Remember our heroes

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, National

Having been at this column-writing thing for some time now (Fifth year, can you believe it? Seems like a long time but I know it’s only a flash in the pan compared to my cohorts Finley and Orton), I feel like I’ve worn out certain topics.

What more could there possibly be to say as I move through the cycle of commemorative days on the calendar yet again? But there is one that I never feel I can speak enough on.

Tomorrow is not merely the last Monday in May.  But I know it would largely be forgotten if not for the long weekend that unofficially kicks off summer. I’d wager some folks don’t even know (or care) how this extended weekend came about.

Memorial Day—formerly Decoration Day—is day of remembrance for soldiers who have died in our nation’s service. I can’t think of another group deserving of any higher amount of gratitude.

While any one of us could easily become ensnared in all the hoopla that has been bestowed upon the day to the point of losing its intent, not one of us can deny being inextricably linked to the past lives and deaths of so many who were unknown to us personally.

But those soldiers belonged to real families, who felt real pain and maybe even genuine pride for having contributed to a greater cause.

And let’s pause and reflect:  Would you march into danger and lay down your life for the benefit of unknown people from an unknown time?

Many have. Many still do.

How does one adequately appreciate the gift of freedom and protection?

We can start by understanding that for all the “injustices” we think we suffer . . . life is pretty darn good here in the U.S. of A.

Sure, I get discouraged, too, when I clearly see the principles this country was founded upon threatened by political posturing, power plays or just plain steering the country away from  what was bought and paid for with the blood of our ancestors.

 And in this current election season (vote Tuesday if you haven’t already), I’m weary of wading through the deception and egos to exercise my fought-for-and-won right, honor, and privilege of casting a ballot.

 I’m ashamed to feel that way, but know I must pay attention in honor of those who afforded me the opportunity.

By the grace of God I’ve never walked a single step in a battle-weary soldier’s boots – only stood under the umbrella of their and their families’ sacrifices.

While out enjoying whatever the extended weekend brings, please take a few moments to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we all might enjoy the freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

To all that have been lost and those who lost loved ones: Thank you. Anything I can give back seems inadequate, but you are not forgotten.  What you gave lives on.

“We cherish too the Poppy red that grows on fields where valor led. It seems to signal to the skies that blood of heroes never dies.” ~Moina Michael

© 2012 Natalie Whatley

In a pig’s ear!

Author: natalie  //  Category: From me to you

I don’t know about you folks, but I have had my fill of unscrupulous businesses looking to make some extra dough engineering “food” by mixing up nasty concoctions and passing them off as something I might rather enjoy eating.

We all heard about the “pink slime” that mimicked meat . . . I believe of the poultry variety. I didn’t get too worked up because I swore off chicken nuggets and the like many years ago.

I’m no rocket scientist, but my palate alerted me something was not quite right with those chicken-like products. I can’t tell you how relieved I am that when I can’t put my finger on something, my tongue steps up to the plate and makes an objection. I listen when it speaks.

Then I heard about meat glue. If you find yourself with a few free moments—make sure your stomach is empty—take a look.  That high-dollar prime rib may be lesser cuts in disguise.

Shoot, eating paste from the jar at school back in the day was mere child’s play. And I decided to eat said paste of my own volition. I don’t like being tricked into eating “glue” in my steak and who knows what else.

And the story goes on with product after product.

Some bee-hind out there somewhere is even simulating honey and having us believe it’s the real thing. The phony products have been found on the shelves of many well-known retailers—unbeknownst to them, of course. Like you and me, they bee-lieved they were getting Buzzy’s best.

But this week when I witnessed the breaking of the latest food scandal, I threw my hands up in disgust. These money-hungry swine have gone too far.

Chinese police are investigating the discovery of a batch of “fake” pigs’ ears.

The bogus ears were discovered in a market in Ganzhou City in the eastern province of Jiangxi—where I keep one of many vacation homes—after a customer (bet it was one of my friendly seasonal neighbors) complained of a strange smell when cooking them.

You did know that REAL pig ears smell divine when heated, right?

Food safety officials tested the “ears” and determined they were made out of gelatin and sodium oleate, which is commonly used to make soap.

Ah. Surely you’re imagining that gelatinous, soapy “ear” in the frying pan and the to-die-for aroma. Makes me want to squeal just thinking about it.

Photos circulating on the Internet show the “ears” being examined. They appear light brown with a plastic-like texture. YUM.

Rest assured, an expert came along (thank your lucky stars) and offered up a sure-fire method for telling real ears—a popular delicacy—from fake ones.

Pay close attention. Are you ready?

The genuine article should have . . . hair . . . wait, it gets even better . . . and visible small blood vessels.

Somebody pass me some paper towels, I started salivating profusely just typing that.

Whew! I feel so much better now that I know definitively how to differentiate between the real thing and imposters.

Am I sufficiently grossed out? Has this scandal affected my ability to enjoy something that sounds delicious? Is a pig’s hind-end pork?

