Sixty Years…And Counting

…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  Joshua 24:15

On August 10, 1957, Jerri said “I do” to Jerry. That’s when Mom and Dad officially became a married couple. A few years earlier, mom called dad, a member of her Sunday School Class,  to see if he wanted to buy tickets to her band concert. Her exact words were, “Would you like to go to my band concert”? Dad, something of a playboy, assumed mom was asking him out, and said, “Sure. What time should I pick you up”? The rest, as they say, is history.
Sixty years is a lot of living, especially with another person in such close proximity. Mom and dad have completely different personalities. Opposites, really do attract. For instance, mom is more prone to read a book while dad likes to watch Reality TV. Mom prefers peace and quiet, and dad likes loud and boisterous, which pretty much describes him to a tee. Mom’s an introvert, dad, you guessed it, an extrovert. I guess opposites really do attract. In spite of their obvious differences, this unlikely pair has managed to stay together sixty years—and rather happily, I might add.
So, what’s the secret to their success? Sixty Years is known as the Diamond Anniversary. Here’s why…
The quality of a diamond is measured by the so-called 4Cs: Color, Clarity, Cut and Carats. Likewise, the quality of a long-term relationship is determined by the 5Cs of Commitment, Character, Communication, Comic-Relief, and Christ-Centered.
Commitment– The marriage vows weren’t just something they said during the wedding. They lived them. “For richer, or poorer”-when dad lost his job our family of five moved in with mom’s parents; a one-car garage that my grandpa had remodeled. Funny, I don’t remember the situation being difficult, though I’m sure it was—there were eight humans and one toilet. You do the math. But, what I do remember is how much fun I had staying with my grandparents, eating dinner with them, and playing “hangman” on the blackboard my grandpa had made for me and my brothers. Who needs video games!?
Character-It takes a lot of character to admit you’re wrong. Even more important, learn to “pick your battles”. It means being faithful and truthful. Honesty is important. Forgiveness, crucial.
Communication-And, not just verbally. It’s gently holding each other’s hand. It’s dad getting mom her first cup of coffee in the morning. It’s mom giving dad a kiss as he’s on his way out the door. And, dad returning her kiss when he arrives back home. And, when they argue, it looks more like an episode of “Burns and Allen”, an old comedy starring the real married couple of George Burns and Gracie Allen. The words are never mean, never cruel or hurtful. In fact, I’ve never heard my parents utter a single cuss word. Something I find absolutely astounding and charming. I really admire that.
Comic-Relief-In crowds, my dad’s the center of attention. A real hoot. He makes you laugh. More important, he makes my mom laugh. And, that’s a good thing. A very good thing. Mom’s been known to throw in some well-timed “zingers” of her own. Laughter is not only good for your health, it’s good for your marriage.
Christ-Centered-Last, but most important, mom and dad keep Christ at the center of their relationship.

I still can’t believe mom and dad have been married sixty years. This weekend our family will be celebrating their Diamond Anniversary. A diamond’s quality is determined by the 4Cs. And, the quality of mom and dad’s relationship can be summed up in 2Js—Jerry and Jerri.

Love ya’ Mom and Dad.

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Happy Hoppin’ John Time!

Embed from Getty Images

Verse:  Save now, we beseech You, O Lord; send now prosperity, O Lord, we beseech You, and give to us success!  Psalms 118:25(Ampl. Bible)

It’s New Year’s Day, and in a short while, probably between college football games, I’ll begin preparing a meal that’s been a family tradition for years, Hoppin’ John.  According to my mom, Grandpa Zach began serving Hoppin’ John to his family on New Year’s Day.  He believed eating it would bring more luck, money and prosperity to them in the coming year.

This is a tradition I carry on to this day.  I decided to do some research on Hoppin’ John, and discovered its roots began in Southern states during the mid’ 1800’s.  One story behind the unusual name recalls how an old man named John hobbled through Charleston selling rice and peas.  But, most historians believe Hoppin’ John is actually derived  from the French term for dried peas, “pois pigeons.”

