A Tale of Two Kitties

Wow. I could never have predicted this.

Our sweet, sweet blue cream Persian kitty, Alley, who has lived with us since she was six-months old, turned 15-years old the first of July. And like most of us who’ve logged a few miles, she wasn’t as spry as she used to be. Her hips didn’t work like they did when she was young. But then, mine don’t either.

Alley sleeping with a mouse

Here she is sleeping with a “mouse” on the deck. She was allowed out on the deck only if we were out there, and she had to stay on the deck. Alley knew the rules and obeyed them. That’s how incredible she was.

So she was slow and a bit needy as she grew old, but still Alley was happy and loved to be with her family. Then one recent Thursday she didn’t come out of her room. We took her to the vet that afternoon where she was diagnosed with kidney failure. Long-heart-wrenching-too-sad-to-tell-it-story short, Alley died the next day. We buried her at Wolf Crossing under twin oak trees. John and I both cried as he dug the hole and placed her in it. A resin angel and goldfinch feeder now mark Alley’s resting place. You might think it’s crazy, but I bought a marker for her which hasn’t yet arrived.

After Alley was gone, our house was immediately quiet and we missed our kitty. Through her, we had fallen in love with Persians–they are such sweet, gentle souls. But I didn’t want to buy from a breeder. I wanted to adopt a kitty in need, not one with a silver spoon. I’m not judgemental about it, but I think buying from a breeder encourages breeding. In my opinion, the world doesn’t need more cats.

After a bit of research, I discovered Specialty Purebred Cat Rescue–an organization dedicated to the rescue and placement of purebred kitties in need. How cool is that?! Even better, they are located just north of Chicago–a three-and-a-half hour drive for us! So I started visiting their website everyday and thinking about the kitties whose heart-melting stories are told there. (Check them out at http://www.purebredcatrescue.org)

Within a few days, guess whose picture appeared?

Alice’s adoption photo

It was Alice! Her picture stole our hearts, and we began the adoption process. According to Alice’s foster mom, there was no shortage of people who wanted to adopt her. We got lucky, tho, and she is now home with us. We are soooo happy to welcome this new little sweetheart into our lives. And, yes, she really is that cute!

So, here’s our tale of two kitties: Alley, we will never forget you and you will live in our hearts always. Alice, welcome to your new life!

Sentimental Irish Journey

I love to travel to Europe. Period. Aside from the obvious fact that I’m of European descent, I’m not really sure why I love it so much. I don’t have any known relatives there, but I go every chance I get. And I am lucky enough even to get to go for work every once in awhile.

So we made our second trip to Ireland a couple of weeks ago. We flew into Dublin, drove to Waterford, visited the magical picture post-card town of Kinsale and slept in a converted old convent in County Tipperary where roosters crow at 4:00 in the morning. We made our way through Kilkenny Castle and walked around the gorgeous little town of Kilkenny boasting a pub that houses the ruins of a 16th century abbey brought over from England. How crazy is that?! And we ate amazing food all along the way.

We were loosely tracing John’s ancestral heritage. His great grandfather, Patrick Tobin came over on the boat in 1868 with his new bride, Margaret Breen Tobin. We visited the church where Patrick was baptized in 1842, and one where John’s great aunt and uncle were married!

But we ended our Irish journey where it began–reflecting on the lives of those who came before.

Those who know me well, won’t be surprised, but Glasnevin Prospect Cemetery was our last stop. It is a short bus ride from Dublin and was opened in 1832, ten years before Patrick Tobin was born. Originally established so Catholics could have proper burials (it was against the law to have Catholic masses in Protestant cemeteries), it is the largest non-denominational burial place in Ireland with an estimated 1.5 million burials.

To be sure, somber Prospect Cemetery isn’t as ornate or cheerful as Paris’ Pere LaChaise Cemetery where Irish son Oscar Wilde rests today. But there’s something gritty, determined and stalwart about its personality. You can actually feel it here, as the ground shelters remains of members of a collective people who suffered and struggled for liberty so long under such great oppression and injustice. According to cemetery records, there are a few Tobins who were buried here in the last 50 years, but we didn’t find them.

