Archive for October, 2012


My niece B. posted a query on Facebook last week: was it too early to start putting up her Christmas decorations?

I’m thinking she should at least wait until after Halloween, but whatever makes her happy…

Her post did get me thinking that the holidays are just around the corner. Time to start thinking about gifts from the garden. Yes, I’ve got quite a lot of canned goods, but I’m hoping to actually keep a few for my own consumption this year!

So today I put together something different: pepper vinegar in antique cruets. I was inspired by Granny B, who used to make her own hot pepper vinegar to add a little punch of flavor to greens.

Plus, those red and green jalepenos look so festive, don’t they?

After de-seeding the peppers, I cut them into strips and put them in the cruets. Then I filled the jars with vinegar and added the stoppers.

It’ll take a few weeks to infuse the vinegar with pepper flavoring, so there will be time for me to taste test.

I hope the vinegar tastes good! There’s definitely plenty of greens to use it on.


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The picture above was taken a few minutes after the Duke football team beat arch-rival UNC last night. It’s a bit blurry, but the best I could do from my perch in the press box.

“Press box?” You may wonder. “You must have some great connections, MaryNell.”

Well, not exactly.

I have been attending Duke football games since 1994, but somewhere around ’97 or ’98, my friends bailed on me. For those of you who don’t know, Duke football has been an exercise in futility for decades now, and it takes a special kind of crazy to keep going back for more.

Fearing the thought of attending games alone (yes, I am that special kind of crazy) I managed to land a volunteer gig helping keep stats. I write down the back-up play-by-play, only needed when there’s a computer malfunction. The perks of this job include premier parking, free food (which I don’t normally eat as it’s very meat-centric), and being inside during inclement weather.

The downside is having to stay to the bitter end and witness both blow-outs and heartbreaking losses. Being a fan has definitely taken its toll on me. There is only so much heartache I can take, not to mention the fact that games take up a lot of time.

Before the season started, I wondered if I would sign up for another year. Like so much in my life, I was feeling its time to let this go. Eventually, I decided I would give it one more year. A swan song, of sorts. And who knows, maybe the team could finally reverse their fortunes.

Turns out I made a pretty good choice. Duke has now won six games and is bowl eligible for the first time in 18 years. And, after many a heart-vreaking game, they finally beat UNC!!!

It was a game snatched from the TV show, “Friday Night Lights.” Good guys lead most of the game, then lose the lead with about three minutes left. Good guys march down the field and, with four seconds remaining and fourth down, score a TD to win the game.

The crowd went wild. Students stormed the field. I about cried. I couldn’t believe it! For years, I’ve seen similar situations with different results. I just want to relive and savor that moment.

I will have to wait until tomorrow to watch a rebroadcast. Yes, I am a special kind of crazy, but after last week’s beat-down, I had no hopes for victory and thus thought there would be no need to record the game.

Anyway, this whole reliving the victory thing has me thinking about how much time I spent going over past events. I had to really stop myself from doing this after some sad events last week.

Maybe now is a good time to practice letting go of good events, too. Live in this moment, not yesterday or tomorrow. Enjoy, and yes, watch again, but don’t put so much of my energy in the past or future.

Plus, there are some tough games coming up, so I will need to practice letting go…

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Earlier today, I was cleaning up part of my summer garden. I’ve still got several rows to clean up and cover crop, but the area feels so empty now.

Good thing the winter garden is basically thriving!

The chard in this bed is growing nicely. Bugs have attacked the chard in another bed.

Unlike the past few years, the turnip greens are thriving this year.

Turnip greens in front, kale in back.

The savoy cabbage may produce, if I can keep the bugs away.

Speaking of bugs, aphids have attacked the collard greens.

The bugs must not like mustard greens.

I always overplant lettuce, so I picked a lot for lunch today.

One good thing about being a tad behind in garden chores: things reseed themselves! Witness the arugula above and the kale below.


I love being able to grow food most of the year. And while I’ll miss my summer veggies, I’m looking forward to fresh steamed greens!

What’s growing in your garden?

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photo courtesy of Microsoft

One of my friends sent me a chain email today. It began, “In honor of Women’s History Month and Erma Bombeck, who died of cancer.”   Hm, I thought, this email must have taken its time making the rounds, because  isn’t October Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

A quick Google search revealed that March is Women’s History Month.  The search also revealed several inaccuracies in the email I was sent.   For instance, Bombeck wrote her list years before she was diagnosed with cancer.   Regardless, I believe the intent of the email was to get me thinking about what I would do differently if I had my life to live over again.

So I pondered a bit, and came to the realization that many of the things I regret about my past are things I’m working to correct.  So my list is divided into two categories:  things I have started doing since I turned 40, and things I could still do to improve my life.

Things I have started doing since I turned 40:

I worry less about fitting in and instead appreciate my uniqueness.  So much of my life was spent worrying about “not being pretty enough” or “not being thin enough” or “not being smart enough.”