Here are the main components of Hoppin’ John.  Black-eyed peas are the star ingredient in this scrumptious concoction.  The peas symbolize pennies or coins,  and part of the ritual is placing a coin either in the pot, or under your bowl.  I prefer the “under the bowl” method, since there’s less risk of accidentally ingesting the coin.  I use a penny, and have too much respect for Lincoln, one of my favorite presidents, to put him through that particular ordeal.  Eating peas is believed to bring both prosperity and luck.  Rice, another component, represents good health, along with pork, thought to bring even more luck.  Here, I’m a divergent, preferring to use smoked turkey sausage in place of ham or bacon.  I think it tastes better.  Hopefully, this minor alteration won’t diminish the luck factor, and might positively benefit my health.  Along with black-eyed peas and rice, greens are served alongside the main dish.  Apparently, any type of greens work, as long as they are, well, green,  the color of currency, and represent wealth.  Mac and cheese, for instance, though served in many Southern restaurants as a vegetable side, won’t work, unless, of course, they’re green.  And, if they are green, better eat more rice for better health!

Like Sandra Lee, I opt for semi-homemade recipes, emphasis on the semi, not homemade.  I generally slice up some smoked turkey sausage, and sauté it in a pan with a little oil.  Then, I add some chopped onion, and sauté them together until the sausage begins to brown.  Next, I drain a can of black-eyed peas, usually flavored with jalapenos for extra spice, and add it to the pot.  I then add rice, and love using microwavable rice, for ease, choosing a wild-rice, brown blend, for more interest and flavor.  Next, stir, and the Hoppin’ John is done.  I like collards as my green accompaniment.  My mom always serves spinach, another flavorful choice.  There are some wonderful canned preseasoned collards available, like Margaret Holmes.  They’re absolutely delicious, and inexpensive, too.  Last, I use a boxed cornbread mix, Jiffy cornbread, that’s cheap, fifty cents a box, simple, with a slightly sweet flavor that perfectly complements the rest of the meal.  Of course, you could make everything from scratch, and some may derive pleasure from doing so.  Not me.  So, in an effort to at least begin the year on a positive and peaceful note, I choose the easy preparation method listed above.  The only thing left to do is sit down to a lovely, comforting meal, absolutely perfect for chasing the hangover/blues away.

I love eating Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day, a tradition passed down from my grandfather.  As far as I can figure, I’ve had it every year for over fifty years.  I wouldn’t be surprised if my mom served pureed black-eyed peas to me as a baby.  And, even though my brother Rich is not a big fan of them, he manages to ingest at least one of these lucky, coin-like peas on New Year’s Day, figuring a little luck is better than none.  All this talk about Hoppin’ John is making me hungry.  I better get to cooking.  And, whether or not I’m more prosperous, I’m definitely more satisfied.

Pumpkin Pancakes and Ketchup

It started out quite innocently.  My son, Zach, and I headed toward Denny’s to taste one of the many pumpkin products that pops up, like Toaster Strudel(which, by the way, has its own pumpkin variety!) this time of year.  We’ve already sampled our way through pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin pie spice coffee, pumpkin spice creamers to go in the pumpkin spice coffees, pumpkin spice cookies, one with white chocolate chips, the other with cream cheese chips, all while breathing the delicious aroma of a pumpkin pie spice candle aglow on the coffee table, smelling so delicious I could almost taste it.

So, when Denny’s advertised Pumpkin Pancakes, we were in.  Even though pancakes are traditionally eaten for breakfast, I prefer to eat them later in the day, where the cumulative effect of copious carbs and sugar are less detrimental to my cranial functioning and capacity. Otherwise, if I eat pancakes early, the rest of the day I resemble a post-apocalyptic zombie, which is fine if it’s Halloween.  Oh, I forgot, it was Halloween.  See what I mean by diminished cranial capacity?  Still, I had to pick my husband up at the airport later, so must keep my wits about me.  Late afternoon was the perfect time for me to try these seasonal pancakes.