Careful, folks, some of those pigs’ ears you might want to eat are not.

© 2012 Natalie Whatley

It’s hard to be soft

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, Life with children, National

Happy Mother’s Day to all my cohorts in the grand adventure that is motherhood.

I sat down at my computer and pondered on what it means to be a mother while hoping some profound words would emerge from my fingertips as they danced across the keyboard.

Just so you have the perfect visual, please know that somehow I got through a whole bunch of formal schooling without ever learning the proper typing technique that is now called keyboarding. So, my typing and dancing fingers can be likened to the chicken dance. I’m chuckling because I know that song will be stuck in your head the rest of the live-long day, but I digress.

It all came to me and I typed it up as quickly as my fingers would move: Motherhood is hard. That’s it. That’s all she wrote.

Then I stared at my literary masterpiece in all its splendor. It was a beautiful moment up until I realized I had come up with three whole words and needed roughly 550 more to pass muster with one Mr. Adam Yanelli, high-ranking official at The Sun. Talk about pressure. The things I do for you people.

I pondered and chicken danced some more.

Author Elizabeth Stone summed it all up far better than I could: “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”  Wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve has got nothing on mommas!

And at least in my experience, it’s easy when children are young to be all squishy as we learn to yield to the demands.  They’re so cute when they’re sleeping . . . shoot, when they’re awake, too. The innocence and the dependence are intoxicating . . . most of the time.

It’s rewarding and exhausting work. I’ve been on top of the world and back down to the hole I dug in the ground when things didn’t go according to plan. It takes a strong breed to withstand the extremes that punctuate the monotony of the daily grind.

Then those cute little puppies turn into dogs. Weird things start happening. They (and their demands) get bigger.  Oh, and they learn to negotiate like the finest of litigators.

The role changes and I think we all strive to be that soft place to fall, but let’s face it: There’s a hard outer shell that forms.  That’s what happens when we feel the sting of being tenderized and having someone or something come along and pour salt in that open, exposed heart.

It’s a difficult, but necessary balance to strike while trying to prepare those precious babies for the rigors of real, life-isn’t-always-fair life.

And it’s out of a great deal of love we put on the armor and head into battle. Even harder is having to switch back and forth between fighting for and then against. I lay awake at night strategizing—choosing my battles and weapons carefully while weighing the consequences of the various options.

A lot of times I don’t want to be the hardened warrior, but when your heart walks around outside your body you learn all to quickly it’s just plain hard to be soft.

© 2012 Natalie Whatley

A Shadowy cataclysm

Author: natalie  //  Category: Home sweet home

A few years ago Halloween a scrawny black cat showed up at the Whatley Estate. Worried about the fate of such a creature on such a night, we took the little guy in and provided shelter “for that evening only”.

Well, I’ve written about him (Shadow) many times since and you all know he weaseled his way into our family (and hearts) and took reign over the Whatley Estate grounds where he collects “trophies” . . . not the least of which was a squirrel he proudly carried in his jowls and laid at my feet which were standing INSIDE my home.  He looked so dejected when I became angered over that bloody, flopping mess, but that’s a story for a different day.

When it became apparent Shadow had no plans of moving along he and I discussed the conditions of his adoption. Then I headed off to the vet to get the kitten’s health in order.

 Much to my surprise he was no kitten, but rather a wormy and malnourished six-pound full-gown cat. Some hefty coinage, food, and vast amounts of TLC later the vet deemed him “recovered” and in tip-top shape—a lean, mean nine-pound fighting machine.

Currently weighing in at just over 20 pounds, he resembles a small panther. He’s strong, stealthy and still fast enough —even with his expanded girth—to catch whatever he decides to go after.

So imagine my surprise when all the sudden our version of the lion king is apparently afraid to go outside. Something is lurking, or maybe as I suspect, swooping, and giving him the what for.

We noticed him pacing back and forth at the back door and in time he even started growling as he paced.

We’d open the door to let him after his prey only to watch him poke his head just past the door frame, then back up and slink away up the stairs and far away from . . . who knows exactly what.

I was sympathetic to his plight right up until he decided my front-entry rug would double as a litter box. (He’s never used a litter box and has always taken care of his business outdoors.)

Catching him one time too many squatting on my rug, I picked his big behind up and deposited him on the back patio.

We raced back to the door and I had to hold him out with my foot as I tried to close the door. After I got it closed, he stood up on his hind legs and clawed at the door looking panic-stricken. I’d never seen anything look quite so pitiful or terrified. It was akin to full grown man running and screaming like a little girl.

He started “crying”. I folded. He darted in and hid behind my legs.

I wonder if the mighty hunter has lost his marbles. I’d call his manhood into question, but that was taken away as a condition of his staying.  Or maybe mockingbirds, which are territorial, mean and hatching young’uns in our bushes and trees, have taken to harassing him.

Whatever it is, our big, bad panther-like kitty has suffered a cataclysmic event. Something in the shadows has turned him into a fraidy cat.

© 2012 Natalie Whatley