During our visit, there was a funeral procession being led by two sleek, black stallions pulling a glass carriage that held a wooden coffin. Out of respect, I didn’t take pictures.
But it was breathtakingly beautiful.

And so our trip is over, but it is far from the end of this journey. Until we return to Ireland–as surely we will because it is a land that calls to us–I’ll continue to look for ancestral clues and think about the past that shaped our present.

A Memorial Day Memory

Wow. It’s been 13 years. Seems like yesterday, and at the same time so, so long ago. My beautiful mother went to Heaven 13 years ago today. And so today, I do what I always do every May 27. I call my sister and then go to church to light a candle. Why do I do it? I’m not sure, except that it’s the one thing I can do.

Here’s what Mom looked like when she was a child.

Elizabeth Delena <i>Baker</i> Lucas

Isn’t she cute?! So full of life! In this picture, she’s not so very much older than the Baby Cakes. So blonde and so tiny. She was always tiny. The day she delivered my sister, she weighed 105 lbs. Who does that?!

She set such a good example for me. She taught me how to live. And, when the time comes, she taught me how to die. And so I try to follow in her steps.

But I miss her. I remember when I was small asking her if I would still be alive when the calendar turned to the year 2000. She said, “I hope so!” But, she herself didn’t see the sun rise on the 21st century. She didn’t live to see enemies attack America in 2001. She was spared that, at least.

And so today, it is fitting that the 13th anniversary of her ascension coincides with Memorial Day. I lit a candle at Sacred Heart today for her. It is such a beautiful, tiny chapel in downtown Peoria, and today it was exceptionally stunning, decorated with roses and red candles presumably for Memorial Day.

Or, maybe it was for Mom?

A Fairy Happy World!

It began innocently enough.

John and I were at a nursery picking out flowers for our beds, when I saw a fairy garden for the first time. It wasn’t really very fancy, but I loved the idea! So, I bought a tiny white table with two chairs, an itsy-bitsy tea set and one beautiful fairy and headed home to create my first fairy garden. It was small then, with just three tiny flowers planted in a narrow container that hung on the deck rail. Before the summer was done, it was home to two fairies, a gnome, and a variety of teeny birds. Even a purple mushroom sprouted. Our granddaughters, Lindsay and the Baby Cakes, loved the fairy garden as much as I did. Oh my, what fine tea parties those fairies had! There was a 12-piece tea set, tiny cakes, miniature cheeses,  little loves of bread and even itty-bitty glasses of wine! Although the birds or squirrels would visit and steal and item or two now and then–it was hours of fun. I was sad (and so was Baby Cakes) when it was time to pack up the garden for the winter. That was last year.

So this year, John surprised me by purchasing a wine barrel for my new, bigger fairy garden!

I spent hours on the internet, looking for items that would make the fairies comfortable in their new home. Who knew you could buy so many things to make your fairies happy?

So the new fairy garden has six plants and everything a modern fairy could want!

Lots of flowers, a vegetable garden, a real pond, mailbox, pot of gold and even a fairy-sized bathroom! Let the tea parties begin!!

Baby Cakes’ World

Ahhh. To be two. Grandpa and I pick the Baby Cakes up from day care every Tuesday, and it’ s always a new adventure. When we first started picking her up about a year ago, she clung to the day care lady like a little lost lamb trembling behind Mary, and making me feel like a baby snatcher as we drove off in Grandpa’s truck with her kicking and screaming. (I was always crying, too!) Honestly, I felt I should offer to call DCFS for her.

What a difference today! When we go to pick her up now, she bolts out the door, headed toward our truck with her face aglow and screaming, “Nana!! Gampa!!!” Now I will admit that I’m not above bringing a bribe with me every time we pick her up. I started in the early days, and even tho we probably don’t need it anymore, it’s just a little insurance I carry around. I mean, when you’re dealing with a two-year-old, you can’t have too many tricks in your bag, can you?