I hadn’t been to Denny’s in a long time, so I was anxious to experience that special diner ambience, again.  This nice young man seated us at a booth.  There’s something about a booth–so cozy.  Made me wish I had one in my dining room, except I couldn’t figure out where to put the TV trays.  Without hesitation, I announced my order, “Pumpkin Pancake Breakfast, please”.  “Do you want bacon, or sausage, or both?”  “Both, of course.”  Zach’s original intent was to also order the Pumpkin Pancakes, but the minute he spied that huge, cheesy, platter of nachos pictured on the front page of the menu, it was love at first bite.

Zach still wanted a “taste” of the Pumpkin Pancakes, however.  So, after placing our order, he negotiated a deal.  He’s become quite the bargainer.  I’ve taught him well.  Here’s the deal, I give him one of my pancakes, and he’ll give me “a” nacho.  Whoever heard of eating one nacho?  But, believing the trade would work toward the greater good of our relationship, and the lesser girth of my waist, I reluctantly agreed.

While waiting for our food to arrive, we listened to some great music playing in the background, including “Ballroom Blitz”–I’m still humming that one today.  Soon, our food arrived. There were two pancakes.  I carefully placed the top pancake on the extra plate I’d requested in anticipation of Zach’s deal, and slathered it with a huge portion of cinnamon-laced butter, as if the pancakes weren’t rich enough.  I figured I could spare some even though this was not part of the “official” negotiations.  Besides, there was least a half cup of this glorious concoction resting atop the pancakes, like a creamy, yellow crown.

Dutifully allocating the pancakes, one for me and one for Zach, I went to work on the rest of my meal.  First, I salted and peppered my eggs which were cooked perfectly over-medium.  Then, smashed them with my fork, just the way Grandpa Fred used to do.  Next, on to doctoring the hash-browns.  A little bit of salt, then I reached for the ketchup, formerly dubbed “the slowest ketchup”.  No truer words were ever written, except for the Bible.  I swear I heard Carly Simon singing “Anticipation” in the background.

After shaking it, I opened the lid, and carefully squeezed the bottle, not wanting any of the ketchup to find its way onto my festive, one-of-a-kind Halloween sweater.  Nothing.  Thinking maybe this was a new bottle, I tried to unscrew the lid, and remove the safety-seal.  Forget the safety-seal, this cap wasn’t budging.  To the rescue came my Knight-In-Shining-Armor, the Great Negotiator, my son.  Zach carefully inspected the bottle, and began shaking it, as only a strong, young man can do, and disregarding the feeble attempts of a middle-aged, menopausal woman with a bum-thumb.

Zach turned the bottle upright, opened the lid, and, quicker than a Hawaiian volcano, ketchup spewed forth out of that tiny hole, smacking him right in the middle of his glasses, which he’d thankfully worn, instead of the usual contacts.

For a brief moment, we stared at each other, speechless over what had just happened.  Then, as I looked at my son’s pitiful eyes through ketchup-stained glasses, we both simultaneously burst out laughing, and kept on laughing the rest of the day.

Zach, since the ketchup just missed your armor, you’re still my go-to-knight.

And, the Pumpkin Pancakes, by the way–the bomb!

Lost In Translation

I know very little Spanish.  Several years ago, I learned a couple of essential terms for survival while on a trip to Mexico–tres queso(three cheese) quickly followed by bano, (bathroom).  For my husband, the second term was absolutely essential.  Poor thing.  But, that’s another post.  Fast forward to a recent trip we took to Talequah, Oklahoma.  In spite of my language deficiencies, Mexican food is one of my favorites.  I may not speak it, but I can eat it with the best of ’em.  Before leaving, I searched the internet for the best Mexican food in town by reading local restaurant reviews.  A restaurant simply named Jose’s, which had a 100% approval rating, was the clear winner.  Armed with this crucial information, we set out on our trip.

After visiting a couple of tourist attractions, we decided to eat lunch.  My husband entered the address into the GPS, and, mouths watering, we headed to Jose’s.  Now, while the reviews gave Jose’s glowing reports about the food, it never mentioned that Jose’s was virtually impossible to locate.  Traveling back and forth over the same road at least five times, we had to stop for gas.  It was then we finally spotted a tiny sign on a non-descript strip center, not even close to the main road we were on.  We’d finally found it.  And, there were a couple of cars out front, so we ventured forth, hunger and hopes high.

