Applying my salve

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Like most people, I lose myself sometimes. I get so caught up in the emotion around me I forget the things I should be focused on. Nothing brings me back to myself like cooking. I find great solace in my kitchen. The world around me disappears and my existence is renewed by the smell of a combination of ingredients that transport me to a place I had professedly forgotten.

Life has a funny way of throwing countless distractions in our direction and it is up to us to tune out those interruptions and concentrate on the things we value most. Family and friends are always at the top of my list and cooking has consistently been the thread that weaves together all of the important people in my life.

My fondest childhood memories are richly steeped in the images of our family kitchen and my love of cooking was absorbed through osmosis. Whether it was my mother methodically following a recipe, my father taking every ingredient from our refrigerator to see what he could randomly create or my brother making delicious crepes from scratch, cooking has always been the one thing that holds a piece of each of them close to my heart.

Last night I got home from work and knew the only place I yearned to be was in front of my stove. Nothing else mattered. As much as I wanted to tackle the “to-do” items on my list or write the next five hundred words in my novel, cooking was the only avenue that would afford me the true escape I needed. The onions were chopped, the bacon was rendered and my house began to, once again, smell like my home.

In a collection of minutes, the chili was simmering on the stove and the cheesy beef tortellini was set to cook in my crockpot. All was right in my world and the chaos of the universe outside of my existence had been laid to rest for the evening. Cooking is the salve that heals my wounds. Whether it is a simple salad dressing, a comforting stew, a tasty casserole or a perfectly cooked sous vide piece of beef, cooking will always have enough positive energy to undo anything negative in my life.

 

 

 

 

Fifty is the new……what was I saying?

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Another turn around the sun has brought me to fifty. As I always do on my birthday, I wished my Winnie the Pooh a happy birthday as we have shared this day since the day I turned one. Winnie looked slightly dismayed when I told him I was fifty today. He was doing the calculations in his head and, although he is a bear of very little brain, he slowly realized it will be his turn next year.

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I remember my dad giving my mom a birthday card on her fiftieth that read, “Fifty and Fabulous” and I could have sworn he was being a lovely husband and cushioning the blow for what must have been a traumatic event for my mom. But he was bang on. Somewhere along my path to get here, I stopped worrying about the numbers and concentrated on my happiness and I truly do feel fabulous.

I have forgiven myself for the mistakes I made in my past and left them in the past where they belong. I have stopped defending the fact I am single woman, happily living life on my own in my little house. I have stopped trying to convince people that alone does NOT mean lonely. I have given myself permission to be a bit selfish sometimes and practice saying the word, NO. And I have found great humility in volunteering my time to help my fellow community members.

Fifty is what you allow it to be and, for me, fifty just proves the year on my birth certificate is correct and nothing else. Happy fiftieth birthday to me!

 

A pinch of something extra

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“I’m just someone who loves cooking and for whom sharing food is a form of expression.” ~Maya Angelou

A great portion of my time off is spent in my kitchen. It is the place I feel most like myself and can let the rest of the world revolve as it wants to outside my kitchen walls. My father loved to cook and was one of those talented people who could open the fridge, combine a bunch of ingredients and come up with something really tasty. (don’t ask about the scrambled eggs made with eggnog – that was an epic fail)

My mom was also a good cook but was very much a recipe follower and rarely threw caution to the wind when it came to her ingredients. My brother and I both grew up watching the family dynamic in the kitchen and quickly began to love cooking. My foray into kitchen triumphs began with my Easy-Bake Oven and I remember my brother in his teens making homemade crepes for our family for dinner.

Cooking, for me, really is a form of expression. It allows me to connect with others on a level far beyond conversation and it lets me share myself with other people. There is no bad day that can’t be made a little better with something yummy that has been made at home. There is an invisible ingredient that makes it taste so much better than any food you can buy at a store or a restaurant.

If I ever have a bad day or want to make someone else’s day a little bit brighter, you know where I’ll be.

Adventures in Day Camp

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When my family moved out of the city, I was seven years old. We had previously spent every summer at our family cottage on Lake Rosseau and this cottage became our permanent residence until we purchased a four-season home in the same town. We still spent every summer at the cottage, a five-minute drive from our house, and life was great.

