It is almost time to say Au revoir to 2016.  And Bonjour to 2017.  2016 had some tough days.  In life, though, that’s pretty much par for the course, n’est-ce pas?  That’s when we learn valuable lessons.  It’s when we learn to appreciate the whos and whats in our lives.  If we are smart.  And then we move on.  The sun comes up the next morning.  Sometimes it is difficult, if not downright nearly impossible, to let go of hurt feelings, guilt, anger, disappointment, fear– all of those emotions that can bring on a middle-of-the-night panic attack if we aren’t careful.  I know.  I’ve been there done that.  Learning to take deep breaths, forgiving myself as well as those I love, and remembering what is truly important takes practice.

Why is that those who know their days on earth are numbered teach us the best lessons? I hate to break it to you, but all of our days are numbered.  Somehow, though, those who live with it daily are the wisest. Chris Rosati.  The lessons I have learned from him.  Chris has ALS.  Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Tuesdays with Morrie. Since his diagnosis six years ago, he has taught so many of us how to be kinder human beings.  I saw Chris last night at The BIGG Holiday Mashup in downtown Durham.


He was able to put in an appearance at the end of the show.  Dressed as Santa, in his wheelchair, speaking through a computer that is somehow miraculously connected to his eyes and types out his messages.  Many of his high school friends and classmates were in attendance so it ended up being a big wonderful funny class reunion-type event for me.  I taught so many of these “kids.” See, Chris, see what you are doing?  Bringing all of us together for the Big Idea for the Greater Good.  A lesson I promise to put into practice in 2017.

So, instead of reflecting backwards, I will reflect forwards.  Think of the all the potential that awaits us in 2017.  The BFF doesn’t like odd-numbered years, but I have assured her that the coming one will be filled with Goodness.  Kindness.  Pure joy.  Hmmm…. How do I know this?  Because I am in charge of how good, kind and joyous I will be.  And so are you. There are indeed many, many things that we cannot in any way, shape or form control.  Why focus on those?  Instead, let’s focus on what we can control.  Our own attitudes.  Our own behavior.  Terrorists will not keep me from traveling to my beloved France.  The political leadership in my own beloved state and country will not keep me from hoping that good will come from this somehow.  Because we can band together and “kill them with kindness” as Mama Mildred has been known to say.

My 2017 will include the following:

  • Kennedy’s birth.  My first grandbaby.  I already get teary-eyed just thinking about her.
  • Finding new ways to show kindness and helping others do the same.
  • Spending more time with my family, be they in Charlotte, Spruce Pine, Washington, Brevard, High Point or here in Durham.  I am incredibly lucky. My sons, a soon-to-be daughter-in-law, mama, sisters, in-laws, cousins all close by.
  • At least two trips to France.  January (20 days) and March (76 days).  Ah oui, I do indeed count it down.  Every time I board the plane it feels like the first time.
  • Showing my friends how much I love them.  I am lucky in this respect, too.  I have some amazing friends who love me no matter what.
  • Joie de vivre.  I am very fond of this French phrase.  Love of life.  Joy in living.  Ed the Head, used it in 2013 to describe me when he presented me with the Hershey Award. I laughed with him afterwards as I complimented his French pronunciation.  I vow here and now to show this joie much more often.
  • Self-improvement.  At home.  In the classroom with the kiddos and my colleagues. With me.  More walks, more quiet time, good books, good music, good food, more writing.

A good place to start.  And I think I will get a week’s head start on some of those.  Pourquoi pas?

I will leave you with a recipe to make immediately (or as soon as you can assemble the ingredients) and share as gifts and/or make for the family and friends who will come a-calling.  A big bowl of deliciousness.  I fell in love with them the first time I tasted them at a foreign language meeting.  Our Latin teacher is quite a cooker.  She shared the recipe.  Merci beaucoup, JL.


Rosemary Pecans

1 pound unsalted pecans

2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh rosemary or 1 tsp. dried

2 Tbsp. melted butter

2 tsp. brown sugar

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. cayenne or black pepper

Preheat oven to 350˚F.

Spread nuts on baking sheet (I line mine with parchment paper.)  Bake 10-15 minutes- 15 minutes for crunchier nuts.

While the pecans are baking, combine all the other ingredients in a large bowl and mix together.  Add pecans while still hot and toss to coat.

Serve warm or cold.  Store in tightly closed container.

Bon appétit to all and to all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  Here’s to 2017!

97 and 41

A post from the past entitled 94 and 47 popped up on my Facebook page yesterday.  It was from 2013.  At first, I couldn’t figure out what the title meant.

blonde et brune.jpg

Then, looking at the smiling faces of La Blonde et La Brune, it dawned on me.  The countdown until my 2014 trips to France!  I posted the countdown until my 2017 trips on my classroom whiteboard at about 10:00 yesterday morning.  Coincidence?  Non!  I don’t believe in them.  It’s just where my mind goes at this time of year.