After entering, it was apparent this was going to be a bit of a different dining experience.  On one side of the restaurant was a little Mexican store, including a meat counter with a prominently displayed jar of pickled pigs feet.  Beside the grocery were tables, and a counter with a blackboard that featured their specialty items for the day.  No prices were listed.  While surveying the chalkboard, we noticed a couple of ladies working on food preparation in the kitchen.  They noticed us standing there, but continued to work.  Finally, one of the ladies, rather hesitantly, approached, and in broken English, asked if she could help us.   Though she tried, she did not understand our questions, nor did we understand her answers.  Thankfully, a younger woman came over to the counter, and taking the pad from the other lady,  asked if she could help us.  The first woman retreated back into her kitchen, obviously preferring her comfort zone.  Successfully placing our order, we found seats at a nearby table.

When the meal finally arrived, and we tasted it, it was easy to see why Jose’s had garnered such praise.  I’ve eaten lots of Mexican food during my fifty-plus years on this planet.  More than my share.  In fact, I ate it everyday while pregnant with my son.  I figured he’d either love it, or hate it, once welcomed into the outside world.  Fortunately, he loves it, maybe even more than I do.  To me, one of the true tests for any Mexican restaurant is the quality of their guacamole.  And, Jose’s guacamole,  freshly prepared and including the rare-seen addition of roasted corn, did not disappoint.  Absolutely the best guacamole I’ve ever tasted.   My whole family agreed, this was great food!

After finishing a delicious lunch, I wanted to personally thank the ladies responsible for making this delectable feast.  Seeing the cooks sitting at a nearby table, taking a lunch break themselves,  my son and I went over to express our gratitude for such a lovely meal.  Since their understanding of English was rather limited, I decided to thank them in their native tongue.  Slowly approaching the ladies’ table, and catching their gaze, I opened my mouth, intending to say, “Muchos Gracias”.  That was my intention.  However, to our mutual horror, out came the words, “Mucho Gasso”!  What?  Did that just come out of my mouth.  Now, those ladies may not have understood much English, but these particular words they clearly understood.  It was written all over the mortified looks on their faces.  Quickly, like a knight in shining armor, my son stepped forward, announcing in perfectly enunciated Spanish, “Muy Delicioso”.  Whew.  The ladies looks quickly changed from horror to relief.  Surely, if I  can raise such a nice young fellow,  I can’t be all bad.  Disaster averted, we quickly paid the bill, leaving Jose’s.

Next time we go, I think I’ll practice my Spanish before opening my mouth.  Better yet,  maybe I’ll let my son do all the talking.

 

 

Oops, I Ate it Again…

English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine,...
English: Thanksgiving Dinner, Falmouth, Maine, USA 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, I ate my way through another Thanksgiving meal–make that two Thanksgiving meals.  Not that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy each and every bite.  But, now I’m stuffed, even more than the turkeys I ate for Thanksgiving.  Of course, there were the usual suspects, turkey(both were smoked), dressing/stuffing(a more appropriate term for this particular side), mashed potatoes, gravy and, of course, cranberry sauce.  Then, there were a couple of variations on a green bean theme.  First, we had my mom’s famous green bean casserole.  This recipe’s been around for years, but nobody makes it quite like my mom. This is my son’s personal favorite.  The second variation was more traditional green beans, made even more delectable with crispy bacon and red peppers dancing amid the buttery tender green spears my sister-in-law made.   A relatively new side dish making a dual appearance this year was corn casserole.  My corn casserole evolved from a combination of recipes I found in an old church cookbook.  Everybody knows that church ladies would give even an Iron Chef a run for the money when it comes to good eats.  You just can’t beat church lady food.  So, I took my favorite parts from different corn casserole recipes, and came up with a real winner.  It’s Chipotle Shoepeg Corn Casserole.  Here’s how I did it…

Chipotle Shoepeg Corn Casserole

-3 11 oz. cans shoepeg corn with chipotles,drained

-small can chopped green chilies

-1 8 oz pkg cream cheese

-1 stick unsalted butter

-1/4 cup heavy cream

-pinch California garlic salt(kind that has bits of parsley in it)

-sprinkle of black pepper

-1 cup Velveeta Shreds, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray casserole dish with butter-flavored cooking spray.  Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan, using only 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese.  Warm just until cream cheese is melted.  Pour corn mixture into casserole dish, and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of Velveeta.   Place in oven, and cook for 25-30 minutes.  Let cool for several minutes before eating.  Enjoy!

