By Eve W. Engle

The dogs rule in our house. They are fed first, allowed in our bed, have their own bed in the guest room and sneak up onto the sofas when we aren't looking. Maxie, short for Maximus, is a Golden Retriever/Great Pyrenes mix, Sammy is a Black Lab/Border Collie mix. His full name is Samuel L. Jackson after one of my favorite actors. Both were abused and rescued from their former owners. They get cookies every morning.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Joe, Sam, Tony, Mel and the General

Tuesday evening was quite an event in my little town of Auburn Alabama. It was the 45th anniversary of Ia Drang and the dramatic story of LZXRAY told in the 1992 book Lt. General Hal Moore wrote with author Joe Galloway. Both men were honored Tuesday evening by the mayor, the city management and citizens. Hal Moore is an icon of our town, but he is a greater icon of the U.S. Army, which extends into other services as was evident that evening when USA, USAF, USMC and USN personnel showed up along with us civilians to meet and share time with him. The general has other admirers too, namely the actors who portrayed him and his sergeant in the movie "We Were Soldiers" and his good friend Tony LaRussa the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. They each called in to speak to him and Joe. Sam Elliot's voice is a like a deep drum, thrumming melodiously. He seemed emotional and greatly honored by his association with the 88 year old hero. Tony was teasing. Mel Gibson, who portrayed the general in the movie was goofy but sincere.

From where I was standing I couldn't see all the activity. Little Boy and Eldest Son went with me and both got autographs. Little Boy, who has enlisted in the Navy, shook the general's now fragile hand. My proudest moment came when he purposely went and sat next to a combat veteral who was there in full dress uniform accompanied by his service dog. Little Boy quietly thanked him for his service and then walked away. The young man was seated but you could clearly make out the shape of two prosthetic legs under his uniform trousers.

Given the general's age we may never have another chance to meet him. He lives quietly now, and attends  regularly at St. Michael's Catholic Church but we are not members there. But it was one of those rare moments when I was really glad we moved here and they could look one of the greatest generals ever in the eye. And I could see my sons are men who he would also respect if they were his troops.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Divided House

We live in a divided house. My car sports a front tag that proves it.

You see I am a double graduate of the University of Alabama (BFA,MLIS). My father was a professor emeritis there, my mother is a triple grad from Bama (BFA,MFA, and EdD), my grandfather played football there, was a member of Skull and Bones there, and received his Law degree from Bama. My first husband and I met there while we were students. His twin brother is also a graduate. The "Bear" was the Athletic Director and Head Football coach during my entire childhood. My blood is definitely crimson.

But back in 1999 I set in motion the great "transformation". I had the audacity to take a job in Auburn, Alabama and move my three sons there. THEN two years later my ex-husband's sister decided she would also move here and finally finish her degree. Can you figure out where this tale is going?  It was I who is to blame!!!! Muuuhahahahaha! As a result all three sons have chosen to go to Auburn for undergraduate school (or at least started there since Little Boy decided to withdraw and enlist in the Navy). In fact Eldest Son graduated at the same time his auntie finished and they both walked the stage during the same commencement.

Now it gets a little more complicated. Eldest Son then turned around and went to Bama for graduate school. So that would make him the "Divided Man" in the "Divided House".

If you follow SEC college football then you know the "Iron Bowl" takes place right after Thanksgiving. That is the nick name we Alabamians coined for the annual meeting of the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide Elephants and the Auburn University War Eagle Tigers. Well that's not really what they call themselves, at least not the "Tide". Big Al the elephant is the mascot but they haven't ever called themselves "Elephants" the way Auburn says "Tigers". When these two teams meet anything goes. The team with the most wins leading to the Iron Bowl may not leave with the winning score that day.

So, what's a mom to do in a house full of Tiger fans on the day of the big game? COOK! And basically keep her mouth shut about whom she supports. Just for fun I thought about a menu for the big day. If we were a family who actually had our own tailgate party then this is what I would serve:

Bama Menu                                  
For an appetizer: Red and White Corn Chips with Sagan Salsa
Elephant Burgers (supersized beef, bison, or venison burgers)
Roll Tide Rolls (supersized for the hamburgers)
Bama Baked Beans with brown sugar and bacon
Crimson Tide Punch (a red fruit juice based punch, spiked)
Bama's Best Banana Pudding

Auburn Menu
For an appetizer: Blue and Cheddar Chips with Chizik Cheese Dip
Tiger Tails (Polish sausages- grilled)
Orange and Blue salad (fruit salad)
War Eagle Punch (orange juice and Grenadine, spiked)
Plainsman Pie (peanut butter)

Sound good? Well, my family better not get their hopes up. The problem with all this is that the Iron Bowl is traditionally the day after Thanksgiving. So after spending all day in the kitchen the day before, the best you can hope for me to cook for the Iron Bowl is a turkey sandwich with some leftover pumpkin pie!