A few years after we had moved, leaving many of our family members behind, my parents thought it would be nice if I spent some of my summer holiday with my grandparents…..in the city! We lived in one of the most beautiful vacation destinations in Canada and they wanted me to spend part of the best time of the year in Muskoka in the concrete jungle! I was too young at the time to question the reason behind their decision and, with packed suitcase in hand, I climbed into the back seat of the station wagon to head back to my hometown.

The small silver lining of me spending some of my summer holiday in the city was the fact that I had been signed up to go to a day camp. When I was given the run-down of all the awesome activities I would be doing, I had pushed aside the memories of spending most of my summer days in the lake and was actually excited to go to camp.

On the first day of camp, my Nana made sure I had a good breakfast, helped me to organize my backpack and walked me to the bus stop for 8:00 am. Together we stood and waited and, as the bus came around the corner, I could feel my excitement building. We said goodbye and, from the bus, I waved to her as excitedly as Forrest Gump waved hello to Lieutenant Dan from his shrimp boat.

The day camp was a fifteen-minute drive from my grandparent’s apartment. Even at my young age and not wearing a watch, I knew the bus ride had exceeded fifteen minutes. The outlines of the city buildings had faded into the background and the landscape outside my bus window began to look much more like my scenic cottage-country home. When the bus finally arrived at its final destination about an hour later, we were in the middle of nowhere.

Unsure of what was happening, I was the last kid to exit the bus. The Camp Director was standing at the bottom of the steps with her clipboard in hand and when I gave her my name, she looked at the sheet in front of her and looked back at me. She lifted the page, looked at another sheet and looked back at me. My name was nowhere to be found in the list of children expected to be at this day camp. Unlike all the other kids who seemed enthusiastic about their surroundings, inwardly, I was starting to panic.

I was taken to the Camp Office and I fidgeted in my seat while the staff tried to find my grandparents contact information. Had the internet been invented in the 1970’s, this process would have been far more expedited than it was. I don’t recall all the details of the investigation, but I do know they eventually found my camp information in my backpack and discovered I had boarded the 8:00 am bus when I should have actually boarded the 9:00 am bus in the same location. I spent the day with a group of kids I would never see again and was actually thrilled to get back to the city.

The next day, I boarded the 9:00 am bus for my day camp and loved every minute of it. The added bonus at the camp I was meant to attend in the first place was the fact that we learned to sing all the songs from the musical Annie. Looking back at it now, I think the payback for my Nana putting me on the wrong bus was the fact that I sang Annie songs at the top of my lungs for the two-and-a-half hour drive from Oakville to Muskoka to return me to my parents. I’m sure there were many moments when my Grampa thought of throwing himself out of the moving vehicle onto the highway just for a moment of peace.

To this day, I can’t hear those songs without picturing myself with my arm hanging over the front seat and singing like I was Little Orphan Annie on Broadway.

 

Music is good for the heart

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I was sitting at home on Tuesday night listening to Barry Manilow songs. Yes, you read that correctly, Barry Manilow songs. My aunt will be thrilled when she reads this post. I think she is one of Barry’s biggest fans and we were certainly caught in the vortex of her Barry mania back in the day.

There was one particular song of Barry’s my mother absolutely loved and I forgot I had downloaded that song on my iTunes. When I decided to shuffle all of my songs while making dinner, this song came on and, in a few seconds, I was back in the living room of my childhood home singing this song with my mom at the top of our lungs. My mom could hit a few notes here and there but her enthusiasm certainly made up for her lack of musical ability.

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The song is called his VSM or Very Strange Medley. It consists of several television commercial jingles Barry wrote and he was sure his audience had no idea he had any part of writing. I was a teenager again dancing around my kitchen as Barry went through his advertising repertoire and, in my mind, I could see my mother ramping up for the big finale.

