Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mitchell wins

I hope you watched Bobby Flay’s “Throwdown” Wednesday night, featuring Wilson’s Ed Mitchell.
Mitchell, who previous operated a barbecue restaurant on U.S. 301, is now pitmaster at The Pit in Raleigh. Food Network personality Flay showed up at The Pit in March and challenged Mitchell to a ribs and beans throwdown.
Mitchell won, as the crowd knew he would. The two local judges thought his dishes were more representative of eastern North Carolina cooking.
During the show, Mitchell and Flay made their rib dishes. Some of their techniques were the same, but most showed a difference in style from the cut of ribs to the cooking method. Flay favors low and slow cooking for his ribs; Mitchell goes for hot and fast, cooking his in a fraction of the time it took Flay, who first smoked his St. Louis-cut ribs. But both used a combination of eastern and western N.C. barbecue, using both vinegar and tomato in their sauce.
Audience members liked both men’s ribs and gobbled up the samples that were passed around.
Mitchell’s beans were also more representative of baked beans served in this area, starting with a healthy helping of bacon. He also let slip his secret ingredient: moonshine! Mitchell’s recipe for baked beans, using beer instead of moonshine, is posted at the “Throwdown” site on Food Network’s Web site.
Mitchell has a remarkable camera presence. My family was impressed with his ease with the television crew. He certainly did North Carolina proud in this 30-minute television show.
I just wish The Pit were even closer to home. My mouth is watering for a taste of those ribs!
If you missed the show last night, you can see it again June 6 at 4:30 p.m. on Food Network.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Losing hospice

I lost a major support system last week when hospice released my mother from their care. They say her condition has stabilized. Her weight is holding at 90 pounds, and they've seen no significant cognitive decline in recent months.
It was quite a blow. The CNAs, RNs, office staff and others had been a comfort to me for just over a year, as they helped me take care of my parents.
They fed Mama and Daddy, bathed them, dressed them, helped them with toileting, sat with them on the porch, took their temperature and blood pressure, monitored their bowel habits and emotional well-being, and one even painted Mama's fingernails on a regular basis.
On the morning Daddy died, a hospice nurse and social worker were at the door to take care of things. It was so nice for someone else to be in charge. To answer my questions. To help me answer Mama's questions.
Knowing the medical staff, especially, was keeping close, weekly tabs on both of them this past year was such a comfort for me. One less thing for me to do. I feel lost now. In the few days since she was released, I've noticed several changes in Mama that have worried me, but I can't call our nurse to discuss why Mama is suddenly unable to swallow at many meals. She just holds the food in her mouth and looks at you as if to say: "What do I do next?" She's done something like this before, but it's different this time, more frequent. She's also been more confused and restless. But I have no one to talk to about it.
And, as coincidence would have it, our hospice closed its doors for good on the same day they released Mama.
I'm very thankful for hospice and all they did for my family, emotional, medically and financially. I just hate they had to leave me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Comparing yearbooks

The children came home with their high school yearbooks yesterday. My son's last, my daughter's first. Anna and I sat down on the sofa last night and looked at the book, page by page, commenting on the silly photos from spirit week, the pretty girls all dressed for the prom, the baby photos of Robert's classmates, the color photos of the seniors. We read the sweet messages from parents in ads and found each place where Robert and Anna are pictured in the book from the swim team to the Academic Excellence Society.
Thank God some things never change.
My children attend the same high school I went to, and although some of the experience is the same, much has changed, of course, since I graduated from Hunt in 1980. At that time, the computer we used in math class took up an entire room. There was only one of them, of course, and we had to turn in our homework on computer tape about the size of masking tape. My kids have their own laptops they use in class.
But we still all love a yearbook. We love to see our photos and the photos of our classmates through the years. We like the idea of documenting the clubs we were in, the clothing styles, the school's football season.
I pulled out my senior yearbook this morning and flipped through the pages. It no longer smells as fresh and new as Anna's crisp, white pages from last night. Mine is Vol. II; this year's is XXX.
A lot of years have passed, but my yearbook pages include color photos of the seniors, photos of the yearbook and newspaper staffs and silly photos from homecoming week. One page is devoted to fashion trends: add-a-bead and add-a-pearl necklaces, long skirts, monograms, ponytails and penny loafers and double-pierced ears. A photo in this year's Hunt yearbook features students with tattoos.
One other thing that's fun to compare between our books — a number of my classmates have children at Hunt right now. Susan Evett Boswell and Michael Boswell, Judi Bissette Etheridge, Tami Harmon Wiggs, Lynn Tucker Kyle, Mark Cunningham. I wonder if they enjoyed looking throught their kids' yearbooks as much as I did last night!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Stage Five: Depression