Everyone loved my casserole.  During our second Thanksgiving dinner, my sister-in-law fixed her own version of this luscious casserole, using regular whole kernel corn, and shredded cheddar cheese.  It was equally delectable.  Any corn lover will go corn-crazy for this casserole.

In our home, Thanksgiving is a real family affair, with everyone pitching in to do his part–from perfect and spicy deviled eggs, my brother Steve’s special contribution, something I never could quite master–my peeled eggs look hideous, more like a science project gone bad,  to carving the turkey so everyone gets just the right piece, which my  brother Rich does so well.  The monumental task is not so monumental, after all.  And, the end result is a table full of simply delicious and comforting food.

I am truly thankful for the bountiful spread we’re so blessed with on our Thanksgiving table.  But, I’m even more thankful for the loved ones sitting around the Thanksgiving table.  And, that the Thanksgiving feast comes only once a year, which gives me just enough time to take off some of this weight before next Thanksgiving rolls around .

Scary Good Times–Memories of Halloween

"MOSAIC" of Harborland in Kobe, Hyog...
“MOSAIC” of Harborland in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture, Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Smiling Jack-O-Lanterns, pumpkin-scented candles glowing, pumpkin spice coffee creamer in my pumpkin spice coffee,  and candy–lots and lots of candy.  Boo!  It’s Halloween.  What’s not to love.  I don’t know about you, but my memories of Halloween are both scary and sweet.  Here are some of my favorite Halloween memories.

Today, the haunted houses scream horror movie set, with one located on nearly every block.  Back in the old days, there was only one truly haunted house in our area,  known as “Scream in the Dark”.  Renowned for being extremely intense, my brothers and I waited in line for hours just to say we survived this horrific experience.  Set in a truly eerie, condemned, old mansion,  “Scream in the Dark” sat on a huge lot of land, off one of the main streets in our city.  Actually, the scariest aspects of “Scream in the Dark” were the “Headless Horsemen” that roamed the property, and exorbitant admission fees they charged.

Another of my favorite Halloween memories featured our dog, Machen, and a neighbor/friend of the family.  First, you need to understand that Machen was a registered German Shepard, trained as a guard dog.   Machen’s previous owners, were moving and needed someone to take her.  When my mom, a true dog lover laid eyes on this majestic dog, it was love at first sight.  Apparently, the feeling was mutual.  So, without giving a thought to the consequences of having a guard dog as a family pet, Machen became our pet.  One Halloween, Mr.  Dailey, neighbor and family friend(at least prior to this incident)dropped by our house, unexpectantly, to show us his Halloween costume–a black and white striped prison convict’s outfit.   As soon as the door opened, Machen caught sight of the “convict”.  In a flash she was off, charging toward the door to protect her family from this “dangerous” intruder.  Fortunately, Mr. Dailey, fairly spry on his feet, bolted out of our house,  and reached the front door just seconds before our dog caught up to him, his life flashing before his eyes.  Though traumatized, Mr. Dailey remained our friend–but made sure to call our house before any personal visits to verify our dog was secure, and he would be safe.