In French 8, we are studying food vocabulary.  A couple of days ago, I posted the following activity for the kiddos in the class Evernote notebook:

C’est jeudi 1er décembre. Tu es maintenant à Paris. Tu as vraiment faim et il est midi et demi.  Regarde ce plan de Paris et dis-moi où tu es.  Tu es tout(e) seul(e) ou tu es avec un(e) ami(e)?
Qu’est-ce que tu viens de faire?  Visiter le Louvre?  Faire du shopping?  Visiter le Panthéon?  La Tour Eiffel?  Trouve un café ou un restaurant près de cet endroit sur le site TripAdvisor. (Refine your search by scrolling down and choosing a neighborhood near where you are.)
Tu veux dépenser 35 euros ou moins pour un repas français traditionnel. 
Réponds aux questions suivantes. 
  • Comment s’appelle le restaurant?
  • Où est-ce? La rive droite ou la rive gauche?  L’arrondissement? L’adresse? 
  • Il y a un site internet?
  • Il y a un menu du jour?
  • Choisis une entrée:
  • Choisis un plat:
  • Choisis un dessert:
  • Et comme boisson?
  • Quand tu as fini, tu as aimé le repas?  Pourquoi ou pourquoi pas?
  • C’est combien l’addition?
  • Le service est compris?
  • Write a short review for TripAdvisor (Look at their form, but do not write it on the site- write it below-  en anglais:

I told them that they are helping me plan my January trip to Paris.  I am always looking for new cafés and restaurants.  It’s a short trip, only 6 days– oui, that’s a short trip in my book.  But, hey, I will go for only a weekend if someone offers me the opportunity. Passport always ready, bags packed. Especially now that Delta has a direct flight from Raleigh-Durham to Paris-Charles de Gaulle.

I have already made plans for one night while I am there.  I have signed up for a food tour of the Marais with La Cuisine Paris.  From their website:

Join us on a Marais Soirée as we immerse ourselves in a typically French experience: l’apéro! Take a sip and a bite of French culture as we enjoy the sociable pre-dinner hours that are such an important part of Paris life. With a glass in your hand and a tempting array of all things delicious, you’ll soon see why the term apéro is a fitting one: derived from the Latin word aperire “to open,” we’ll be doing just that – opening up our appetites and starting an evening in Paris – santé!

Right up my alley, n’est-ce pas?

The January trip is mostly paid for by ACIS, the student travel company I use. They invite teachers who have tours booked with them to spend a long weekend in one of several spots.  I always choose Paris during the MLK, Jr. weekend.  I asked my middle school director for a couple of extra days.  I plan activities for the March student trip.  Really.  I do.  This, mes amis, is professional development for me.  And therapy as well.  I’ve booked a little hotel in the Quartier latin for two nights, near the RER-métro station that will take me directly back to the airport the morning I depart.  The ACIS hotel will be out of my budget range, I fear, so I will move after three nights.  I got the idea for this neighborhood from a friend who is going over for Christmas with her daughters. It will be their first Christmas without dad/husband who passed away this summer.  She found an AirBnB apartment in a great neighborhood and then we discovered it is near an RER B-métro stop so they can easily take the train into the city from the airport.  I sent them my Paris cheat sheet, as I like to call it.  I’ve been compiling a list of my favorites.  If you are planning a trip and are interested, just let me know and I will post it or email it directly to you.

So, for the next 42 days I will daydream and plan a few things that I want to do/see.  ACIS will have activities planned for us.  For the recap last year’s trip, read  ACIS and Paris 2016- Exceptional.  J’ai vraiment de la chance.  

Mon amie Mme M sent me a link to this video yesterday.  She knows that I am on a Spread the Kindness kick.  I showed it to my classes.  It is from francetvzoom.  I can only get it to play in U.S. on Facebook…

As we prepare for the March trip, I always read David Sedaris’ story about the métro to my 8th graders in an attempt to make them realize that we need to learn to be less loud while roaming around France.  And to make them laugh, of course. It’s from his book Me Talk Pretty One Day.  I love that man.  Listen to David tell it–

From my classroom, thanks to the grand-mère of one of last year’s students–


Bon appétit!  Here’s to Paris daydreaming and planning trips!  That’s what keeps me going some days!  Happy Friday and Bonjour, Décembre!

“News is bad for you”


photo credit:  Amanda Whitlock

“And giving up reading it will make you happier.”  The Guardian

I admit to being semi-addicted to Facebook.  I get up every morning, make my hot lemon tea water, start the coffee brewing, and open up the computer.  My day just doesn’t seem to start off right without reading Sean Dietrich‘s daily post.  I get up an hour earlier than I really need to so that I can have that cup of hot water, check emails and get all the morning news I need via emails from friends and Sean.  With a healthy dose of food porn, cute photos like the one above of Steve, a New Zealand cat, and his herd of lambs. Or this one of Major, the Durham bull, dressed as the Durham Academy Cavalier.


photo credit:  Melody Butts, with help from Tim McKenna and Leslie King

But this past Monday night, thanks to Son #1 and the thought that I should be a better informed Américaine, I watched the first presidential debate.  Huge, major, God-awful mistake on my part.  I even sat with my trusty laptop on my lap following fact-checkers. Instead of looking at cat photos. Before the debate, Son #1 hooked up the Apple TV and brought up HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, a show he is addicted to and has been nagging me to watch for a couple of months.  (This, my friends, is a great way to get the top news stories of the week and laugh at the same time.  Don’t watch it, though, if you object to cursing.  It is HBO after all and they say whatever they want to for those willing to pay less than Time Warner charges for cable and the ridiculous stuff on nightly primetime TV.)  Anyway, I should NEVER have watched that debate.  I should have respected my usual early bedtime (which allows me that extra hour to goof off in the morning) and called it a night.  Let’s just say that because I decided to stay up until 10:45 pm and be “better informed” my week did not start well.  Tuesday morning found me uncharacteristically grouchy.  A 9 on a scale of 0-10.  I am sure that my colleagues at the 7:25 am team meeting noticed.  I know that my advisees did because I walked away from our morning circle time.  They couldn’t come up with answers to whatever my question-of-the-day was and I didn’t feel up to cajoling them.  So I walked away without a word.  Took attendance instead.  All day long I just could not shake the “Our country is going to hell in a hand basket” feeling that had settled over me.  I posted on my FB page:

Trying to find calm this morning. I cannot control or fix the things I am most concerned about. I will not watch any more political debates or ads on TV. I do not want to discuss it either. Deep breaths.

