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There are dog people.

And then there are non-dog people.

I grew up in a household of seven people, and six out of the seven of us are dog people… with the exception of my mom. She is dog tolerant. And that is about it.

Let me paint the picture for you.

Our beloved childhood dog, Skipper, lived a nice long life. And he was a good dog. When he became blind and deaf, my parents dutifully cared for him. Then he stopped eating, and they knew it was time to say goodbye.

It was a sad day for all of us. Even my dad shed a tear, which is a very rare occurrence.

Now, my mom cries at any touching movie, moment, happy news, sad news, exciting news, etc. But not one tear was shed by her for beloved Skipper.

When I asked her, “won’t you miss him?”

She replied that she’ll miss him when she’s cooking because he did scarf up any scraps.

Now, for you dog lovers that may sound cold-hearted. But my mom, I assure you, is not cold-hearted. She just doesn’t care for dogs.

So, that should provide a starting point for you to understand the rest of the story.

Fast forward…. Christmas at the parent’s house in 2010.

All 5 kids were coming home along with two spouses and two boyfriends. That makes for 11 adults in my parents home along with a bunch of drop-in friends.

Add to that the five LARGE dogs that would be accompanying my momma’s darling children on their trip home.

I thought the woman would have a breakdown.

Here is the ding-dong cast of characters.

The grumpy old lady, Miss Jackson:

Miss Ultimate Supreme Ding-a-Ling, Lola (who in this picture looks like she has a lazy eye):

Mr. Bosco, my sister’s very well-behaved (no that isn’t sarcasm… he is a REALLY good good dog) American Bull Dog:

Rosie, the rescue. And Jax, Bosco’s brother. These dogs love treats. Amen.

And this is a little glimpse of what it was like with them around:

http://bshawise.tumblr.com/post/2488922266

They were relegated to the basement. Please note that is only 3 of the 5. Miss was probably on the second floor far away from the action, and I’m sure she was trying to figure out how she was the only dog last year, and this year she was sharing her favorite get away spot with 4 dogs under the age of 1. Pretty sure she hated us for bringing her. And Rosie was probably locked away- Rosie is still working on playing well with others.

Words cannot describe the chaos that 5 grown dogs can create when they are together. For the dog lovers, there were a lot of funny moments with those ding-a-lings. And for my mom, I’m sure she was wishing that she raised her children better- you know, to be those non-dog loving people that don’t bring disruptive and destructive animals into her home.

Thanks be to God for the nearby high school athletic fields. They provided the fenced in space for these dogs to wear themselves out.

Thanks be to the Dog Whisperer, Justin. For it turns out that he really isn’t a whisperer, he is just a good treat bringer and giver.

And thanks be to my momma for her gift of tolerance.

Happy Wednesday people!

Have a good one,

Leah

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Early Sunday morning we arrived home from the best and most magical vacation of my life.

We spent a glorious ten days in Hawaii, and we covered three islands.

We started on Oahu in Honolulu seeing Pearl Harbor and Waikiki Beach.

We then went to the Big Island where we stayed for six nights. I think we saw approximately 3,200 sights.

We ended at a resort in Kauai, the Garden Island for our final three nights.

I don’t really even know where to start. We got to spend time with my family there, and that was hands down the highlight of the trip.

My Aunt Lynda- she and my mama are almost exactly one year apart in age. She has been in Hawaii for 30+ years.

Aunt Cindy. She is also my mama’s sister, and she lives in a beach house near the active volcano flow. The hostest with the mostest.

And this is my Aunt Adele. She is the baby of my mama’s family. She drove us all over the island… she may have caused us to white-knuckle it from time to time.

Aren’t they the prettiest?

Let me tell ya something. They are fun too.

So much fun.

This is my cousin Pono. He is nearly 14, and he is about as charming as they come. His mama is Lynda, and his dad is my Uncle Steve.

And this is Uncle Steve.

He’s holding perhaps the best dinner I’ve ever had.

Here are all of the Hawaii ladies (including my most gorgeous and delightful cousin Liula) and me.

And here is the whole clan minus my cousin Liula.

My Aunt Del is sitting next to her main man, Tim.

On top of spending extended time with my most amazing family,we ate delectable local food, our accommodations were deliciously deluxe, and the sightseeing and daily excursions put both Brad and I on sensory overload.

We took over 800 pictures if that says anything.

And now, I’ll share all 800 with you. So, sit tight and enjoy the show.

