Friday, May 20, 2011

My Brother was a Hobo

My brother was a Hobo when Mom and Dad first met him. It was over at Grandma Toots' house and he had been walking around the neighborhood for a few days. Daddy pulled up in his lemon colored caddie and Mac took notice. I don't know if it was the color of the car or the smell of the leather...but Mac sat across the street and watched Daddy putting some oil in the car's engine.
   Mother was there to care for Grandma Toot;s that was before she came here to live for a while. Mom decided right away there was something wrong-- a pretty small dog was not suppose to be wandering. She watched Mac come closer and closer to the car to watch Daddy. So, mom took a few treats and went down to the driveway.
   She looked Mac in the eye and asked him if he was lost. He just stared at her. She told him it was time to come in and get some food and water. She put down the treats like a trail and he followed her in the house munching all the way.
  Grandma Toots lived up a very high hill from the railroad tracks and when Mac got in Grandma's house he started to tell mother all bout his trips around the country on the train. He was a Hobo and he would stay with mommy and be a good inside dog, but he was a Hobo and at any time he would have to get out his stick with the red bandanna attached to it and move on.
   I wasn't born yet, but mommy knew how to care for a lost doggie. She did a search of the Humane Society, the papers and walked him around Grandma Toots' neighborhood with no luck. She thought for sure a family would be missing him and did a poster...but after two weeks she decided he would have to stay with her.
   He was wild...part Westie and part Schnauzer meant his terrier genes were boiling. He dug up her lawn and chewed her flowers, he chewed Daddy's slippers and Mom's fancy purse. He went potty on furniture and barked way to loud at the front door.
   Thank goodness my Mommy knows how to tame Hobo's. Slowly he learned to have an inside voice and not to destroy things. He learned to to fetch a ball and play with his toys. He learned how to walk on a lead without pulling too hard and he learned how to sit nice and quiet to take treats.
   By the time Mommy adopted me; Mac was very new man. His Hobo days were long behind him...but he still showed me his backpack and bandanna stick in the closet. Mac taught me about Hobo stew and how to chase away anything bad from our yard. Mac taught me about how to sit in just the right spot in the sunshine to get warm but not to hot. He also shared how to drop a treat and lose it so mom gave him another treat and then he would find the first one...brilliant.
   Mac and I spent everyday in front of the window by the front door just checking out the other dudes in the neighborhood. Every once in a while Mac would escape the back yard...and he would run like the wind...but Daddy would just get in the old yellow caddie and drive down the street and Mac would come running to go for a ride. He was a cool guy and even though he thought PINK was the color of dirt...he loved me and kept care of me. He was always my big brother...he lived with mom for 15 years and she thought he was about 2 when he had arrived.
   Mac has been sick for quite some time he took his Hobo stick and bandanna from the closet and went over the Rainbow Bridge. He wasn't sad; he said he missed the guys that he used to ride the rails with and he was going to join them on the road again.
   I am still sitting by the front window watching for Mac to return...I think I could see the red bandanna from far off..but I have seen nothing yet. Mommy and Daddy are sad but Mac knows his way around. He will get tired of traveling and come back one day...ready for a ride in Daddy's yellow caddie. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sourdough Summer and Stress Reliever

Auntie Bess and how to make her sourdough starter by francy Dickinson

Auntie Bess - Alaska Sourdough Starter

   Auntie Bess was just twenty in 1910 when she decided to leave her Washington State home and travel to Alaska. She was recovering from a personal loss and she wanted adventure. Well she picked the right place to have adventures; Alaska was still a wild and crazy place in those days. When she hit Anchorage, there were no jobs for a “lady” in the small town. So, she signed up to be the cook in a big logging camp!

   From a life of ruffles and privilege, she snapped her fingers and starting wearing pants and flannel shirts. She traveled 2 days by boat and horseback to the logging camp. She was the only cook for dozens of hard working lumberjacks and that meant learning how to use Sourdough. It was a flavor that they liked and it would lighten up biscuits, flapjacks, cobblers and the daily staple of bread. Suddenly she had to be an expert in how to keep men’s tummies full and tempers mild.

   Her stories of her time in the bounty and beauty of Alaska are the stuff that I have filled my mystery book series with the last couple of years. It was fifty years later that I came into my great aunt’s life and she started to share her recipes from “the old days” with me. Sourdough is something that is easy to do and a no brainer.  No matter how busy I am, I often need to break away to just do something trivial. So lately, I remembered sourdough and I started up a batch. Now each weekend I get it “cooking-up” with bubbles and add it to another delight.

   The sourdough starter takes a week to make. You stir it up and the bubbles and smells will bring Alaska or San Francisco memories into your mind. It’s smell is sour/sweet and it’s taste is rib sticking good. I don’t think a lot of people know about sourdough any more. Or maybe they just buy the bread and forget the flavor can come from your own home cooking. It only takes a bit of your time to make the starter and then you can enjoy it’s bounty for the rest of the summer.  Camping, boating or just the porch off your kitchen…the smells and rich tastes will be a treat.

