though someone else has lived there for years. In his younger days he was known to have a beer with friends, but he never drank much that I know of and I never saw him drunk.

Daddy was an amazing entertainer for us kids. He could turn his legs around completely backwards from the knees down and then walk that way. He could put both of his feet behind his head, yoga-style, well into his fifties. And he could always wiggle his ears. He had sparkling blue eyes that especially sparkled if he was pulling your leg, which he loved to do. And ever since I can remember, Daddy was bald. We're not talking a little bald spot ... we're talking Kojak-style, shiny-skull bald. Mom used to "cut his hair" by running the clippers over his scalp every few weeks. He loved to joke that he slept with his barber. And on his way to the shower he would tell us with a gleam in his eye, that he was going to wash his hair.

Daddy worked hard. He was an automotive mechanic who worked on large equipment as a civilian employee of the US Navy. That's what brought us to South Texas in 1964. He spent most of the next 37 years of his life talking about going back home to the piny woods of northeast Texas. Sadly, he visited but never got to move back there. Nights and weekends he often worked on other people's cars both to help them out and for the extra money. Supporting a wife and six kids on a mechanic's salary had to be a huge a challenge. His hands were stained with grease from the work he did. When I think of my dad I can still see his grease-stained hands.

Daddy could cuss like a sailor and you didn't want to make him mad. He had an explosive temper and sometimes lost control of his anger. In my teenage years, our relationship was contentious. There were several years when it seemed like the only conversations between us consisted of him telling me that my skirt was too short and me arguing that it was not. Other than that, I never stood up to him until I was a grown woman with a child of my own. When he lost control one day while we were visiting, I calmly explained to him that I was not going to put up with that behavior any more. I picked up my child and led my husband out the front door. Daddy never lost his temper in front of me again.

He insisted that the young men we dated come inside the house and meet him before we went on a date. On those occasions his demeanor was serious and I'm sure it was scary for the boys. I'm also sure that many of the boys I dated stayed on the straight and narrow because they didn't want to answer to my dad.

I got my love of reading from Daddy. He always had a book with him. He loved Zane Grey and was a huge fan of Lonesome Dove. I'm grateful for that love of books and reading.

He loved his grandchildren and every one of them loved him too. They took many naps curled up against his big, round belly. They used to delight in grabbing a handful of his abundant chest hair. He would wince in pain but smiled when they giggled in reaction. I wish he had lived to hold Our Little Princess. She would have been his delight.

The last time I saw my Dad was when we visited him in the nursing home on the Friday before he died the next Monday. Patrick and I were in the habit of visiting him after work, but we dreaded it because he absolutely hated being in the nursing home. He was only there about three weeks, but every time we visited he would get a bag and start packing up his stuff for us to take him home. It was heartbreaking. But that particular day, Nick was home from college and I insisted that he join us for the visit. We got there right at dinner time so we had to hunt him down in the dining hall. He was always glad to see Patrick and me, but when Nick came walking in behind us, his eyes absolutely lit up with delight. He was so happy to see one of his grandsons. I'm so glad Nick was able to visit that one last time.

Besides my love of reading, I learned from my Dad that you should travel as much as you want and not wait until you can afford it. Daddy wanted to travel more than anyone I've ever known and, except for the traveling he did when he was in the army, he never got the chance. As he got older and was confined to a wheelchair, he would buy maps and plan trips which he never got to take. Every time we visited, he would take out his maps and tell us his plans to go to Kentucky or Tennessee or Washington or Canada or any of a myriad of other places. It breaks my heart that he never got to go. When we cleaned out Mom and Dad's belongings we found a huge box of road maps from all over North America. I knew immediately what they were and I couldn't bring myself to throw them away. This year, I used some of them to wrap Christmas presents. My Dad's dreams inspire me to go ahead and take those trips, even if the budget is tight. We don't go first class, but, inspired by my Dad we go when we can.

So, happy birthday Daddy! I have lots of happy memories because of you. I love you and I miss you, but I learned a lot from you about enjoying life whatever it brings. You are a big part of the reason Grams made it!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Grams Made Moroccan Chicken Stew

This is Grams' personal favorite recipe for a cold winter night. I love sweet potatoes. The ginger and cinnamon are just the right touches for comfort food. I know the combination of chicken, ginger, and cinnamon is a little unusual, but trust me on this, it is so delicious!

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth
4 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds) peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup brown rice

Place flour in a wide, shallow bowl. Season chicken with salt and pepper; dredge in flour, shaking off excess. In a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy port, heat oil over medium-high. Add chicken, and cook until browned, 4 to 6 minutes per side; transfer to a plate.

