59 Candles, 59 Things – Part Twenty One

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Twenty-ninth thing: I can’t write about the 59 things that make me happy without unabashedly giving a shout-out to the best hotdogs in the world. Right here in Genesee County, Michigan, the family owned Koegel Meats produces Koegel Viennas which are famous and deservedly so.  They are unlike any other hotdogs, just ask anyone who’s lived here and moved away. People weep, realizing after they’ve moved away that they can no longer acquire them. In the past, I’ve been known to freeze them and transport them to family and friends when I go to visit them. It may well be the reason that I’ve lived in the same county my whole life. In fact, come to think of it, it is the reason!

Yesterday, for the 4th of July, we invited Mom for a cookout with Koegels on the grill. OMG! Can I just say, Spence hit a home run with his grilling skills. He grilled extra dogs so that Mom could take a few “to go”.  You make recall from the “Moving Mom” and “Settling Mom” series in the blog, that Mom recently moved back to Michigan from Florida. She may tell others that she wanted to be closer to my sister and I, but I know that Koegel Viennas factored heavily into her decision.

Koegel Viennas are equally delicious steamed if the weather isn’t right for grilling. In a natural casing, there is a distinct “pop” when you bite into them. I can’t describe the joy they bring – it’s foodie nirvana.

If you are in search of that perfect hotdog, now you know where to find them!

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If you’d like to read more of my series, “59 Candles, 59 Things”, click on the “59 Things” category or search box.  This series was started to commemorate my 59th birthday (in May) and I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing about these things that make me happy! 

Like my Dad

I never knew of Buster until last year. We lost my Dad a few years ago just shy of his eightieth birthday. I was visiting my step-mom at the home they shared in Traverse City last summer when she said “I have something I think you’d like”. I was intrigued, feeling it was something that belonged to Dad. Knowing that I’m majorly sentimental, she produced a stuffed woolen dog.  “This is Buster and he belonged to your Dad”.  Buster had seen better days, one leg appeared a bit wobbly but he was adorable. I was touched both by having him but also by having a new nugget of knowledge about my Dad. The fact that at 59 I still have my “Baby Teddy” imagine my surprise that throughout his life, Dad preserved and kept Buster.

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Buster riding “shotgun” on the drive back home.
Buster now resides in the same room as my Baby Teddy. But it’s different for him, a homecoming. You see, I live in the house that my grandparents built when Dad was a young boy and though Buster hadn’t lived here for a long time, it was once his home many years ago.

I’ve been told many times “you’re a lot like your Dad” and through Buster I see a glimpse of his childhood and know that even our youthful selves were aligned.

I know how happy it made my Dad that I love living in his childhood home and feel certain he’s smiling now, knowing that Buster’s returned here to live with me.

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Happy Father’s Day Dad! I miss you every day.

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As part of the Blogging University Grads (BUGS) bi-weekly challenge, our prompt is a tribute to Dad.  I did a post earlier this year based on my trusty childhood teddy bear.  Apparently this lifelong attachment to a childhood stuffed animal was something my Dad and I had in common.

To read the story of Baby Teddy, follow this link:

Baby Teddy – One Good Bear

Kidney Bean Stew

I’m sharing a family recipe from my paternal Grandma.  A favorite of mine, it’s very simple and I’ve changed it only slightly over the years as it was damn near perfect to begin with.  I lost this Grandma just after my 12th birthday, before I’d ever cooked it or discovered my love of cooking.  If I had my best guess, this recipe was born out of the Great Depression when meat was expensive and stretching a dollar was critical.  All I know it that the crunch of the celery, the sweetness of the onion, the creaminess of the beans, the salty crispness of the bacon and the spice and heat of the pepper and pepper flakes makes this a delicious and treasured family recipe.

KIDNEY BEAN STEW      

Serves 2-4

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1 1/2 – 2 c chopped celery

1 1/2 – 2 c chopped sweet white onion

1 c dark red kidney beans – rinsed & drained

red pepper flakes – to taste

coarse ground black pepper – to taste

1 lb cooked, crispy bacon – reserve 2 T bacon drippings in the pan you’ll use to assemble this meal

Using a deep frying pan, start by cooking your bacon until crisp, remove from pan and drain on paper towels.

With the reserved bacon drippings, saute your celery, onion, red pepper flakes and black pepper until the celery becomes brighter green and the onions are just starting to soften.

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Add the kidney beans and stir together, until they are heated through.

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After you dish up this mixture, crumble crisp bacon over the top and dig in!

