The Garden Party Has A New Home!

Beginning today, I’m self-hosting my newly-landscaped Garden Party blog!  So, if you’re RSSing me or linking to me on your own blog, please note the new location:

Come on over and have some sweet tea!


Please Be a Good Party Guest and Comment!

Comments are my favorite snack food.  I’m always interested to know who has been in the Garden and what their experience was like.  So, please talk to me so I don’t have to rely on those dreary old stats in the back room and wonder who the people are behind the numbers!  Here, have some nice, cold lemonade and a finger sandwich!

Whoa! Animated GIFs Work in Blogs!

Y’all are in for it now!

Things Every Pet Owner Should Know – Maybe

I read this article today in the September issue of a popular southeast US magazine. I’d tell you what the magazine is called, but I’ve already shown you my picture and I’d prefer you not show up at my front door unless you’ve been invited.  You know how the interwebz can be.

I have always been “a cat person.” I’ve raised a succession of them and currently have a 10-year-old red male “Ragdoll” and a very cranky 7-year-old female who can’t make up her mind whether she’s a “Tortie” or a “Tabby,” so we’ll call her “Calico.” Then, there’s the 2-year-old parakeet (a loud limey) we inherited from my husband’s mother when she felt she had grown too old to care for a critter.  And now, we have Benjamin, the awesome black Lab we brought home from a local back yard breeder at 9 weeks.  Hubby has a family that has raised birds and dogs forever, but this is my first puppy, so I have assumed the role of first-time-parent and taken it very seriously.  I’ve lived with dogs before, but never raised a puppy from scratch! I’m determined to have one of those dogs people marvel over because of his excellent behavior rather than one they are repulsed by because he just peed on their foot or jumped in their face while they were sipping coffee on my couch.  At 5 and a half months, Benjamin is showing real potential.  And, anyone who watches “Dog Whisperer,” or “It’s Me or The Dog,” or any show of that nature will tell you – that’s mostly due to the humans in my household raising their awareness of and building relationship with the critter.

Benj was the same size as the cats the day we brought him home (in the picture here), but he’s now large enough and strong enough to pull me off of my feet if he’s captivated by something…which he often is.  I work with him nearly every day, but I knew I didn’t know what the heck I was doing beyond teaching “sit,” “stay,” “down,” “come,” “leave it,” so we agreed to bring in a professional trainer recommended by our vet.  I’d read through some books on raising a “good” puppy, and understand that the current popular school of thought is that we don’t use “punitive” methods for training any longer…only positive reinforcement and ignoring “bad” behavior.  Well, that may work if you have a Yorkie but I’m going to have a dislocated shoulder and a lot of broken chachkies if I don’t scold and punish by crating every now and then.  Fortunately, the trainer we hired happens to agree that even a couple of fingers across the snout every now and then isn’t going to do any lasting damage.  So, if you disagree and you’re going to comment, please make an effort to keep your words civil.  If you cannot, you’ll just be deleted.  I’ll keep comments that disagree as long as they aren’t spewing hatred.

I teach a seminar about boundary setting which heavily encourages consequences as a necessary aspect of relationship building, whether between parent and child or husband and wife or any relationship. I teach humans that you cannot learn and grow if you don’t understand and experience the consequences of your choices.  So then, why would this not apply to our pets?  Naturally, I am not advocating beating or kicking your dog.  We are tremendous pet lovers.  Benj wakes up Daddy every morning with a lick of the ear and a snoot in the eye.  It is one of our favorite moments of the day. However, exclusively positive reinforcement didn’t work on me or him as children and we don’t believe it will get us where we all want to go here.  Our trainer has worked with birds, cats, lion, and elephants…dogs are a walk in the park for him.  I trust him, I’m seeing results, and I appreciate his knowledge and approach.  But, I was talking about a magazine article, wasn’t I?  Let’s get back to that.