Bless all of my friends who then commenced to worrying about me.  Iron Woman, my dear friend who loves France almost as much as I do and may have been Jeanne d’Arc in another life, brought me a Chai latte.  (She knows my weaknesses.)  We went to dinner on Tuesday and I was beginning to feel a bit better about the world after a dish of house made pasta at The Boot and a glass of Pinot Grigio.  Mostly it was the conversation and the chance to laugh with this dear girl.  We both desperately want to have our DNA tested and find out if we are any percentage French.


Mont Saint Michel 2012

Another friend brought me an apple fritter– a sinfully delicious pastry with cinnamon and apples.  I didn’t even take a photo of it.  But I did manage to make it last for three days and I savored every crumb.

One other friend sent a private message to ask me if I am okay.  I answered back that I am, but that I have sworn off politics and debates.  I will vote.  I will volunteer to get folks here in Durham registered to vote, but other than that, I am done.  What will happen will happen, n’est-ce pas?  It is what it is.  C’est comme ça.

By Wednesday, I was less grouchy, maybe a 6 on the grouchy scale.  I had plans to go to a wine dinner at Pompieri Pizza with Arles Lucy.  We love the special dinners at PP and Bull City Burger and Brewery.


St. Emilion 2008

I have to admit, however, that I didn’t really feel up to it.  I thought about texting Arles Lucy (on the left above) and asking her to find a replacement to go with her.  I am so incredibly glad I didn’t.  You know how sometimes you don’t think that you are going to have fun at a party or whatever and you have an amazing time.  The San Marzano Wine Dinner was exactly what I needed.  Great food, great wine, even greater company.  Before I begin with the feast, I have to say that I know that I am a very lucky eater.  I am constantly amazed by how lucky I am.  And very grateful.


To quote directly from the menu:

POMPIERI PIZZA welcomes Cantine San Marzano and special guest Salvatore Ricciardi, vineyard owner and sales and marketing manager for San Marzano winery. In 1962, nineteen vine growers from San Marzano, whose families had farmed the land for generations, combined their efforts to establish “Cantine San Marzano.” The winery is located in Apulia, in the heart of the acclaimed d.o.p. “Primitivo di Manduira” area.  This strip of land between two seas, the Ionian and the Adriatic, in the province of Taranto and Brindisi,  is where vines and olive trees flourish side by side on the red soil surface, much like North Carolina’s red clay.


  1. Amuse-bouche


Beet Cube with Jalapeño, House Made Honey Mascarpone and Monte Iblei Olive Oil  Frizzante Lambrusco

A certain someone sitting directly across from me was heard to say that she could easily eat seven of these.

And Seth, owner and punster, said “You can’t beat that first course.” hahaha

2. Anti Pasta


Persimmons and Apples with Aged Cheese, Kale Salad  2014 San Marzano Savignon-Malvasia “Il Pumo” Salento IGP

3. Pasta


Fall Butternut Squash Ravioli Pillow with Lemon Ash, Tiny Farm Arugula, and Salted Pecans in a Butternut Broth  2014 San Marzano Negroamaro “Il Pumo” Salento IGP

(Negroamaro means black and black- in Latin and Greek  Merci, Salvatore!)

I did not lick the bowl clean, but I thought about it…


4. Fish



NC Coastline Caught Yellow Fin Tuna with a Fennel Crust, Smoked Pedach Jam, Roasted Tomato and Charred Carrot Ragú  2013 San Marzano Primitivo “Il Pumo” Salento IGP

5. Meat


Local Leg of Lamb with a Rich Red BBQ Sauce, Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Potatoes, and Mustard Greens   2013 San Marzano Primitivo di Manduria “Talò” DOP

There was another wine sampled served after this one.  A special anniversary wine?  A different vintage?  The details totally escape me at the moment.  It was an extra treat.  Grazie, Seth and Salvatore!

6. Dessert


Zeppole (fried dough) with Goat Cheese Granita  Americano Cocktail

As I was served my dessert, I was told that I got the one with the most chocolate.  I am special that way.


I had fun sitting next to Salvatore.  Quite the charming, handsome Italian.  He told his daughter that Seth had closed the restaurant early because a celebrity was coming.  She texted back calling him the Italian Justin Bieber.  (We had to explain who that is.)  Jin served the wine impeccably.

Salvatore made the rounds and addressed the group, explaining his wines and the growing region.


“Easy to drink.  Respect the characteristic of the grape.”

When we started trying to figure out which wine we liked the best and why (Do I really have to choose??), Salvatore said “When you can’t describe it, it’s love.”

I loved every bite and sip.  I also loved meeting Heather and Jill from Habitat for Humanity, who sat across from Arles Lucy and me.


I love my BFF for being herself as well as a great server.  Doesn’t she look beautiful in her Villeneuve-lez-Avignon market ruffles?  I love Arles Lucy for always making me laugh and for always being up for an adventure.  We’ve had some great ones.


