Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Legacy of a Jellybean Giver

While sorting through some piles of paper in my home office this week, I stumbled upon a neon green piece of paper that had a title at the top of "The Legacy of a Jellybean Giver." I recognized it as a copy my mom had given me a few years ago of an essay I wrote in high school about someone who had influenced our life in one way or another.  This was the story I wrote about my sixth grade teacher, a wonderful woman by the name of Mary Clarke.

I decided to share the story with you all.  Please note that I typed it into this blog as an un-edited version for authenticity sake. There are some grammar and langauge edits I would make if it were my writing of today ... but for this post I have typed it just exactly as I submitted it to my high school English teacher years ago ...


The Legacy of a Jellybean Giver

I wandered into the classroom, absolutely terrified of the woman sitting at the desk in front of the room, who I had heard so many horror stories about. My classmates and I glanced worriedly at each other, wondering how we would ever survive nine months with this woman.

That was the first day of sixth grade. The "mean old woman" was Mrs. Mary Clarke, who not only grew to be our favorite teacher, but our best friend. From the first day we entered her classroom as terrified students, she taught us lessons that we would grow to remember forever.

The first thing I remember about Mrs. Clarke was the way she always sat at her desk, chewing her gum and sipping her coffee. None of us could understand why she could chew gum, but if we did, she made us write one hundred sentences - "I will not chew gum in class." Her reason? "Because I am the teacher." She definitely was.

She made up for her gum-chewing, though. Once a week, she would let us have map races, where we would go up to the chalkboard to find a certain place in the world. The first person to find it got a point for his/her team, and in the end, the winners got to pick a jellybean from her beautiful gold jellybean jar. After the winners picked their treats, the other team picked theirs, also. I think this was a very important lesson for her to teach us: that no one is a loser - everyone, in his own special way, is a winner.

Another thing we dreaded about Mrs. Clarke's class was her timed math tests. We absolutely loathed them. The second she said "Go!," our minds drew a total blank ... suddenly answers to problems we had known in first grade were lost somewhere in the back of our minds until after she told us to stop. Little did we know, she was teaching us the basics of time management. When I was a young and innocent sixth grader, Mrs. Clarke was teaching me about the same thing that I need to use every day.

Mrs. Clarke also made us memorize and recite poetry. I can remember practicing those Robert Frost poems over and over - not understanding what I was memorizing, but yet learning important pieces of American literature. As I stood in front of the class, with all eyes on me, I would silently yell at Mrs. Clarke for putting me through this torture. We all dreaded these monthly poetry recitations but later found out that she was only trying to introduce us to the beautiful pieces that we would later study and analyze in high school English classes.

Mrs. Clarke had a wonderful sense of humor. She was about sixty years old but always joked about being born "back in '02!" She told us about how she really enjoyed teaching us, because she didn't know how many years she would have left to teach.

Two years later, when I was in eighth grade, Mrs. Clarke was diagnosed with lung cancer. There was nothing doctors could do - it was only a matter of time. Her class, as mine would have been, was devastated. They had to spend the last four months of their year with a substitute teacher, only hearing daily reports of how Mrs. Clarke was doing.

I can remember that the whole elementary school made signs and went outside and told her, on the school's video camera, that we loved and missed her. I will never forget the sign my class made her - it didn't have any words on it, just lots of beautiful, delicious jelly beans - just like the ones Mrs. Clarke used to give us.

As she watched the video we made for her, while she was lying in her hospital bed, I can only imagine how Mrs. Clarke felt. That video on which all of her students stood and told her how much she meant to them and taught them probably made her feel sad, proud, and happy all at the same time.

Mrs. Clarke passed away two months later, and I can only hope that she realized the amount of inspiration she gave to all of her students. She taught me many things that I will remember for the rest of my life. First of all, she taught me that you can't judge someone before you know who they really are - the mean old woman of whom I was terrified on that first day of school turned into a wise friend who I trusted very much. She taught me about truth, love, sadness, understanding, and many other things. Finally, in her death, she taught me to make the most of any situation, because even as she was dying, she was touching people's lives and will probably continue to do so in the lives of anyone who knew her.

