Saturday, January 19, 2008

A tribute to "Big G"

Last Sunday Gary MacDonald, my mom's long time companion and partner in crime and my friend, passed away. Gary, or "Big G", as I called him was one of those rare birds - big heart, kind soul, odd sense of humor, a carryover from simpler times. Today is his memorial. Since I couldn't be there, I thought I'd do something of my own. So, for those of you who know him, enjoy the ride. For those who didn't, I hope it makes you smile about all the special people in your life.

Gary the cowboy: Gary had one of those long legged cowboy gaits (he was 6'4" and all legs), and when he would put on this boots and cowboy hat your mind would think of all the cowboy movies you'd seen in your life and go "oh, yeah, so THAT's a cowboy". You know, those silhouettes of a cowboy leaning up against the a door frame with his hat off to the side or leaning against a corral fence with his hat pulled down to shade his eyes. It was a big part of how he saw the world and a big part of how he grew up (on a farm in Rushville, Ohio; working in a rodeo). He was a gentle cowboy - following some unspoken cowboy code of honor. Not the rootin-tootin' type but the type that was always a gentleman (tipping his hat), always willing to lend a hand. Soft spoken and actually quite shy. My nephew, RJ, just loved "Pops" - when he was little he was so enamored with all the cowboy garb he'd beg to wear his cowboy boots and hat so he could mosey around the house like Gary. Of course, when RJ went "cowboy" it came with some serious attitude - and a temper tantrum when it was time to take the boots off...

Gary the chiropractor: Gary was a hugger. Not a simple pat on the back kind of hugger, but the kind of hugger where he would hold you, squeeze you, and well, to be honest, squish your back into alignment again. And this didnt' happen on just those special occassions - it was an every day (and often 3 times a day) kind of thing. It was always such a giggle to watch him give mom a hug after a long day at work (she's 4'10", he's 6'4"). It was like a Gary blanket. This is a photo he took when he was in Seattle - he just loved it. Two snow people hugging...

Gary the "mystery chef": Gary loved to cook - and he was good at it, too (thank goodness). He could serve up some mean pancakes (big fluffy cowboy style pancakes), an excellent chicken cacciatore, and wicked good peanut butter cookies. However, you always had to be a little bit careful regarding his "experiments". He always got a kick out of using leftovers in creative ways. Now sometimes, it was quite yummy. But othertimes, ick. I'll never forget the spaghetti meatloaf. There's just something wrong about cutting into a meatloaf and all these long wormy looking things pop out. To this day I'm always just a bit leery about leftovers...

Gary the artist: Well, most of you who know Gary know he's an artist (painter, cartoonist, haircutter, DJ, two-step dancer, designer). Every Christmas for gosh I can't even remember how long he would create his own Christmas cards. Now these aren't some simple paper and glue kind of card - these were extraordinarily beautiful hand painted cards that told a story about where he grew up and what he saw as the spirit of Christmas. There was always a red cardinal somewhere in the picture - and most of them had something of my mom in there. He would begin designing these right after the last set was finished and sent off to all their friends. I'm pretty sure I have every one I ever received - and I'm not alone in this - most of us have kept his cards. I also have every other card he made for me. Most of these capture that goofy sense of humor Gary had that just made you giggle. My personal favorite is the one of me and my sister in our cribs - she's trapped herself in a boat canvas crib (she owns a boat canvas company) and she's yelling at me to get her out, and I'm busy being "engineer-y" in my crib (calculating, measuring, designing) to figure out how to help her out. These were his special gifts he gave to his family. But, painting didn't stop at cards - he also drew the illustrations for a children's book and painted portraits and scenes. And then there were the little cartoons he would scribble and leave around the house - something to just say "hello" or "the coffee's fresh".

Gary the punster: Gary had a, well, unique sense of humor. Most of the time you'd laugh, but other times you'd cock your head to the say and wonder what was funny. I think it was his shy way of making friends. He loved to play on words. And he loved to come up with new words - like "gramich" - which was a sandwich my mom (or "grammy") would make for him. And then there were the times where he'd start the day with his marine band CD which would be promptly followed by his ABBA CD. Just the kind of odd pairing Gary would enjoy. I guess what it says is that Gary found humor in everything and would always try his hardest to get people to smile or laugh. When he did, he'd get that cute sense of satisfaction on his face, like he'd done a good deed.