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For more of my family recipes (think comfort food) go to the RECIPE menu above but I’ll make it easy and link you to another favorite by clicking here:

Grandma’s Corn Beef Casserole

59 Candles, 59 Things – Part Eleven

Seventeenth thing:  As I continue along on my series of 59 things that make me happy I have to address the perfect tomato.  Two of my three step kids (the boys) think tomatoes are evil.  Well, I love my step-sons but they are just wrong.  There is something magical about a perfect ripe tomato that is both a thing of beauty and deliciously refreshing. Once the home-grown and fresh local tomatoes begin appearing at farm stands and markets, I’m all about making gazpacho, ceviche, bruschetta, caprese, BLT’s or simply slicing them with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. When in season, they are perfection. You can find my Ceviche recipe on this blog and I promise to add my gazpacho and bruschetta recipes this summer.  In the meantime, please join me in celebrating the tomato!

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From a farm stand in Tennessee just this week. Yum!

Eighteenth thing: I have a lot of great pictures of Spence but there are two that are particular favorites of mine.  They always make me happy and both are framed and hang in our home.

These are the original Three Amigos. Taken awhile back by the wife of the man in the middle when all three guys sported ponytails and shared a love of fishing, travel and general mischief. Nick, Mustache and Spence - a favorite buddy picture.
These are the original Three Amigos. Taken awhile back by the wife of the man in the middle when all three guys sported ponytails and shared a love of fishing, travel and general mischief. Nick, Mustache and Spence – my favorite buddy picture.
Captain Spence with his daughter. Taken many years ago, priceless.
Captain Spence with his daughter, taken many years ago, priceless.

Nineteenth thing:  Is kindness a thing?  Maybe not tangible but as an action don’t we feel better when we are kind to another being? Isn’t it the best feeling when someone is kind to us? Or when we see or read about an act of kindness?

I periodically (and increasingly) find I need a break from watching the news.  There is so much sadness, tragedy and cruelty in our world that I find myself overwhelmed and unable to shake it off.

I always think that kindness, whether intended or a random act, is heartwarming, reaffirming and something we can practice every day. And along the way, make the world happier, a moment at a time.

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59 Candles, 59 Things – Part Nine

Fourteenth thing: Is there anything quite like a succulent, juicy, Florida grapefruit?  One of the things I’ll miss about having Mom in Florida is that she had an uncanny knack for finding the most spectacular sweet-tart grapefruits, stocked in just before I’d arrive for a visit – one per each day of my stay (and more if I’d asked).  Now that she lives in Michigan, I may have to call upon her skills at our local grocer’s produce stand and see if she can find anything like this gem.

It just doesn't get better!
It just doesn’t get better!


Fifteenth thing: While butterflies are known as my Mom’s “thing” in our family, they make me happy as well.  In May 2014 while staying in our little cabin in the woods bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we experienced something neither Spence nor I had ever seen. As we drove through the park from Wears Valley Tennessee to Cherokee North Carolina there was either a hatching or a migration of pale yellow butterflies. Driving for 90 minutes, every time there was a clearing in the trees, there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them. Considering that we’ve been coming here for years, this was a first.  The sheer number of them for such a prolonged distance was at first almost startling, then we were just in awe. After a few hours in Cherokee, we made the return trip and experienced the same thing. I can’t tell you what type of butterfly this was and I was unable to take a picture as it was perpetual motion (both the butterflies and our car).  But it was something neither Spence and I will forget.

That said, I’ve also been witness to Morpho Butterflies while in Costa Rica.  Not once but on multiple trips. I know people who’ve lived there for years and never saw one. They are very large as butterflies go and fly/flap slowly.  With wings open they are a brilliant, royal blue – like a flying, iridescent hologram.

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With wings folded up, they look like a large moth, rather unremarkable.

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Photos of Morpho Butterflies courtesy of an Internet Search

In my travels, I’m always intrigued to see if I can get butterfly pictures that aren’t  blurred by motion and have been successful as you will see below.  These images have been taken over time in my travels and make me happy.

59 Candles, 59 Things – Part Seven

Twelfth thing: This random happy thing is something that nearly everyone in the world has on their list.

The sound of the ocean, the feel of sand under your feet and between your toes and the waves as they hit the shore and suck the sand back into the ocean. All this while standing under our glorious sun, balmy temps with a bluer than blue sky. They say “life’s a beach” and I agree. I captured this moment when I was on Sanibel Island while moving Mom in March 2015 (check out my “Moving Mom” series if you’d like).

I posted this video then but it was so cool; each time I watch it and hear those waves, I’m transported back to that day. It instantly makes me happy and since I’m doing this series on 59 Things, it made sense to share it again.

And yes, those are my feet at the end and my pedicure peeking through the waves!

59 Candles, 59 Things – Part Six

Ninth thing:  Morel mushrooms. Early on in our relationship, Spence made a visit to northern Michigan, near Charlevoix.  His friend Don (and Don’s parents) owned countless acres of wooded land.  And on that land around this time of year, a miracle occurs.  Morels everywhere. This would have seemed like a beautiful myth had Spence not returned home with a brown paper lunch bag literally brimming with morels. I was in heaven and by extension, so was Spence as I whipped up the most incredibly delicious meals. Not a morsel went to waste.  Oh the memories.