When I hear that song "Candle in the Wind," by Elton John, I am not reminded of Marilyn Monroe or of Princess Diana. I think of Mrs. Mary Clarke, my sixth grade teacher, whose "candle burned out long before the legend ever did."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Vacation 2012 - Days 15-17

North Carolina to South Dakota and Back 2012

(Days #15-17 - July 14 to July 16)

This is my official 'last' blog entry about our vacation. This one includes days 15-17, which started with leaving Nashville, IL on the morning of the 15th to get back on the road "again". We started with a stop at the local gas station, where the cashier insisted upon making fresh coffee for us and then filling our 24-ounce mug and I-don't-know-how-many-ounce thermos both full to the top for a mere $3.00.  We then stopped at McDonald's where we not only paid $10 for two egg sandwiches and a large smoothie, but were asked if we wanted grape or strawberry jelly.  I'm still not sure what exactly the woman thought we needed jelly for, unless there is some new "eat jelly on your egg sandwich" fad that I'm not yet aware of.  Regardless, we were back on the Interstate by 8:00 a.m., which seems to be the earliest we can get on the road no matter how early we intend to leave.
Most of the day proceeded without incident. We drove through Kentucky on I-64 instead of going through Tennessee on I-70 as originally planned.  The trusty (and sometimes not trusty) Google Maps on my phone said the Kentucky route was only 5 minutes further, and we had gone the Tennessee route 2 years ago, so we chose Kentucky this time.  It just so happened that I had "Blue Moon of Kentucky" on my iPod, so at one point we of course had to play that and sing along.
At one point as we drove through the mountains in Asheville (NC), we considered stopping to camp again for the night.  At that point though we were in North Carolina, and even though we were still 6 hours from Wilmington, we felt like we were on the "home stretch" and kept going.
Marshall and I have different driving techniques. I like to go about 75, he would like to go about 85.  We settle by me trying to push it and go 80, and him constantly slowing down each time I tell him, "Honey, slow down - 80 is fast enough."  Well ... at some point in Raleigh, at about 9:00 p.m., he told me I was going too slow and that it was his turn to drive.  So, a bit later we switched drivers.  A bit after that, we were on the actual "home stretch" - about an hour and a half from home - and I was tired of saying "Honey, slow down - 80 is fast enough" ... so then we saw some blue lights.  Poor Marshall got a speeding ticket, and we were only an hour from home. We made it that far across this country and back, and he got a speeding ticket an hour from home (for the record, don't tell him I'm telling you this, and also for the record, he was going 83 in a 70.) We got home at about 11:00 p.m.
Day 16 of our "vacation" was a bonus day, since we had planned to be driving all day but instead came all the way on Day 15.  So, we spent the day sleeping in, settling in, unpacking the car, working in the yard, attempting to clean SOME of the dog hair out of the rental car, taking the rental car back to the airport and having an awesome lasagna dinner with our neighbors. As I cleaned out the rental car, it occurred to me that I was cleaning out what basically had been our "home" for two weeks. I threw away the candy wrappers from all of the Atomic fireballs I ate while I was driving, found the quarter I dropped in the backseat while we were trying to pay at a toll booth, tried to remove a couple stains where the dogs somehow got tar on the seat, checked every cubby and hole in the car to make sure I got our spare change, my earrings, my phone charger ... it was kind of a sad feeling.  Then I took the keys to the 2012 Toyota Corolla, drove it to the airport and turned it in. The woman at the Hertz desk said to me when I gave her the mileage, "Did you really drive 3,268 miles over the past 14 days?"  I said "Yes ma'am, we did."
Day 17 was our official last day of vacation. I did some cleaning and organizing in the house and ran some errands in the afternoon.  A bit less exciting and a bit more like "real life."  Overall a great last day though, and time to go back to work!

Vacation 2012 - Days 5-14

* Note: This entry was written on July 13 in Nashville, IL but was not posted due to no Internet service to my cell phone in that area. Posted tonight (July 17) from my home computer.

North Carolina to South Dakota and Back 2012

(Days #5-14 - July 4 to July 13)

As I sit here at the picnic table at Washington County State Recreation Area, about 4 miles south of Nashville, Illinois just off Interstate-64, I am not ashamed to admit - but am admitting nonetheless - that I did not meet my goal of writing one blog entry per day during our vacation. I successfully wrote one entry per day for the first four days, and now here is my fifth entry, 10 whole days later.

