Friday, December 15, 2017

Mischief in the Kitchen

Abby: "Mom! Someone broke into the breadbox while I was outside with Dad and all the candy and people treats are scattered around!
"I know it wasn't you as you promised to eat healthy after all the veggie pizza bread for lunch.

Me: "Uh, oh . . . .it was, uh, BEARS. Yes Abby, bears broke into the house like we've seen on those outdoor TV shows and got into the goodies!" 
Abby: "Bears? Come on Mom . . .  in Chicago??" 

 Me: "Well DUH Abby,"  (giggle).

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Abby Lab's Letter to Santa

Abby Lab here. A Christmas List was always a tradition in my Mom's household growing up.  She did not get everything on it and never expected to, perhaps just one or two things on there.  But it gave "Santa" an idea of what she and her big brother wanted.  Sometimes "Santa" branched out. There was one Christmas where their entire Socking was full of bubble gum. Mrs. Claus seriously learned to regret that one.

And then there were the Whamo Air Blasters for all (which were almost as much as fun as when Mom and her brother swapped out the "dual heat controls" on their Mom and Dad's electric blanket.) But for those of you, not used to the tradition, it can continue on in your own home.

So, on that note, I've created a template for a Santa Letter.

Mom helped generate the letter on her compute-inator so I can fill in the blanks and send it to you.

Dear Santa:

I've been very _______ this year, despite the mishap involving bacon, _______  and that ____ that resulted in an emergency trip to the ______.  As for that __________ incident at the ___ party last year with Mom , I can explain (Mom had drank_____ and I was ______).

Mom and I have prepared______ and a bottle of _______ as a snack for your arrival and have ensured my Christmas Stocking is free of pet hair, lint, and shards of candy cane which can be mistaken for razor wire. So I hope you will remember me when you are in your workshop ramping up the North Pole Elfinator™ Fur Grooming device which I really need, and some treats.

It's not that Barkley, who was the previous dog here, didn't appreciate the Marie Antoinette Action Figure with eject-able head or the Attack Spider Pecker, both of which apparently can actually be found on Amazon, but I was hoping for something along the lines of __________ and _________ this year.

I promised Mom I won't ______ your sled this year like Barkley did, and she'll move the skeet shoot to earlier in the evening.

Thank you for visiting. Please be aware that there will be a prominent Nativity Scene to navigate around, as, no offense, it's not all about you.

Abby Lab

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Sugar Fueled Dreams - Childhood Memories

My brother and I were raised on the sugar sweetened joy of the 60's.   My favorite Western RanchHands were Twinkie the Kid and the Hostess Cupcake. We drank Koolaid (Soda Pop was an expense that was only the rarest of treats in my house), or better yet, cold water from the garden hose. We watched TV when we could, but mostly we ran, we jumped, we covered miles of ground on our bikes. TV was a treat, not a weekend-long marathon and the backyard was our empire, one of constant motion. None of us had an ounce of spare flesh on us, we were lean and healthy from all the outdoor playtime.

And our cereal came with prizes in the box.

When did the cereal prizes disappear? I'm sure, as most children did, I drove my Mom crazy begging for one type of cereal over another, depending on what toy was inside. The toy would be buried deep down, and we'd have to eat about half the box to get to it. Of course there were those times Mom left us alone briefly while Dad watched football, and with the help of a large mixing bowl, the toy was liberated soon after purchase, the bowl then cleaned (here boy!) and put back in the cupboard. But that didn't happen often so normally the prize would plop down into our bowl about half way through the box. What a treat that was!

Most of the toys plastic figures were slightly larger than Monopoly counters – animals, trains, cars. Sometimes there were decoder rings, badges and other trinkets promoting TV adventure shows. Sometimes the prize was a cut out on the back of the box that could be made into a toy, there were even cut out photograph records on the back.

One of the cereal toys I've never forgotten was a plastic submarine. On its bottom was a tiny container into which you placed baking powder.  The sub would then dive underwater and resurface on its own, again and again. I loved that toy and spent a lot of time with it in the bathroom sink and in the bathtub.

Big Bro spent his years after school on a real submarine, so perhaps all that play with those things had some effect.
The non sweetened cereal usually didn't have a prize, but it would have a coupon where you could collect box tops and send away for a prize. The sugar laden cereals usually had the prize right there. The prize might sway our decision but our favorites remained unchanged. Were they healthy? Not particularly. You'd have to add an orange grove and an entire pig to be a "complete breakfast", but that's not why we ate them.

Sugar Pops - My personal favorite. The original cereal was just Sugar Pops. Then they added the word corn, then they dropped the word sugar, then they dropped the corn thinking kids didn't want to eat a bowl of corn, now they're just Pops. That was one thing I liked about that generation. They weren't afraid to use the word sugar. They were PROUD of the word. Then they filled everything full of corn syrup which is worse for you and simply changed the names. Not only was the cereal great tasting (I still eat it before big presentations at Secret Squirrel headquarters), but the concept was cool. Blasting sugar onto the cereal with a gun? How cool was that? The earlier boxes that my  brother remembers even had special offers for a "Colt six shooter".

