Holidays

Dog Days of Summer

Dog Days

The dog days of summer are over and that got me thinking:

What are the dog days of summer?

After a quick search on google, I discovered the true meaning behind the dog days of summer. Dog Days is the name for the most sultry period of summer, from about July 3 to Aug. 11. Named in early times by observers in countries bordering the Mediterranean, the period was reckoned as extending from 20 days before to 20 days after the conjunction of Sirius (the dog star) and the sun. (Yes, I copied and pasted word for word, but I’m not being graded on creativity so I thought you wouldn’t mind.) I don’t care what Sirius is in conjunction with, or what it has to do with the dog days of summer, for me, it has a different meaning.

When I was a kid growing up in the far southwest corner of Oklahoma, I knew exactly what it meant.  As the temperatures soared to a steamy 100⁰ with not a storm cloud in sight, I sought shelter beneath the giant shade tree that stood just off the front porch; the family dog, a female shepherd mix, sprawled out beside me. On days like that, she would slowly move from one shady spot to another, her tongue hanging out like a dry sponge seeking moisture. My older sister would lie on a towel in the side yard with the radio blaring and a bottle of baby oil tainted with iodine by her side. She was shiny and slick and her fair skin would blotch red within minutes. I knew she wouldn’t last longer than it took me to ride my bike to the city pool. I would meet up with my best friend, and we would swim in the steamy hot bath oversaturated with chlorine until we were so water logged, we couldn’t even float. By afternoons end, I was limp as a wet noodle, my sister was fried like a crispy strip of bacon, and the dog was still sleeping on the front porch. But when night fell on my tiny town and the wrap-around porch on 221 West Friendship, the night crawlers came out to play.

With my best friend and younger sister, I ran barefoot in the yard, playing everything from freeze tag to hide and seek. When the mosquitoes had devoured 1/3 of our blood, we would retire to the porch roof (yes, Mom, I said it) and stare at the stars. Life was simple and beautiful and mysterious.

As a stay at home mom, it was my responsibility to keep my young children entertained when the dog days of summer filled our house with the constant phrase, “I’m so bored”, and I think I did a pretty good job. After all, life was different. Children couldn’t roam the streets like I did. There were too many cars to ride a bike safely, too many predators lurking around the corners, and too many video games to worry about who could run the fastest or climb to the highest tree branch.

In my quest to keep the kids satisfied and my sanity in tack, I ran the gambit with slip-n-slides, sprinklers, and water guns. One of our favorite activities was to fill a wagon full of water balloons and wait for Daddy to come home from work. I sat casually on the front step and waved as he pulled his blue Sunbird along the curb, hiding a snicker when the kids ran out from the bushes and bombarded him. He was always caught off guard but still managed to catch a few balloons and chase the kids down until they were soaked from head to toe. Life was fun, beautiful, and unexpected.

My children are more or less (mostly less) grown now, and my daughter just began her senior year of high school. Summer flew by and there just wasn’t enough time to worry about the dog days of summer. Now, it’s about finding the time to spend together. Life is fast, short.

Living in East Tennessee, the summers aren’t quite as hot as I remember. I still have a dog, a dachshund with a big round belly that is covered with freckles, and I have a front porch. When the day is near the end and the sun is setting, an orange glow lights up Justin’s garden on the hill. The yellow swing shines like the bright morning sun, and the gray memorial stone engraved with his name and the words Love is Forever, reminds me that life is precious.

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What is Normal?

The last few months of 2012 proved to be challenging, and my focus was on family. Though I’m not making excuses, it was a necessary sacrifice. But wow! I have missed you! I’m a “little” behind on my posts, so rather than skip the whole Holiday season, or load you up with out of date ramblings, I thought I would share the last post I wrote and never published. I hope this will break the ice between us and you will forgive me for being so delinquent.