Costumes, a hallmark of Halloween, bring up fond memories, too.  My mom, a working mom, came up with some truly creative and inventive costumes for us to wear.   What she lacked in time, she made up for in originality.  Draping and wrapping oriental fabric around me like a kimono,  face powdered , perfectly applied make-up, hair styled,  and, instantly I transformed into a Geisha–a real china doll.  Too cute.  Then, there was the year mom, seeing how important it was to me, agreed to make a homemade  Lil’ Bo Peep outfit for me to wear to the school carnival.  It was made of a beautiful shiny blue and gold brocade-like material, lace on the hem, neckline and sleeves, and, instead of a bonnet, Mom made a sweet matching cap out of the same material.  I wore my costume proudly through the halls of my school carnival, and later on as Meg in the play Little Women.  Recently, I ran across a photo of me dressed up in another of my mom’s creations.  About eight years old, wearing an elegant turquoise dress, with a slim black-belt,  fashionable straw hat, tiny stocking feet perilously perched on oversized high heels, face perfectly painted, wearing elbow-length white gloves,  standing next to my parent’s car, I was a genuine Glamor Girl.  Stunning.

Not only was it fun to dress up in costumes, there was another reason I looked forward to Halloween–the annual Halloween Carnival at my grade school.  It was awesome.  I’m not sure who designed it, but there was an amazing haunted house  set up in the school’s art department, where the fantastic props were no doubt created.  I distinctly remember bodiless, bloody heads sitting on tables draped in white, no doubt covering the bodies underneath the tables that were, in fact, thankfully attached to the bloody heads on top.  These “bloody heads” freaked me out because they would talk to you as you walked by.  Really creepy.  I also remember a slithering, live snake at one of the spooky stations in the haunted house.  That’s all it took, and I was out of the room in a flash, screaming all the way.

In addition to the scary stuff, the Halloween Carnival featured fun games for families to play, like Go Fish.  My favorite game was called Cake Walk.  Similar to Musical Chairs, players walked around a circle located on the floor covered in numbers, while music played.  As soon as the music stopped, you stopped, and located the number nearest to you.  A number was drawn out of a hat, and the person standing on the corresponding number was the winner.  The prize was, as you may have surmised, a cake.  Not a slice, but a whole freakin’ cake.  The winner would walk over to a table brimming with all sorts of cakes, some homemade, some store-bought, and choose their favorite cake.  The earlier in the evening you won in the Cake Walk, the better the cake/prize.  I looked forward to this game every year.  In fact, one year, not only did I win a cake, but my brothers also won cakes.  That makes three cakes–one a piece!  Another delightful game I absolutely adored was the Doll Walk.  Exactly like the Cake Walk, only the prize was your choice of dolls.  Some of these dolls were very nice, indeed.  Plus one year, my brother, Rich, in a rare act of humility and kindness, actually won a round of the Doll Walk and picked out a beautiful blond doll in a lovely red dress, and presented her to me.  Shades of the generous man he would ultimately become.

As for the sweet, you can’t talk about Halloween without mentioning Trick or Treating, and, of course, candy.  Another year, my mom, the consummate costumer, worked her magic yet again, dressing us in some of dad’s old torn shirts, floppy felt hats, and charcoaled cheeks.  Suddenly, we were three, albeit, cute hobos.   Eager to head out the door, mom taught us a song, “just in case someone asks you for a trick before they give you a treat”.  Now, as experienced Trick or Treaters,  we had never encountered anyone ever calling us on our offer of Trick–ever.  So, as usual,  mom, was “over” preparing us for something unlikely to happen.  Smart kids, we wisely patronized our mom, and learned the Trick, consisting of learning the song, “Side-By-Side”.  I still remember the words.

Though we ain’t got a barrel of money,

Maybe we’re ragged and funny.

But we travel along,

Singin’ a song,

Side-by-side.

After enduring mom’s music lesson, we were off.  Typically, we ran down to the end of our block, working our way back toward our house, stopping only briefly for updates and the latest reconnaissance from neighbor kids who’d already surveyed the sugar situation. Homes with Snickers–good.  Unidentifiable taffy–bad.  Nearly home, we stopped at a house located across the street from ours.  A lovely, little ol’ lady answered our knock.  Opening the door, and spying three little hobos, simultaneously we cried, “Trick or Treat”.   Opening our bags wide with anticipation, we fully expected the automatic dumping of treats into them.  However, with a rather sheepish grin, the dear lady muttered, “Trick first, then Treat”.  What?  You’ve got to be kidding–in all our years of Trick-or-Treating, no one had ever dared ask us for a trick.  Until now.  How did my mom know?  After the initial shock of her request, and the horrible realization that we’d have to perform in order to be rewarded treats, I started to sing, “Side-By-Side”.  Dumbstruck, my brothers mouths were wide open, but nothing was coming out.  So, instead of singing “Side-By-Side” as a trio, I was singing solo.  In retrospect, the song I should have sung was “All By Myself”.   Such is the plight of being the older sister.  As my solo rendition concluded, our neighbor lady finally rewarded us with many treats.  Proving once again, that mom is always right.