I kid. I kid.

I know how painful sitting through other people’s vacation pictures can be, so I promise to only give the highest of the highlights.

The food.

Oh, the food.

We started our trip with poke (POH-Kay). And my life will never be the same.

Poke literally translates to chopped chunks of fish.

The way that we ate it was in the ahi tuna form. Oh my.

We could order the most gigantic plate of sushi grade ahi tuna served up poke style for $5.

We ate at fabulous local restaurants.

This is Paulo’s in Pahoa on Big Island.

But the best meals came from Uncle Steve’s kitchen.

I took copious notes and tons of pictures, and I cannot wait to share some of his recipes!

We also watched Uncle Steve savor the fish eyeball.

To quote the fine movie Clueless, “Gag me with a spoon.”

And Steve’s mini-me (my cousin Pono) having the same sentiments as me- although he gave the eyeball eating the old college try.

Then, there were the sights.

I plan on sharing my very favortist (yes, I know- not a word) sights with you in more detail, but here are the visual highlights.

Pearl Harbor. I was here once twelve years ago, but it was important to visit again. Last time I was there 9/11 had not yet occurred. After this trip, I could not get over the similarities between Dec. 7, 1941 and Sept. 11, 2001.

Sunrise on our private cliff on Big Island.

A hike down to the ocean.

Akaka Falls.

Black sand beach.

I visited The Hobbit.

Or maybe it was Harry Potter.

Either way, this tree made me feel teeny tiny.

Brad went on a search for the smoke monster.

Rainbow falls.

A drive to the sea.

This is the exact spot where my world class surfer uncle taught Brad and I to surf.

We’re pretty  much pros.

Probably going to quit our jobs and join the circuit.

Snorkeling in Champagne Pond.

Snorkeling in the pond outside Steve and Lynda’s friends home.

Waipio Valley.

In Waipio.

On top of the clouds on Mauna Kea.

It was COLD up there!

Um… Hawaii wine tasting.

Am I kidding?

I am not.

Macadamia Nut Honey Wine… seriously, we shipped a bottle of this home. I cannot wait to eat it with blue cheese smeared on some salty crackers.

Can you believe it?

I met the karate kid.

On a tour of Uncle Steve’s game-changing charter school.

Please note my surfing bruise on my shoulder. That thing got big and black and blue.

And I felt tough.

Lighthouse on Kauai.

This is “Puff’s Tail” on Kauai. It is right outside the town of Hanalei, HI.

You know…

“Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honah Lee”

My favorite view of the trip:

My man… relaxing and completely unplugged. Our time together- talking, laughing, exploring, and experiencing- was what made this trip what it was. Beautiful and amazing.

I can’t wait to share with you some more of the details of our trip.

For now, I’m feeling the jet lag so I’m signing off.

I have missed you my blog friends.

Happy Monday!

XO,

Leah

My big brother got married this weekend, and it was the happiest weekend.

So many dearly beloved friends and most of our family gathered to celebrate the bride and groom.

I brought my camera and took a total of ZERO pictures.

Oopsie.

All Photos courtesy of Jane Mowery Photography

The Groom with his sisters.

At the rehearsal with the bride

The big day!

The Clarke girls with our mama

Loved the bridesmaid dresses!!

To J&J,

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon the fields.

May the light of friendship guide your paths together.
May the laughter of children grace the halls of your home.
May the joy of living for one another trip a smile from your lips,
a twinkle from your eye.

And when eternity beckons,
at the end of a life heaped high with love,
May the good Lord embrace you
with the arms that have nurtured you
the whole length of your joy-filled days.

May the gracious God hold you both in the palm of His hands.
And today, may the Spirit of Love find a dwelling place in your hearts.

I’m beat!

Back tomorrow with a new recipe…

XO,

Leah

Spanakopita.

Spinach Pie.

This has been my birthday dinner for as long as I can remember.

Growing up, birthday dinner meant my mama would make anything we wanted. I loved that day. I also loved my sister’s birthday dinners because they usually chose spinach pie too.

Except one year when Nurse Stephanie wanted bagels with cream cheese.

Nothing but the best for her.

Spinach Pie is still a major guilty pleasure for me.

For when I make a pan of spinach pie, I do not stop eating until it is gone.

I love this stuff.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the classic phyllo (Filo) stuffed Greek classic that is Spanakopita.

I’m going to give you that recipe.