What a delicious night.  Thank you, Seth and Chef Jeff (sadly no photo of him- we haven’t even been properly introduced yet.)

I solemnly swear to stay away from the news and to stick to uplifting activities involving my friends and family.  And good food, bien sûr.


Bon appétit to all cookers, eaters, and wine makers!  


The BFF Hometown Tour


with Helen

I would love to say that I will make  Hometown Tour a regular feature of The Sabbatical Chef, but, well, I think that it would go the way of most of my best of intentions.  As Mama Mildred has said to me more than once “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Is that a Bible verse?  Who knows?  (Mama Mildred probably does but since she is at Sunday School right this minute I can’t ask her.)

Back to my story.  We are often asked if we are sisters.  Did we always look alike?  I don’t think so.  But as they say about old married couples and people and their dogs, we have spent so much time together that it has happened over the years.

I met my BFF almost exactly 25 years ago.  OMG.  It’s our Silver Anniversary.  I just realized that.  Our oldest sons found each other on the first day of preschool.  Then she had another and then we both had one more who are the same age.  Here’s the gang in 2009.

goofy boys

Our own basketball team.  They have all graduated from college now.  Praise the Lord.

Here’s some scientific research about friends.

friends have genetic sim

“Our” psychic told us that we were siblings in another life.  We like that idea so much that we believe it. Wholeheartedly.

We have had some adventures and plenty of fun.  France, Italy, Sunset Beach, all around Durham, and Lexington, NC, her hometown.  I’ve been several times.  I even took Sister Moo there a couple of summers ago to spend a week at High Rock Lake.  The BFF introduced to me to both Lexington and The Lake.  She was born and grew up in Lexington and her family had a house at High Rock.  I never had the chance to meet her dad.  He died when she was pregnant with her first son.  I did get to know her mom.  She is pictured between the two of us above during a Second Wedding Dinner at Sunset Beach in 2009 when the Ex-Ex and I renewed our vows.  Helen and I hit it off immediately the first time we met.  I loved her.  (Don’t mean to make you cry, BFF.  Sorry.)  Her brother was quite a character as well.  Same party.  He was the master of Frogmore Stew. (Head over to the old blog for the recipe and a couple of stories.)

with Ben

Mom and Bro are up in heaven smiling down on the BFF right this very minute.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the BFF had to go to Lexington for a meeting so she invited me to go along.  Just for a day and night.

overnight bag

Lexington is in the piedmont section of North Carolina, a short detour off I-40/I-85, near Greensboro and High Point.

lexington map

It is famous for honest-to-God REAL barbecue and Richard Childress, of NASCAR fame.  It used to be known around the world for its furniture businesses.  Unfortunately, most of them went the way of most of our businesses in North Carolina– somewhere else. Downtown Lexington is the way downtowns used to be and I wish they still were.  Malls took care of that, though.

The BFF and I got to town early so we went driving around and that’s when I got the idea for this post.  We cruised past her childhood home.

MPK house

The football stadium where she went to high school (she still cannot tell me why if their mascot is a yellow jacket their school colors are purple and orange… have you ever seen a purple YELLOW jacket?)  She was a champion tennis player, BTW.


We saw where her family’s business used to be and some of the old factories.  The train ran right behind the factories, of course.

She told me how much she loved this little spot.  Who wouldn’t growing up in a small town? I bet she asked her daddy to drive through this and honk the horn more than once.


Mo, the BFF’s hometown BFF, took me on a walking tour in town while the meeting took place.


Oops.  She’s not in this picture taken in Paris in 2012.  She was taking the picture.  **Editorial note from the BFF:  Mo did not take the picture.  She had to miss the trip because her daddy was sick.  That was wishful thinking on my part.  Summer of 2017??

The BFF and I make cute bookends, n’est-ce pas?

Here is a photo of Mo recently taken at her son’s wedding.  (lifted from her FB page- thanks to whoever took it!)


Mo knows everyone in town.  She is a physical therapist with magic hands. Or at least so I have heard from people in North Carolina and the South of France…

In Lexington, they love their pigs.  This is the kingdom of pork barbecue, people. Pig sculptures are everywhere.

back to school pig

Conrad and Hinkle is an old-fashioned grocery store– real butchers even.  They sell local produce and products, the best of which, in my humble opinion (and Sister Moo’s) is their pimiento cheese.  It was featured on NPR in 2007 and they (gasp) gave out the recipe.

conrad hinkle

I got a sample.  (And a container to bring home.)

PC sample

Bull City Ciderworks has moved its operation from Durham to Lexington.  They have opened up a great little spot on Main Street as well.

bullcity cider

The Candy Factory is probably the best known spot, though.  It was recently featured (again) in Our State magazine.

our state

You name it, they have it.  I bet there has been more than one temper tantrum thrown in this shop.  One of the BFF’s cousins works here.  She wasn’t around during our visit unfortunately.

For some reason I can’t fathom, I didn’t take a picture of the old Courthouse.  It is a beautiful building.  The sign will have to do this time.

courthouse sign

After the meeting was over, our first order of business was lunch.  At Lexington Barbecue. Or The Monk, as the folks there know it.  Another mystery that was explained but really didn’t make much sense to me.  What do I know?  I am a mountain girl.  (**Ok– the website says it was built by Wayne Monk.)  Got it.  They even still have curb service. Another thing of the past. The precursor to the drive-up window. I was a touch offended when the BFF started to explain what curb service is.  (She didn’t know Don’s Drive-In in Spruce Pine back in the day so I forgave her.)