So, here is what you are going to get. A 10-day summary in one blog entry of some highlights.

We celebrated the 4th of July in Ohio with Marshall's family, at Uncle Tom's farm. There was great food, company and fireworks, and the evening ended with the shooting of the cannon (a family tradition that started years ago with Marshall's Grandpa, and has been carried on by the family.) The night before the 4th, we all went up on the hill outside of town and shot the cannon off from up there at midnight, to ring in the holiday. Then the next night, on the actual 4th, we shot the cannon again at the farm. A very cool experience, and one that Marshall was able to catch on video so I could post it to Facebook for everyone to see.

On the 5th, we left Ohio to start the rest of our trip to South Dakota to see my family. We planned to stop at West Lake Campground outside of Davenport, Iowa for the night. However, when we got there it was only 4:30 p.m. and was 106 degrees, so we decided to keep driving. By the time we were ready to STOP driving, we were only about 4 hours from my Mom's house, so we ended up going all the way. We got there at about 1:00 a.m. after 17 hours of driving. Believe it or not, it went pretty quick!

Since we ended up getting there a day earlier than planned, we were able to spend the next six days hanging out on the farm with my mom, sister and nephew. Marshall got to go fishing with my Grandpa and my brother-in-law, again with my Grandpa, and again with my Grandpa and my uncle - they caught fish each time! You just can't beat some pan-fried South Dakota walleye (in my opinion).

On Friday night, the night of our arrival in South Dakota, Marshall wanted to light off some of his South Carolina fireworks for everyone. The dogs were outside, and though we knew that Dakota was afraid of fireworks, we didn't realize that Mattie was.  She tried to jump on my mom's lap at one point, and then she got down and went around the side of the house. About 5 minutes later I went to check on her and she had disappeared. Marshall and I split up and searched the farm for almost 2 hours with flashlights and calling for her. I saw two skunks and a coyote, but no Mattie.  I took a break to run inside and grab a drink of water, and happened to check my cell phone - had a missed call from a girl who was driving by on the highway on the way to her parents' lake cabin and found Mattie - on the highway FOUR miles from the farm.  We went to pick her up from the girl's cabin and she was so happy to see us - she had no idea she had done anything wrong or that she was a very lucky girl. We kept a much closer eye on her for the rest of the trip, and no more fireworks.

On Saturday night, Marshall and I got to go spend an evening cruising Lake Poinsett on a pontoon boat with some of my best friends (one of which was born on the same day as me in the same hospital, and two of which I went to school with from preschool through college - so we're pretty much family at this point). We drove around the lake on the boat, docked out at some of the fine drinking establishments around the lake and had a great time. There is something so comforting about hanging out with people you've known since you were 0-4 years old.

On Sunday, we had a family picnic at Lake Poinsett State Recreation Area with my extended family on my Mom's side - also a great time. My aunt and uncle brought their boat down and gave everyone who wanted them rides on the tube and waterskiis. I was awfully tempted so I could show Marshall my mad waterskiing skills from days past, but Mom gently reminded me that I could hurt myself, and what can I say ... I chickened out. Marshall will just have to believe that I had mad skills 15 years ago.

Also included in the trip was a shopping day to Watertown with Mom, Stacy and Camden, where we all found clothes and other things that I'm sure we couldn't live without. Mom and I also took a trip to Brookings, home of South Dakota State University and me from 1999-2002. We had lunch at George's Pizza (and though I'm not dedicating an entire blog entry to them like I did to Lisbon's Mary's Pizza, trust me when I tell you that it's got to be the best pizza I've ever had as well - just in a different way. YUM. Did I mention that pizza is my favorite food?) Anyway - we had lunch at George's Pizza with my aunt, uncle and cousin, and stopped by the SDSU Ice Cream store on Main Street afterwards for yummy made-by-students ice cream. Caramel Cookies and Cream ice cream in a cup, and chocolate peanut butter revel to go, anyone? Come on, it's ok to have both ... I only get to have it once in awhile. :)

Marshall and I also took a quick trip to the local gun shop, Kones Korner, which is where my dad bought many of his guns in his collection over the years.  Marshall was able to find some arrows for his bow at half price what he pays in Wilmington and I was able to speak with the owner, Vic, and remind him of who I was - the grown up version of the little girl who used to stop in with her dad about once a week and eat candy while my dad "shopped."