Since I’m interested in raising a dog that integrates well into a human world, I’m doing a lot of reading.  The article I’m talking about here wrote a bunch of stuff under each of their “Things Every Pet Owner Should Know,” but each section started with a quote.  I don’t believe I’ll be plagarizing if I simply reprint those, so that’s what I’m sticking to for this blog. Here they are:

1. “Dogs are 35 times more likely to get skin cancer than  humans, four times more likely to get breast tumors, eight times more likely to get bone cancer and twice as likely to get leukemia. ~Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine

Get them their vaccinations and keep them current. Don’t throw them out in the yard to get them out of your hair unless they have water and shade. I use Advantage Multi for Benjamin…a topical application that protects him from heartworms, several parasites, and flea larvae all at once.  It is, by far, the most cost-effective way to deal with his needs.

2. On an 85-degree day, the temperature inside a car with the windows opened slightly can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes. At 110 degrees, pets are in danger of heat stroke, a potentially fatal condition. ~The Humane Society of the United States

This one is a no-brainer.  If you can’t take your dog with you wherever you’re going…LEAVE HIM/HER HOME! I want to socialize Benj to everything possible at this stage of his life, but often I am going to a store that won’t allow him inside, so I have to leave him safely crated while I’m out.  But, I do call ahead to ask whenever I think there may be an opportunity for him to come along and we do try to give him lots of custom-created social opportunities.  He’s already been to a pool party, the beach, a few doggie play dates, and walked the neighborhood to meet his neighbors.  He navigated his first flight of stairs last week. Good boy!

3. A 60-pound dog can cause an impact of 2,700 pounds slamming into a car seat, a window, or another passenger. ~Bark Buckle Up

We bought a doggie seat belt and tried it a couple of times.  Not only did Benj hate hate hate it, but it really didn’t seem to allow him to sit comfortably and look out the window from the back seat.  We’ve never had a policy of buckling up the dogs and hubby has a much longer history of traveling with them than I do, so we don’t observe this rule. In all honesty, I only wear my own seat belt half the time. Lots of room for criticism here, I know.  I will, however, take a stand against people who throw their dogs in the back of their open-bed pickup trucks and race down busy roads like maniacs.  That’s just wrong.  And, if you’re going to leave your dog loose in the car while driving and you want to give him a window to stick his head out, I believe you should be sure he can’t use that same window to leap out of the car when something catches his fancy.

4.  Between 2,000 and 3,000 animals died as a result of Hurricane Katrina.  Another 16,000 pets were rescued and sent to shelters. ~Discovery Channel

If you live in an area where a hurricane might strike (even if one hasn’t for some time), it is just as important for you to consider how you would keep your pets safe as yourself.  Understand that if evacuation is necessary during a hurricane, the best thing you can do to protect your pets (according to the Humane Society) is to take them with you.  Pets left behind are vulnerable to injury or worse.  If you have a plan, check out how your pets would fit into that now.  If you don’t have one…for criminy’s sake make one!

5. Dog bite victims requiring medical attention in the United States number 500,000 to 1 million annually. On average, about a dozen people die each year from dog bites. ~State Farm Insurance

Um…know your critter…know critters can sometimes be unpredictable…and be a responsible pet owner?  This article also advises knowing the law in your state.  In some states (mine is one of them) a pet owner is legally responsible for deaths or injuries caused by their dog.

6. If given unlimited access to food, cats will eat between 12 and 20 meals a day, evenly spread out over the 24-hour light-dark cycle. ~National Research Council

I’ve always kept my critters on a dry-only diet.  It’s easier for me and it makes their leavings much easier to deal with (I don’t need a gas mask to clean the litter box). The two cats get fed once a day, in the morning, and they take a good part of the following 24-hour period to consume that.  Works for both of us, I believe.  Somehow, my calico manages to be obese this way, but I’ve had this issue with female spayed cats before, particularly calicos. All critters are on quality food. The cats are on prescription Royal Canin Urinary SO for the male’s sake and Benjamin is on Science Diet Large Breed Puppy food which, my vet informs me, has been shown to reduce the chances of him developing hip dysplasia by 30%.  He is fed twice a day according to package directions and given access to water only at those two times so I can leave him crated during the day without him dying to get out and pee.  Both vet and trainer tell me this is perfectly fine for a developing puppy who is indoors all the time.

