Goodbye to a virtual friend

One of the very first (non-family, non-friend) followers of Going Forward, and by far my most prolific commenter ever, is a woman named Ruth Rainwater, a fellow WordPress blogger at A New Beginning. She found me through Freshly Pressed, and ever after was generous about liking and commenting not only on my posts, but also on my business’s Facebook page. We corresponded a few times about blogging and other topics.


One of Ruth’s posts from September 2014.

Ruth was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2013, and published her last blog post on Christmas Day last year; she fought a hard battle and things turned sharply for the worse around that time. I have been checking her blog every week in hopes that she would write again, but finally confirmed that she has passed. The word “Remembering” now appears over her name on her Facebook page.


She and I never met, of course, and I know next to nothing about her except what she blogged about. I don’t even know what she looks like because she never posted photos of herself. But she was a faithful virtual friend to me, to my blog and to my business, and I am grateful to have found a place in the circle of her attention. It’s nice to know that my words reached out and touched a stranger, somebody who was willing to faithfully interact with and tirelessly encourage me. She was a graceful, prolific, good-humored writer. I have been missing her name in my Inbox, and am sorry I won’t ever see it again.

Dog stories

Anyone who knows me well would tell you my life went to the dogs years ago, and I cannot disagree. This week, though, it’s really been all about the dogs, and a few of my readers love the dog stories, so here’s what’s been happening at our house.

Dog Story 1: Max

On Monday afternoon, I saw a little black Chihuahua playing in the street I was driving down, a one-block connector between the two main roads going through my town. I stopped and got out to see if he would come to me. Instead, he laid down and rolled over for a belly rub. I put my emergency car leash on him, picked him up, and knocked on the door of the nearest house. The woman who answered the door said yes, she knew the dog. His name is Max, he lives next door, “he gets out all the time” and bothers her dogs, and the owners “are not very nice to him.” I suggested he might be happier in a new home, and she agreed. “Then you never saw me here, okay?” I said. She smiled and nodded without another word.

Even with this tacit permission, I was not willing to just outright steal the dog. I went over to Max’s house and knocked on the door, but nobody answered. Seeing that the house sat on an unfenced lot so close to the traffic, I felt I had no choice but to take him home with me for safekeeping, after stopping by my vet to have him scanned for a microchip that I knew he wouldn’t have (he didn’t). They examined his teeth and testicles and said he appeared to be about 8 months old.

I introduced him to my dogs out in the backyard and, despite his youthful exuberance and intense sexual interest in both of them, they all seemed to get along reasonably well. Within a matter of hours, I was completely attached to the little guy. I’ve only ever loved three dogs in my life, but he could have been the fourth. For about 24 hours, in fact, he was.


Even knowing that he has no ID, is not neutered long past the point when he needed to be, and lives in a ramshackle dump of a house with no yard in the care of people who don’t seem to have any interest in keeping him safe, I still couldn’t steal him even though I wanted to, badly. But I dutifully called the local shelter to report a found dog, and the receptionist told me someone had called about two minutes earlier to report a lost black Chihuahua. I promptly called the guy, who told me every single detail about this dog before I even asked, so I knew he was, in fact, the owner. He made a convincing case that he and his family loved Max and that he hadn’t slept a wink overnight for worry. After at least three minutes of non-stop talking about this dog, he finally paused and said in a ragged voice, “please tell me you have him.”

“I do,” I said after a pause that was probably a beat too long, and told him how I’d found Max in the street in front of his house and had picked him up to keep him safe. Feeling tears rise in spite of myself, I asked the guy if he would consider letting Max stay with me, since I have a fenced yard and other dogs he can play with and all. Absolutely not, he said; he just loved Max, and so did his kids. He said he’d bought the dog for his daughter “so they could grow up together.” I told him I’d bring Max back to him later in the day, and he thanked me profusely. He even offered to give me a reward, but I asked him instead to promise me he would get Max chipped and fixed right away and take really good care of him, which of course he said he would do.