Rarely now I will encounter morels peering out of the produce stands if and when I’m lucky. Regardless of the cost (which is incredibly steep) I’m seduced on the spot –  and cannot pass them by.  So imagine my utter dismay when only a few days into our most recent vacation I saw this picture posted by my favorite farmer’s market Facebook page (knowing that I’ve probably missed them for this year).

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I can only hope that whoever scored these beauties gave them the love that they deserved.

Tenth thing:  I never knew my Great-Grandma (my Mom’s Grandmother) but had heard my Mom speak of her. Recently I helped my Mom pack up and move her belongings back to Michigan after selling her home in Florida. (see my Moving Mom series for more about that)  

Moving from a good size two bedroom house to a nice size one bedroom apartment, Mom found that she couldn’t keep everything she’d moved. (even after parting with tons of her belongings when down-sizing) She offered my sister and I numerous items, one of them was Great-Grandma’s quilt. My sister graciously said I could have it; she’s planning her own downsizing in a few years.  I was thrilled.  The quilt is showing some wear but given it’s age, surprisingly less than you might expect.

Apparently the original passing of the quilt from my Great-Grandma to my Grandma Fox was not as gracious or amicable. Both she and her sister Ruth (who I understand was quite formidable) wanted this quilt.  Drama ensued. My Grandma had to concede other cherished items in bartering for the quilt – but she prevailed.

Fast forward to my childhood. My sister and I stayed overnight on occasion with Grandma and Grandpa F0x who lived 20 minutes away. We were lovingly tucked in with this quilt at nap time, played on top of it with our Barbies and snuggled under it while watching our grandparents dance to Lawrence Welk on their black and white TV (they were impressive).

As soon as I brought it home, I unfolded it and snuggled under it. Good times, happy memories.

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Eleventh thing:  As I’ve written previously, I started the practice of meditation last year after retiring. I had tried before with no success.  I simply couldn’t shut off my mind nor understand that meditation doesn’t necessarily require you to shut off your mind.  What it is about is being still, being in the moment and allowing yourself to just…..be.  Done with regularity it’s my experience that I’m more focused, even when I haven’t slept well.  When I recently started missing consecutive days, I noticed that I felt a bit irritable. And kind of mad at myself for breaking what had become a good habit. As with anything, I re-prioritized and schedule it as a little “me” time each day.

Spence supports my practice though initially he didn’t understand that I can’t talk to him during the 15-30 minute sessions.

I’M MEDITATING” I would have to yell through the closed door of my meditation space (or guest room).  Now, he gets it and leaves me be though – and you’d have to know Spence’s propensity for deliberately switching out words – he calls it “mediation”.

“Go mediate” he says. “I won’t disturb you”.

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Namaste.

My Precious Home Video

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Dear Dad,

A few years back, you surprised me with a special Christmas gift.  Home movies taken over a span of years of two young, carefree sisters converted into a home video. Those home movies were taken well before anyone imagined home videos or youtube and were the only thing available to capture more than still-photos of our childhood.

Converting these movies with the addition of beautiful music was both unexpected and very moving.  I remember that Spence and I stopped opening any other Christmas gifts and watched it immediately.  Tears streaming, it brought back happy memories.  I know I called you that day and thanked you.

Now that you’re gone, I often wish I’d thanked you more for this gift – and for all the things you did throughout my life that made it better.  So today, I’m sending this letter out into the universe, hoping it will reach you and remind you that I love you and miss you everyday. 

With gratitude,

Your Daughter

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Day Fourteen: To Whom It May Concern

Today’s Prompt: Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What’s the first word that jumps off the page? Use this word as your springboard for inspiration. If you need a boost, Google the word and see what images appear, and then go from there.

Today’s twist: write the post in the form of a letter.

You have a number of options: you can write a letter to the word or an image, or an open letter to the world inspired by the word. You could pen a series of imaginary notes between you and a friend, or between two fictional characters, or between old you and young you.

My word on page 29 of a random book was “home video”.  Yes, I realize it’s two words but it is my blog and I’m late with this assignment so there you have it.

Baby Teddy – One Good Bear

The Tale of Baby Teddy

As I approach my 59th birthday and inspired by the prompt for Day 20 of Writing 101, I have to write about someone who’s been with me through it all.

Baby Teddy, One Good Bear

Baby Teddy today looks much the way that I remember him since I was old enough to form memories.  His appearance is beyond “shabby chic”, he went through a lot in his early years. There are no known pictures of him as a young Teddy so we can’t be sure what he looked like when he first came into my life. Diminutive in stature, about 9 inches tall, I’m guessing his name came from his small size but it could be because I preferred teddy bears to baby dolls.  But I digress.