The McDonald’s tune started and, for whatever reason, I started dancing in my kitchen like I was on stage with Barry himself. My arms were keeping time with his Doo doo doo doo doo’s and when the song reached its crescendo I threw my arms in the air as my mom always did and I started to cry. They were such happy tears remembering how much fun we used to have singing that song together and I must have listened to the song another five times, throwing my hands in the air like bad seventies jazz hands each time because my mom could not listen to that song without doing the same thing.

The Musical Daily says music is good for the mind, body and soul but they forgot the most important thing. Music is good for the heart. After I stopped listening to the VSM and wiped my eyes for the last time, I asked my Alexa to shuffle more Barry Manilow tunes and I enjoyed my teleportation back to a time when everything was right in my world.

I ended my Tuesday night with a head full of music and a heart full of memories.

 

Sit back and listen

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I have blogged several times about my Winnie The Pooh and the fact that we celebrate our birthday together every year. My mother made him from a 1960’s McCall’s pattern and gave him to me on my first birthday. He has seen me through every happy and every sad time in my life. It may sound strange that an almost fifty-year-old woman still has a stuffed teddy bear, but I can’t imagine my life without him.

Though Pooh has undoubtedly been scarred by some of the trials he has witnessed me going through, nothing could have been as devastating as his physical altercation with a Woozle, known to humans as a Black Labrador Retriever. I was not there to witness the carnage but I came home from work to the aftermath. The trail of foam that led upstairs to the discovery of Pooh’s ravaged face made me burst into tears. I was twenty-one years old and called my mother in hysterics because Pooh had been assaulted and he lay in pieces in front of me.

(circa 1976 – Long before the incident)

(circa 1992 – post surgery)

After some amateur plastic surgery, thanks to my Nana, Pooh had a new face and a new outlook on life. He had survived what was arguably his worst day and had come out on the other side. He now resides on a shelf above my bed. It’s not quite the one-hundred-acre wood he was accustomed to but he seems to have acclimated.

Last night, I watched the movie Christopher Robin starring Ewan McGregor. When Pooh asks how old he will be when Christopher Robin is one-hundred and Christopher Robin answers ninety-nine, the tears started. That is me and my Pooh. He came into my life on my first birthday and my mother knew my fondness for a silly old bear of very little brain would lead to a lasting relationship.

Pooh is my constant. Regardless of what life throws at me, he represents my past, he remains an ongoing part of my present and he will stand beside me going into my future. For being a bear of very little brain, his intelligence speaks volumes. He will forever have the wisdom to just sit back and listen.

 

Hey Mom, what’s for dinner?

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A child rarely considers the impact family dinners will have on their life. When I was younger, I never thought for a moment I would be in my fiftieth year and have to go back into the vault of my memories to conjure up images of my family enjoying a meal together. There are still days I struggle with the reality that both of my parents are gone. Yesterday was one of those days.

We were having a trivial discussion at work about meatloaf and meatloaf always makes me think about my mom. She made a killer meatloaf and every time she told me she was making one, I always asked her to make one for me. I am pretty proficient in the kitchen, but my meatloaf never, ever turns out to be as delicious as the one my mom made. Although she gave me the list of ingredients she used, there were no measurements so my end result is never as tasty as what she would produce. (I’m sure she did that on purpose and also left out one or two ingredients)

When I walked into the grocery store after work, I was almost certain that I would be trying, once again, to duplicate her recipe but other memories quickly sabotaged that idea and random ingredients found their way into my shopping basket. When I reached the cashier, I recognized all of the ingredients for my mom’s Hamburger Stroganoff.

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Perhaps my brain will forever deny my taste buds any chance of my dinners tasting as good as the ones my parents used to make, but the way my house smelled last night disagrees with that rationale. I was fifteen again. I had just come home from school and the smell of Hamburger Stroganoff permeated the air. I could almost feel my parents’ presence in the kitchen. I could see my mom blush as my dad patted her on the bum, knowing that I caught that loving touch in my peripheral vision.

To say my dinner was satisfying doesn’t come close to what it was. My dinner last night transported me to a time when, even though things weren’t perfect, things were perfect. And though I will never be afforded the opportunity to ever again yell, “Hey Mom, what’s for dinner”, I can still try my best to make those meals that will freeze those moments in time, if only for a while.