7. If the punishment is delivered too late, even seconds later, your pet will not associate the punishment with the undesired behavior. The punishment will seem totally unpredictable to her. ~The Humane Society of the United States

Sorry, but I’m just not buying that one. My vet told me that, but the trainer (the one who has dealt with everything from parakeets to lions) staunchly disagrees.  And, I have clearly seen evidence to the contrary. Benj understands he is supposed to tell us he wants to go outside to potty by ringing a bell tied to the sliding glass door.  He understands when he is doing something other than that, it is wrong.  If we discover his “accident” some time later and bring him over, firmly expressing our disapproval with words he knows (Benjamin, did you potty here?  You know you’re supposed to ring the bell!  No potty inside!), he clearly gets it and it shows on his face. When he was much younger, perhaps this was not the case, but it certainly is now.

8. The average veterinary expenditure per household for all pets was $366 in 2006. ~American Veterinary Medical Association

I believe one should be as selective about their veterinarian as they are about their personal doctors.  If the facility doesn’t look clean, the doctor isn’t personable, and you’re not comfortable with the level of care you are receiving, switch.  Also, if you have a pet that is clearly going to require considerable veterinary care, check into pet medical insurance programs.  They can end up costing much less in the long run.

9. Just one mothball containing naphthalene can cause serious illness to a dog or cat, including liver and kidney damage, swelling of the brain, seizures, coma and even death. ~American Veterinary Medical Association

It is important to be aware of what’s around the house that your pet might find fascinating – even irresistible – when you’re not paying attention. Almost all house plants are toxic to dogs and cats.  Cats usually munch and purge, but dogs will scarf down anything that looks inviting and then lay around looking at you like they really don’t feel so good. Look around for things like citronella candles, fabric softener sheets, and even food items in their reach such as avocado, chocolate, coffee, garlic, grapes, macadamia nuts, onions, raisins and salt.  Did you know that?  If you don’t have a local animal emergency hospital phone number on your refrigerator, I recommend doing that today.  My 24/7 Vet ER happens to also be my regular vet and I’m glad for the fact that they know my pets there.  Not all Vet ERs have regular practices, but if you can find one of these, it’s a good place to consider.

I feel another scripture about having dominion over all the animals coming on!

Genesis 6:19 And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. 21 And you shall take for yourself of all food that is eaten, and you shall gather it to yourself; and it shall be food for you and for them.”

Ben & Jerry’s Creme Brulee Ice Cream: Best Brain Freeze I’ve Ever Had!

Okay, so the nutritional information on the Ben & Jerry’s website clearly informs me that a 1/2 cup serving of this heavenly product contains 310 calories, 160 of those from fat.



But, I just tasted this flavor for the first time tonight and I am simply not thinking about that.  Just not dealing with it in any way, shape, or form.

Creme brulee has been my favorite dessert for a very long time.  I think it was the early ’90s when I sat in a restaurant in Manhattan called “The Back Porch,” a couple of blocks from my Aunt Rose’s apartment, and she suggested I try this for the first time.  It was the best thing I had ever tasted in my entire life.  I actually picked up the little ramekin it had been served in and licked it clean right there in the restaurant!  I was such an upstart then.

Since then, I have considered myself a creme brulee conessouir, which, of course, means I have had more than my share of disappointments along the way. In my quest to repeat that first awesome dessert experience, I have unhesitatingly ordered the creme brulee whenever it has been on the dessert menu of any restuarant.  Recently, my husband has been successful at influencing me away from that policy and convincing me I’ll be a happier human being if I consider the likelihood of getting great creme brulee based on the restaurant itself.  It continues to amaze me how many ways there are to get creme brulee wrong.  For the record, it is supposed to look like this:

Properly prepared creme brulee

Properly prepared creme brulee

The custard is supposed to be made from scratch (not instant pudding) and the carmelized sugar is supposed to be thin, crisp, and added just before serving.  It is not supposed to be something drizzled over the top or – worse – squirted in a squiggly pattern beneath.  And, it is supposed to taste like heaven.

Now, in the world of things claiming to be creme brulee flavored, I have had a whole separate set of disappointments.  I keep going for it like a Pavlovian dog, most of the time knowing I’m going to throw the thing away and mutter under my breath for half an hour!  Yesterday afternoon, in the supermarket, I wandered down the ice cream aisle and actually decided to browse the Ben & Jerry’s section because I wanted to taste the “Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream” flavor, being a big Colbert fan and having not gotten around to showing my solidarity in this particular fashion to date.