   Sourdough does not have to be just bread. Bread takes a few hours to make and you have to want to learn that process. But you can still enjoy it in small ways in your normal baking…by just adding a dollop of sourdough. It will transform the normal biscuit into heaven for you and your family. You can drop it in biscuits, pancakes or waffles. You can use your recipes from scratch or put it into an easy baking mix (like Bisquick). Simply add a bit of sourdough and give it a few minutes to “cook” -- before you use it as you always do. The results are a wonderful aroma and yummy flavor.

   I will give you the tips to an easy sourdough starter…so you can try it. As you read this take note; I have a very high stress - busy life, I do this type of project to relax my mind and reconnect with my wonderful memories of love and family through food. Even if you are new to baking or cooking…think about trying this process as something to do just for yourself…for fun. No one is grading you…it will add a kick to your usual weekend breakfast. It will take your mind back to our great grandmothers and aunties and how they lived their lives baking the staples of life, every day. We will be doing it for a fun but they did it for necessity.

   You will need something to keep the sourdough in and I use a Tupperware measuring bowl with lid. You can see it in the above picture. Look around, this can be a fun tag sale hunt. You can find a Tupperware or glass container with pouring spout and lid out there or use a smaller crock. You do not want to use anything with metal; it will impair the sourdough starter. So even when you stir it; use a plastic or wooden spoon.

   Once you have your container you need to boil up some potato water. Take three regular potatoes- peel and cut them into cubes. Then put them in about 1quart of water with about 1tsp of salt and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes like you would when making mashed potatoes…but you are going to use the water, not the potatoes. Once the potatoes are done and falling apart…strain them off and keep the liquid. Do not be worried if some potato bits are still in the water…that’s ok they will be “eaten” by the starter.

   Now, in a large mixing bowl add in 1 ¾  cups of all-purpose flour (Yes some use whole wheat or rye flour, but we use regular flour) Follow that with 2 Tbsp of sugar, ½ Tbsp salt and the potato water. Stir using wooden (or plastic) spoon. Do not over stir just get it incorporated, the starter will eat the flour. The starter should look like thick pancake batter, if you have to add more flour do it slowly. Then pour the it into your “starter pot” to ferment.

   Remember it takes 7 days for it to “cook” just sitting out on your counter. You can cover the top with a paper towel or cheese cloth. It has to breathe with the yeast in the air, but you do not want fruit flies enjoying your work so keep it covered lightly. Every day for a week you are going to stir it and let it bubble. It will start to smell sour soon and it’s fun to watch it work. After three days add ¼ cup of flour and ¼ cup of water and stir and let it just bubble on for another few days. By the 7th day you have a very sour smelling starter ready for you to use…so on this day…do something odd. Stir and incorporate the liquid and solids and then pour out ½ the starter. Now add in 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water and a tsp. of sugar and let it stand once again over night. That is called refreshing the pot. The next morning it will have big bubbles in it and smell so good…now-- it is ready to use.

   Using your favorite recipe or a baking mix (like Bisquick) measure out the dry ingredients and stir the sourdough and measure out  ¼ cup of the starter and then add the liquids. Add the liquids slowly; you might need to use less since the sourdough has softened up the dough. Let the dough stand for about 10 minutes for the sourdough to start to work on the batter. It will have small bubbles in it and it’s ready to use. Now you go ahead and make your biscuits, pancakes or waffles like you have done before. But when you bake or fry them up…they will have a heavenly aroma and wonderful flavor. (If you want a stronger flavor use ½ cup of starter)

Sourdough bread fresh from the oven for Georgie
   Every time you take starter out of the “starter pot” add in equal flour and water with a pinch of sugar back to the pot to replenish the fermentation. You can put it away in the refrigerator until you want to use it again.  Get the starter pot out the night before you use it…or early in the morning and let it come to room temp. Remember when it comes out of the refrigerator you need to pour out a bit and re-stoke the pot with equal parts flour and water and let it sit for a couple hours or overnight to bubble up. (Caution you do not want to cover the starter pot and not let it slightly air…closed tight it will build up and explode with starter all over your counter or fridge)

   It is easier than you think and a big surprise for your family. The smell of sourdough pancakes will get your family up earlier on the weekends. I know you can do it. Auntie Bess was a young woman with no cooking history when she arrived in that lumber camp. She looked at over 100 hungry faces and knew that she would have to “just get to it” and she did- a true Pioneer woman. I think there is still a pioneer inside of you, too. Just get to it. 