When I took Max back, the owner was not at home. Instead, I was met at the door by an unkempt young woman who showed no interest in Max whatsoever and he showed none in her, either. I had to push him into the house and make her take the leash. When I said I was concerned that the yard was not fenced, she said, “yeah, I know but I don’t care. I’m just the babysitter.” Her charge was an infant on her hip, still in diapers and not even walking—this was the child for whom Max was purchased. Looking at the indifferent babysitter, the dilapidated house, the wide-open yard, and Max straining toward me at the end of his leash and whining, I deeply regretted my decision to return him. He clearly was neither safe nor well cared for in that environment, and I expect he’ll meet his sorry end in the middle of one of those busy streets one of these days. I sometimes wish my scruples did not so strongly compel me to try to do the “right” thing.

Dog Story 2: The Wolf Dog

My backyard shares common fences with three other yards. One of them, which I’ll call North Neighbor, contains at least one and possibly more dogs (I never see it/them because the fence is so high, but I hear it/them barking all day most days). Occasionally my dogs and the North dog(s) will get into a barking match at the fence, which can get pretty loud.

While Max was with us and all the dogs were outside, I heard an uproar that sounded louder and much fiercer than what I usually hear from the North dogs. Again, I can’t see anything through the fences, but it sounded like there was a large and apparently aggressive dog in the yard on the other side, which I’ll call East Neighbor. Things calmed down quickly and I didn’t think much about it until later in the evening, when I took all three dogs for a walk and ran into East Neighbor out in front of his house. As we chatted, he mentioned that his son had just gotten a wolf hybrid dog, and my blood ran cold because I just don’t think that any good can come of crossing dogs with wolves and keeping the offspring as pets. He has three sons, two of whom live with him and one of whom is grown and gone, and he didn’t specify which one had the dog. I didn’t want to over-react and start peppering him with questions right then, but I got it in my head that a full-grown wolf dog was living right next door to me and that it had been the instigator of the kerfuffle at the fence earlier. I had visions of an enormous snarling beast coming right through that suddenly flimsy-looking fence and killing my dogs with a single snap. Okay, so maybe I did over-react a bit.

The next day, I caught the neighbor outside again and asked all my questions, adding that it’s actually illegal to own a wolf hybrid in our state. I said I was really concerned about my dogs’ safety, which he completely dismissed with, “but it’s just a puppy!” Yeah, but puppies grow into dogs, I said, and I don’t want any trouble for either of us because if the dog hurt another dog or a person, he would be liable for it. He would not take anything I said seriously, and I was appalled that a man my own age could not look just a little way down the road of life, imagine even a few possible scenarios that could be bad for him, and maybe consider taking precautions accordingly.

As we were talking, a car pulled up in front of his house and a young couple got out. A small fuzzy black dog ran toward us and East Neighbor greeted it affectionately. She was all soft paws and puppy breath and cute as she could be, all 10 or 12 pounds of her. “This is the wolf dog,” he said, and I felt my ears turn pink. “THIS?! This is the one?” He smirked knowingly and said, “told ya she was just a puppy.” And in fact, she did not appear to be any kind of a threat at all, let alone any kind of wolf. I felt foolish for a moment, but my point still stands: Any dog can bite. Any dog can be dangerous Any dog that runs loose can cause harm to people and other dogs, and is itself in danger. Which is why every dog should be kept under control, and “voice control” is never fail-safe.

I asked East to keep the dog restrained in his front yard when she visits (she won’t be living there), and to work with me to keep our shared fence in good repair, as much for my sake and that of my dogs as for his own. “You wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to her,” I reminded him, and told him that I am only concerned because I love dogs, all dogs. He kept trying to brush off my concerns right to the end of our conversation, but he said he would consider not letting the dog run loose (I will believe that when I see it). He closed by thanking me for being a good neighbor, and I hope he meant that sincerely. I try to be.