I googled "stages of grief" this morning. I wanted to see if I could find an explanation for why I'm all off a sudden exhausted and sad so much of the time, just like I was in the first week or two following Daddy's death.
After reading up on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' grief cycle, I've decided I've hit the fifth of her seven stages: depression.
I'm having trouble sleeping, waking up very early. This morning it's was 3:30, after a dream in which I found another dear relative dead — slouched over in his car. Even if I do have a relatively decent night's sleep (5 or 6 hours), I wake up totally exhausted. Tired like I have the flu. No energy whatsoever. I have to make my feet move to get me from the parking lot at work all the way to my desk.
It takes almost nothing to make me cry. Sitting here at my desk this morning, I already have swollen eyes and red cheeks. Some days, I wear dark glasses at work because I'm naive enough to think the glasses will hide my tears.
I felt like this when I returned to work the week after Daddy died. Susan said she had similar feelings. But it got better for me. Apparently, the reality and the finality of it all has caught up with me. The endless chores are still piling up, including something as simple as driving the mile to the VA office to order Daddy's headstone. A therapist would probably tell me that I don't want to order the headstone because it's too final. But because I haven't gone, I feel guilty. I feel awful that Daddy's grave is unmarked, even though it's only been two months.
I cried yesterday when I opened the mail at Mama and Daddy's. One letter was my reminder that Daddy's handicapped status for the car needed to be renewed. I cried again as I said goodbye to our wonderful hospice CNA who has been reassigned; she took loving care of my parents for more than a year and was with Daddy when he died. I wasn't strong enough to stay home with him that morning and hold his hand while he died.
I cried again last night when I wrote checks for an ambulance bill and an emergency room visit for Daddy.
I cried Saturday afternoon when I rode out to Rock Ridge to pick up barbecue chicken plates from a church fundraiser. It's a fundraiser my Daddy helped with well into his 80s. Yes, his 80s!
Before I picked up the plates, I rode by the area where the tornadoes had hit a few days before, crying all the way. I'm not completely sure why. I know I cried for the people who lost their homes, but I think I was also crying because I was getting close to the Boykin homeplace. It was the first time I had driven out to Daddy's "garden" since his death. Trees had been damaged at the farm, but nothing catastrophic. I pulled into the driveway for the first time since we sold the farm three years ago. The new owner was there, cleaning up storm debris. I told him who I was, and he walked with me across the property, telling me his wonderful plans for this beloved plot of earth.
I was embarrassed, but I couldn't stop the flow of tears as I looked at the oak tree that once shaded the back of the house, smelled the damp earthy aroma that is unique to this plot of land, heard the owner explain he was going to restore the corn crib and tractor shelter as well as the outhouse. Oh how I wished I could run home and tell Daddy. But, of course, I couldn't.
My birthday was Tuesday. I spent much of the day remembering very happy birthday parties with presents and cakes and family and friends. I thought of the birthday cards my parents always signed and remembered one in particular that Daddy had written the sweetest sentiment in. I've been wanting to pull that card out of my lingerie chest since his death and to re-read those precious words. But I could never muster the strength to do it. I had thought I'd read it Monday, but I couldn't make myself read it then, either. It seemed too much like torture.
I know part of the reason, probably the overwhelming part, that I'm so sad is that Susan and I are making life-changing decisions for our mother right now. I think I'm starting the grieving process all over with her. I'm mourning the loss of our family life, of a life with my mother safe in her own home, where she belongs.
I miss Daddy so much that it makes my stomach hurt, my head pound, my chest grow tight.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