Today, we still celebrate Halloween, though a little differently than when I was a young girl.  One of my family’s favorite traditions is watching Disney’s version of “Sleepy Hollow”.  You just can’t beat Bing Crosby narrating and singing his way through Washington Irving’s Tale of Ichabod Crane.   We’ll also be enjoying fifty cent corn dogs from Sonic, along with a free Halloween-themed donut from Krispy Kreme.  I also keep a large bag of candy ready, just in case there are any Trick-or-Treaters.  And, if you happen to find yourself in my neighborhood on Halloween, beware.  Don’t say “Trick-or-Treat” unless you really mean it.   Now, go scare up some Halloween memories of your own!

Maybe You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

A Border Collie descending an A-frame at an ag...
A Border Collie descending an A-frame at an agility competition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What a proud moment this was for me.  I was attending my first graduation ceremony as a parent.  Like any other doting mom, I made sure that I had a good camera so I could take lots of pictures during this momentous occasion.  Of course, my graduate had to have clean teeth and brushed hair.  She looked absolutely radiant, the blue mortarboard delicately perched on her dark, wavy locks.  This was not just my triumphant moment–it was Rosy’s.

I eagerly snapped the proud graduate’s pictures, capturing the brightness and intelligence shining from her eyes.  Surprisingly patient through the first couple of pictures, Rosy, the graduate soon grew tired of the headpiece, and shook it off her head, throwing it onto the floor.  Most parents would have been mortified by this brattish behavior, but I laughed hysterically, as did the other parents attending the ceremony.  Thankfully, this was not the behavior of a defiant teenager.  No, this was the response of a confused, middle-aged dog during her graduation ceremony from Beginner Obedience Class.

It all began when my teenage son decided he wanted to get Rosy into Agility, after watching too many dog shows on Animal Planet.  After all, most agility champions are border collies, and Rosy was part border collie (we think).  She’s a rescue dog, so there’s no way to know for sure.  But, she’s got the distinctive black and white markings of a border collie, so, we figure she’s at least got a little bit somewhere.  The other part, is up for grabs (based on some of her habits, I’m guessing junkyard dog’s not too far off the mark).  Anyway, based on her possible border collie heritage, she had potential in agility.  Potential is the key word.  So far, her potential had only been explored as to how much food she could consume.  She demonstrated great ability in eating anything and everything that didn’t eat her first.  This “skill” netted her about ten extra pounds than the charts indicated healthy for her frame.

Despite her weight issues, Rosy did have other qualities that showed promise.  She chased squirrels and possums scurrying along our back fence with amazing speed.  Plus, in spite of some of her rather disgusting habits(remember the previously mentioned junkyard lineage), Rosy was quite alert and certainly intelligent.  Yes, the potential for a great agility dog was there.  The problem.  Rosy was six years old when my son decided to train her.  That’s forty-two years to you and me.

My son was persistent in his pleas, and we located a good school that was close to our home.  Proximity was important because Rosy was a very anxious traveler.  This was understandable since her only car trips resulted in multiple pricks and prods, humiliating explorations of every conceivable orifice (at the vet’s office) and the drenching, soaking, and clipping noise contraptions blowing hot air (at the pet groomer’s).  If those unpleasant events had greeted me after every road trip, I might need heavy sedation during car trips, as well.

We finally got Rosy enrolled in Beginner Obedience Training (the first step in the long journey toward agility).  And, we would soon find out if it’s possible to teach an old dog new tricks.  Our first class, the teacher recommended a pronged-collar for Rosy, since even my rather large husband could barely control her during walks.  We were assured that this collar did not actually hurt Rosy, but rather gets her attention for training purposes.  So, Rosy was fitted for a pronged-collar (which did, in fact, get her attention almost immediately).  We were also told to bring plenty of treats for her training.