On Wednesday, we headed to Sioux Falls to have lunch at HuHot (another South Dakota favorite) with my grandma, aunt and cousins, and hung out at my sister's house that afternoon and evening.  We hit the road again to head back to North Carolina on Thursday morning ... drove about 9 hours, and ended up here at this cute little campground in Nashville, Illinois.  We were told that there are no poisonous snakes here (I asked) and no bears (Marshall asked).  We managed to lose Mattie again here for about 10 minutes, but some guy herded her back to the campsite on a moped.  *sigh*

We are back on the road tomorrow, and considering driving the remaining 14 hours so we can get home late tomorrow night.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Vacation 2012 - Day 4

North Carolina to South Dakota and Back 2012

(Day #4 - Tuesday, July 3)

Today, I am paying homage to a small family-owned pizza joint that calls the rural Ohio town of Lisbon home: Mary's Pizza. I first was introduced to Mary's Pizza almost five years ago, when Marshall first brought me to Ohio to "meet the family" for Thanksgiving, about seven months after we had met. While staying at his Grandma's house, for lunch one day everyone decided that we must have Mary's Pizza. I had heard of Mary's Pizza before and wasn't quite sure what the hype was all about. Let me tell you, the hype is all about the fact that Mary's Pizza is so ... GOOD.

The "plain" pizza with meat sauce consists of an awesome Chicago-style crust topped with a really sweet tomato sauce that is filled with ground sausage. You can order a sausage pizza if you want to, but you can actually get plenty of sausage just by ordering a plain one. (Vegetarians don't worry, if you don't want meat on your pizza you just have to say "no meat sauce"). The sauce is then topped with mozzarella.

Our other favorite pizza from Mary's (because you just can't decide between the two, is a "white" pizza. It has the same awesome crust, only this one is topped with an olive oil and garlic sauce, aged Parmesan cheese, banana peppers and finally mozzarella.

One other cool thing about Mary's Pizza is that you don't have to buy it cooked - you can tell them you want to take it home and bake it, so you can pick it up and cook it whenever you would like. They freeze well too, and about twice a year they successfully make a trip from their small shop in Lisbon to our house in Wilmington. Whether Marshall brings them back from a Christmas trip or his parents bring them during a trip to come see us, I can tell you that Mary's Pizza tastes even better in our house in Wilmington than it does here in Ohio - talk about a special delivery.

They are also open for lunch, and today for the first time I tried a chicken foccacia sandwich with basil mayonnaise, red onions, tomato and lettuce. An awesome sandwich but I have to say I think I'm partial to the pizza.

So, the moral of my story here is that if you are within an hour or two or even four of Lisbon, Ohio, Google "Mary's Pizza" and take a detour. You won't regret it. Just don't come on Sunday or Monday because they are closed, but otherwise come have lunch or dinner. It's so ... GOOD.

Vacation 2012 - Day 3

North Carolina to South Dakota and Back 2012

(Day #3 - Monday, July 2)

Let's talk about dogs today. As you know, we brought our two girls with us on vacation - Dakota and Mattie. Dakota has spent the past four Christmas holiday seasons up here in Ohio with Marshall and his family since I always fly home to South Dakota for Christmas, and Mattie has spent the past two here as well. So, they are comfortable at Grandma's house. And they are friends with Grandma's dogs. Ray and Nancy have a 12-year old beagle named Dedra and a 2-year old brittany spaniel named Annie.

Mattie and Annie are the kids of the group. They are best buds but also get mad at each other, and love to play all day but when it's time to rest and relax they go to their prospective big sister. I caught a cute snapshot today of Annie and Dedra sleeping on the chair together, while most of the time when they are awake they do their best to ignore each other.

Dakota and Dedra are the wiser older women of the group. Dakota still wants to act like she can play with the young dogs, which she can for about five minutes ... but Dedra is old enough to know better, and she just does her own thing and silently keeps the rest in line.