Roll Tide, Roll! War Eagle, Hey!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cookies for Horses!

What a glorious morning! Once upon a time I was a horseback rider. Once upon a time, a long time ago. Now after 30 years I have begun dreaming like a little girl again. Horses, horses, horses. Sigh. Never mind that I am out of practice, I CAN DO IT. So today I got up and put on my jeans and boots and headed to a local stable. There is a little lady there (or old lady if you prefer since she is over 30 - like me, lol) who is willing to put up with me. Her name is very apropo. It is Charmer. And she is, even at her age.

Once upon a time she was a little chestnut colored filly with a white blaze and white star and stripe on her nose. But now she is a little grayer (aren't we all?) and her face is a little less full but she is beautiful. She doesn't belong to me. In fact she doesn't belong to the friend who introduced me to her, but when I am seated on her back I feel like she is. I wish she was. Her owner doesn't ride her anymore so the rest of us are privileged enough to enjoy her charms.

Did I tell you she still jumps? She does. I don't jump her. I barely canter since my legs aren't what they once were and posting is tiring. Riding English is harder than Western. Since I've done both I know what I am supposed to do but it isn't that easy. Oh to have the back and leg muscles I once had! Anyway, my girlfriend coached me and guided me and put up with me and so did Charmer.

When I was a little girl about five years old my uncle had a horse. Poor thing was really an old nag. He called her "Patsy". She was also a little chestnut horse like Charmer. I loved her as if she were mine even though I barely ever saw her since she lived on a farm in another county. Then when I was ten my parents paid for English lessons at a local stable. I rode a beautiful black Morgan horse named "Carbon Copy". What an absolutely nasty horse! He always tried to knock me off. But I suppose he realized I was clueless and vulnerable. After that I rode whenever I had a friend who was willing to share her horse.

My senior year of high school one of my best friends had a pony (for me to ride) and a handsome young quarterhorse. He was her pride and joy. Though poor, her father had made sacrifices and not only bought the horse for her but found a little horse trailer. She rode that horse every day. He was her best friend. She competed in barrel races and other contests and made the rounds of all the horse shows in West Alabama. I went with her and mucked out the trailer and stalls, fed that horse, curried him, watered him and anything else that was needed. Then one day she came home from school to find that fine horse with a broken leg.

Her father shot him.

After that I never rode again. It broke my heart, for her, for that fine horse, and for all the other horses out there in bad pastures next to shacks where there was no shelter and there were holes in the ground.

But here I am, almost 40 years later, riding again. The aches and pains are worth it, just to smell a horse that close once more.

And to feed her cookies. Did you know they make them for horses too? Just like dogs.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hanging the Flags for Veterans Day

Today we hung Old Glory all over Auburn. Actually the Civitans, of which I am a member, hung the flags. Over the years the Auburn club has hung the flags for all state and federal holidays but for me personally Veterans Day is the most meaningful. As I place each of the flag's poles into the holders (we have parking meters with a special receptacle for the flag poles) I think about the many people in my own family as well as those I've known who are veterans. It is a long list. You see, we are a military family.

That didn't really dawn on me until just a few years ago when my own sons became old enough to register for the Selective Service. Then it hit home like a sledge hammer. Never mind that the two oldest were both in ROTC. It was when they turned 18 that I began to really think about what that might mean. Little Boy didn't take ROTC. He prefered sports in high school. But this summer he decided to put college on hold and enlisted in the Navy. So now I am not only a former Army wife twice over but a Navy Mom! Ouch. That really smarts when I start to think about it. I can't help but think about all the mothers who have sacrificed their sons and daughters and wonder if I could handle it gracefully. My head is so proud of him it aches, but my heart aches more.

I wonder how my great grandmother felt when her youngest son left her embrace as he headed to the European theater in WW2. And I also wonder about how my great great grandmother handled finding herself suddenly alone in 1861 when not only her husband Asa but both her sons Adoniah and Amaziah marched off to war. Amaziah was only 17. All three came home, but one was gravely wounded at Little Round Top and was crippled for life. Two of my ancestors also fought in the Revolutionary War. Both died.

