Mom’s kitchen

Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food & Love, November 2011.

My mother’s kitchen was always filled with memories.

Through jobs and business ventures and busy days and tired nights, Mom peppered her cooking with bittersweet stories of the grandparents I never knew.

His strength, integrity and incomparable kindness; her boundless love, courage and support. She told me the stories of all the lessons she learned from them, stories about Jesus and sewing and loving your neighbor and, of course, cooking fantastic food.

I’m four years old.

Mom is always busy working, but she pulls down the big heavy mixing bowls and chooses the huge yellow one. It’s a baking kind of day. She gets out the big amber jar full of flour and lets me pack the brown sugar. My favorite part is when it all slides into the bowl in the shape of the little copper measuring cup. She shows me how to carefully separate the egg shell so no pieces fall in. We make the best chocolate chip cookies. We eat a few chips together while we’re mixing them, and she makes half with no nuts just for me.

She teaches me that sugar is a wet ingredient and how to multiply fractions and that if you pull the mixer out of the batter before you turn it off, batter splatters everywhere.

I’m six.

Mom gets me up in the middle of every night and carries me to the car. It’s time to make the donuts. She lays me in a lawn chair in the back of the donut shop and covers me with her jacket before she gets to work with dad. There, under her jacket and in the midst of all that hustle and bustle, I feel completely safe and secure. I get up and try to talk customers into playing Candyland with me before I catch the bus for school. I get to take donut holes for snack time. I’m everyone’s favorite snack-bringer.

I learn about friends and 80s music and that the way to anyone’s heart is through his or her stomach.

I’m seven.

I think that with a little water and some spices I find in the cabinet, I will make a delicious sauce just like the chefs do on TV. Mom teaches me to scramble an egg instead. Be careful of the gas when you light the burner. Carefully crack the eggs so no shell falls in. Keep stirring or the eggs will stick and burn on the bottom. Don’t leave the spatula in the pan too long or it will melt, and don’t use metal in a new Teflon pan.

I learn to get up before my mom to make my own hot breakfast and watch the news, cause that’s what grown ups do. And that when I fall asleep in my chair, mom will pick up my dishes and clean whatever mess I left in the kitchen without ever saying a word to me about it.

I’m 10.

Mom takes me to the grocery store with her every day to get the ingredients for endless casseroles, meat loaves and fried chicken byproducts. I complain a lot.

I learn about budgets, green stamps and that all that stuff tastes better than I would ever let on.

I’m 18.

I make my first solo fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, all from scratch of course, and I start a fire in the kitchen. My date offers to help from the living room, but I save the chicken and he’s none the wiser about the fire.

I learn that no matter how old and wise I get, my mom is never more than a phone call away when I realize I’m out of my depth. And, later, that they actually make mixes for things like mashed potatoes and gravy, but that that would be cheating and it probably wouldn’t taste as good anyway.

I’m 28.

For my birthday, I ask my mom to finally show me the trick to her famous pies for which there is no recipe. She shows me how to mix the ingredients for the crust, just as her mother showed her. She tells me that we’ll pre-bake these for cream pies but that you don’t do that for custard-style pies. We whip egg whites and double-boil pudding for hours.

I learn that regardless how detailed your notes, nothing can replace practice and an inherent knack, and that using my great-grandmother’s rolling pin, my maternal grandmother’s recipes and my paternal grandmother’s pie pan while cooking with my mom creates a feeling of connection I can’t explain.

I’m 30.

I finally pin my mom down on her homemade dressing and giblet gravy. Like the pies, she learned from her mother, and there is no recipe. She can’t tell me any specific measurements, but she can go on forever with that dreamy look in her eyes about how special it was for her mother to impart to her these same skills.

I learn that I really can pull together an entire holiday meal and that no matter how great a cook and wonderful a woman my grandmother was, she couldn’t have been better than my mom with all her love, devotion and ridiculously delicious food.

I’m 31.

I’m standing in my mother’s kitchen with her and my sister, my memories so thick I can hardly breathe. I’m helping her weed through a lifetime of collected utensils and appliances for their immenent downsize. Throw that away; sell this; keep that. Yes, sell all the new-fangled, modern plastic stuff. But I will never part with those multi-colored glass mixing bowls, the copper measuring cups, the old pie plates and baking dishes and cookie jars from my childhood. With my mom.

I learn that sooner or later, we all have to let go of the things, because the memories are now a part of who we are. But I also learn why my mom was always so happy in the kitchen. With her mom.

And now, no matter what happens, I’ve learned that my mom will always be with me in mine.