Yesterday, it was a “twirling light” that I picked up at Walmart for a buck. “I go to park,” the Cakes announced mater-of-factly as she climbed in her seat. “Oh, Honey, it’s raining,” I said. “I go McDonalds Park!” she answered.

Well, you can hardly argue with that, can you? At least I can’t. It’s not raining inside McDonald’s. I was out of excuses. So, Grandpa and I dutifully took her to the McDonald’s with an indoor playground and had a drink (okay, a soda) while we watched her play on the playground. Time to go? No problem, I promise her a bath and a tea party before dinner!

Afterward, we took her to a restaurant for a fine kid’s dinner of chicken fingers, french fries and chocolate milk. Then, it was home to Mommy.

But today’s not Tuesday. It’s Wednesday. And I miss her.

Irish-Inspired Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks

Okay, so I spent nearly the entire weekend researching my husband’s Irish roots, trying to figure out from which Irish city the Tobin’s hailed and seeking maybe a hint of the “why” they came to America.

I can trace his heritage for certain back as far as John’s great grandfather, Patrick Tobin, who came over on the boat either in 1851 or (more likely) in 1868, the same year he married Margaret Breen (I think!). It gets a little fuzzier after that, but I’m not done looking!

I’m prepping for our upcoming trip to Ireland where we’ll treck through Counties Waterford and Tipperary looking through tiny hamlets and Catholic church graveyards searching for Tobin (and Adair) headstones. I’m very excited about it and know that any Tobin we find (dead or alive) is at least a relative of some sort.

And, while we’re there (as we did last time), we’ll no doubt eat lamb, an offering much more common in Ireland than the States. Too bad, too, because lamb makes a wonderful dish and John and I both love it. Even our meat-picky daughter, Amie, is a fan of my slow-cooked lamb shanks. I fixed them Saturday.

Irish-Inspired Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks

  • 2-4 bone-in lamb shanks
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 carrots, finely chopped
  • 4 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 1/2 head garlic, minced.
  • 2 (14 oz.) canned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 can (14 oz) beef stock
  • 1 cup dry red wine (cabernet or chianti)
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 t. chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 T. dried)
  • 2-3 T tomato paste
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Brown lamb shanks in heavy dutch oven in a little olive oil. Remove lamb shanks and keep warm. Cook onions, celery and carrots until soft (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and cook 2 more minutes. Add tomatoes, stock, wine, bay leaves and rosemary. Cook until boiling. Lower to a simmer and add lamb shanks back into sauce. Simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally until meat is tender and ready to fall off of bone. Remove shanks and bay leaves, reserve sauce drained from vegetables. Discard vegetables and put sauce back on heat. Add tomato paste, stir over low heat until thick. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Alternatively, you can just put sauce and veggies in food processor and blend until smooth.) Serve lamb and sauce with garlic mashed potatoes and a green veggie.

Amazing Leftover Steak Sandwiches

The older I get, the more it seems I hate waste. Still, being the foodie that I am, I’m not that big on leftovers. So, after having friends over for dinner recently, I had a huge piece of sirloin steak left and was tempted to just throw it out. But it was a nice piece of steak and my husband had purchased it at a local butcher–which meant it was costly, too. Hmmm.

So I thought about making a great sandwich out of the steak. . . it was a fabulous hit! My husband declared it “restaurant quality.” Here’s the recipe.

Amazing Leftover Steak Sandwiches

  • Left over steak, rare, sliced thin
  • 2 T. Butter
  • Small yellow onion, sliced thin
  • Red bell pepper, seeded and sliced thin
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 4-6 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Garlic mayo
  • Provolone cheese slices
  • Ciabatta sandwich rolls

Preheat broiler. Melt butter in small skillet. Cook onion, garlic, red pepper and mushrooms until caramelized. Split sandwich rolls and toast under broiler. Remove from oven. Put garlic mayo on bottom half of roll and top with steak. Pile onion mixture on top bun and top with cheese. Put under broiler until cheese bubbles.

I served the sandwiches with Parmesan oven baked fries. Awesome!!