Gary the sentimentalist: Even though Gary loved to joke, he was probably the most sentimental person I've ever known. Some might say he wore his feelings on his sleeves - I'd probably say it didn't stop with his sleeves. My sense is that this had long roots to when he was a young boy. Although he could watch baseball or football for hours, he was always a sucker for a sentimental old movie (especially if there was a cowboy theme). One of his favorites was "Tender Mercies" - I remember the first time I watched it with him and how he teared up. You could tell that he really related to the story. He knew every line in that movie (you could see him mumbling the words to the movie sometimes), and he knew every song. And sometimes if I was very lucky he'd sing one for me (he had a beautiful voice) - the one that talked about the wings of a snow white dove.

Gary was a giver: When I moved into my Seattle home, Gary immediately offered to help fix it up (it needed work). This was a huge job - we moved walls, opened up walls, and created new walls. Well, when I say "we" I really mean "he". Although he did teach me how to "mud" walls. It was one of those flashbacks to Karate Kid, you know that movie where the kid learns karate by washing cars and painting fences ("wipe on, wipe off"). By the time he was done, my house was absolutely gorgeous! But this is who Gary was - he was always offering to help, he'd give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. Every day I see something that has a bit of Gary in it.

This is Gary and me in Seattle - working away.

As for last words - well, I'd prefer not to think in those terms. I will say that one of Gary's parting gifts was during my last visit with him in the hospice. He showed me how to milk a cow. No joke...but still funny.

Big hugs.


We had our own Iron Chef cook off the other weekend - inspired by Rocio's (one of our graduate students from Mexico) gift of a HUGE bag of vanilla beans to Llew. With the gauntlet thrown down - we all tried to out do each other with creating yummy food flavored with vanilla. Alice has a nice overview of all the goodies and the evening. You can visit Llew and Gemma's website to get details on the behind the scene cooking story.

Me - well, I wanted to push the envelope of something to do with vanilla that wasn't dessert yet in some way made you think of dessert. My first thought was to make crab puffs flavored with vanilla. However, Lafayette and fresh crab is not a real option. So I started playing around with a baklava type theme - except a savory baklava. Baklava is that yummy philo, nuts, and honey dessert that you find in the Mediterranean (Turkey, Greece, etc.). I poked around and found, yes, bacon baklava. It was just weird enough that I knew I had found my recipe. I will say it was darned tasty (lots of comments about how it tasted like mince pie). However, a word of warning, cold "bacon-lava" is not good. Imagining eating cold french toast with bacon bits. Yugh.

I will say that the smell of the apartment was fabulous - not that cloying vanilla room freshener smell but a cornucopia of smells laced with real vanilla. Lovely.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Happy New Year!

Cannot believe it's 2008 - what happened to 2007 (ok what happened to the last 10 years if we're going to be really honest)...

Anyway, in keeping with the tradition of "going somewhere you've never been before and doing something you've never done before", I decided to have a New Year's party. Never done that before, and never been to one in Indiana (ha ha).

The theme was "fondue" - and as you can see from the pictures Alice posted, not only did we slurp up much cheese we actually fought over the last burnt bit at the bottom of the pot. Llew and I went and bought champagnes from around the world (Spain, Italy, France, and believe it or not, New Mexico) to complement the evening. So there was much bubbly, and much bubbly talk and laughter. Alice and Steve rounded out the evening by bringing "crackers" (not the flat flour wafer types but the round noise popping type). Lugh (the dog) of course had to get in on that by chewing on the papery goodness of the wrapper. At midnight we put messages of what we hope for the new year in a bowl and then lit them on fire - then scrambled out of the room to watch the ball drop in NY on TV. Fabulous way to bring in the new year and say "adios" to the old one!

Now the story wouldn't be complete without telling what also happened some time that evening. I had a couple dozen cans of soda and a few bottles of wine left over from the Aussie party. They were in the garage - and it was "on the list" to move them into the basement. Well, it was a cooooold night that night and I had left the garage doors open and the car outside. Didn't really think much about this until I walked out to the garage New Year's Day. At first I couldn't put my finger on what was different...weird bits of aluminum can everywhere...brown sticky stuff stuck in the snow...and then it dawned on me. While we were toasting the new year with champagne, the soda and wine decided to join the party and explode in the garage. Now that's a toast!