Hushpuppies and a messy BBQ sandwich with slaw.  Slap your mama good, as the BFF has been known to say.

After lunch, we headed to The Lake.  Mo and her husband have a house there.  I could sit on the deck for hours.

Mo's deck

We were joined by T and K and sat in The Island, sharing a red Solo cup of wine.

Côtes de Gascogne brings back lovely memories.  I introduced the BFF to it when she and Mo came to visit me in Arles, France during the summer of 2007.

This one was taken the morning they discovered viennoiseries, little French breakfast pastries.


Mo and her hubby also have a boat.

mo's boat

My toes were happy as we zipped around The Lake.

happy toes

So were the pups we took with us! Lola looks sad, but trust me, she was not.

We spent a lovely day and evening.  Thank you for having us, Mo.

Thank you, BFF, for so many, many things.  For being your best self and always being just a text or phone call away.  For being my soul sister, the Thelma to my Louise.  For all of your love, support and miles of walking therapy through this 25-year journey.  For having the chutzpah to reinvent yourself at an age when many are thinking of retiring. For loving white t-shirts and black pants almost as much as I do. For always looking for the silver lining and inspiring me to do the same.  For making me laugh. I love you.

A few years ago, the BFF gave me this recipe which she makes every Thanksgiving/Christmas.  It was passed down from her mother.

Helen’s Cranberry-Apple Casserole

3 cups tart, peeled apples, diced (Granny Smith)

2 cups fresh whole cranberries

1 cup granulated sugar

Mix above ingredients and put in 10 x 13 pan.

Top with:

1 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup flour

1-1/2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup melted butter

Mix topping together.  Sprinkle over fruit.  Bake 1 hour at 325˚F.

Bon appétit to all BFFs.  Here’s to adventures.  May we have many, many more and be those little old ladies who go kicking and screaming and laughing wearing pink scarves and just the right shade of pink lipstick.  Keep that twinkle.


Gratitude Project

This is an earlier post that I am moving over from my original blog.  It is one of my most meaningful experiences and I like to look back on it often.  It keeps me grateful and less likely to get wrapped up dramas or concerns that I cannot control.

Can you teach someone else to be grateful?  Do you just live it by example?  Why is it so difficult to just accept what we have and live each day with a grateful heart and mind?  Is it true that if you practice gratefulness daily that it will become a habit?  Research has shown that it takes 21 days to form a habit.  That is just three short weeks.  504 hours, part of which is spent sleeping.  30,240 seconds.  1 Mississippi 2 Mississippi 3 Mississippi.  While googling the topic, I found an interesting article on Psychology Today about happiness.  10 Ways to Make Yourself Happier in 30 Seconds or Less.  It’s worth a read.  Gratitude is in there.

Tracy Wilson, a woman I know here in Durham has also started a daily gratitude journal.  I have subscribed to her updates and enjoy reading them now each morning, along with Sean Dietrich‘s Facebook posts. (If you are not a FB user, I’ve linked his website.)  It is how I choose to begin my day.

Now, back to my original Gratitude Project post.

Abby is a very wise young lady.  I continue to be amazed by her.  And I am so grateful that we bonded last school year.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Mrs E:

What happens when a student and a teacher make a lasting impact on each other?  I realize that I have only known Abby for two years, but somehow it seems much longer.  There are a lot of things I could say about Abby, but this video will tell you part of our story.  See for yourself what an amazing young woman she is.
Many thanks to SoulPancake and their video on The Science of Happiness.  We used a short excerpt from the video.  If you wish to watch it in its entirety and find out more about their project, click on the link.
Many thanks also to the amazing Mr. Fitz who shared the video with us and inspired us to do our presentation in front of the whole middle school!
And finally, I would like to thank the incredible Abby who makes me want to be a better teacher and person every single day.  I refuse to think about next school year without you and your classmates.
We’ll always have Paris, Abby… and the Plaza Athénée and Dr. Lantieri –what great adventures! I hope that we will have many more!


If you watched the video, I hope you understand the reason why showing appreciation is so important. You never know how far a simple thank you, phone call, email, or just a smile could go. And you don’t have an infinite amount of time with the people you love either. For me, showing my gratitude, as simply as sending a letter, led me to having one of the best relationships of my life. I’ve realized that life is short, and there is so little time to stay the things you mean to the people you love, so say them while you can.

Abby’s Queso Dip

1 lb or 16 oz of Velveeta, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 lb ground sausage
1 can of Rotel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies, undrained

1. Cook the ground sausage in a saucepan until browned, strain all the grease out and put the sausage back into the saucepan.
2. Add the Rotel and Velveeta, cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until the Velveeta is completely melted, stirring frequently.
3. Serve warm with tortilla chips, I recommend Tostitos Scoops because you can scoop up a ton of queso with those things, they’re also good for making these really good mini nachos by the way.

Bon appétit, y’all.  I hope that you have someone in your life to be grateful for each and every day. Tell them.  Start your own Gratitude Project.  You will be amazed at the results.