A Walk in the Sun

 

A Walk in the Sun

One of two features I wrote on our Oklahoma winery tour last year

Published in the Newcastle Pacer 2009.

A grape is like a child.

If given too much of what it needs too freely, it becomes spoiled, too full of its own juices to remain rooted in its intended flavor.

But when pushed ever so slightly, when forced to struggle to find the resources it needs to survive on its own, a rich and concentrated character develops, the deep, ecstatic bouquet of it pouring out whenever pressed.

Such a child is born for greatness. Such a grape is born to be wine.

Like a child, a grape doesn’t reach its potential in its first season. The older the vine, the longer the soft wood is allowed to commune with elements of the soil, the air, the water, the local birds and insects, the more firmly rooted the fruit’s flavor becomes in that region’s characteristics.

Grapes literally take on the smells, tastes and textures of their environments, giving themselves fully and openly to the region that hosts them.

In fact, a vine’s full potential is impossible to define, because each year the flavor of the grape evolves with soil and water changes and new cross-pollination offered by friendly insects.
In the hands of a good viticulturalist, the grape should continue to grow richer and more complex each season, with no limit to its potential.

Grapes, like people, thrive in adversity. With ample water, nutrient-rich soil and temperate climate, the grape becomes lazy. The fruit grows large, bloated with the weight of excess water and gluttonous fertilizer. Its flavor is watered-down, weak and superficial.

When the soil is dry and unfertilized, the weather is hot, and the vines are given just enough water to survive, the vine has to display ingenuity and tenacity, reaching deep into the soil to find sustenance, soil that perhaps once hosted asparagus, or strawberries, or corn. Those influences become part of the focused, intense flavor of the fruit, concentrated by virtue of having no resources to spare on large, watery grapes. The perfect wine grape.

Gifted viticulturalists understand this balance. Like the perfect parent, they provide only the nurturing that is necessary for survival, making sure to give the growing buds enough space to learn life’s lessons for themselves. And the independent spirit of the vine responds with a confident, complex yet uncomplicated adult.

Now it’s the winemaker’s turn to dig deep. Passionate crafters treat winemaking like an art, guiding the sweet nectar of the wine grapes through the fermentation process, unlocking all those flavors that became part of the grape, and developing the good ones.

Just as lazy grapes produce diluted flavors, lazy winemakers produce harsh or superficial wines. You can’t really measure the quality of a winemaker by his years, although added experience can improve his know-how. Passion is what counts.

This became clear on a recent tour of several area wineries. In every case, the winemaker that just wanted to talk about his grapes and upcoming wines produced the best specimens.

Some, unfortunately, know very little about the grapes they grow, and in many cases don’t actually craft their own wines. Mercenary winemakers never produce as well as those that do it from the heart.

A great bottle of wine, like the grapes that form it, the artist that crafts it, and the individual that drinks it, is always evolving, changing, growing. The glass of wine you enjoy tonight would not have been the same any other night of its life.

So savor it. Know that this moment, this experience, this convergence of winemaker’s passion, grapevine’s growth, soil’s history, sun’s rays, and your mood in the glass in front of you, will never come again.

Interested in learning more? Visit http://www.agritourism.travelok.com and click “Browse for an Adventure” to see Oklahoma’s 53 vineyards and wineries.

The measure of a man

Published in the Newcastle Pacer March 18, 2010.

He was the last great cowboy in that classic line.

Like Gene Autry and Will Rogers without the celebrity.

He was born and raised in Oklahoma. He had six sisters, two brothers and parents who knew only hard work.

They farmed and ranched through dust bowl and depression and never took what they had for granted.

After his mother died, he and his dad were “baching it” long before it was cool.

When he found a girl he liked, her mother didn’t return the sentiment. But that didn’t stop him.

He wanted to take care of her. So they set out in the dead of night and got married by headlight at the county line, where the preacher consented to meet them.

But times were hard.

They moved west. He got work. They found Jesus.

He went to work for Southern Pacific Railroad in California and slowly worked his way up, bringing home enough to put food on the table and wood in the stove.

Their first house in Bakersfield was little more than a one-room shack. He added on a bedroom that let occasional snow, frost and dew in through the roof at night.

He worked hard through the years – 22 with the railroad – and raised three boys who carried on his legacy of honest hard work, sincere compassion and integrity.

But he never forgot his dream of returning to Oklahoma, the wide-open spaces of his youth, where he could raise his own cattle and crops. Where a good dog and a good horse would get a man through the hardest of times.

And that’s where I met him.

To the Cranfords, Rooster and the Hortons, he was neighbor, advisor and friend.

To me, he was a playmate, a cheerleader and a champion.

He was my Grandpa.