Happy Sourdough Summer…francy
  *Francy Dickinson, is the author of The Crescent Island Mystery Series – coming, Summer 2011
  *Member of BookPubMeetUp, a support group for writers- if you’re interested in joining us send a tweet to @MysteryCozy

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Missy's Birthday Tea Pawty

"My birthday last year was great but lonely...only Hello Kitty came"
   OH boy, mother is going to bake up goodies for my birthday Tea Party and you are invited! I just love parties and I really love tea Dollie always joins me, too. This year, I want a fun party and you are invited. I really want to share my birthday celebration with all the anipals that have birthdays in May...and...this is important --> all the adopted anipals that don't have a known birthday date.
    Please ask them to adopt my birthday time and come and join me in a birthday celebration each year. I already have a few adopted pups and cool cats that are sharing my birthday. This way...we all have our special day together...for fun.
   This is going to be a party that we all join in together...and drink tea, eat treats...and maybe have a few bacon beers (served in tea cups) just to celebration the day. PAWTY...PAWTY...PAWTY
   Have you joined an anipal pawty before? Well its a see you just go to and click on the PARTY BUTTON then you click on the HASHTAG #MayTpawty and then add your own @name and you will then be inside the pawty with us all. You will see two is your tweets and the mentions that just belong to you. The other is the pawty and all the anipals that have joined it. It is so much fun. You have to have the security on your twitter account off (some anipals protect their tweets) this is turned off so you can SEE and have fun at the party...after you turn it back on again if you want extra safe tweets. this date
May 6th, Friday
4-7PM eastern time US...
That means the UK and the Westcoast can all pawty too!
To RSVPjust click this

The tweet invite site will put your name on the list for the makes it more fun to know who is coming...
OK now you have the how to's---the party ---the day ---the time---the RSVP page
All you have to do is be there with us..please come...lets blow the socks off and just enjoy being friends together!

You can bring your dollie to the Tea Pawty but your mother has to stay in the Green Room with all the other mothers...we will have a wine bar and chocolate to keep them busy...but the pawty is just for us anipals...

I am so excited...Oh, by the way...if you want to give gifts...just do me a favor and donate to your fav charity in honor of anipals that need their own forever homes and wonderful twitter friends.

   Please spread the word- I want all anipals to have a birthday time that is fun and special just for them. If you know an adopted pet...bring them along and honor them for their special day each year.

Thanks for all you do for me....I am so the way...the #Pink Pups (my bestest friends) will be pouring tea and @SnowyWestie will do the security...the pawty will be safe and sound for us all. Missy
PS: I hope to be surrounded by gentleman callers ;O
"Pinkies Up"

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Valentine Surprise from francy

It’s a strange road you lead when you are a full time caregiver / spouse. The days seems to fill with things that have nothing to do with you…but are so important that you find there is little time left at the end of the day…to be you. That was how it was going after the holidays. It was time for George to start his treks to his various doctor appointments. Getting the appointments getting George ready for and to the appointments and then the regular daily chores seems to blur the months together.

I found that it was Valentine’s Day. I had planned a lunch out with my sister and her husband so George would feel the change in the daily routine. Before I got up…George had left the bedroom early and gone to the kitchen to prepare his tea and bagel. His routine for breakfast has been set for quite some time. I have been pleased that he wakes each morning to remember the routine. But as the months go by the routine has been changed from a breakfast and tea for us both…down to a toaster bagel and tea just for him. I’m fine with that, the doctor has advised he keep doing small chores and the easy breakfast keeps his mind ticking away. Sometimes he leaves the tea on a forgotten counter, or the bagel in the toaster, but it’s the thought process that counts.

So I was happy when he returned with tea in hand and warm bagel wrapped in a paper towel and said; “Happy Valentines Day, Francy.” It was a pleasant surprise that he had remembered the day without my coaching him. I wasn’t feeling well. A small allergy had blown into a sinus infection with swollen itchy eyes…so I was nursing myself and feeling totally off the beam. But the tone of George’s voice brought me back to the blessing that I still have him by my side and he still remembers my name and the extra special day.

Oh, the years that have gone before were so different. George was quite smitten with Valentine’s Day. He would always bring me a sweet piece of jewelry; some years expensive and other years modest…but a remembrance that I still cherish to this day. He would have a fancy card, flowers and usually a dinner out. Sometimes we would go to a special Valentine function or dance and he would dress to the nine’s in his tux or dinner jacket. I remember all those years; I have to remember them because he has forgotten them. So, I often remind him of one of our sweet adventures when he is in a sour mood. And I remind myself when I join him in a particularly difficult day.

I got up that morning and wrapped myself in my robe and grumbled to myself as I scuffed my way down the hall to the kitchen. Thinking of making my own tea and taking a bevy of pills and eye drops to get myself well again. As I rounded the corner and entered the room…there was a large piece of paper propped up on the counter by our fish tank. At first I couldn’t really focus on what it was because my eyes were so swollen and so I had to move closer to view it.