A Life Well-Lived

dave g

Saying good-bye in any language has always been very difficult for me.  Au revoir, ciao, adieu, arrivederci, salut, see you later, see you soon.  They all mean the same thing.  I hope that I will see you again.  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  Yesterday, we said good-bye to Dave Gould in a packed school auditorium.  A room packed with childhood friends, college chums, mates, colleagues, former students, and family members.  I volunteered to organize this celebration of his life because his wife asked me to and because that is my best way of dealing with grief.  Get busy and put off thinking about the hole that will be left behind when I no longer see this person again or get random emails from him.  At least not until I reach the other side.  Dave will be in my heaven.  It wouldn’t be complete without him.  If I didn’t invite him in, he would crash the party anyway!  Using a press pass.  Or sweet-talking his way in.

I put together a slideshow using photos supplied by his wife and daughters, friends, our communications staff at school and various photos I have sitting in the cloud known as Google Photo and Photo Library.  The one above is my favorite, I think.  This is how I will choose to remember my friend of 35 years.  The ultimate prankster, a man who made you think (or THIMK, according to his students), and who loved life and gave it his all.  Perfect? Lord, no.  No more than any of us are.  I heard his wife say more than once “Damn it, David.”  At one point, she was so fed up with him for not eating that I came over to give him cooking lessons.  I think that it was a ruse on his part just to get me over and to be able to tease me, but making macaroni and cheese with him and chasing her out of the kitchen with a book and glass of wine in hand may have saved her sanity just a bit.  I hope so.

I got to say good-bye to him 10 days before he died.  I didn’t know it was our final good-bye.  Rarely do you know it at the time.  But I am so grateful that I had that chance.  I had the chance to hug him, kiss him, and say “Gould, I love you, but you are still full of shit.” That always made him laugh.  It was high praise.  And the truth.

Our final email exchange went like this:

6/24 12:16 pm

ok, ms. e, I’ll treat you to a free lunch if you can tell me who mark sackling was – a hint:  obviously he has to do with DA and you would have known him.

6/24 1:00 pm
Okay, sweetie, that name is ringing not a single bell. But give me a couple of hours(days? Months? Years?) to think! Can we have lunch anyway?? Please?
6/25 1:16 pm
oh we can certainly have lunch, but it’s always more fun if you have to work for it!  You probably are a lot closer to this boy/guy/man than you think you are. Keep thinking!  Tweak that memory of yours!
6/25 8:12 am
Mark Sackling?? I will continue to rack my brain…
6/25 8:28 am
ok, ok, first hint.  he was not a student of yours but he was at DA
Break in emailing– I ran into DG and his wife in downtown Durham at an outdoor concert at American Tobacco.  Balsam Range, my favorite bluegrass band, was playing.  This is where the aforementioned hugs and kisses took place.
7/1 1:01 pm

good seeing you last nite at ATP – can see why you love the Balsam group so much .. . great music.

But back to your search for Mark Sackling:
next clue:  Mark was a colleague of yours for a while tho you saw him more on the Upper School Campus than the Middle School campus.  I know you know him b/c there were several occasions in front of the Fine Arts bldg when  I happened to bump into you guys having a conversation there.  Seemed like a quite likable man; reminded me of a chip off the old block of guys like Timmy and Dick F.
Still having fun??!
7/2 7:28 pm
Ok, M. Gould, I am assuming that you played the part of Mark Sackling. I do not even remember the name of my character. Sing played Quartermaine. That’s the best I can come up with.   Did I earn my lunch??
A confession (to you, I did not get a chance to confess to DG)–  Since I figured I had no chance in hell of figuring out his riddle, I cheated and consulted the all-knowing Google. All I had to do was look at the first hit and it came to me.
7/2 8:18 pm

Not bad, not bad, and in fact pretty impressive, but not quite there yet.  Shouldn’t have given you all those clues in last email – age has made you wiser and savvier!  You are right – I was Mark Sackling, Sing was Quartermaine, and you were _ _ _ _ _   _ _ _ _ _ _ _

And you don’t need any more clues about your character’s name b/c they, too, were in the last email . . .
(and damn, I should’ve made the last clue I sent a bit more obtuse so you’d really have to search a bit harder.)
(and if I can remember all this in my march towards forgetfulness, with all the years I’m giving you, you should have no problems . . .)
That is when I should have confessed.  Wiser and savvier!  Ha!  Not a chance.  That was our last email exchange.  I didn’t respond.  I left for Sunset Beach for a week and never answered.  We returned from the beach July 9 and on July 10 I got a call from Dave’s wife that he had passed away in his sleep that morning.
And just to prove that he could get the last word in, a couple of days later, I was looking for something in my nightstand and what should I find underneath a book, but very near the top–
I hadn’t thought about the play in years until Mark Sackling popped up.  We put this on at school in the 80’s.  And I didn’t think that I still had the playbook.  Coincidence?  Hmmm… not so sure.
the crew
france12 best
We had some fun over the past 35 years.  Dinners, parties, hiding beer cans, playing games, sand tennis, Sunset Beach, The Fruit Olympics, France, listening to your awful French.
You had a crush on Princess Diana?  How could I not have known that Gould fact??  I really would have teased you about that.  Or maybe not.  Somehow that just makes you more adorable in my eyes.
Thank you for being my friend, Dave Gould.  I love you!
One more thing before you go back to whatever mischief you are up to in your heaven.
Anita Manchip.  I played Anita.  I look forward to collecting on that free lunch one of these days!
Dave’s favorite movie was Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  His daughters chose to show a clip of it at the celebration.
His favorite poem was The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service.  I found this version, read by Johnny Cash.
Dave’s Mac and Cheese

I am renaming my favorite recipe in honor of my friend.  If you are looking for low-calorie, forget it.  But if you are looking for comfort, get out the pot and pan.