Last year I made a list of each of my family members in the last four generations who have served. They are:

Name   War/Era   Branch  Relationship
Waldrop Windham, WW2,  Air Corps, grandfather
Thomas Martin, WW2, Navy, grandfather by marriage
Peyton Bobo, Korean era, Marines, cousin
Walter Engle, Vietnam, Marines, half brother
Jerry Conaway, Vietnam, career Army, father in law, 1st marriage
Andy Conaway, Grenada/80s, Army, 1st husband
Tom Conaway, 1980s, Airforce, brother in law, 1st marriage
Betsy Conaway Wolfe, current, Army Wife, sister in law, 1st marriage
Malcolm Wolfe, current, career Army, brother in law, 1st marriage
Trey Wolfe, current, Army, nephew
Jonathan Conaway, current, Army, nephew
Ginger Delvalle Eads, current, Army Wife, niece
Richard Kneeland Jr. , 1999 - 2003*, Army (Disabled Vet), husband *9/11 veteran
Richard Kneeland Sr., 60s,- 90s,  career Air Force, father in law, 2nd marriage
Carla Kneeland Abba, current, Air Force Wife, sister in law, 2nd marriage
David Abba, current, career Air Force, brother in law, 2nd marriage
Patrick Conaway, current, Navy, son
I included my sisters in law who are currently married to active duty personel as well as my niece. As a former Army wife I know they are serving as well!

So once again the flags wave in downtown Auburn as we mark the Veteran's Day holiday, and say "thank you" to those who put us first before themselves.

I am proud to count myself as part of a military family.
And lucky to be an American.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Doggie Chunks

Nothing is worse than dog vomit. The term "chunks" is real. It describes what comes up. It's gross. It smells. And what's worse, they always do it IN THE BED! Why is that? And why does it usually happen at an unopportune time such as AFTER you leave to go to work so you come home to find your present waiting for a clean-up only after it has soaked through all the covers and into the mattress?

Dogs do it on purpose. I'm totally convinced of that. They KNOW it will cause you to panic. Okay, so maybe that's just me.  I panic.

But, the best thing is they feel great. If it were me, I'd be on the sofa.

Oh well. Break out the white vinegar.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cookies for Dogs in SF!

What? Another blogger with the same title? Oh no, how can that be? And I thought I was so creative!

Isn't it funny how no idea is really original, we just think in our limited experience that we are the only one who thinks of something? I was recently discussing with some of my teen patrons Native American legends centered around a "lover's leap" and/or a forbidden love. We have at least two such stories in Alabama: Nocalula Falls and Chewacla Creek. But such stories abound in every culture. I mentioned Romeo and Juliet. They didn't get the connection with Twilight until I explained it.

The Chewacla Story

    Once upon a time there was a lovely young Creek maiden named Luwena. Her father was the mighty Chief Red Coat and they lived in a village in what is now Auburn, Alabama. Lowena fell in love with one of her father's best braves, handsome young Chewacla. Chewacla could run faster than any of the other young braves. He could hunt and killed the biggest bears and bucks. He was able to fight harder than any of the other young men and so they all respected him.

    One day Chief Red Coat summoned Luwena and announced that he had made a marriage arrangement with a powerful chief from another village. Luwena was to be married the next week! Luwena pleaded with her father but he stood firm. Heartbroken she ran to find Chewacla. He urged her to continue to speak to her father and he himself pleaded with Chief Red Coat. But the Chief was concerned only about the deal he had made and refused Chewacla's request.

    On the morning of the marriage Luwena was dressed in her best white doeskin dress. Her hair was braided with beads and feathers. On her feet were a beautiful new pair of soft moccasins. Once more she pleaded with her father, but to no avail. Sadly she walked into the woods to meet Chewacla near a creek where they had sworn their eternal love to one another. Chewacla saw Luwena approaching and knew by her face that all was lost. Together they walked to the top of a cliff where the water dropped to a pool below. Embracing they fell together into the dark water believing it was better to die together than to live apart. Today that creek is called Chewacla and there is a state park there.

    But back to the issue of "Cookies for Dogs". I guess I'm not the only person who spoils her dogs and gives them "cookies". Well, at least I'm in good company!


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Small Towns and Quiet Lives

        Why do young people think that in order to have an exciting and successful life you have to live someplace that offers expensive entertainment, shopping and constant activity? Or that in order to believe a prospective job is worth seeking it has to be located in a town of over 100,000 people?

        Once upon a time I think I was like that. But I have downsized my town and lived a progressively more quiet life in recent years. The college town I live in today has about 55,000 people in it, which is about 10,000 more than when I moved here 11 years ago, and 50,000 less than the town I left. There is plenty to do if you care to seek it out.