The first class was awful.  Since my son was not yet eighteen, I had to stay outside the perimeter of the training ring, for insurance purposes.  Rosy and I go way back.  My son was only ten years old when we got Rosy, so I was the one who “raised” her.  I fed her, potty-trained her, and we ended up being roommates, even sharing a bed.  So, our bond goes way back and runs deep.  My son’s desire to train Rosy, however sincere, was only recent.  Prior to this training experience, Rosy had seen him as more of a playmate.  So, the transition from playmates to teacher and student was going to be tough, if not impossible, on everyone.

So, this first class was a bust.  Rosy whined and paced the whole class period, and kept looking over to me every five seconds, in hopes of a rescue, that was never coming.  And, I must admit, it was hard sitting idly, trying to remain nonchalant while my “baby” was being jerked around and chastised.  But, I began to notice something rather remarkable.  It was working.  Rosy was beginning to respond to my son’s commands.  The teacher brought in her dogs, who were extremely impressive and well-trained, of course.  Watching her work so well with her dogs, gave us hope and a vision that perhaps with persistence, hard work, and a little luck, our dog, too, could be one of those dogs receiving admiring glances from other envious dog owners.

But first, some of the dynamics in our home involving Rosy’s care would have to change in order for success to be possible.  First, my son would have to be Rosy’s primary caregiver.  He would need to start feeding Rosy.  Wow!  This would indeed be a monumental change in our normal routine.  I had not only been feeding her, but I even made Rosy homemade food.  This would be the second change.  My food, along with the indiscriminate tidbits of food which “happened” to drop from my husband’s plate, would, of course, have to stop.  The teacher mentioned Rosy’s girth (See my earlier post, Leftovers: Chicken Ala Compost Heap) confirmed by a subsequent vet visit.  Rosy was definitely overweight.

So, Rosy and my son began working together almost every day.  I’d try peeking out the patio curtain, so as not to distract the “master” at work.  I was amazed.  My son was giving Rosy commands, and she was following them.  It was a beautiful thing to witness their teamwork.  Both of them focused on the same goal–working together.  Before long, my son would take Rosy for walks around the neighborhood.  A truly amazing feat in itself, since prior to obedience training, Rosy was affectionately referred to by some of our neighbors as “Taz”, short for Tasmanian Devil–completely appropriate given her behavior prior to training.

Now, however, my son and Rosy are poetry in motion.  Rosy, walking perfectly aligned by my son’s side.  Stopping when he stops.  Waiting until the moment he admonishes her with a quick “let’s go” and their off again, on their astonishingly peaceful sojourn around the block.  What a triumph for both of them.  That my son can actually walk Rosy around our neighborhood without fear of Rosy going AWOL or being charged with disturbing the peace.

Yes, this was indeed progress.  My son proudly reported that they had strolled calmly past a busy garage sale and an unsuspecting patron had remarked what a lovely dog Rosy was.  It made my son proud, and it made me proud when he told me the story.  Proud of both of them–my teenage son who had gladly, and somewhat naively, taken on the responsibility of training our middle-aged, heretofore, stubborn female border collie mix dog in hopes of some day competing in agility.

Which brings me back to the graduation ceremony.  When my son accepted the Certificate for Beginner Obedience Training, it was a very proud moment for all of us, especially for Rosy.  This experience taught my son to be more responsible, our dog more adaptable, and me to believe in miracles.  It’s been awhile since Rosy’s training.  Since then, my son’s gone on to college, and I tend to be the one caring for “my girl” these days.  Because of my son’s hard work during training, though, I’m able to walk Rosy around the neighborhood.  Eleven years old, Rosy has yet to appear on Animal Planet, though, we did see a dog show recently, and one of the stars was a twelve year old dog, so, who knows.  But, even if she never competes, Rosy and my son are already winners in my book.  Apparently and amazingly, you can teach a young man responsibility, and maybe even teach an old dog new tricks.