Sugar Crisp -The sugar bear started out as your average bear, then later got fashion sense (though no pants) and this laid back groovy persona. The Sugar Bear was the cool dude your retired military Dad NEVER wanted you to date (attitude and no pants, never a selling point with my Dad). He was so popular some kids went as Sugar Bear on Halloween. Or maybe that was a real bear in our garbage can that night.

In the 70's they came out with a Super Sugar Orange Crisp that had little sour orange bits in it. The sweet and sour was enough to keep you bouncing off of walls for days. It didn't last long, probably banned by the PTA.

Alpha-Bits - like Cocoa Puffs, as a kid I was on the fence about these. They were OK, , but as an adult I thought they tasted like hamster food. It was fun to try and spell words in your spoon though, except for that time I tried out a NEW word which I heard my Dad use when he dropped a tool on his foot, which my Mother did NOT find amusing.

Sugar Smacks - Start your day the Sugar Smacks way. Dig em the frog was OK, but not as cool as the bear. However even Spock could have figured out they were the exact same cereal as Sugar Crisp.

Frosted Flakes - one of the few breakfast cereal that hasn't changed, been improved or altered (I cringe when I think what they've done to Trix over the years). I used to eat it dry, in a little bowl with my fingers, watching Scooby Doo (those meddling kids!) because it it lasted about 10 seconds in milk before going limp.

Froot Loops - not sure where Toucan Sam got the English Accent in the 1970's but it was a house favorite. The only colors were a tropical fruit sort of red color, yellow and orange. What more do you need. I got sample box in the mail recently to which several new colors were added (is that blue?) PLUS fiber.

What's next? "Honeycomb. Improved, now with Ginkgo Biloba?"

There are a lot of things that aren't good for us. Letting your kids eat junk food in adult portions all day long is good for no one. But what about a little bowl of sweet, the occasional cookie with the hug and fun with our imaginations and the help of a "beam up badge"? Did it really do us any harm?
So I'm going to start my day  some weekend soon with a big bowl of Quisp cereal.

You remember Quisp?

The voice of Quisp on the commercials was Daws Butler, the voice of Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss and Huckleberry Hound. It tastes like Captain Crunch but doesn't remove the roof of your mouth when you eat it. The slogan I remember as a kid in 1970. . . "it gives you Quazy energy".  It's hard to find but it's still out there.

Look, I try and eat healthy most of the time. But I refuse to grow up, and I'm going to enjoy my sugar laden dreams via a bowl of cereal from the 60's.

And then I'm going to give Abby an extra treat.

For growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.

Monday, December 11, 2017

New Howl-iday Friends in Blogville

And a Cartridge in a Bare Tree!~

Please forgive my Mom's bad Christmas pun and picture.  Secret Squirrels are NOT known for their keen senses of humor.  But we wanted to share some new friends we have made in Blogville.

With the holiday card exchange, Mom and I met some new friends this year, that weren't in it last year, as it was pretty new. So we didn't get a chance to get to know them better before now, though some of you may know them well. Please drop into their blogs and say hi!  - Abby Lab

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Let the Messy Games Begin!

Abby Lab here.

Everyone gives ME a bad time about some de-stuffing that has gone on in this house.

Well, I've got nothing on my Mom, who made my little piles of stuffing look like nothing.

Look what I found in the photo album! Little Miss Innocent in 1960.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Saturday Pancakes - It's Eggnog season

I got through the work week and too many meetings with the help of my favorite laser pointer (you have had to seen the Austin Powers movies to appreciate) but I was SO glad it was Saturday.

Even better, we had our first real snow.  Abby went out on the yard to roll in it twice, the birds were fed and the critter water dish ice removed and replaced with warm water, and then it was time to make pancakes.

Since it is the Christmas seasn, it's eggnog pancakes, a recipe I share every year. They are almost pastry like in texture and SO yummy.
click on photo to enlarge
Eggnog Pancakes

1 and 1/3 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Small pinch of nutmeg

Mix together and make a "well" in the center of it in the bowl.

Mix in separate small bowl:
1 cup plus 3 Tablespoons Oberweis eggnog (our favorite dairy products!)
1 large egg beaten
2 Tablespoons clarified butter

THIS is the secret, clarified butter is butter that's been heated in a skillet until the butterfat and liquid separate a bit, it makes the pancakes extra light and fluffy, just heat the butter until it just starts to bubble and brown and add it to the rest of the liquids and immediately pour the liquid ingredients into the well in the dry ingredients. Mix lightly and cook on an oiled skillet til golden. The batter is fairly thick. If it's too thick to work with, then add a couple tablespoons of milk. Do NOT overmix.