Not yet tasted, but probably awesome!

Not yet tasted, but probably awesome!

Apparently, my local supermarket doesn’t feel the same, since the only “named” flavor in stock was “Cherry Garcia.”  But, oh happy day, I spotted the creme brulee and responded in my usual, impulsive way.  Just to distract my husband from my act of impetuousness, I picked up a quart of Haagen Daas Coffee (his favorite) to accompany my purchase.

So tonight, the subject of ice cream came up after dinner and I told everyone what I had. My husband and stepson were both curious about the new flavor, but said they wanted a good portion of the coffee flavor and a tablespoon or so of the creme brulee.  Fine.  I peeled the lid off of both containers and was instantly encouraged by the creamy appearance and the healthy speckles of what appeared to be actual caramelized sugar…and by my husband’s raised eyebrows (not unlike Colbert’s in that picture over there!).  Still, we dished lightly…just in case.

Well, dear friends, let me tell you, all three of us were in love with this dessert by the time we swallowed our first spoonful.  The creamy vanilla custard (which is how both proper creme brulee and proper vanilla ice cream begin anyway), the crunchy crystallized caramel-colored sugar swirled in, even the way it complimented the coffee flavor made for the most wonderful and complete dessert experience in recent memory.  Of course, recent memories are just all messed up now because my brain is soaked with creme brulee!

Apparently, I am not alone with my family in this feeling.  Several bloggers have already beat me to the punch reviewing this flavor.  Among them are Tina Rice, Shark Like a Fox, Opinions for Nothing (all the way back in January) and Keith Moore.  If you check those out, I offer you the caveat that a couple of these blogs use words you will not find on this one, though their hearts are definitely in the right place on the subject!  Sure, I found as many blogs that feel strongly this is a terrible flavor, but what do they know? 😉

This post wouldn’t be complete without an expression of my deep appreciation to my hubby for making Emeril Lagasse’s creme brulee recipe for me on special occasions.  You rock, honey!  For those of you fellas out there with some cooking prowess who would ilke your wives to tell you how much you rock (unless they’re on Jenny Craig right now, in which case, please skip this paragraph), here is that recipe:


1 quart heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
8 teaspoons raw sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (see note)
8 large egg yolks

In a medium nonreactive (don’t use any bare metal) saucepan, combine the cream, 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar, and the vanilla bean and pulp over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil, whisking to dissolve the sugar.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the remaining 1/2 cup of granulated sugar together.  Whisk 1 cup of the hot cream mixture into the egg yolk mixture until smooth.  Slowly pour this mixture into the hot cream mixture, whisk for 2 minutes, and remove from the heat.  Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve. Let cool completely.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Fill eight 6-ounce custard cups with equal portions of the cream mixture. Place the cups in a deep baking dish large enough to accommodate them comfortably without touching. Fill the baking dish with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the cups.

Bake in the lower third of the oven until lightly golden brown and just set, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 12 hours.

Before serving, sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the raw sugar on the top of each custard. One at a time, using a kitchen blowtorch, approach the sugar with the torch at a low angle until the inner blue flame is 1/4 inch above the surface and move the flame in a continuous motion over the surface until the sugar has caramelized.  Or, preheat the broiler, sprinkle the sugar over the custards, and slide the dishes under the broiler.  Broil until the sugar caramelizes, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove (carefully!) and allow the custards to cool again. Refrigerate and serve chilled.

Note: Vanilla bean is long and thin. To get the essence of the bean, it must be split lengthwise, then scraped to remove the resinous, pasty insides.  Lay the bean on a flat surface with its seam as the center and split toone end. Place the point back at the center and split it to the other end, Use teh blade of the knife to scrape the pasty seeds out.

Do you see how much a husband has to rock to do this for his wife? Great.  Now, go get the ice cream and let me know what you think!

Ephesians 5: 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– 30 for we are members of his body.

Nice Weather…For Ducks!

Photos by Ennis Davis and Daniel Herbin

Photos by Ennis Davis and Daniel Herbin

Well, if you’ve been reading this blog, you know I promised to rush right out and get tickets for “Cirque Du Soleil: Delirium,” running for 4 days only:  Last Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.  When I purchased the tickets for Thursday night, Tropical Storm Fay was stalled somewhere around Daytona and nobody knew what she was gonna do next.  Maybe it was gonna be a big problem…maybe it was gonna be a lot of rain and not much else.  Well, I can go to the movies in the rain!

