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Monday, February 22, 2010

World Premiere of "A Crop to Die For" Dinne Mystery Theatre

What do you get when you combine murder, scrapbooking and mystery theatre?

A Crop to Die For! The new dinner mystery theatre that had its world premiere last Saturday at ScrapbooksPlus! in Chantilly, VA.

The story begins when Kiki Lowenstein brings a carload of women along to a crop. Bit by bit, the women reveal their secrets, and tempers flare. Then we all take a break for dinner.

BANG! Somebody "dies!" (Of course, it was all in good fun. We used acrylic paint on our "victim" for the bullet hole in her forehead.)

The crop participants had a good time figuring out "whodunnit." Those who guessed right were given a discount coupon by Debbie Chabot (the store owner), and one lucky person (Larcey) won a special prize.

Many thanks to our wonderful cast: Lisa H., Michelle V., Beverlee S. and Kate S. (You all did a splendid job.)

You can read what my new friend Marlynn (who's with me in the photo above) said in her beautiful blog "Honeysuckle Breeze." Check out her ATCs. Aren't they gorgeous?

Want to put on a dinner theatre featuring Kiki Lowenstein at your store? As soon as I make a few adjustments to the script, it will be available for you to use at your own gathering. (By the way, I had lots of fun playing Kiki. It sure wasn't much of a stretch.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Courage--Why Pets Matter So Much to Us in Times of Trouble

As my mother lay dying, I held tight to Courage.
No, I don't mean a sense of bravery or a feeling that I could prevail. I mean Courage the Chihuahua, pictured above. (Or as his owner, my sister Jane, calls him, he's Courage the Chee-whoie-whoie.)

That tiny dog became my anchor in a rough and stormy sea. Mom's coma happened quite suddenly, and I was without the daily resources I usually depend upon to keep myself going emotionally. I was far from home, without my husband, and without my own dogs. I didn't have a car and I couldn't use my typical lifeline, the computer. Like a spaceman in zero gravity, I had a hard time finding my balance.
Our mother's sick room was my world. Courage was my comforter. Small and portable, he would crawl into my lap for petting. As I stroked him, I felt the tension and fear leave me. A sense of zen-like calm came over me. As long as I could lift my hand, run it over his tiny back, and start again, I could go on.

I could handle what was happening, handle the horror of watching my mother's body fail her, handle the anguish that came from realizing I couldn't ease her suffering, and handle the emptiness of the long future ahead without long as I could keep petting Courage.

Now I have confirmation my feelings weren't unique. I just finished reading "Making Rounds with Oscar," an extraordinary book by David Dosa, a geriatrician who works at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, RI. Seems that Oscar (pictured below) would instinctively know when a patient was dying. The little cat made it his duty to be there as a sort of handmaiden to the process.

When Oscar's "talent" was first reported to Dr. Dosa, he dismissed it. Nothing in his scientific background could explain Oscar's intimate knowledge. Indeed, if you've ever lost a family member, you know the answer to the question, "How much time does she have?" yields wildly inaccurate responses. Health professionals are the first to admit how hard it is to predict someone's demise.

Yet, Oscar proved himself to be an incredibly accurate prognosticator of time of death. Dr. Dosa found this hard to believe. After all, most of the patients at Steere were in poor health. The doctor reasoned that Oscar simply noticed an increase in activity and followed the "crowd" to the room of any patient who was dying.
But even so, Oscar's abilities were hard to explain. One evening when two people were dying at once, Oscar sat with one patient until he passed and then raced out of the room to jump onto the bed of a second patient who died shortly thereafter.

Dr. Dosa decided to take a scientific approach and interview families who shared their loved ones' last moments with Oscar. The doctor quickly discovered that Oscar's predictive talents were not nearly so important as the measure of relief his presence afforded grieving families.

One woman said, "I think of Oscar as my angel. He was here for my mother, and here for me, too. With Oscar at my side...well, I felt a little less alone." Another interviewee said, "...Oscar gave me the feeling this is all natural."
Since Oscar and Dr. Dosa had a rocky start--Oscar bit the doctor when they first met-- Dr. Dosa begins the book with a sense of skepticism. He accepts the presence of the cats in the nursing center (there are two on each of the three floors of the facility), but he doesn't really see the animals as intrical. In a way, Dr. Dosa thinks the center is doing the animals a favor by providing homes for these strays. At best, he sees them as decorative, a homey touch much akin to having living plants and hanging pictures on the wall.

All that changes as Dr. Dosa begins to explore the comfort Oscar provides to grieving families. Dr. Dosa writes, "Maybe we started adding cats to make this house feel more like a home. But I was starting to think they were the ones teaching us that what makes a home is a family."

Courage did the same for me. He reminded me that even though my mother was leaving us, I was surrounded by her legacy. We all loved her, and one of her gifts was her love of animals. Another was our love for each other. Nothing, not even death, could steal my mother's love from us.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Return on Our Investment

I love this photo. My new pal Donna Manz took it for the Vienna (VA) Connection. You can read the entire article here.

That's Vicky, on the left. You can't see her harness, but of course, it is pink. She's a girly-girl of a dog. We "adopted" Victoria in England, so she's a British Bichon and a little smaller than the American breed. Since her father was an English champion, Vicky is a bit of a princess. Sarah, one of the adorable little girls who lives down the street, told me (with a look of total sincerity on her face), "When I die, if I come back, I want to come back as Victoria."