Dog Story 3: The Floof

Last night I heard my dogs going absolutely nuts barking in the front room, and came out to see what was going on. I saw a guy across the street walking four large dogs together, which seemed to be almost too much for him to handle. On the other side of the street from him was a lady holding a small floofy dog, and I couldn’t tell by looking whether there was a confrontation among them or exactly what was going on. In a few minutes, the dog walker turned and went back the way he came, and I realized the lady was going door to door with the little dog, so I stepped outside to talk to her. She said she’d found him loose on the next street over and that she couldn’t keep him because she lives with all those big dogs the guy was walking. I said I’d take him in for the night, so we put him into my backyard and introduced him to my dogs with no problems.

I got him scanned at my vet’s this morning and he has no chip and no collar but he does have his nads, again, which I think is just unconscionable and tantamount to neglect. Fortunately, he is not nearly so disrespectful of personal space with my dogs as Max was, but he has already motivated Rudy to mark in the house for the first time in years and I am not sure I want to keep him because even though he’s just a perfect little sweetheart, I am so done cleaning up dog effluent.

I’ve put an ad on Craigslist and knocked on several doors in my neighborhood but haven’t gotten any response yet. He appears to be a purebred and well-groomed Lhasa Apso, so I’m hopeful his owners are looking for him and he will be home with them by tonight.

He went out to do his business early this morning and got soaked when the sprinklers came on.

He went out to do his business early this morning and got soaked when the sprinklers came on.

And there you have it, all the Doggy Times in La Casita Bonita! I hope things calm down pretty soon because these comings and goings are more than a little hard on my heart.

Update, April 25: The floofy one, whose name is Cocoa, was picked up by his owner late last night, so I didn’t have to put up with another night of his whining in his crate. A happy ending for all!


We are who we are

I grew up a tough little tomboy perpetually riding in my older brother’s wake, and often wished I had been born a boy as well so that I could do all the things that he could do. Well into my teens, strangers would ask me, “are you a boy or a girl?” and my answer often surprised them. Even so, I have always known and accepted (at some stages more gracefully than others) that I am a female person in a female body. The longer I live, the more I appreciate the gifts of my gender, even while chafing against the restrictions it also imposes. When I entertain the idea of being male now, I find it distasteful. I won’t get into the details of why.

I will confess, I don’t really understand transgenderism and I know I’m not alone in that. Gender is an enormous component of one’s identity, and having any confusion around that is a ticket to all kinds of struggles: personally, interpersonally and socially. The first distinction we make about any person is “he” or “she.” With few exceptions, human beings are not able to conceptualize or tolerate anything outside of or in between those two poles.

But I do understand and give mad props to unconditional love and clear-eyed acceptance of people as they are even when they are not what we want them to be or wish they were. That’s why I so appreciate the story of Jeff and Hillary Whittington and their son Ryland as told in the CNN Films video “Raising Ryland.” (Sorry, video preview is not available.)

As soon as he could speak, 3-year-old Ryland began telling his parents that he was a boy and that he wanted to cut his long hair and wear boy’s clothing. They were understandably shocked and incredulous, and they could have shouted him down, mocked him, or isolated and punished him into complying with their understanding of which gender their child was biologically assigned at birth. But they didn’t. They listened to him. They supported him. They defended him. They loved him. And no matter what or who he chooses to be later in his life, he is always going to know that his family has his back, and that he is a person of value. There is no greater gift that parents can give their children.

The Whittington family.

The Whittington family.

In an open letter, Hillary Whittington warned all their friends and family that should they choose not to support her and her husband’s decision to accept their child as he is, they can expect that their relationship with the entire Whittingon family will no longer progress because “Our child’s happiness is most important to us.” Amen! Really, what else is there? Maintaining the appearance of “normality” for the sake of keeping society’s approval? Rigidly demanding adherence to a single definition of reality that their child is unable to accept? Living in isolation, shame and fear until somebody breaks down, or dies? All because of a simple quirk of biology? No.

We are who we are, and I hope that someday human beings will learn how to see one another as souls and spirits with infinite potential rather than as mere bodies born to play ancient, predestined roles.