Cook on medium heat. They are thick and take a little longer to cook than regular pancakes so don't let the heat get too high or they will burn before they are done and aim for lots of smaller ones, rather than big ones. I usually cook in two batches of 4-5 pancakes and add a tablespoon of eggnog to the second batch as this batter does thicken up very quickly. Serve with real maple syrup.

With a little practice, you can prepare the batter in less than 10 minutes. This makes about ten 3-4 inch pancakes, enough for 2 or 3 people.

Friday, December 8, 2017

My Name is Abby Lab - and I'm Addicted to Kongs

 There's got to be a little dab of peanut butter left in here.
 Right there at the end.
If I just stretch out my tongue a LITTLE bit further.
What do you mean I've had too much already?
I can stop any time.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Barkley Memories - The "Cultured" Lab

Every week, in addition to his walks, if it was not pouring or too hot for anyone wearing a fur coat, Barkley and I would head out.  We had a couple places where I could throw a toy and he could safely run off leash for a while in safety.  If it's hot out he got to go to the creek, sometimes with friends.
Afterwards on those trips, if it was just he and I, we would make a stop on our way home for a frozen yogurt. He waited in the running car with the a.c. on if it was warm and the door locked while I dashed in and come out with two red bowls.  He got a little dab of vanilla in a big snoot sized bowl.  He was usually trying to snoot it through the two front seats before I was even in the truck and then dragged the empty container into the back when he's done.
One night I was driving past the place while running errands the other night and decided to stop and get one. Though, if I'd gotten one for Barkley too,  it would have been completely melted when I got home.  Sorry, buddy.

I felt kind of bad, he'd been in the house all day long without company.  There's no telling what kind of mischief he can get into if he's too unoccupied..

Sorting my laundry (hey look, this has tooth sized holes in it, better throw it out).

Bacon Profiling

Or playing secret Black Lab fantasy games.
I am Bored.  Prepare to be assimilated.

But no matter what, he was always waiting for me with a bit happy Lab grin on his face and a wagging tail, just happy to see me.

When I got home that night, I set my empty yogurt container in the kitchen as I walked in, to toss in the trash when I got settled.

I expecting to be greeted by Mr. Happy Lab, who is usually waiting on the couch in the next room for me.
This was NOT Mr. Happy Lab.  Not only does he spot the empty yogurt dish, he, apparently, can count to two.
Come on Barkley, let's go.  It's been a long day but what's 15 miles to the gallon for your best friend.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Introducing Choppy with "Corny Dog Jokes"

Back when I lived in Indiana, I met a young lady through some of the rescue folks I was involved with, an attorney named Sarah who had the cutest rescue dog named Choppy. She and Choppy have traveled through almost all of the states in the US and she has a delightful way of looking at the world.  Since we met, Sarah has since married and moved to the great land of Cheese (Wisconsin) but we stay in touch.

Her blog is
She always has some funny and clever posts but one of the more popular ones was when she would dress Choppy up in a costume and publish it with a pun or witty saying. Seriously, Choppy has more costumes than most Hollywood starlets and Sarah's sense of humor is wonderful.

After writing two delightful travel books she captured the best of Choppy's eye-rolling groaners and put them in a book that kids from 5 to 105 will love.

It's absolutely delightful with colorful and fun photography and I ordered a copy for all of my family members.

Link to order from Amazon is below - you won't regret it.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Holiday Anticipation

Sometimes the waiting for something is the best part.

Christmas was like that as a child, the build-up to the big day, shaking the presents under the tree, many which had been rigged with marbles or rocks inside to throw us off. Mom would make a couple of different types of cookies every few days, something new to taste and try with a plate set aside with a sample of everything to eat after the Christmas meal.

It's not just Christmas - there are many events in our lives we anxiously await. The birth of a baby, a holiday, a wedding, awaited with great longing, then suddenly over, vanished as if an illusion.
But Christmas Eve, as children was the best.  We weren't allowed to open any gifts until Christmas morning.  We'd be up before the marked light of dawn, seeing the unwrapped gifts that Santa had left for us on the mantle around the fireplace, Mom and Dad trailing down the hall stifling yawns.

I spent Christmas Eve and day some years back with neighbors who let the kids open the gifts on Christmas Eve.  They didn't go to church so Christmas Day was simply watching sports while the kids played non stop video games.  I appreciated the invite but it felt no more like Christmas than the 4th of July.
No, waiting for the morning was anticipated glory.  I'd sleep in a little trundle bed next to my brothers, trying to stay awake to hear Santa. Mom would come in and lay the sunset colored afghan she had crocheted on top of me for warmth.  Outside, the big, fat 1960's Christmas lights would shine through a window, curtains swept aside so we could see.   Overhead, an aircraft went on its way, solitary and swift like a shooting star.  We'd  speak in low tones, as if in church, as outside the door, our wiener dog Pepper's toenails click-clacked on the hardwood floor as she patrolled her domain.