There in front of me was a handmade Valentine card from a man that does not have an ounce of art talent in his body. I cried of course; cried tears that really had more meaning then just the card he had made, the tears were for how even when our life has changed so much…there is still love.

George had asked me to take him out to get a card that week. But my eyes were so bad I did not want to drive. I had told myself to remember to ask Cheryl to help him do a card for me on the computer, but that had also gotten forgotten in the midst of the daily routines. So when George got up that morning he was without a card and decided to take the matter into his own hands. He went up to my office and found some art paper and came down to the kitchen and found an ad flyer on the table with gifts for Valentines on it. He carefully cut out the jewelry from the ad and glued it to the paper and made his own card. I suppose when you read this you think it was a sweet thing to do. But you would not understand the many steps all of this took…it took him a couple of hours to do the project. While I was sleeping he was busy cutting away and pasting. He had to put all the thoughts together, remember the tasks, find the objects to cut, glue, and paste and then put a theme of a card together. It was by far the most complicated task that he had done in months. There were not tears of sadness and loss…for once, there were tears of joy for his creative self that was trying so hard to come to the top of his brain.

I have said it before but I feel my mother put it in words that I shall always relate to; as she aged into her 100th year she said she was becoming so upset with her daily regression. She shared with me; “Remember how a young baby starts to learn things and every day the mother is filled with pride and joy at a new ability the child has added? First it’s the baby’s eyes begin to follow movement, then they turn over, then they hold up their head and start to sit. Then the crawling and walking and talking come and you can barely keep up with the changes. Each new step is a mother’s rejoice. Well I am doing just the opposite. Each day I seem to lose ability. Little by little I can feel my body go backwards, getting weaker and weaker.” That is how it is now with George’s brain, day by day little pieces of his brain retreat and he becomes less of who is was as a person all his life. But this time; he was able to reach down and become something more. It was a joy on a day that like all other days except for its name of St Valentine’s Day. I think somewhere mother is rejoicing in George’s day of creative power…and certainly St Valentine is giving us a wink.

There will be a Valentine’s Day that I will be without George and when that day comes I am not going to remember all the fancy presents, flowers and dances he used to take me to…nope. I am going to remember this card of love that he worked so hard to piece together step by step…so he could reveal his love for me. How lucky am I?

George reading while I work in my office with little Mac on his lap

Friday, January 7, 2011

Cards to Give Me francy

I got so many sweet cards this holiday...and each one meant something to me. I adore cards and I have a special guest bath that gets all my favorites highlighted and placed on the wall.
The fun one this year was from @PrincessGwenie. It was a pop-up of dancers and is so cleaver. Then there are the photo cards of dogs and cats that are so cute you want to lick them off the page. I love Santa's but the old fashioned snow scenes are wonder full too. Every time a card arrived during the holidays I put it up on the calendar on our wall in the kitchen for all of us to enjoy. George looked over them and kept forgeting who was who and where they were from. He must of touched and read each one dozens of times during December.
My little guest bath has cards from years and years. Old fashioned cards that came from my mother and sister that have now passed. Oh there is also a card from a gal pal that I adored and she is now gone, too. But to me, each time I look at the card I remember the person and time of receiving it.
I guess my heart is way over done with this memory stuff...but some times when things are so busy, so stressed and so so sad with my Georgie's care...I like to retreat back to times of pure love. Times when the cards came from special gifts picked out just for me and signed with big script and hugs.
Did you know they are going to stop teaching script cursive in school? Can you imagine? Well not that mine was every anything special. But my parents had wonderful hand writing and a dear friend of my mothers...we called her Aunt Harriet had a script that was worthy of a Queen.
I save things like I can see the handwriting over and over again. My sister that passed used to write me notes and I have them tucked here and there to read when I need a hug of love. Its hard to believe that a card can bring so much love to someone, but it can.
For my birthday on the 1st of January...George wanted to buy a card for me. He had had a hard holiday and I knew he was not up for a trip to a busy store so I set up my computer on a print program. I have one that will do cards and simple things. I crossed my fingers and left him in front of my big screen and hoped for the best. So, on my birthday I opened up his card. He did such a wonderful job. He picked a light pink rose and sweet saying for the inside. Then he took a piece of my Hello Kitty stationary and wrote a little note and tucked that on the inside. Since George is sliding down with his Alzheimer's I do not think this project will ever be to me, his card was like a ray of love. I put it on my little table and I just glance at it and feel his caring surround me.
When my days are filled with sad things...I can escape into that little bathroom and be surrounded by cards filled with loving thoughts and signed by people who care about me. It just reminds me; that I am loved and it gives me a boost to go back out to my life of care giving and start again with a fuller heart.