I’m pretty sure we don’t even know who gave him to me; I suppose it doesn’t matter.  He claimed my heart and in spite of my parents trying to entice me with a Winnie the Pooh bear (which I loved, don’t get me wrong) and numerous other pretty fluffy stuffed animals, I wouldn’t part with him.  I think they were embarrassed by his shoddy exterior.  It didn’t matter to me.

Baby Teddy’s Disappearance

This was a tragic day, I was about three years old. Carrying him with me everywhere, I remember awaking from my nap only to realize he wasn’t with me.  Where was he?  I searched, I sobbed and was completely devastated.  This went on for several days and I wasn’t getting over it.

One evening, my Dad came home and called for me. With puffy eyes, I stumbled into the living room, looked up and stopped in my tracks.

“Look who I found walking through the flower garden” he said, holding Baby Teddy by the paw.  Not noticing that he was worse for wear, his eyes sewn back into place, the majority of his fur missing, I hugged him with all my might and sure enough, he smelled like flowers. It was a miracle and at age three, you just accept miracles without questioning them.

Baby Teddy never strayed again and was with me through all the highs and lows of my youth, my teens and had his fair share of tears cried onto his tiny shoulders as he gave me comfort.

The Family Secret……..

Many years later, I was at work and fell into a daydream thinking of Baby Teddy, remembering his mysterious disappearance many years before and his trek back to me through that flower garden. Now an adult, it occurred to me that there was clearly another part of that story that had remained a family secret.  And I had to know what the truth was, no matter what, no matter how hard it was to hear.

I called my Mom.  “Hi” she said in her cheery voice “What’s up?”

What happened to Baby Teddy, I have to know!

I’m sure she was caught off guard (what, no hello?)  Where was this coming from after so many years? She was quiet for a long minute. (I think she was suppressing a nervous laugh) But I’m sure she knew this day would come.

“Well, you carried him everywhere” she began “Everywhere. Even into the bathroom.”

She went on to say that I’d placed him carefully on the toilet tank and that when she next went in, he’d taken a plunge – into the less than pristine toilet.  While I was sleeping, she’d fished him out and taken him to the trash.

Then I woke up from nap time and all hell broke loose.  I began the search and was in such a state that she and Dad made the decision to discreetly rescue him and put him through the washing machine. That explained the eye mishaps and the nearly total loss of fur.  Apparently, they next  placed him somewhere to air dry, high enough that I wouldn’t discover him. (I imagine after they saw what the washer did, the dryer might have been the end for him.)  Dismayed by his appearance but seeing that I was still distraught after several days, they came up with the “walk through the flower garden” story, first spritzing him with perfume and reunited us.

You threw him in the garbage???” was the first thing that I said thinking, “arghhh the humanity!” (I’ve always been a bit dramatic)

Sometimes you just can’t handle the truth.

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Here is a picture of my Baby Teddy today – still with me and holding a million memories and secrets, one good bear.

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Day Twenty: The Things We Treasure

Today’s Prompt: Tell us the story of your most-prized possession.

It’s the final day of the challenge already?! Let’s make sure we end it with a bang — or, in our case, with some furious collective tapping on our keyboards. For this final assignment, lead us through the history of an object that bears a special meaning to you.

A family heirloom, a flea market find, a childhood memento — all are fair game. What matters is that, through your writing, you breathe life into that object, moving your readers enough to understand its value.

Today’s twist: We extolled the virtues of brevity back on day five, but now, let’s jump to the other side of the spectrum and turn to longform writing. Let’s celebrate the drawn-out, slowly cooked, wide-shot narrative.

If you enjoyed this, check out:  https://spencesgirl.com/2015/06/17/like-my-dad/ ‎

Gourmet Food and Wine Tasting

Just before I headed to visit my stepmom in Florida, she’d left a voicemail on my home phone.

“Are you interested in a gourmet food and wine tasting dinner on the day after you arrive? Let me know”

I called back, “I’m in!”

Here was our menu:

IMG_5368My stepmom and I were joined by four of her friends and started with a pre-dinner cocktail.  Moving into the dining room, seated overlooking a lake I observed all the attentions to detail including this snazzy “butter rose”:

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Here were our courses:

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The little corn pudding (to the left) was exquisite! Everyone was applauding it. Like a little corn custard cloud. Oh my!

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Somehow, to my dismay, I missed taking a picture of the next course which was beautifully presented and delicious.  Sorry about that!

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And last, we were offered a lovely ruby Port to cap off the evening.

IMG_5385I was in a wine and foodie state of bliss and went to sleep recounting each course as I drifted into dreamland.  Every bite was delightful, artistically plated and the wines were superb.  The Rose and Pinot Noir were my absolute faves!