25 years as a journalist

As of this week, I've worked at The Wilson Times for 25 years. That's a really long time. Long enough to get married, buy a house and raise a family.
I graduated from Atlantic Christian College on a Sunday and was at work on Tuesday morning, learning how to do food pages from a very pregnant Katy King, whose job I took.
It was Hal Tarleton (managing editor was his title then, I think) who told me about the job. Hal had taught a journalism class at AC, and I was in it. He remembered me when the job came open and called to see if I was interested. It's amazing how a decision as innocent as taking a single journalism class led to my newspaper career.
I was so very nervous on my first day on the job. But my boss, Ginny Stoecklein, and I quickly became friends, although I am younger than her children. My main jobs back then were typing weddings, doing food pages and writing feature stories. Ginny also taught me how to do layout, which wasn't much different than how I had done it as editor of The Collegiate at Atlantic Christian College.
Over the years, my job has evolved. When Ginny retired in 1988, I was named Lifestyle editor, and a new chapter started. Now, in addition to my duties in the Life department, I also do copy editing in the newsroom.
I have made so many wonderful friends in my years here in departments from one end of the building to the next. My co-workers went to my wedding, visited me in the hospital when my children were born, came to my house for dinner, invited me to their house for dinner, came in large numbers to grieve with me at my father's funeral.
They are true friends who share my life 40 hours a week and then some.
We have laughed together, and we have cried together. We've shared cakes at birthday parties, wedding showers and baby showers. We have rejoiced in long-awaited births or engagements, and we have mourned the loss of loved ones from sickness and even murder.
In the past 25 years, I've become identified not only as Robert's mom or Anna's mom or Reggie's wife, but as "that lady from the newspaper." My job has become very much a part of who I am and how people remember me.
This job has also given me the opportunity to meet so many people and the privilege of telling their story in the pages of our newspaper. I've told sad stories of people dying from incurable diseases and happy stories of people who have done good things with their lives. And I've had the pure joy of sharing some of my favorite recipes with readers, who are all the time telling me they tried my recipe in Wednesday's paper, and the family loved it! It makes me so happy when I hear things like that.
The Wilson Times has been through many changes in the 25 years I've been here. We've kept up with our industry as technology changed, but we've managed to maintain our hometown newspaper theme through all of those changes. I'm proud to have been part of that these last 25 years. Proud to tell our readers when babies were born, when someone was engaged, went to the prom, won a national recipe contest, was healed after a frightful illness, survived a storm, created a prize-winning piece of art, gave a piano recital, met someone famous, triumphed over adversity. Proud to be a journalist and a staff member at The Wilson Times.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Our new look

We've published a full week of a.m., redesigned newspapers, and I've been so happy with the wonderful comments we've received from our readers.
We're creatures of habit and don't always like change, so I was worried that readers wouldn't like the new look. The last drastic redesign of the newspaper was met with criticism, but not this one!
Not only have people called and e-mailed our publisher, Morgan Dickerman, but they've stopped other employees to voice their opinion. People have stopped me at church and on shopping errands to say they like the newspaper's new look or that they really enjoy reading the paper in the morning.
Subscribers have embraced the new look, and non-subscribers have joined up and are now having the newspaper delivered to their home each morning. We are thrilled!
And our advertisers have been so good to us. Don't you love the coupons?
As for me, personally, I'm getting used to coming to work to a quiet newsroom in the morning. It gives me time to update my blog more often and to write more stories. I'm not here when the deadline approaches late in the evening, and it seems nice to be away from that stress.
I'd love to hear what you're enjoying about the new design, so post your opinion!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I'd love a lazy day

I've been thinking a lot about Mother's Day this week and what I'd like to do if given the chance to do nothing for a day — any day, not just this Sunday.
I'd start out by sleeping late — getting up when I was good and ready. Breakfast would be cinnamon toast made from my homemade bread, and it would be served on the carport, where I'd enjoy my blooming topiary rose bush. After I finished eating, the cat would jump on my lap and nap, and I would not sneeze and wheeze and have to blow my nose because of his flying yellow fur.
After a quick shower, I'd plant myself either on my bed or back under the carport and read some of the many, many unopened food magazines that have accumulated on my cedar chest in recent months. When the reading starts to make me sleepy, I'd take a nap in the hammock I do not have. It would be a long nap, and I would not have to set an alarm to wake me up to be somewhere on time.
Lunch doesn't have to be fancy. Pimiento cheese on toast with a side of strawberries or cantaloupe would be fine.
In the afternoon, I'd like to have a manicure and pedicure, and I do not want to wait in line. Afterwards, I'd browse in the bookstore with anyone in my family who'd like to join me and have a chai latte.
As dinnertime approaches, I'd start looking forward to the chickens my husband is barbecuing on the brand new gas grill we do not have. My mouth would water as I imagine my plate filled with a leg quarter drenched in our favorite sauce, fresh corn on the cob and potato salad that I didn't have to make. For dessert, my son would make a batch of chocolate caramel sauce for my vanilla ice cream, and he'd deliver it to me with a cherry on top. I'd eat this meal with my granddaughter, Sora, sitting on my lap, reaching for each bite of my food and trying desperately to grab my tea glass before it reaches my mouth.
Someone else would clean up the dishes so "the girls" (me, Anna, Sora and her mom, Alicia) can stroll down the street to sit with Mama on her front porch. We'd all marvel at Mama's smile when the baby is placed in her lap.
Afterwards, Anna and I would go to Target or Marshall's or Ross or Belk and browse the aisles with no agenda, no shopping list, just plenty of time.
Before we leave for this shopping trip, we would stop at Mama's and sit with her on the porch.
When we get home, Reggie and I would go for a walk, come back home and watch someone else choose a new home on "House Hunters."
Notice this scenario makes no mention of cell phones, work, grocery shopping, laundry, paying bills or making decisions.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tornado strikes close to the heart