        I will agree that it would be a sight easier here to go out and do things if I were college age, half of a couple with young children, retired, or wealthy. But there was a time I was all those things, except retired of course, and wealthy is a relative term. I was once a poor college student who worked parttime and still found the money to buy clothes and shoes and stuff for my apartment as well as a beer and a burger or a movie ticket. But there were always get together's at someone's apartment or an invitation to go to the lake, or a free concert. Then I was married and had kids and we did all the family, kid related stuff. We went to ball games and church programs. We went camping with the scouts. And we mostly hung out with other couples with kids. Later I was "well off" enough to go to concerts and to join a gym. I could buy expensive dresses and jewelry and shoes and have my hair cut, permed or dyed by someone else. I could afford a membership in the art museum. And I could actually afford to take a vacation once in a while. I could sign my boys up for music lessons, Cub Scouts, baseball, basketball and other sports, I could donate to the United Way and my church and not think twice about it. And I could go to dinner and a movie all in one evening. But we were so busy and there were so many choices in the larger town it was too hard to choose which things to do without feeling like you missed something or that your bank account was suffering. Most of the time we just stayed home!

        Then I found myself divorced and everything changed. Every penny counted. I began to appreciate thrift stores and yard sales. Free concerts are great if you have time, but I am a public librarian which means working full time including nights and weekend days and most of those activities always seemed to be scheduled when I was at the library.  My kids grew up and did their own thing with their peers and eventually moved to their own places. Little by little I began to lose interest in going anywhere other than to the comfort of my own abode. Things like reading, writing, and quilting and the company of my dogs began to appeal to me more than loud concerts, noisy bars, crowded stores and restaurant food.

        Sometimes I long to be even further out in the country and away from the traffic in this little town!

        Recently I began to look for an assistant. About 200 people applied for the position. Most weren't qualified. A few looked good but their degrees or resumes clearly indicated they would prefer something in their field and this would be a temporary situation until something opened up in their own area. But there was a small group that had what I was looking for: knowledge of the materials, programming ability, and enthusiasm for the children and students. I found the perfect applicant. Great interview. Great qualifications. Turned me down - the town was too small and there wasn't enough to do. I found another. Same problem. Found another. Ditto.

        How bizzarre. My town in two hours away from two major cities, 45 minutes away from two large military bases, and only 4 hours away from both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. It's a college town so there are FREE concerts, great eateries, and a quite a few watering holes. Locally there are a roller skating rink and a bowling alley and an ice rink is only 45 minutes away. We boast an art museum, theatre productions, an orchestra, community choirs, ballet, horseback riding, and there are two large lakes close by.

Some day they will know what I know: it isn't the size of the town that matters, it's what you decide to do while living there.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Dog bowls and guacamole

A while back our local animal control officer was handing out goody bags at the public library where I work. Being the uber dog person I am I snatched one up for my puppies at home, Maxie and Sammy. Inside were the usual coupons, a couple free doggie biscuits (we call them "cookies" - hence the name of this blog), a collar (waaaayyy too small for my big boys) and leash, and a shiny stainless steel dog bowl. The leash we kept, the buscuits were eaten in one bite, and the coupons eventually were used or discarded. The dog bowl at first seemed like the perfect water bowl to replace my good Revere Ware mixing bowl which had been holding the water for a while. Unfortunately Maxie has the jowls of the water fowl hunting dog that he is and drinking from a shallow sided bowl is a disaster. The new bowl lasted about 48 hours and we were back to my good Revere Ware. So, what to do with the new bowl?

We didn't need it for dog food since both the boys had a bowl already. Since it is shaped like the typical dog bowl with a small lip it isn't that easy to use it as a mixing bowl but I placed it on the shelf with the others and forgot about it.

Fast forward . . .

Since my husband has recently endured a jaw operation he has been unable to eat solid foods. After a week of soups for the poor steak and potatoes guy he was desperate to try something with a little substance, even though it still has to be liquid based. He's a Florida guy and loves avocadoes so I bought a couple and made a batch of guacamole in the blender. Finally it was ready to be poured into something. Looking around I realized most of my everyday bowls were already in use. I opened another cabinet and there in front of me was the dog bowl. Perfect! Not only was it the right size it keeps the "guac" cool since it's stainless and it has low sides so it was easy for me to dip my bagels in. The husband used a spoon.

So now I am officially declaring it my "guacamole" dog bowl!


D.J.'s Guacamole

2 large ripe avocadoes, peeled and chopped
1 small onion finely minced or scraped on a grater for the juice
1 ripe tomato finely chopped
2 small garlic cloves pressed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and place in a blender untill completely pureed. Serve with mini bagels or bagel chips, pita bread or tortillas.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Here we go again . . .