3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
3 cups shredded cheese (cheddar or a mixture of cheddar and Monterey Jack)
16-oz. macaroni
Salt, pepper (black or white), ground mustard or Texas Pete sauce can be added.  Or a combination of all.  Today, I decided to add bacon that had been cooked to crispy and then drained on paper towels.

Cook macaroni in salted, boiling water until it is al dente (for small elbows, about 9 minutes).
Drain, rinse, and set aside.
Melt butter in large pan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and combine well.  Cook for about a minute to remove the flour taste.  Gradually add milk and continue to whisk.  Cook until the mixture thickens into a creamy roux.  Add seasonings and whisk well.  Remove from heat.
Add 2-1/2 cups of the cheese and stir until melted and combined.
Put macaroni into a buttered baking pan.  (I cooked the bacon in the cast iron pan and left some of the drippings in for flavor, so I didn’t need to butter the pan.)  Pour cheese sauce over the macaroni and stir well.  (I added the crumbled bacon at this point, reserving some for the top.)
Top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. (My grandmother always topped hers with bread crumbs or crushed crackers.)
Bake in pre-heated 350˚F oven for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is bubbling.

Bon appétit to all my friends.  I love each and every one of you.  At the end, may we all be able to say that we led a life well-lived.  You may be gone from us physically, Dave Gould, but you will never be forgotten.
DG beach

Making new memories

This has been a summer of memories for me.  My high school class held a long overdue reunion in June.  We didn’t track everyone down, but we tried.  The 35 or so of us who attended had a great time.  At one point, I just sat back and watched everyone hugging, talking, laughing, and sharing 40+ year old memories.

Harris High School Class of 1976


I don’t have the “official” photo yet, but the Ex-Ex took this one.  (Sorry for chopping you in two, Bobby!)  What a crew.  What fun.  What great new memories we made at Blind Squirrel Lodge and Brewery in Plumtree, NC.  Thank you, Edie and Will, for the great food, beer, cider, accommodations, and ambiance.  I now want to get together with this group every year and I will still keep searching for classmates.  We’ve already lost 11 of our classmates, one just a couple of weeks ago.  Life is short, mes amis.

I had the chance to talk to Middle School Boyfriend (I have blogged about him before although he doesn’t know it– at least not as I write this.  Should I let him in on the secret?).  I told the Ex-Ex that I had to have a photo to show the middle school girlies next year.  I have not always been so old, you know, kiddos.


I went zip-lining with some friends.  Yes, I did.


And I got a chance to really catch up with my across-the-creek neighbor and freshman year in college roommate.


The two friends I spent the most time with in high school attended.  We did a lot of things together way back when and even took driver’s ed class together– and survived!

reunion laughing

That’s us in the middle of the front row- BH, FB and TB, me, in the flowered skirt.  I love this photo because so many people are smiling and laughing.

The Ex-Ex also had his class reunion.  I had only met a couple of his classmates before, but I already felt as if I knew several of them from the stories that have been told over the years.  He went to high school near the coast, I am from the mountains.  We met in Durham, in the middle.

Here’s his crew.  The three ladies in the middle are the teachers who attended.

Aurora High School Class of 1976


And these characters?  Even the 90 year old Mrs. Long (in blue above) remembered their names.  I told them I cannot imagine having them in class in 7th grade.


William, in the hat, has the same last name as me.  We decided we are long lost cousins.  We’re people.

The Ex-Ex got props for vividly remembering the sordid details of losing a play-off football game in 1974 based on yardage since the score was tied.  Back in the day, they hadn’t come up with a different way to break a tie, I guess.

Some of his teammates-


I had fun just sitting back and watching there, too.  Watching and listening to the laughter.

We are lucky that we have these memories and these friends.  Sometimes it just doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen someone in 20, 30 or even 40 years.  You still know each other. Personalities do not change.  Hair color and waistlines, yes, but who cares?  Those are minor details in the scheme of things.

I hope to make more memories with these old and new friends.

Edie, at Blind Squirrel, is an excellent baker and possibly the nicest human being on the planet.  She was always smiling, even at almost midnight as a few of us were still sipping beer and swapping stories.


Will, her husband, cooked amazing breakfasts for us during our stay.  The buffet dinner for our reunion meal was outstanding.  The Po’boy Trout Sandwich that I had for lunch after zip-lining was excellent.  I asked Edie for a recipe and she said she gets the most requests for her Vinegar Pie.  It is a recipe passed down from her grandmother.  My own beloved Grandma Bell was a first class pie lover. Whenever we took her out to lunch in downtown Spruce Pine, her first question walking in the door was “Do you have pie today?”  If there was no pie on the menu, lunch was a disappointment from the get-go.  She was a pie connoisseur. To the best of my knowledge, though, I have never had vinegar pie.  I needed to know a little bit more because, to tell the truth, vinegar pie sounded a bit strange.  And this is from a girl whose mama was raised on a farm with a very frugal Granny who could make anything from scratch and memory. Seems that vinegar pie is about as old as our country and falls into the category of “desperation pies.”  Make do or do without.  The pioneer spirit. Lemons would have been the preferred fruit for this pie, but those were not readily available in the 1800’s to folks out on the prairie, up in the mountains, or out on the farm, needless to say. Apple cider vinegar was, however, so it was used to give the pie acidity and to fool the tastebuds.  I found several variations on Edie’s grandma’s recipe, some with maple flavoring, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon extract, or brown sugar.  Most add about 2-3 tablespoons of flour and boil to make a custard before filling the shell and baking.  Some use quite a bit less sugar. Even Martha Stewart is in on the action.  This version is very sweet.  Grandma Bell would have approved.