You might say - "Gosh, four dogs in the house at once - that sounds crazy." It does, doesn't it? They actually do really well. The other night during doggie dinner time, I went to go help Nancy keep them all separated, and she has a system down. Plops one bowl down, says "You - here." Plops the next down, says "You - here." She does that four times, and each of the four of them LISTEN. Could have something to do with the fact that she makes them homemade chicken soup with rice, barley, chicken, carrots and green beans. If you are a dog, you better listen to the lady who is making that dinner for you - to reference the "Don't bite the hand that feeds you" cliche.

When someone comes to the door, they get an overzealous welcome from the four-dog posse. When we all leave to go somewhere, we get a farewell of crying and howling loud enough to carry through the air until we reach the car. When one dogs gets a treat, you can bet you better have four to give away.

In watching these guys all play together the last couple of days, I think I've decided that vacations and family time are just as important to dogs as they are to people. These guys are having so much fun.

Vacation 2012 - Day 2

North Carolina to South Dakota and Back 2012

(Day #2 - Sunday, July 1)

Tonight for dinner, Nancy made us one of our favorite "Ohio" meals - ham loaf. Until I met Marshall, I had never had ham loaf before and I had absolutely no idea what I had been missing out on for my whole life.

In Ohio, and I've since also seen it in South Dakota, the meat department sells the ham loaf. It's a mixture of ground pork and ground ham, which you take home and add some egg, cracker crumbs and seasoning to it, form it into a loaf and bake it like meatloaf. It is really tasty with Nancy's hot pepper butter/mustard on top, and even better when served with fresh Ohio corn on the cob (which is how we got to have it tonight).

Normally when Marshall comes back to North Carolina after spending Christmas in Ohio, a few pounds of ham loaf is on the list of "things to bring home from Ohio." Pork sausage is also on that list, which comes in both mild and hot and amazing in stuffed peppers. And, we can't forget the Farmer's cheese, which we can't even BUY in North Carolina and some of the best Farmer's cheese is made by the Amish folks in the area. Mary's Pizza is also on the list, but I think I'll write about that in a separate blog entry later this week.

Anyway - back to the ham loaf. When we get back to North Carolina, I think we may try buy some pork loin and some ham, throw them through our small electric grinder and make some of our own ham loaf. It will go perfectly with the two jars of hot pepper butter/mustard that Nancy added to our "pile" last night.

Vacation 2012 - Day 1

North Carolina to South Dakota and Back 2012

(Day #1 - Saturday, June 30)

We are on vacation. Marshall, Mattie (our beagle), Dakota (our golden retriever), and me. After an hour in the 103-degree airport parking lot Friday after work trying to decide which car was going to suit our needs the best for 52+ hours in the car together (all I wanted was a port that would let me plug my iPod into and air conditioning, but Marshall had more specifications), we were the proud renters of a 2012 Toyota Corolla for the next 16 days.

We loaded the car Friday night, and though the dogs were fairly certain that we were going to leave right afterwards and fairly worried that we might go without them, we got up at 4:45 a.m. Saturday and were out of the house by 6:00. Considering the goal was to be on the road by 6:00, the day was off to an on-schedule start.

I took the first leg of driving, which consisted of Marshall attempting to get the iPod to work, which I bought for this trip and while I did get it all loaded up with 16 MB of songs, I never actually tested it out or checked the settings. While I tried to drive and talk him through fixing it, we finally gave up after an hour and a half, pulled into the rest stop and switched drivers. After another hour of me in the passenger seat Googling why in the heck my brand new iPod wasn't working through the car speakers, I'm not quite sure what finally made it work but we got it. I just hope it keeps whatever settings we ended up with so it keeps working.

For the next several hours, Marshall drove us through the rest of North Carolina, up I-77 North through Virginia and West Virginia, while quite possibly everyone else who lives in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia was driving on I-77 with us.

At the West Virginia/Ohio border, we pulled into a rest stop so I could drive the rest of the way to Marshall's parents' house. Turns out that some bad storms from Friday night had knocked out the power to almost 1 million Ohio residents, and the rest area had a row of port-a-johns there for the day. While having some flashbacks to concert- and festival-going days of the past, I hesitated at the sight of them, but I survived and we got back on the road.