Continuing in that vein, I try to focus on the positives and not the negatives, both about myself and about situations around me.   It’s easy to find fault, but it’s also just as easy to find good.  Not to mention focusing on the positive just feels so much better!

I am more inquisitive.  In my past, I would take what certain people (especially family members) said as gospel truth. Now, I do my own research and trust my own intuition.

I am now willing take more risks and even (gasp!) to fail.   For so much of my life, I wouldn’t even attempt doing something unless I thought I would be good at it.  For example, I didn’t even apply to certain colleges for fear of not getting accepted.   The fear of failure paralyzed me.   Now, I’m taking the huge risk of leaving my job without guarantee of another one in its place.  Yay me!  (Or stupid me?)   But regardless, something has to be done, and I’m taking a step forward without too  much fear.

Also in that vein, I would realize that nobody’s perfect, and you don’t have to be perfect in order to be loved.  And if someone demands that you be a certain way in order for them to love you, then maybe it’s not really love anyways.  Time to move on.

Things I could still do to improve my life:

Like Erma, I could worry a little less about the stained rug or couch and invite people over anyways.  Hey, I’m not perfect, and neither is my house!

I could learn to go with the flow and trust that I am exactly where I need to be.

I could appreciate each person’s uniqueness, even if I don’t always agree with their opinions.     I could spend more time finding commonalities and less time differentiating.

I could say at least one nice thing about my family or friends every time I talk to them.

I could pay it forward by doing more good things, while trusting that I am divinely taken care of.

I could work less and play more!

So … I’m sure there are more things I could do, but that’s all I can think of for now.   What about you?  What changes would you make  if you had your life to live over?














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I shouldn’t have done it.  I knew it at the time.  But work was slow, and I was bored, and what the heck … taking a peek at the available dogs at the animal shelter wouldn’t really hurt anything, would it?

YES, it would!  Do. Not. Let. Me. Do. This. Again!

You can probably guess where this very short story is going, but let me begin by admitting that I am an animal person at heart.  I have had dogs for the past 25 years.  I know they can be expensive. I know they take time,  they have a shorter life span, and they don’t grow up and move out of the house like kids do.  But to me, dogs are loyal, worthy companions, and my house feels incredibly empty without dog energy.  (It’s also incredibly clean without all the shedding!)

I know I will get another dog, and most likely one that sheds.  I like medium size dogs (60-65 pounds) that you can take for long hikes in the woods and wrestle with. I’ll probably always get a rescue dog.  Now is just not the right time, with a long trip coming up and the very real possibility of unemployment after that trip.   I can get stressed thinking about how I’m going to take care of myself, much less another creature.

But let me tell you, I am very tempted by this sweetie.   Click on the link and look at those eyes!   I cried. I spent a good bit of time yesterday trying to justify how I could adopt her … and all because of those eyes.

I finally realized that she has similar eyes to my former dog, Cami, and that’ s probably why I am so drawn to her.   But I have to keep telling myself that it’s just not the right time for me to have another dog, and that this dog will be fine, no matter what happens.   And as my friend P., a shelter board member, said, there will always be dogs who need homes.   Even so, I get sad thinking that she might not be adopted and they will have to put her down.

So, if anyone feels inclined, the little sweetie linked above would sure love a home.  I’m sure she’s gentle and loving — just look at those eyes!
And until at least July 2013, I’m forbidding myself from looking at any more adoptable dogs.


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I let my sweet Nanaline go on Friday.

I could have kept her a bit longer, but several things weighed on my mind.

One was a recent conversation with my cousin and brother about animals and that hard decision one has to make when the animal is ill. I said I thought I made the right decision, timing wise, about my other dog, Bailey. My brother M. responded, “Of course you think that; you’re incentivized to think you did the right thing.”

At the time, I thought M. was wrong. I am pretty introspective and often examine my actions to see if there is room for improvement. I would admit if I waited too long, and at that time, I didn’t think I had.

But M.’s comments stuck with me, especially as life was getting smaller and harder for Nan.

What I realized is that I waited until there was zero quality of life for Bailey before letting her go. Was that kind of me? No. Did I do the best I could at the time? Yes. Does Bailey understand that? Yes.

Then the question came: do I do the same for Nanaline or let her go before her life had zero happiness? Her days were only going to get worse, that I knew.

On Tuesday, after Nanaline wouldn’t eat her chicken and white bread (rice was no longer pallitable), I talked to the animal communicator. She confirmed that Nan was in a lot of pain, bothered by her confusion and was ready to go. The animal comminicator’s sense was that Nan would pass soon, whether I helped her or not.

What I didn’t ask the animal communicator was when to make the call. (Stupid me!) So I had to rely on my own judgment and connection with my dog. (Probably a good thing.)