But I’m also going to give you the Americanized more kid-friendly recipe that I ate growing up, and that I crave still today.

I called my mama for this recipe, and for the origin of this recipe.

It turns out that this version of Spinach Pie comes from a Meatless Meals cookbook from MCMLXXIX.

That is how the year was printed in the cookbook.

We had to figure it out, and now you can too.

The amounts below will make one full 9×11 pan of spinach pie. I made a half recipe of each, so the pictures don’t accurately represent the measurements.

Preheat your oven to 375.

For the classic Greek Spanakopita, here is what you’ll need:

10 sheets of Phyllo dough (in the frozen desserts section of the grocery store near the puff pastry and pie shells)

1/2 stick melted butter

2 10 oz. boxes frozen chopped spinach (sometimes I up this to 3 boxes for more substance)

1 c. cottage cheese

3 eggs

2 c. feta cheese

1/2 onion finely chopped

black pepper

And for my Birthday Dinner Guilty Pleasure Americanized version, here is what you’ll need:

10 sheets of Phyllo dough

1/2 stick melted butter

2 10 oz. boxes frozen chopped spinach

1 c. cottage cheese

3 eggs

2 c. cheddar cheese

black pepper

We start off with melted butter. I do believe there is no better way to start a recipe.

Wouldn’t you agree?

Brush some melted butter on the bottom of your pan:

Carefully lay down one layer of phyllo dough.

This stuff is pretty delicate.

But don’t worry, if it is pieced together and imperfect looking- it will still taste delicious.

Add another layer of butter, then another layer of the phyllo. Keep going until you have five sheets of phyllo dough on the bottom.

Did I mention that this is an extremely healthy dish?

I didn’t?

Oh.

Well, it has spinach in it.

That’s healthy.

Now set that off to the side, and lets make our filling.

For both versions the filling starts the same way.

Defrost your spinach and give it a squeeze to drain the excess water.

You can use fresh spinach or swiss chard, but when my mom first started making this recipe the grocery store didn’t have those glorious pre-washed bags of spinach.

And to quote my mama, “I wasn’t going to hand wash all of that spinach.”

Therefore, there is only one way to properly make this dish in my humble opinion. And that is to use frozen spinach- preferably chopped.

Put that in a bowl.

Add in a cup of cottage cheese.

Now, beat three eggs.

You know, come to think of it, the squeezing of the spinach and the beating of the eggs are practically a workout.

So, feel free to have an extra piece of the spinach pie when it’s done.

Add the eggs to the mix.

Now add about 1/2 t. of freshly ground pepper.

Remember Adam Sandler on SNL?

With Dana Carvey?

“Wouldya like some fresh-a pepper?”

“She like-a da fresh-a pepper.”

I say that to myself as I put pepper in a dish.

Just thought you might like to know.

Now, for the Greek version, add in your 2 cups of feta and your chopped onion.

Mix that up, and you are good to go!

If you are making the Americanized version, do not add feta or onion. Rather, add in your 2 cups of shredded cheddar.

Mix it up, and you’re done!

Now spread your filling on the phyllo dough and butter bed that you have created.

Remember, I’m making a half-and-halfer so the left is my Greek version and the right is my American.

I guess I should pause for a moment and talk about nutmeg.

At this point, a sprinkle of nutmeg can be added across the entire pan.

I really, really, really don’t like nutmeg.

I have tried.

And tried.

But, to no avail.

I can stomach it in very small amounts in dessert dishes.

And I know that nutmeg enhances the flavor of dark greens.

But I just can’t get on board.

I have tried, and I cannot.

I hate being anything resembling a picky eater, so please if you love or even like nutmeg add it to the dish. I’m sure that if you like the stuff, it does indeed make the dish better.

I feel a weight lifted off of my shoulders with that public nutmeg confession.

To finish off our pie, we need more phyllo and butter.

Don’t you think?

Place one layer on top of the spinach mixture.

Then slather on the butter.

Then, add four more layers.

At the end, you should have five layers of the phyllo and five layers of butter.

Just remember, this is a healthy dish.

You know, because of the spinach.

Cover the pan tightly with foil, and pop it in the oven for 35 minutes.

After 35 minutes, it will look like this:

I think we can do better than that.

Put the pie back in the oven, uncovered, for 10-15.

The goal is to get the pie to a golden brown color.

This would not be a good time to leave the pie completely unattended.

I love when it is perfectly tan on top with some caramelized darker edges.

The corners are my favorite part.