slice2 of vpie

Edie’s Vinegar Pie

makes two 9-inch pies

Your favorite pie crust recipe (or store bought if you wish)- Edie uses Never Fail Amish Crust recipe (recipe follows)

4-1/2 cups white sugar

10 whole eggs

1 stick butter, melted

6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 325˚F.
  2. Lightly spray the bottom of two 9-inch pie plates with non-stick spray and lay out your crusts; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine all other ingredients; mix until well-blended.
  4. Pour into prepared crusts and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until crust has formed and is lightly golden.
  5. Cool completely and chill before serving.

Amish Never Fail Pie Crust

makes two 9-inch crusts

4 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1-1/2 Crisco

1 tablespoon vinegar

1/2 cup water

  1. Blend flour, sugar and salt in a medium-sized bowl.
  2. Cut in Crisco to pea-sized pieces.
  3. Mix together egg, water, and vinegar.  Add to flour.  Mix until moistened and a soft dough forms.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before rolling.

This dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and will be easy to roll.

inside pie

Blind Squirrel is located on the banks of the North Toe River in Avery County, North Carolina, in a little bend in the road. Very spotty cell phone service and internet, fishermen standing out in the river at any given time, hummingbirds checking out the feeders and butterflies flitting around all of the flowers.  There are five rooms in the Lodge and cabins and camping sites about a mile away where the zip-lining happens.  Winter People, a movie starring Kelly McGillis and Kurt Russell, based on a novel by John Ehle, was filmed next door to Blind Squirrel and released in 1989.

Bon appétit, friends.  Here’s to making more memories! Merci, Edie.  I look forward to my next visit.  Maybe I can come help you bake next summer.  As I have said many times, I can even clean toilets in French, too, and have B&B experience!

Sean Dietrich aka Sean of the South


photo credit:  Amazon

I love this man.  I am not sure the Ex-Ex knows, but he will soon enough.  If he liked for me to read to him first thing in the morning, he most assuredly would know him.  But while I am reading Sean’s daily Facebook post, the Ex-Ex is still blessedly asleep.  I am the early riser in the family.  Oh, Callie the Cat gets up, meows a few times and the next thing I know she is curled up on his feet sound asleep and doesn’t even bother to look up when I tiptoe into the bedroom searching for something like my Kindle or my glasses.

So, back to the Bearded Man of the Hour.  He is Southern through and through.  But you do not have to be a Southerner to love him.  Just ask Ms. Arizona aka Tammy.  I have never met him, yet I feel as if I have known him forever or at least my whole entire life, whichever is longer.  Some of my Frenchie friends are now reading his FB posts and that just plain makes me happy.  Everyone should start the day with a healthy dose of his prose.  I have blogged about him before and I am pretty sure I will again.  Today’s reason? He is giving away, yes, that’s right, giving away five of his books on Kindle today.  He did this once before and I downloaded them all.  I confess to feeling ever so guilty about that. Sean deserves to get paid for his writing.  Therefore, today I bought a sixth one, The Other Side of the Bay.

Sean reminds us that we are all human, capable of lending a helping hand to those in need, whether we know them or not.  Even better if we don’t know them.  He is a keen observer of people.  I imagine him to be like the old (they probably weren’t as old as I am now, though) mountain men I visited when I was little.  Relatives that we would just drop in on because Mama Mildred said we did not need to call ahead.  Chances are good they didn’t have phones anyway.  These men were overall-wearing, front porch sitters.  Didn’t always say much.  Some couldn’t get a word in edge-wise considering the apron-wearing women presiding over the stove. But when they did, you listened.  Well, unless you had already run off to play in the creek…  I don’t think that any of those men from my past are still alive.  Such a shame.  However, Sean has stepped up to the plate.  He is old for his age. Which means he is wise beyond his years.  And he shares that hard fought wisdom with us, his loyal readers.  I cry and/or laugh when reading his stories.

I’ve also become pen pals with his wife, Jamie.  She is a chef-turned-teacher.  I have managed to talk her out of two of her recipes.  I won’t ask for more, just hope that she will toss one out once in a while.  I plan to make her Pimiento Cheese recipe this week to take to the beach with Sister Moo.  Sean carried on and on about her pound cake in one of his posts so I was brave and asked for the recipe.  I keep making it and messing around with the flavorings.  Hers is the best.  (But switching it up and using Ms. Arizona’s gift of Praline Pecan liqueur gives me an excuse to have a little sample while mixing it all up.)

So, download some of his books and read on.  Lyla is probably my favorite.  Whenever I read the stories of people he has met, I imagine climbing into the passenger side of his old pick-up truck and going along for the ride.  Food is almost always involved, too, which makes it even better.

I do not advertise for Amazon, nor do I receive anything for my links.  I just happen to own a Kindle, given to me for Christmas a few years back by Son #1.  (Technically, he gave it to the Ex-Ex and me, but let’s just say the Ex-Ex has yet to read anything on it.)

Bon appétit et bonne lecture!  Read on!