And last week marked the seventh anniversary of his death.

He taught me to break, saddle and ride a horse. He taught me how to call and feed cattle.

He taught me that the simplest joys in life could be the most gripping if you take the time to notice them.

We spent lots of hours sitting on the porch, eating ice milk and listening to the whippoorwills. The cows occasionally mooing in the distance. The smell of horse sweat and leather on the wind.

My ordinary world didn’t invade there, and now that I’m an adult, when I come back to silence, I can feel those days running through me like electric current.

I don’t think of the final years. His struggle to stay strong with no farm work left to be done. I don’t think of the eulogy I had to write or the rain the day of his funeral.

I go back to the sweet-smelling fields, the company of the birds and bugs chattering all around, the huge blue sky, horizon as far as I could see, and the man who showed me how a person could love it all so much.

And in the end, I guess the measure of a man is not how much money he collected or to what corporate heights he climbed.

In the end, the measure of a man is what he was able to leave behind, in the people who loved him.

That’s a legacy I’m proud to carry on.

One day more

Originally published in the Newcastle Pacer. 

Sooner Theatre cast soars in Les Miserables

I love theatre.

Really, I love pretty much all performing arts.

But mostly theatre.

That’s the main reason I became involved with the Newcastle Arts and Entertainment Council, and why I was so thrilled to hear about Newcastle Schools adding a high school drama program a couple of years ago.

I feel that any exercise in public performance and self-expression is healthy. In addition, theatre, whether it’s musical or not, can offer a different perspective on life in many ways, thereby changing the beliefs of audience, cast, crew and readers.

In other words, I believe theatre changes lives.

I could go on and on about the value of theatre, but let’s just say I’ll go to almost any theatre production, no matter what.

So when I heard that Norman’s Sooner Theatre was planning to produce the school edition of Les Miserables, I thought, “How cute. This will be nice. I wonder how they will cut the show and the vocal requirements down to fit the local talent.”

Oh ye of little faith.

You see, Les Mis is my favorite show of all time.

I’ve read the book, seen the professional touring company, memorized the International cast recording… I once even helped rewrite the lyrics to “At the End of the Day” to fit a musical revue about a band of gypsies.

So I was cutting the Sooner’s Young Producers a lot of slack. The group only allows kids age 18 and under, so there was no way we would get the world class soprano, tenor, bass and pop voices the main characters in the full production calls for.

Boy, was I wrong!

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

All of the main characters were absolutely fantastic. Some as good as any cast recording I have ever heard. They sang with feeling and acted with emotion.

Throughout the show, I was certain these were theatre majors from OU that had just slipped in under the age requirement.

But in reading their bios later that day, I found that every one of them had trained only at Norman or Norman North High School. None of them has even entered college yet.

I’ve heard of the legendary theatre departments large schools have. But I never knew they could be this good.

Norman Schools have made a real commitment to performing arts, that’s obvious. Theatre staff at these schools includes vocal coaches, acting coaches, directors, producers and stage designers.

I’d say it’s something I would have liked to take advantage of in high school, but the truth is, I wouldn’t mind going through that kind of training now.

The resources Norman Schools has put into its theatre department shows just how high potential can rise when excellence is expected and demanded at every level.

It’s certainly something for all of us to shoot for.

Congratulations to Sooner Theatre’s Young Producers, for pulling off the full cast, score and action of the biggest stage show I’ve ever seen.

Amazing performances included:

Caitlin Royse, junior soprano at Norman High, as Cosette; Colleen McLaughlin, 16-yearold sophomore, as Fantine; Riley Pierce, ’09 graduate tenor, as Jean Valjean; Chris Carbin, junior bass at Norman North, as Javert; Brooke Potter as Eponine.

And accolades also belong to Jake Eppenstein and Ava Maag as Monsieur and Madame Thenardier. They acted beyond their years to create adorable characters that filled the ever-important comic relief roles in Les Mis.

Bravo!

Rocky Spot Rescue under review

Originally published in the Newcastle Pacer May 14, 2009.

City enforces ordinance violations

Every Saturday, volunteers arrive at Chuck Crawford and Theresa Monnard’s home and dog rescue.

They clean everything from top to bottom, and take care of the animals that are anxiously waiting to find new, permanent homes.

The volunteers and financial supporters of RockySpot Rescue and Oklahoma Beagle Rescue come from all over the world – avid dog lovers who wanted to join Crawford and Monnard in their fight against abuse, neglect and overpopulation.

But the 12 volunteers present last Saturday added one more labor of love to their list. They took to the streets to gain signatures for a petition, asking for support of the rescue in its goal of helping curb pet overpopulation.