We would always fall asleep too soon, and wake before the sun rose with that flaming stare of quiet curiosity.
But Christmas isn't the only thing we look forward to.  It may be graduating from college.  It may be retirement.  I think of those people that have a countdown calendar to the day they can walk out the door.  Some come back to the workplace by to say hello, as if tethered to that place they spent so many, many years. Some we never see again, that place nothing more than a coat they have now flung off in warmer lands.
You think what you wait for will take forever to get here.  Then, when it is behind you, those days seemed as they raced past, brilliant and quick, nothing more than a flash of light in the distance, the nights as short as fragmented dreams. Too soon, what you waited for is memory, never to be reclaimed but in thought.

Dad does not wish to celebrate Christmas as anything more than the quiet communion in his home with the minister in celebration of Christ's birth. By his choice, there has not been a tree for a traditional Christmas celebration since my Mom died over 30 years ago. The aluminum tree and color wheel were packed away, never to be seen again. In the years before he remarried, there was neither light nor breath in that house for my Dad and he just wanted Christmas to be over with, once my brother and I were out of the house.
When Dad did remarry, to a widow who had herself lost a beloved spouse- they usually spent Christmas at his sister in law's condo in San Diego - enjoying the warmth.  Dad did not wish to spend Christmas day in a house in which my Mom's laughter had gone silent.   I understood, spending Christmas with friends, later volunteering for extra flight duty so those with children could have the day off.  I understand it even more after losing my brother.
Today, I look up at the flash of a light, here in the fading light.  It is is an airplane, the tiny blink of its passing no different than the ones we viewed as children. I know too well, the feeling of that crew, anxious to get to their destination, hoping they won't have weather or a mechanical issue that precludes their making it home in time for Christmas.  I know the sense of relief of the last flight of the night, launching into a sky, that like man, in one embrace can assume and appease, even as it cannot forgive.

Many a night I flew on Christmas Eve, eliciting a chuckle from the crew chief when he glanced up at the Cockpit and saw my Santa hat as we prepared to depart.  We were only anxious as to the day and time until we were aloft, then like seaman have probably felt since time began, we settled down, finding the true Peace of God and Earth somewhere over 35,000 feet, finding the storms and turbulence, not as some heavenly punishment for our selfishness in wanting to be home but rather a gentle rebuke to curb an impatient heart.
At altitude, we'd talk about Christmas past and the hope for Christmas future, perhaps one with a family, our voices quiet, no louder than expelled breath, as the miles ticked under us.  Those in the back of the airplane were subdued, anxious to get home, looking down on cities that twinkled like Christmas lights, clouds bunched over some of them, like warm flannel blankets. Some nights the wind would be so strong aloft we felt like we'd stopped, going forward not with will or strategy but simply that grooved habit to endure,

The recorded weather data that we'd confirm receipt of, instead of Delta and Echo and other letters of the phonetic alphabet were Dancer and Prancer and such.  On more than one Christmas Eve, my copilot would confirm Information "Santa" received and we'd made our final descent, not to a city where loved ones awaited, but simply a hotel room with all the ambiance of a dental lab, it's emptiness bringing that quick sharp sting that I could taste in my mouth as I opened the door.

There, I would sleep like a soldier in the field without shelter but for stiff, cotton sheets, waiting to wake up to the fight and the firing.
Tonight I look up and outside. There will be no Christmas light at home, too many commitments of work and family to get them up this year. But there will be a 1960's aluminum tree with an antique color wheel, found at a garage sale, repaired and set up by my husband.  There will be the click-clack of Abby's toenails on the hardwood floors as she patrols her domain. In the kitchen, there will be cookies and a pot of tea set to boil  And on the shelf, there will be found a framed picture of a little auburn haired boy and girl sitting in their Dad's lap, Christmas decorations in the background, as he reads them a story.

It was a story of a baby, one not born of passion or pleasure but one born so that more than a Mother's suffering in his birth would be eased til the end of days.  It was a story of forgiveness we often can't receive from man, but that is His promise in eternity.
This Christmas season, I'm grateful for the anticipation of days.  Christmas will too soon be here and gone. Those that I spent the Christmas of my youth with are gone, but for Dad, his own days drawing to a close. What is left now may just be a fleeting illusion, but illusions, like memory, are as true as flesh, bone, and blood.

Rather than wish that Christmas was here, I'm going to wish it would wait, that I can savor this time of quiet peace, the smell of warmth, the laughter of my husband, and the hearkening of a family of angels who calm this impatient heart with a touch as soft as a caress.

 - L.B. Johnson