Can it really have been a whole year since the last National Novel Writer's Month? For several years I signed up and then forgot, gave up, had a great idea that turned into a stupid idea, etc. But last year I actually finished! Not only did I write the novel, I did it in record time since I was supposed to begin it on November 1st. We were half way through November before I realized what month it was. I doggedly stuck with it and amazingly not only finished but surpassed the 50,000 words by 30,000 some odd more. Why I think writing that many words is difficult is pretty silly. If you were to count the number of words I utter every single day, divide that number by two you still would have more than 50,000 words! I swear! I really talk that much!!!

Seriously, this year I am at it again. Last summer I became inspired to begin writing a novel on Twitter just to see if it were possible. It is. However, writing short choppy sentences just to fit the number of words allowed makes for a really poor novel. After six chapters I declared the experiment a success and stopped. But the novel needed to continue. Eureka! NaNoWriMo was fast approaching and I had another experiment to keep me busy.

So far I have converted two chapters from third person to first person, reorganized the beginning, rewritten and added to almost EVERY sentence, and finally begun to figure out "who done it". It's all beginning to make sense to me. I have my new NaNo friends to thank. At the kick-off meeting we each took a 3x5 card and wrote a short synopsis of our proposed novel, then passing each card to the right everyone had a chance to make a comment. We continued passing until the cards had completely made the rounds. By the time my card came back to me someone had actually solved the great mystery for me. I was thrilled! At that moment I knew where Timber was headed.

So now I write, and write, and write. I feel like a professional author with my desktop, my carpal tunnel, my aching back, and the coffee rings surrounding my keyboard on the computer table.

Life is sweet.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Goodbye County High

They're demolishing my old high school this week.

It feels like losing an old friend that you knew was dying, but the dying was slow and you had been going about your own business not paying much attention until, BAM, you find out the friend is gone and there is nothing you can do about your relationship.

Tuscaloosa County High School was built in 1927 in a small cornfield just on the edge of Northport Alabama. I should know. I graduated from the school in 1976, 49 years later. I know about the cornfield since our alma mater began:

"Rising midst the golden cornfields 'tis our alma mater true.
Points our dear old TCHS proudly to the velvet blue."

About 20 years later it was evident that the school needed to be replaced. Shoot, even when I was there things weren't really great. The halls were crowded. There was no central air-conditioning. The bathrooms were, well, I guess typical. But it was our high school. And we loved the old girl.

My junior year saw the last of the proms held in the old gym. It had been replaced several years before with a newer, sleeker, more concrete gymnasium in keeping with the athletic needs of the late 20th century. The new gym had no personality. The old gym had been given to the girls. That was okay by me. It had great acoustics. Every squeak of a tennis shoe, bounce of a basketball, whoosh of a basket, and shout reverberated and settled comfortably into your heart. The lower half of the walls were painted blue, the upper half a soft creamy white. A gold band separated the two colors. Around the walls wooden folding bleachers, worn to a soft patina from so many teenaged fannies over the years, could be pushed in or pulled out as needed. Six basketball goals surrounded the space like sentinels. It was perfect for a dance. As "prom decorator" that year I supervised the making of hundreds of tissue flowers and garlands which we used to fill the baskets. A floral backdrop was painted and a swing with floral wound ropes was suspended in front of it for photographs of the lovely maids and their beaus. No prom was ever more romantic than that one.

During my senior year I was excused from classes to paint a mural on one of the choral room walls. I wonder now how that could have transpired. If memory serves me correctly it was only English class that I skipped, at a later cost. I had to make up for it in college. But at the time it was exciting and gave me a certain sort of clout around school. It also helped me get a college scholarship in art. For many generations long after I was gone people would mention when they met me that they knew the mural. At first I was flattered. The reality is that it is better off demolished it was so gawd awful. A beach scene with distorted palm trees painted on cinderblock!

My favorite class wasn't what most people would associate with me. It wasn't Band, Spanish, Art, or Chorus, all of which I loved. It was my 11th grade American History class with Faye Lavelle. She was a brilliant teacher. And I gained a healthy respect for the early years of our country from sitting in that classroom. It was in the older part of the building where the walls were paneled in a dark cherry and the lights were softer. That year for an assignment I made a mural on brown butcher paper with crayons. I used a lot of white for accent on the brown paper. The finished product depicting the landing of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims was a masterpiece. Dear Mrs. Lavelle kept it for several years as an example. But as with all things it eventually aged and deteriorated and had to be discarded. Like the building in which it was kept.

The old building may be bulldozed, but the sound of footsteps, laughter, whispering, and locker doors will remain in my heart forever.

Goodbye County High.