I wish this little boy and his family all the best.

Mirepoix Soup

Winter seems to have passed us by altogether this year. After a couple of weeks of snow and ice in early November, it’s been pretty much spring ever since. Everything is budding and blooming and greening up earlier than I’ve ever seen it. But today, after several sunny days in a row, was overcast, which put me in a mood for soup.

Inspired by a recipe from Food 52 for Jane Grigson’s Celery Soup, I decided to clean out the last of the hardy veggies from my fridge and counter tops. I had all I needed for mirepoix, plus a few potatoes and some garlic, and that right there is a fine soup base. Add an outrageous amount of butter and soon all will be right with the world.


Mirepoix Soup

1 stick butter
3-4 c each onion, carrots, celery and potatoes, cut in 1/2″ dice
6-8 garlic cloves (or to taste), thinly sliced
4 c mushroom or chicken stock (I use Better Than Bouillon)
1 Tbs dried thyme
2 Tbs Tarragon Pepper Blend
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt (or to taste)

  1. Melt the butter in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion, carrots, celery, potatoes and garlic and stir well to coat.
  3. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook about 10 minutes.
  4. Add stock, herbs, salt and bay leaves and bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes.
  5. Remove bay leaves and blend to desired level of smoothness with a stick blender.
  6. Just before serving, stir in 1 tsp of any kind of flavored vinegar you like, such as tarragon, golden balsamic, sherry, or apple cider. It only takes a little to add a tremendous depth of flavor.

A bowl or two of that warmed me up nicely, and I shared the rest with my neighbors who are in various stages of a winter cold.

The sun is expected to come out again tomorrow, so I can go back to thinking about washing the car and mowing the lawn.

Hustlers and their schemes

I got a text message this afternoon while I was out and about asking if I could photograph an event. My spidey sense immediately started to tingle because 1) who hires anybody by text message? and 2) the text originated from an area code on the other side of the country from me. My first impulse was to reply that I do products and real estate but not event photography, but okay, alright, I have a few minutes free right now, so let’s see what they have in mind. I text back, “If the event is local, possibly.”

The guy says he is hearing impaired, hence the texting (okay). He has a family reunion coming up in two weeks in my town, and he provides an apparently legit local address (okay). He wants a whole package of different sizes of prints (I am not a photo studio) and six hours of my time to photograph 30 to 40 people in attendance (sounds like a long day, but okay, doable). What is my firm price, he wants to know, and then tells me his budget is $1,000 (whoa, big money!). And oh by the way, will I take a credit card? (ding! warning bell!).

After asking him a few questions, I offered 40 to 50 finished digital files, no prints, and 6 hours of my time for $750, and I didn’t mention payment terms. His reply, in all its scrambled message order and garbled syntax, was almost instant.


I have learned the hard way that when a client asks for any kind of favor involving money, granting it will not be to my advantage. My internal warning bell rang louder, but I played along.


Now I could see exactly what was going on, and he was kind enough to explain it precisely for me.


Well, there it is. I could have been out more than $2,000 in no time flat. Does anyone actually fall for this?

I wasn’t even offended that he tried to con me. I get that crap every day by phone and email; only the texting part is new this time.


I immediately blocked his number, then Googled it. Both the number and the name he gave me have been reported for scamming. What a surprise. Next time I get a fishy text like this, I’ll go to Google first!

Food overload

The trash gets picked up on Wednesdays in my neighborhood, so this morning I wheeled my big tote to the curb loaded down with heavy, dripping bags of rotting food from my own refrigerator. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa and may Demeter have mercy on my soul. It was a very bad week for wasting food in my house.

Illustration by Alison Seiffer

Illustration by Alison Seiffer

I let my Bountiful Baskets get away from me, faithfully picking one up every week for three weeks in a row even though I still had produce piled all over my counters from the weeks before. I gave some of it to my neighbors and I did prep a lot of it into usable ingredients so I would have them available for cooking … but somehow the cooking part just didn’t come together before things started turning slimy and spotty. Which reminds me why I’ve always been leery of fresh food: It just doesn’t last that long. Not long enough, anyway, for me to 1) figure out how to use it and 2) get motivated to do so.