PER-FECT-SHUN.

For a lunch or dinner, cut this in generous squares (using a pizza cutter works really well) when it is fresh out of the oven.

For a party, cut these into triangles and serve on a platter.

Truth be told, I had a cold piece that was a little soggy straight out of the fridge for breakfast over the weekend.

What is wrong with me?

Please do not follow my lead.

Eat this piping hot with the crunchy, crispy, golden, buttery crust.

Happy Birthday to me!

OK, it was three months ago.

But I’m still celebrating.

Lots o’ love,

Leah

I would like to go on record stating that the dog park is the greatest invention ever.

We have been making trips there several times a week to wear our ding dongs out.

Miss Jackson (the lab) and LolaBelle (the basset mutt) L-O-V-E love it there.

And all of the dogs provide much entertainment for their owners.

The instant we get through the gate, Lola is off. And she does not care where we are, what we are doing, or if she ever comes home with us again.

Because she has found a new friend, and in her mind they are exactly the same size and they will be best friends forever.

Until this guy comes along. He is her best friend forever and ever, amen.

Oh wait. What’s happening over here?… she better go check out over here.

This poor guy was quietly meditating in the glorious shade when all of a sudden he was bombarded.

Now, Lola is off hounding. She runs with her nose to the ground. She’s collecting clues.

To something.

I’m sure of it.

Please note that I have no close ups of Lola because, as I mentioned above, she has forgotten that we exist.

Completely.

She is too busy playing with these ding-a-lings.

Please also note that Lola only likes to play with big dogs.

She and this sweet-as-pie doberman wrestled (rather Lola kept getting body slammed) for a solid 30 minutes.

Are you wondering about Miss yet?

Want to see what she’s up to?

She’s with her best buddy.

With whom she stays the entire time.

No kidding.

She is always within a three foot radius.

Does she want to play?

Oh, yes.

… but only with Brad.

There is ONE thing in the dog park that can coax Miss from Brad’s side.

Because there are only two things that this dog loves: us and water.

And the dog park doesn’t disappoint.

Fortunately, it is really clean water.

Look at these yahoos.

There, that’s better.

While Miss is at the dog spa, Lola is still playing wrestlemania with Doberman.

Could she be any cuter? I think not.

Something draws Lola to the water eventually.

Us?

No.

Miss?

No.

Mama?

Mama?

Is that you, Mama?

No?

OK, see ya!

Dog ownership is not difficult when you have a dog park nearby.

On our way out, these big boys were coming in.

I honestly think you could put a saddle on one of these sweet babies.

Our ding-dongs played for about an hour.

Then, it was time to say goodbye.

These dogs are the worst at goodbye.

We headed home, and we gave thanks for the gift of the dog park for it gives many good things.

The best, best, best part of the dog park?

Lola and Miss pass out for the remainder of the day.

Glory be.

XO,

Leah

I carry your heart with me

(I carry it in my heart)

I am never without it

(anywhere I go you go,my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling)

I fear no fate

(for you are my fate,my sweet)

I want no world

(for beautiful you are my world,my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grow

higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

I carry your heart

(I carry it in my heart)

-ee cummings

Look where I am.

And look who I’m with.

These are my sisters.

We don’t have any fun when we are together.

We are soaking in the sun and the beach and the waves. We are chatting over coffee. We are laughing over wine. We are reading good books. We are eating delicious food. It is bliss.

The main man has been left at home to fend for himself. When Brad fends for himself, the meals usually revolve around buffalo chicken. It is his favorite. I like buffalo chicken, but not like Brad likes it. He has a special relationship with the fried spicy goodness.

So, in his honor I give you the somewhat healthier (and not fried) Buffalo Chicken Spinach Salad.

On a side note, chicken can feel like the bane of my existence. Can I get an amen?

I find myself wondering night after night if there could possibly be something new and tasty to do with the same old bland chicken.

This recipe rekindles my relationship with chicken. It is quick, easy, flavorful, a little naughty, but mostly healthy.

So, lets start with the chicken.

I like it spicy. So does Brad.

I also like my chicken spicy.

Sprinkle your chicken tender cutlets with a little salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. The cayenne can bring the heat, so don’t over do it.

Yet another side note: I prefer the tenders to the full breast. It is still all white meat, but it takes less time to cook. Because it isn’t a giant thick breast, there is less risk at over-cooking the chicken and ending up with a dried piece of meat.