Why after all these years is a petition necessary? RockySpot will be the subject of a “use on review” hearing by the City of Newcastle and its Planning and Zoning Commission Monday, May 18.

A series of unfortunate events

The City’s review of the dog rescue stems from repeated noise complaints from a nearby neighbor and subsequent communication from his attorney to the City.

Zoning is also a concern for the two-acre property because dogs are kept inside Crawford and Monnard’s home and attached garage, as well as in the kennel behind the residence. The one-acre tract that includes the kennel is appropriately zoned agricultural (A-1), and the one-acre that the residence sits on is zoned residential (R-2).

According to a letter from Newcastle City Attorney Ted Haxel to Monnard, “kennels are not permitted in R-2 under any circumstances.” He went on to write, “I believe the other acre you own is zoned A-1. Kennels are allowed in A-1 but only as a ‘use permitted upon review.’ In other words, you would have to get permission from the City to maintain the kennel. This process starts with an application to the Planning Commission.”

The letter from Haxel is dated March 2, 2007.

Since that time, Crawford and Monnard have been consumed with a series of events that finally led them to file the paperwork requesting the Planning and Zoning Commission to perform the use on review hearing to determine if RockySpot can continue to operate in its current location.

RockySpot’s regular customers

Monnard explained that the dogs kept inside their home are her and Crawford’s personal animals, as well as rescue dogs that have special circumstances not appropriate for the kennels, such as blindness and other medical issues that require special attention.

In the case of Zoe, a black Great Dane, in the kennel she was always afraid and timid due to trauma. Since coming into the house, though, Zoe has really come out of her shell, Monnard said, which is very important in the adoption process.

Monnard said 40 dogs can be comfortably housed at any given time in her rescue. Anything more than that, she said, can be overwhelming and is not ideal.

The rescue currently houses 39 dogs.

Dealing with complaints

As for the noise complaints, she explained that several things have been done at the rescue for noise control, specifically to reduce noise from traveling to the east where the noise complaints are being voiced.

Along the east side of the property, two large metal storage buildings have been erected and fencing installed near the kennels that include outdoor runs. Lastly, the dogs are fed once each day, in the mornings, because feeding time is typically when the dogs can be the loudest.

Bark collars, which prevent a dog from barking by shocking them or sending out a high pitch sound, are one form of noise control that Monnard said she is not really willing to use.

“They are inhumane in prolonged use and must be used properly,” she said.

The Commission will take a closer look at all of the concerns and issues with the rescue when they discuss its review during their meeting Monday.

An Uncertain Future

Despite reassurance from city officials that they are not online to be shut down, Monnard, Crawford and all of their volunteers worry about the future of the rescue.

While the couple does not necessarily plan on operating the facility forever, they do want to make sure they can take care of the animals they rescue now, find them good homes with fences, and ensure they are spayed or neutered and routinely vaccinated.

“We know [where about 80 percent of the dogs we have placed in homes are] because we keep in touch with our dog owners and care about all of the animals we have placed,” Monnard said.

And it is that love that keeps RockySpot, Monnard, Crawford, all the volunteers, and the cast-off dogs they take in, going.

On Saturday, sitting on her couch surrounded by several animals, Monnard looked as if she were taking a moment to reflect on her future and the possible uncertainty she believes it might hold. She looked up to the bookshelf on the opposite wall where pictures and dog collars are collected of all the dogs that have passed since she started RockySpot Rescue.

She was there for almost every single dog when it died, and that is a process, she said, that never gets easier.

Each of her dogs, both living and deceased, are like family, and because of that, she will never forget them and never stop fighting for the ones that remain.

Cleaning, a labor of love?

Originally published in the Norman Transcript March 18, 2015.

2 Green Chicks more than just a maid service

House cleaning is a tough job, and one most of us don’t relish doing. But for one local woman, an opportunity to invest in a cleaning service became a labor of love for both her family and her community.

Amy Wiggs-King worked for years, building a corporate career in technology. Travelling for IBM as a consultant and trainer, she was on the fast track to success.

But in 2010, when she and her husband Paul had a son, Amy knew she didn’t want to be on the road while he was busy growing up.

“I wanted to go on field trips and pick him up from school,” she said.

So Amy did what so many dream of doing. She quit her lucrative corporate job and worked part-time answering phones at a local Norman office.

Within a few months, though, Amy had the opportunity to purchase 2 Green Chicks, a small, local cleaning service.

Although she was purchasing an established company, Amy didn’t have it easy.

“We basically purchased the brand and 23 clients, maybe a couple of vacuums,” she said.