Sarah also said, "I'm not sure if Vicky's very smart or not."

I said, "Oh, she's plenty smart. Let me ask you, does Vicky get you to do exactly what she wants?"

"Hmm. You're right!" said Sarah.

Believe me, Vicky knows her loyal subjects. She only does what she wants, when she wants.

And that's Rafferty on the right with the blue harness. He's a Bichon-Poodle mix. Would you call that a Bi-Poo? (You might if you knew Raffi!) He's only got three legs, but golly, he certainly makes the most of all three. He can jump up on furniture, a trick Vicky only recently mastered. (Actually, I think she was simply accustomed to having us, her humble servants, lift Her Majesty.)

They're my posse. When I'm hard at work writing, they keep me company by sitting in my office. Raffi whines unless I get him his own cushion because Vicky does NOT like to share. At night, Raffi jumps from sofa to chair to my lap. He doesn't know he's too big to be a lap dog!

Yeah, it's a bit of a hassle to plan for letting them out or getting dog sitters, but you know, I'd be so very, very lonely all day without them. When they're at the groomers, I feel a bit lost.

David and I were talking the other day about traveling, and we decided that we want to go places where we can bring the dogs along, too. It's just hard on all of us to leave them in a kennel or with sitters.

I realize that a lot of folks decide that once their children leave the nest, it's best not to be encumbered by a pet. But, our dogs own our hearts. They've made our new house a home. They're my posse, my small, furry personal herd of friends.

So if we have to open a wallets a bit more frequently, if we have to work a little harder at planning our lives, and if we have to glance at our watches and race home to let them's really such a small price to pay for all the love we get in return.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow Ice Cream

When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. So it follows that when life dumps a ton of snow on you, you make ice cream. Yes, ice cream!
Eliza Barclay wrote a fun article for the Washington Post about the history of "snow cream." She even checked with the EPA and learned that while they wouldn't recommend consuming snow in large quantities, a dish of snow probably couldn't hurt you. Furthermore, it seems that when snow falls in copious quantities as we've had of late, the tiny flakes actually scrub the sky clean. (Clean-ish?)
Fortified by this research, and by the total mind-numbing boredom of cabin fever, I decided to give the treat a try.
First, I grabbed a long handled ladle so I could reach deep into a snow drift. Then I filled a bowl with scoops of snow.
Next, I opened a can of condensed milk, a bag of Spenda and my bottle of vanilla. I stirred a can and a half into the snow, added a layer of Spenda and three teaspoons of vanilla. (I suggest you adjust the amounts and taste as you go along.)
Finally, I poured the semi-frozen mix into a plastic container and set it in the freezer for an hour. Voila! Tasty, yummy, ice cream. Oh, and that dark dollop on top is chocolate syrup. (Yes, I know. It looks like ... isn't!)
Read Eliza's enchanting article here:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash with Apples

This is sooo good that I had to share it:

Roasted Butternut Squash with Apples

20 oz. container butternut squash (peeled, cubed & seeded)
1 large onion (peeled and diced)
1 T. olive oil
sea salt to taste
3 T. red wine vinegar
3 T. low calorie maple syrup
1 apple (peeled, cored and diced)
1/4 C. chopped walnuts
1/4 C. dried cranberries

Toss oil, onion and butternut together and spread on cookie sheet with silk liner. (Or foil lined.) Sprinkle on sea salt. Roast for 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
Remove. Whisk together vinegar and syrup. Pour liquid over the squash and onion mix. Add in apples, nuts and cranberries. Makes 6 servings of less than 155 calories each. About 2 Weight Watchers points.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Valentine's Day Special: Stamping with a Cork and Broccoli Salad Recipe

Let's face it, crafts rock. They can cheer up the gloomiest day. Even the smallest accomplishment can give you a boost when you're feeling low. Or in my case, when you're living through a historic snowfall!

Today I dipped into my basket of recycling supplies and pulled out a champagne cork. I'd wanted to carve them into my own stamps for a while and today was the day!

Here's how:

1. Create a simple template. I used a heart punch. You don't want to get complex!

2. Glue that to the flat edge of your stamp.

3. Use a craft knife and carefully peel away the excess cork. I found it worked best to slice into the outline of the image and then sort of flick away at the cork, pushing the excess AWAY from the design.

4. Sand the flat surface with an emery board or piece of sandpaper.

5. Test your image. You'll see if you need to remove more cork or clean up an edge.

6. Enjoy! I made the hearts that the pandas are holding, and the hearts on the index cards.

Now for the Broccoli Salad:

1 bag of broccoli salad pre-chopped mix from grocery store

1 C. carrots, chopped

1/2 C. shredded cheese (cheddar or Mexican will work)

8 slices of bacon, fried to crispy and cut with kitchen scissors into tiny bits

3 small packages of raisins


1 C. light mayo

1/2 C. sugar

2 T. cider vinegar

Mix all the broccoli, cheese, bacon, raisins and carrots together. Pour 1/2 of the dressing over your mix. Reserve the rest of the dressing for another salad. Enjoy!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Smitty the Walmart Doorman

Here's a great little story that's bound to bring a smile to your face. Maybe the next time you walk into a Walmart, stop a minute and actually interact with the greeter. It might be the highpoint of your day.

Smitty the Walmart Greeter. (You might have copy and paste this. For some reason Blogger isn't co-operating today!)