Add onion, ginger, and cinnamon to pot. Cook, stirring occassionally, until onion starts to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Return chicken to pot. Add broth and sweet potatoes. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer until chicken is cooked through and sweet potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Discard cinnamon. Stir in lemon juice, and season stew with salt and pepper.

While stew is simmering, prepare brown rice according to package instructions. Serve chicken stew with brown rice.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Friday Night Dinners

At our house we don't cook on Fridays ... and we never have. When Grams was working full time, by the time I got off work on Friday evening, I was usually fried. I just wanted a glass of wine and a chance to sit in a stupor and stare into space. Grandad was pretty much the same.

When we were raising kids, Friday nights were always busy. We would rush home from work, change clothes and head to the gym for a basketball game, to the stadium for a football game or track meet, or the soccer, baseball or kickball field. It was always some kind of season for one or the other of our kids. Often we just ate whatever was convenient.

Any Friday night when we weren't already occupied, we either went out to dinner ... often to McDonald's or Taco Bell because that's what we could afford ... or we would stop at the deli counter and buy cold cuts, cheese and crackers. Our kids particularly enjoyed these deli dinners because we would either take them to the park for a picnic or we would have a picnic in the living room.

The kids loved it when we had a picnic in the living room. I would take out a big quilt and spread it on the floor in front of the fireplace. Ham, turkey and cheese were cut into cracker-sized pieces and stacked on a plate which we all shared. We included baby carrots, pickles, and olives. Grandad and I would split a bottle of wine while the kids had Kool-aid or sparkling grape juice. We would rent a movie and watch it while we lounged over our dinner. These living room picnics are among our favorite memories. They kids still talk about them.

Grams and Grandad realized early the importance of a family dinner. We were very strict about dinners. Every day of the week except Friday, we sat down together as a family for dinner, always beginning our meal with grace. We were not flexible on dinner. Everyone came to the table and ate together every day of the week except Friday. The kids were never allowed to make their plates and sit in front of the television. Everyone sat at the table.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that teens who don't have regular family dinners are more likely to abuse drugs. Girls who have regular family dinners are less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits including anorexia. They also report that parents who sit down for meals with their children on a regular basis are more connected with them and more involved with what is happening in their lives.

We were fortunate that we didn't have any major problems with either of our kids when they were teens. Neither of them gave us any big problems like drug abuse or running away. I always say that our kids were too busy to get into trouble. But, if these family dinners were part of the reason -- we got lucky. All I can say is "Who Knew?" I certainly had no idea that these were the possible effects of family dinners. I just knew it was important to slow down for a few minutes and spend a little time with each other.

I'm happy to report that our daughter started the tradition of daily family dinners with our little princess as soon as she could sit up in the high chair.

As our lives have evolved, so have our Friday night dinners. Now that we're empty nesters, we have a new Friday night tradition. Friday night is strictly reserved for dinner out with Grandad. Our Friday night dinners together are sacred. We don't make separate plans for Friday nights. Exceptions are extremely rare.

We have a group of neighbors who often join us. We've come to call ourselves the Friday Night Dinner Club. It's a very casual group. There are three couples who form the core group. One couple in their 40's, one in their 60's and Grandad and I are in our 50's. Since she moved into our neighborhood, Grandad's mother joins us every week and there are a few other couples and singles who sort of drift in and out of the group. It's very loosely defined, and it's a lot of fun. We have been known to drive up the coast 45 minutes to Rockport or go out to Padre Island for seafood. We take turns deciding where to go and our choices vary widely. The best thing about the Friday Night Dinner Club is how much fun we have. It's a great chance for neighbors to spend some time together and unwind at the end of the week.

This group of neighbors has proven to be a great support group. We share each other's lives and challenges. We laugh together and cry for each other. The 30+ year span of our ages is valuable. We are able to give each other advice and perspective from a variety of viewpoints. The Friday Night Dinner Club is a big part of the reason Grams Made It.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Grams Made Margarita Chicken Fajitas

This is the perfect recipe for making chicken fajitas indoors without the barbecue pit.

4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, cubed
1 cup Margarita Mixer
1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 medium Texas Sweet Onion, cut in half then slices
1 Red or Green Bell Pepper, cut into rings
2 Garlic Cloves, diced
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Marinate chicken for one hour in Margarita Mixer and Cayenne Pepper. Drain and discard marinade.

Saute chicken until done in one tablespoon Olive Oil. Remove chicken from pan and reserve on plate. Add other tablespoon of Olive Oil to pan and saute onions, peppers and garlic until crisp-tender.

Serve chicken, onion & peppers in tortillas. We use soft corn tortillas.