In those early days, 2 Green Chicks was little more than a concept, run out of an employee’s garage. But Amy and her crew – the “chicks” as she calls them – hit the ground running and slowly, but surely, built that client base.

They quickly outgrew the garage and moved operations and supply storage into a 300 square foot office in the Park on Main office center at Main Street and 36th Avenue SW.

“It didn’t take long before we were tripping over each other there, busting at the seams,” Amy said.

So they expanded next door. But that space didn’t hold them for long, either. In October 2013, 2 Green Chicks moved into its current storefront in Park on Main, which affords them offices, a conference room and plenty of storage.

More than that, though, it offers them the stability and legitimacy Amy and Paul have poured into it from the beginning.

From day one, Amy set the tone for her company being very involved in supporting the community, through Norman’s annual Earth Day Festival and Summer Breeze Concert Series, and sponsoring Sam Noble Museum’s Eggstravaganza.

2 Green Chicks also partners with Cleaning for a Reason, a non-profit program that provides housecleaning services free-of-charge to women fighting cancer.

For Amy, this isn’t just an opportunity to be the boss and set her hours around her son’s schedule. It is her chance to build roots in the Norman business community, while providing a professional, responsible, environmentally-friendly service to her neighbors and friends right here at home.

“It pays pennies compared to IBM, at least for now,” she said with a chuckle. “I want to be a million dollar company here in Norman.

“I can see the pie in the sky, and I hope I can get there,” she said.

2 Green Chicks specializes in residential cleaning and home and office organizing services, using environmentally- and health-friendly products and methods.

“Our ultimate goal is to welcome you home to a clean space that is at once relaxing, rejuvenating, and stimulating to the senses,” Amy said.

Give the chicks a call to bring harmony, serenity and structure to any space. Visit www.2greenchicks.com for full details on their green cleaning products and practices and to learn more about their services.

Full Circle offers respite to caregivers, life to loved ones

Originally published in the Norman Transcript March 11, 2015.

If you are the caregiver or spouse of an elderly, disabled or memory-impaired adult, you know the difficulty and stress that can come with leaving your loved one at home alone.

Employment outside the home, errands, appointments, even grocery shopping can be difficult when serving as a full-time caregiver.

Oftentimes, leaving your loved one home alone is not possible due to concerns about safety, proper medication dosage, and nutrition. And loneliness and boredom can increase the likelihood of depression, which may affect mood and overall health.

If you are grappling with these issues, perhaps you’ve considered nursing homes or in-home care. Those are valid but costly options, and you may worry they will deprive your loved one of the feeling of independence and self-sufficiency they need to remain a vital member of the family and society.

Full Circle Adult Day Center can help.

Full Circle offers quality, professional adult day services and enhances your loved one’s ability to remain active and independent longer, while giving you the peace of mind you need to get things done away from home.

“Caregiving is so life altering, and it’s so all-consuming, that having even just a two-day break during the week is awesome for those people who really need it,” said Trish Ingram, Full Circle Director.

Weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., your loved one will participate in activities with his peers, increasing his ability to maintain, and sometimes regain cognitive abilities.

She will be able to choose from a variety of daily activities and develop friendships that can provide the support necessary to manage issues associated with aging. But best of all, your loved one will be able to remain living at home longer.

“It’s just really awesome to see that really quiet person come in and just blossom after just maybe like two weeks,” Ingram said. “So it not only helps the caregivers, it helps the participants as well.”

Full Circle serves two nutritious meals and snacks each day and is fully staffed with a care team of certified nursing assistants and a full-time nurse who monitors health and administers medication as needed.

“The culture here is so positive,” said caregiver Dennis Cariker. “The workers are just fabulous. Evidently, God has gifted them to be able to do what they do, because they have unbelievable patience and love.”

A rested caregiver is a better, happier, more effective caregiver. You need a respite, and perhaps time to work, run errands, attend personal appointments, and relax.

Let Full Circle give you peace of mind, knowing your loved one is in a safe, secure, and nurturing environment with quality peer interaction.

Day services at Full Circle could represent considerable financial savings compared to the cost of a nursing home or full-time, in-home care. Many participants are eligible for aid or scholarships, as well.

Full Circle also accepts VA Benefits, DHS and Advantage.

“This is an agency that can prevent you from going to a nursing home any earlier than you absolutely must,” said caregiver Grettie Bondy. “It’s a kind and gentle atmosphere that’s totally non-threatening, and everybody is helpful. So I feel safer leaving him here.”

All caregivers are welcome to attend a caregiving meeting on the first Tuesday of every month. Many types of resources are also available.

Visit Full Circle’s website at www.fullcircleok.org for more information, or call 447-2955 and ask about your free trial week.