We arrived safely at Ray and Nancy's house at 5:30 p.m. to a steak dinner, fresh sweet corn on the cob and an evening of visiting with family and friends. Sure beats being in the car for 11 hours!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Thanks Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives!

I have four words for you. Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I love this show. Mr. Guy Fieri, thank you. Sometimes I watch the show when I'm in a cranky mood - and sure enough watching all of that yummy, tasty restaurant meal will make the bad mood go away. Sometimes I watch it when I'm hungry and get ideas for dinner. Sometimes I watch it when I feel like going somewhere, and I look at all the restaurants I would like to visit if I weren't sitting on my couch. Sometimes, on weekend mornings, I might watch it for 3 or 4 hours before I even realize what happened. Then I make something highly experimental for lunch. Anyway - the moral of the story here is, I love Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

My boyfriend and I both like to cook, and we almost always cook and eat dinner at home. It's cheaper, healthier, and well - we just like it better. He likes to watch the show for the "meat" ideas - he's the meat cook around here. I just like to watch it.
Anyway - last week we were watching an episode, and my apologies that I cannot remember the name of the restaurant, or the name of their special sandwich. Also my apologies that I can only credit Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and not the genius Italian restaurant owners who gave us the inspiration for our dinner tonight.  I can only say, if you are a fan of the show and you know the restaurant/sandwich name I am speaking of, please let me know and I will give proper credit.

Here's the deal. They made this Italian beef sandwich. They had a special name for it, but all I can seem to remember is that I think it started with the letter D. And it wasn't your regular old Italian beef sandwich with Italian seasoning and banana peppers. It was beef sirloin roast, simmered in marinara, and served on a hoagie roll.

Before I continue I have to apologize for my lack of photos in what you are about to read.  I have been an avid Pinterest member for the past three months and have pinned many recipes provided on blogs of my fellow Pinterest users.  All I can say is next time I try to post about a food concoction, I will try to do better so you can see photos of it.

So, a few weeks ago at Sam's Club, my boyfriend came shopping with me (which happens about once a year, thank goodness). He put a 2-pack of sirloin tip roast in the cart - it was two 4-pound roasts in a package for somewhere around $20. I'm sorry I can't remember the actual cost per pound - but it was reasonably priced.  We brought them home and froze them individually in freezer paper.

Yesterday, we took one of them out of the freezer to thaw. Today, my boyfriend put one in my Pampered Chef baker in the oven with a splash of water in the bottom, 1 chopped yellow onion, and 6 whole fresh garlic cloves. He cooked it at 375 degrees for 1 hour, then took it out and added 1 26-ounce jar of Joe's Great All Purpose Marinara (our favorite - no cholestorol, low in sodium, and yummy!) After he added the sauce, he turned the oven down to 275 degrees for another 3 hours, taking it out halfway through to break the meat up with a wooden spoon. 

In the meantime, I went out to the local bakery, Apple Annie's Bake Shop, on my lunch break and bought a loaf of homemade Italian loaf for $2.30 - just as cheap as at the grocery store, and I supported a local business instead of a large chain!

Fast forward a few hours, and we take the meat out of the oven and finish breaking it apart with the wooden spoon ... slice the Italian loaf into 6-inch pieces to be sandwich bread, while I boil some Linguini noodles.  While the noodles were draining, I sauteed some fresh garlic that I sliced with my Pampered Chef garlic slicer (which is one kitchen item I could not live without) in some Calolea Olive Oil from California, and after they were sauteed I added the noodles.

To prepare the sandwiches, we put some Havarti cheese (which was in our freezer for safekeeping after my boyfriend brought it home from a Christmas visit to his family in Ohio) on the Italian loaf, put the Italian marinara beef on top, and served the garlic linguini on the side.  The finishing touch? Canned hot peppers - family recipe - to top the sandwich.

It didn't turn out exactly like what we saw on Diners, Drive-Ins and Drives ... but thank goodness we gave it a try - it was tasty!

(Sidenote: If I had been the chef for today, I would have put the sirloin roast, water, onions and garlic in my Slow Cooker on low for 6-8 hours to cook instead of using the oven, and added the sauce halfway through.  I think the end results would have been very similar -- but we alternate "cook in charge" days around here so today we cooked it in the oven.)