Put a little extra virgin olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Throw in your chicken. If the pan is too hot, you will feel like you are inhaling pepper spray because that cayenne is so spicy. So, careful!

Unless you like inhaling pepper spray and inducing a runny nose and watery eyes… then have at it.

After 4-5 minutes, give the chicken a flip.

While your chicken is finishing, let’s make the sauce.

Making buffalo sauce is very complicated. You  may want to get a paper and pen now to write down the ingredients and methods that I’ll be explaining to you.

First, the ingredients.

Butter and red hot. Equal parts.

Unless you are feeling crazy, then you can add in a little extra hot sauce.

Put them in a bowl.

Now into the microwave to melt the butter.

Mmmm, and the sauce is done.

Now, turn the heat under the cooking chicken to low, and pour the sauce over the chicken.

Let that chicken get all cozy with the buffalo sauce while you throw your salad together.

For the actual salad, just use whatever you have on hand.

This is what I had:

Spinach, sliced avocado, drained canned black beans, tomato, and a little sliced hot pepper:

And how about a little hard boiled egg, some crumbled blue cheese, and a little bit of chopped bacon?

Yes, please!

Top it off with your chopped chicken:

There ya have it.

I like a little blue cheese dressing on top. And I like a bit of an extra drizzle of the sauce from the chicken pan. But you can use anything you like because I don’t want to hold you down.

It is so yummy.

I’m off to the beach now. Happy Monday and Happy Cooking!

Leah

Brad’s cousin posted a link to the most amazing pictures on his blog.

It is a collection of color photographs from the years 1939-1943.

Check out these ladies backstage at the “girlie” show at a fair in Virginia in 1941.

Aren’t they fancy?

Brad says that the color photos somehow make this time in history feel more personal, and I think he is right.

I love this next one.

These women are on a lunch break from their job as wipers at the roundhouse. From what I gather from the rest of the photos, these women spent their days wiping down and washing locomotives.

Finally, this one. These kiddos are dog tired and tuckered out during a square dance in Oklahoma.

These kids are probably now in their mid 70s now. Crazy, right?

Check out the whole collection here. Fascinating. So cool.

Talk to you soon,

Leah

On our wall in the family room, we have a group of pictures of all of our grandparents when they were close to our age.

I love my main man’s grandma in her swimsuit.

I love my Grama in her nurse’s uniform just starting out in her career.

I love the pictures of each couple in love, young, not knowing what life would bring them.

Our parents weren’t yet a twinkle in their eye.

They are standing in front of first houses, they are on pre-children vacations, and they are sitting in favorite spots.

And now… now, they are all parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. These young faces have lived full lifetimes.

Some have left us.

And thankfully, some are still with us.

It serves as a reminder that life is short.

Life is unpredictable.

Life is joy and sorrow and growth and change.

Life is leaving a legacy to be proud of.

Sigh, I love these people.

And I love the reminder that the pictures provide.

Feeling nostalgic,

Leah

Want to know what makes me really, truly happy?

My sister’s Justin Bieber impression:

Seeing the man I love the most laugh his hardest:

These two:

Watching my sister’s reaction to certain Bachelorette weekend conversations with my brother’s future bride:

One of these guys on a Friday night:

The fact that when I did a Googe image search for a dirty martini, this is what came up first:

That “What? I didn’t know. I promise. I was just exploring” look that dogs give ya after traipsing through mud then running through every room of your house.

Ok, maybe thats not joy. But this picture is:

A lifelong commitment to one person through thick and thin, good and bad, happiness and sorrow, children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren:

Curling up with a good book- just finished this one, and it was Oh, So Good.

Cheese:

An ill-fated attempt at a self-portrait. Seriously, I am the worst at these, but I still love the picture. It makes me smile.

A great pair of heels- the putting them on and wearing them out…

and then the feeling of taking them off and sinking my feet into slippers after a night out.

I think I need these.

No really, Need.

Yes, I think so.

Spontaneous dance routines and performances:

Lifelong girlfriends.

The kind of friends that knew you when you had a bad perm and wore biker shorts.

Outside.

To School.

They were in style.

I swear.

Mine had a hot pink stripe down one side and a hot green stripe down the other.

I may or may not have worn them with some mis-matched slouch socks.

Planning an upcoming vacation:

And this song:

Seriously, I love this song. And NOW. The video. Oh man.

Now, it really brings me joy.

Life is full.

My cup runneth over.

Leah

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