When I told a friend once that I like to cook, her first question was, “don’t you end up wasting a lot of food because you live alone?” I thought it was an odd query because why would my living alone make any difference? No, I told her, I am pretty good about using what I buy. And I always have been, for the most part. But every so often, my ambitions get ahead of my appetite, and much waste results.

I recently learned that food waste decomposing in landfills is a major source of methane, a greenhouse gas that is a likely contributor to climate change. I don’t want to participate in that slow-motion catastrophe any more than I absolutely have to (and unfortunately, we all have to), so I’m thinking about getting a composter for my kitchen scraps. Maybe one like this, which is off the ground to keep the dogs from scrounging through it.


Tumbling Composter from Home Depot.

For all the peels, pits, rinds, seeds, soft spots, and other food scraps that I put in the garbage every week, this just might make a difference.

My fridge is now cleared of all but a few hardy veggies with long shelf lives, and my counters are mostly visible again—although I do still have a big jicama bulb and several pounds of blue potatoes from my basket that I am not sure yet what to do with. I didn’t get a basket this week, and won’t get one next week. I’m waiting to go grocery shopping until the last egg, the last carrot, the last drop of milk, and the last piece of bread are all gone. And then I’m going to be more careful about how I stock my kitchen.


This World War II-era propaganda poster is still good advice today.


La cucina dell’amore

Finally, I have found a recipe that I would, without hesitation, employ to seduce someone with a home-cooked meal. Didn’t get the chance to use it this Valentine’s Day, but maybe next year!

Amid all the online clamor about the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie premiere this weekend, I came across a cookbook called “Fifty Shades of Chicken.” Truly, it redefines the “food porn” genre with both its language and its photography. It is intended to be a parody of the best-selling book, so the overwrought writing style is similar (or so I understand; I haven’t read any of the books in the “Fifty Shades” trilogy and don’t plan to see any of the movies made from same).


Its Amazon listing includes a sample recipe for Dripping Thighs (if this and other highly suggestive language offends you, don’t click any of the links in this post and definitely do not watch the video on the book’s website), which I made tonight.

The chicken thighs are baked after being bathed in a sticky, sweet, savory sauce of onions in reduced white wine seasoned with cinnamon sticks and bay leaves, enriched with butter, and sweetened with honey. This unusual flavor combination is an over-the-fence home run. I regret that I had but a single stomach to devote to the meal, it was so very good. My reaction while eating it was not unlike Julia Child’s when she first tasted Sole Meunière.

If you’re nervous about clicking through to Amazon or the book’s website, here is the recipe. We can call it “Seduction Chicken,” if you prefer.

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, patted dry with paper towels
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp plus pinch coarse kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 c white wine
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 Tbs honey

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the chicken, garlic, 1 tsp salt, and pepper together.
  3. In a small saucepan, simmer together onion, wine, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and a pinch of salt until most of the liquid has evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes. Add honey and butter and stir until butter is melted.
  4. Spoon the mixture over the chicken and toss well. Spread thighs, onion mixture, and any juices onto a baking sheet. Bake until chicken is no longer pink and onions are meltingly tender and caramelized, about 25 minutes.

I had a 2-pound package of chicken thighs, so I doubled the recipe, but otherwise made it as written. I found that “simmering” the sauce on low heat won’t get the job done in 15 or 20 minutes; you’ll need to either raise the temp to medium-high or wait a whole lot longer for the wine to reduce. Also, I was a little worried about the onions burning at 450 degrees, so I turned the oven down to 400 halfway through and they were not really caramelized but were definitely “meltingly tender.”

I’ve made some mighty tasty dishes in my day, but this one is miles ahead of all the rest. I can hardly wait to start working my way through the entire cookbook.