I've never lived in Rock Ridge, but I consider it an extension of what I define as "home."
It's where my daddy grew up — the setting for his stories of sitting up all night at the tobacco curing barn, playing ball for Rock Ridge School, hunting with his brothers and friends. It's home to Marsh Swamp Church where my family has worshipped for decades. It's where so many of my dear friends live, work and go to school. So yes, it's like home.
When yesterday's storm warnings indicated a tornado near Rock Ridge. I panicked. So did Anna, who asked me to leave work and hurry home. I did just that, and the two of us monitored the weather warnings.
I grew particularly alarmed when I heard the storm was taking a path towards Rock Ridge School Road and Sadie Road. I'm one of the lucky ones who knows exactly where Sadie Road is. Sadie Road is most definitely home; it's where my grandparents lived. It's what we cousins have referred to as "the garden" since our childhood. Although no one has lived on that 4-acre plot of heaven on Earth since the early 1970s, it wasn't until three years ago that my father sold it.
And Rock Ridge School Road? Marsh Swamp Church is on that road, and I know so many people who live there. I was frightened for those families, for our recently remodeled church, for the school, for Herd of Turtles Pottery.
I prayed, I panicked, and I kept listening to weather reports.
As soon as the storm had passed the Rock Ridge area, I called my pastor, Ray Wells, to make sure he and the church were OK. He was following a fire truck headed towards Sadie Road. He was OK, the church was OK, but as it turns out, many families would be returning to damaged or destroyed homes that evening.
I was at work Tuesday night, monitoring the scanner with my co-workers and reminding them that the tornado struck just a mile from where they watched us bury my father in March. I anxiously made calls to see if my Rock Ridge friends were OK, looked at photos from the damaged homes and picked out familiar faces in the crowd gathered at the shelter.
The photo that upset me most shows the damaged homes where Sadie and Rock Ridge School roads meet. I got a sick feeling as my husband and I looked at the image on the newspaper's Web site later that night. I ran my finger along the line where Sadie Road leads to the garden. How many times have I traveled that road, walked that road, looked at the chickens that scratched and pecked in the dirt yard of a farmhouse that stood there years ago?
Devastation had hit too close to home. In fact, it had hit home.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Resist the urge to sing "It's a Small World" while you read this.
Back in April, I wrote a column about this wonderful bread recipe from Cooking Light magazine. Catherine McMichael of Saginaw, Mich., was named a finalist in the magazine's Ultimate Reader Recipe Contest with Monday Morning Potato Rolls and Breads. I had made the bread twice and loved it!
Joyce Wolfe of Wilson didn't see my food column until the next week, when she discovered the recipe from her friend Catherine.
Here's what Joyce wrote me: "Thought you might find it interesting that Catherine McMichael is a musician and composes for handbells. Each year in August when I go to Bay View, Mich., to ring handbells, Catherine is there, also. We usually play one of her compositions. I remember her excitement last year as she told us that one of her recipes had been accepted by Cooking Light. It's nice to see it in print in Wilson!"
Well Joyce told Catherine about the column, and Catherine and I have e-mailed back and forth a few times. She said she's been making the bread twice a week for about a year. Her secret weapon is using a cup of her homemade flour blend in each batch.
I'm so glad Joyce shared her connection with my recipe