Wednesday, things were looking nasty enough, my husband’s office closed and announced it would be closed the following day.  My niece and nephews schools were closed and the bottled water was disappearing off the Publix shelves as fast as they could be stocked.  We spent Wednesday evening taking the wind chimes out of the trees, storing the patio furniture in the garage, and just generally battening down the hatches.  Still, somewhere inside of me there lived this small hope that the storm would never amount to anything and I’d be able to redeem my pre-paid coupon at the Regal the next night.

Fay Over the Jacksonville Skyline

Fay Over the Jacksonville Skyline

We were among the lucky ones.  We never lost power.  We lost cable and internet and phone service, but that just meant I got the seminar I’m teaching pulled together in Microsoft Word.  That level of isolation was nearly a blessing!  We had a battery operated TV that we turned on at the top of the our all day Thursday to keep track of the weather maps and see images of what was going on outside.  As Fay really kicked up her heels outside and we began to marvel at the deluge, we were also amazed at how many people feel the uncontrollable urge to GO OUTSIDE at a time like this.  The ones who drive through standing water and get stuck for hours until someone can rescue them.  The ones who go swimming and BRING THEIR KIDS!!!! The ones who roam around in high winds just to see what it feels like.  I guess those are the people who aren’t sitting at home listening to the weather and newscasters tell everyone not to do those things.

Anyway, the news said the peak of the storm activity would be between 5:00 and 9:00 Thursday night.  Curtain time for “Delirium” was supposed to be 7:30.  I called the theater around 2:00 and asked what their policy was for those who had tickets for that night.  The woman I spoke to said – and rather curtly – “We’re here.  As long as we have power, the movie is showing.”  Well, okay, then.  I gave it about an hour and a half for the icky feeling I got from that conversation to wear off.  Fay sent bands of really heavy wind and rain through with large periods of just nothing in between.  It was weird.  Every time the rain stopped, we wanted to just believe the storm was over.  Then, someone on the television would say something like, “Make no mistake, this storm isn’t over!”  My sister was supposed to be my date for this enormous cinematic event.  We called each other about a half dozen times trying to decide whether it made any sense at all to try to go out and drive and risk sitting in a cinema when power was lost and then try to drive home in the dark with trees falling down on us!  Actually, it didn’t take much brain power to work it out!  There had already been one fatality on exactly the road we needed to travel…in exactly that way.  I called the cinema back and reached a somewhat more reasonable woman who said we could redeem the coupon for either of the noon shows on Saturday or Sunday.  I knew neither of those would work, so she suggested bringing the coupon down and speaking to a manager.  I’m guessing I’ll get a credit for some future show at the Regal.  But, it won’t be “Dilirium.”  That’s gonna have to be viewed on my 42″ flat screen TV some months from now.  Ah well.

These pictures were taken from the Metro Jacksonville website.  Many more fascinating images can be seen there, as well as discussion about Fay.

Genesis 9:11 Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Kate Clark’s Sculpture is The Stuff of Dreams

Kate Clark, is an awesome artist, and an even more awesome person! Okay, granted, she is my niece, but I’m not the slightest bit biased!

Kate Clark's anthropomorphic sculpture

Kate Clark's anthropomorphic sculpture

Here’s her website. But, before you go there, let me offer you a word of caution. Her work isn’t exactly to everyone’s taste! Her sculptures resemble some of the awesome showcases you may remember seeing at your local Natural History museum…except for one small detail – they have human faces! It’s eerie, really…at first. But, she’s not necessarily trying to freak you out…at least that’s not the way her mother tells it!

Kate uses real animal skins in her work, so if this kind of thing bugs you, I’m suggesting you simply not click the link to the website. But, if you do click it, I recommend checking out the section on construction. I’m also impressed with the web design itself…click the slices of images you see to view entire pieces.

I’m proud of Kate today because she’s been written up in The Village Voice, which any New Yorker knows is, like, the coolest thing that can happen to any kind of artist. Hey, everyone, did I mention that’s my niece?


Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”