December 2012

I could easily fill this post with all the reasons why it was difficult to retain family traditions this year, but I won’t rant. I could tell you about my son spending his first Christmas far from home, or missing my husband on Christmas Day as he travels around the world, carrying packages for hopeful shippers (hmm…no red suit or sleigh, but jolly just the same), but I won’t whine. I could cry for myself and all those who have suffered the loss of a loved one and find it difficult to celebrate, but I won’t shed another tear.

When hubby and I started our family, we combined our childhood memories and formed new family traditions. We were excited about the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Halloween, Valentines, and Santa Claus. We had so much fun!

Around the time my boys were three and four, and my daughter was just a baby, my best friend from high school “bragged” about how much fun it was to bake Christmas cookies with her two young children and gift them to friends and neighbors. The thought of bringing my boys into the one place I was always scooting them out of—the kitchen—was daunting, but hey, there was more fun to be had, so a new tradition began. Hubby videotaped while we helped the boys roll, cut, and decorate. They sneezed, coughed and sniffled their way through two dozen sugar cookies. It was gross, funny, and an epic fail because not one cookie left our house.

Over the years, the boys lost interest and became the tasters while my daughter and I kept the tradition alive. Every year, we bake our little hearts out, determined to create the most impressive cookies, and every year, few cookies leave the house.

I am not a good cook or baker, but I am ambitious. The first time I made my mom’s infamous stuffing/dressing for Thanksgiving, my hubby smiled and raved about how good it was, even though our throats were burning from an overdose of sage.  I have learned to take shortcuts whenever possible to ensure success. It is hard to make cookies from scratch when you can purchase pre-made dough, but this year, we were armed with a brand new cookbook!

The first batch of chocolate chip cookies melted into each other and covered the pan like one giant pancake. Oops, too many hands in the pot? So the next day, I made the second batch while the girls were at school. I was focused, determined, and added the ingredients meticulously. Once again, flat and crisp. Baffled, I counseled with my friend as to what could have gone wrong and even considered buying a tub of pre-made cookie dough. But no! I still had plenty of supplies so I gave it another try, waiting patiently for an hour to allow the butter to soften at room temperature instead of nuking it for a few seconds in the microwave. Failure!

“We can just call them chocolate chip crepes,” my daughter said.

But I was on a mission. If I had to bake until Christmas day to get those cookies right, that’s what I was going to do. After twenty-five years, I have finally mastered a few recipes and even have a reputation (with my kids, anyway) for making the best chicken n’ dumplings and chicken pot pie. I wasn’t about to let a simple cookie get the best of me.

According to my new cookbook, all the recipes had been triple tested by Good Housekeeping. Who was baking these things? I decided to burn our new book and use the recipe on the back of the Nestle Toll House Morsels package and much to my surprise, they were beautiful and delicious. Finally, our cookies made it into the pretty boxes, and then sat on the kitchen counter, awaiting delivery. A few even made it out of the house.

Christmas 2012 028 Christmas 2012 030 Christmas 2012 031

It was our goal to show our Chinese exchange student a traditional Christmas, but this year was far from the norm. In keeping this post lighthearted, I won’t tell you about all the drama, the tragedy, or the travels that came our way. Instead, I will tell you that in spite of it all, I was aglow on Christmas morning. The two girls and I opened presents with my hubby on one computer and my son on the other (skype, you gotta love it). We laughed and joked, and when the girls got preoccupied with gifts, the guys conversed as they sat side by side on the coffee table. We even took a family photo in front of the tree.

Christmas 2012 062

What is normal, anyway? Life keeps moving forward, the world keeps changing, and we change, too. 2013 holds the release of Magestic Rain–the second book of the Magestic Dreams Trilogy–the return of my son from Japan (that should be interesting!), our exchange student will return to China (we will miss her), and my daughter will begin her Senior year of high school. Beyond that, I’m just as curious as you are. So, tighten your belts—it could be a bumpy ride.

Happy New Year!

Categories: Holidays | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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