I decided that the only reason I was keeping Nanaline was for myself, and it bothered me to see her seemingly want to eat but not being able to. That just looked like torture to me.

So I made an appointment for Friday, and when I used reiki to tell Nanaline, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.

Now that she’s gone and I’m terribly sad, I have to hold on to that sense of peace, and the beautiful experience of connecting with Nanaline’s spirit as it left her body.

Plus I received an amazing gift Friday night. (Warning: this may sound crazy.) As I was going to bed, fearing I wouldn’t be able to sleep, I felt the presence of the four dogs with whom I have shared my life. Bailey and Nanaline were lying on their respective spots on the floor, Molly was curled up by my feet, and Cami was by my side. On the top of my pillow were two of my feral cats, Atticus and Stormy.

I felt surrounded by love and the sense that they knew I did the best I could for them, even if I kept a few of them around a bit longer than I should have.

Last night several more of the departed ferals joined the posse, and I slept better than I have in months.

At some point, I’m sure their spirits will need to go back to whatever it is they are now doing, but I sure appreciate their assistance as I transition to a temporarily dog-less home.

I still have the current batch of ferals to assist, and I will get another dog after my Camino. But until then, I have to get used to a new routine. For the past 25 years, I’ve organized my life around the dogs’ needs. Now things feel a little empty.

I’ll still get up early to exercise, and I’ll still walk after work. I’ve got to increase my walking miles anyways!

And I’ve got a lot of work to do, putting the summer garden to bed.

I am sure that in time I’ll be able to think of my sweet, silly, goofy dog and smile instead of cry. It’s like any loss – just make it one day at a time. And try to focus on all the good times knowing she had a happy life and was loved. Namaste, my sweet Nanaline!

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photo courtesy of Microsoft

As my friends, family, readers and about anyone I come into contact with now knows, I plan to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain next summer.   I’ve been planning this trip since May 2011, and chose May 2013 for several reasons, including having enough money, having enough vacation time, having enough money, having enough time to train, having enough money …

But the top reason I decided to wait a few years was because of my dogs.  Being elderly and in various stages of declining health,  I didn’t want to leave them for an extended period. So I chose a time far enough out where they probably wouldn’t still be around.    It now appears I was on target:  one dog (Bailey) has already passed to the great beyond, and the other (Nanaline) is making what appears to be a rather steep decline.

Nanaline has always been a voracious eater.  She’d clean her bowl, eat whatever Bailey left in hers, then go back and lick both bowls again, all the while looking at me like she was starving.   Starving!!!

Needless to say, about a month ago, when she started not eating her kibble, I figured something was wrong.

My first plan of action was to contact my animal communicator to get a better sense of where Nanaline was.  The communicator said she was indeed starting to slow down, but she was enjoying her time as an only dog and wasn’t quite ready to go yet.  However, Nanaline was very upset about not being able to eat, as food was one of her great joys.    The kibble didn’t sit well, and the canned food was too rich.    The communicator suggested I cook ground chicken and rice in some chicken broth and feed her that.

Living the majority of her life in a vegetarian household, Nanaline did the happy dance while smelling that meat cook!   I, on the other hand, was holding my nose, but at this point, it wasn’t really about me.

Fast forward a month.  Nanaline had been doing fairly well eating the chicken and rice.  All was as well as could be expected for a sort-of demented dog who’s  a bit blind and deaf and has spinal issues that hinder her walking.

Then this past weekend, she stopped eating.  Wouldn’t even touch the plain chicken.  So, come Monday, off we went to the vet, who ordered a senior blood panel.  The results came back:  liver disease.    I can give her some herbs, but there’s not a lot I  can do for her other than that.


Backtrack to the animal communicator appointment:  I had asked Nanaline to give me a sign when she was ready to depart.  The sign was that she’ll stop eating.   (I think this is a pretty universal sign for dogs, actually.)

So, is she ready?  Since the weekend, she has begun eating small amounts.    I think that counts as eating, though perhaps I should have clarified this during my appointment.  “What if you eat only dog biscuits? What about only a bit of chicken every few hours?  And what about chasing the cat?  Doesn’t that mean you still want to be here if you still do that?”

I’m between a rock and a hard place.  Do I wait until she doesn’t eat at all and totally ignores the cat or go ahead with the decision?

I don’t know.

With Bailey, it became more than obvious that she was miserable, so the decision practically made itself.  Though, to be honest, I did talk to the animal communicator to be sure.

I don’t want my animals to suffer, so why is this such a hard decision?   Why can’t I be brave and let them go before they suffer too much?  Why does it have to been painfully obvious that they are in pain and unhappy?

I guess because I’m a bit selfish.

Even though I’m planning this amazing trip, I’d probably rather have my dogs around.   But that’s not really how life works, is it?

So I’ll go home tonight and hug Nanaline, let her walk as long as she’s able, feed her whatever she’ll eat, and see how things go.


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