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.

 

Dear pen pal….

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The mere mention of the phrase ‘pen pal’ conjures memories of my public school classroom. Our entire class would be given time to compose letters to students in foreign countries and I can still see the younger version of myself with my tongue sticking out as I wrote because I was so focused on writing the perfect letter. There was an inherent joy about crafting a letter and sending it halfway around the world to a complete stranger. And there was a true feeling of elation receiving a letter in the mail in response to the words I had written.

I get to feel that sense of pleasure again. Our community has a wonderful program for local seniors and one of those programs is a pen pal group. Once I found out about this group, I knew I wanted to be a part of it and today I received a brief profile of my new pen pal. She loves reading, cooking, dogs and the same types of music I enjoy. She also enjoys writing. She and I are a match made in Heaven.

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The time went by slowly as I waited for my work day to be over. I had already started writing three different versions of my first letter in my head, eager to introduce myself to my new pen pal. The walk with my dog was abbreviated and dinner was figuratively put on the back burner as I wielded my pen and put it to paper. It took a while for my thoughts to flow from pen to paper since I am so used to plugging away on my keyboard but, after a slight hesitation, the cascade of ideas began to gel into a thoughtful first letter.

For the first time in a long time, I will be stopping at the Post Office to buy stamps. I will put my first letter into an envelope and mail it to my pen pal and I will anxiously await the red flag on my mailbox to let me know that she has written back. To quote Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”.

 

 

 

 

Stuffing all you can into the holidays

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There is much to be said about the joy the holidays bring – or any celebration, for that matter.  Whether it be a birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas or a reunion, the ease of the conversation, the steady flow of wine, the melodic sound of laughter and the joy of being with a close-knit group of people is unrivaled. There is an undefined comfort level that allows us to become absorbed in the festivities that surround us. The fact that we can gorge ourselves and have an excuse to eat everything in sight with only a few fleeting moments of guilt is sublime.

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The molecules change in the room when family and friends get together for a holiday celebration. There is something intrinsically sacred about holidays and the memories that are created within those moments. Time has a way of strategically obliterating those precious seconds as it marches on at a frantic pace, but our shared memories have a way of stopping that clock, if only for a few moments.

Holidays are a portal. They can freeze time and create a vortex that allows us to travel back and relive certain periods in our lives. The memories wrap themselves around us like a blanket and soothe us with the warmth of the times that have engaged us and truly breathe a bit of life back into our frenzied existence.

Although many holidays have passed and are collecting dust on the books in the library of my mind, watching my brother “float” his dinner in gravy brings back a rush of nostalgia. Sadly, I was unable to be at Thanksgiving dinner this year because I had to work, but I poured enough gravy on my dinner at the lodge to make my brother proud. That is what the holidays are truly about, the personal moments that any other person would find arbitrary but, to me, define my holiday experience.

Embrace your family, enjoy the moments and get stuffed with the memories your family helps to create.  We all have so much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Coming back to myself

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I have not been myself lately, Aside from still battling the lingering effects of the cold I have had for the last nine days, my energy has felt foreign to me. I am usually a very cheerful person but I have not had that effervescent feeling for a while and I don’t know why.

Sure, we are seven weeks through the nine crazy weeks of summer at the lodge and those weeks lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, but this is different. This feels like something has shifted and I can’t quite explain it to myself, let alone describe it to you. Whatever this funk is, it has even caused me to shy away from writing and that is not normal.

Thankfully, today is my day off. When I feel out of sorts, the first thing on my list of things to do is organize my house. I purged my closet of the clothing I have not worn in the last six months and that helped me feel like I had gained some control of the chaos in my mind. As much as that helped to start the process, the best place I can go to feel grounded and to get some of myself back is my kitchen. I reorganized my fridge, made my salads in a jar for lunches this week and I have ribs cooking slowly in my crockpot for dinner. Just the familiar smell of those ribs is bringing me back to a feeling of contentment. My disconnection is slowly being reconnected the more I focus on the things that are important to me and forget the stress that lingers outside of my four walls. I would be doing myself a disservice if I continued to wallow in whatever this low tide is that has been trying to drag me down.

These words may not be the exact phrases I would normally choose, but I’m writing and that is the last piece of the puzzle to get me out of this feeling of despondency and bring me back to myself, one word at a time.

Soup’s on

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Summer is a crazy time for me. The lodge is busy and I have the knack of having a multitude of side projects in the works while surviving my busy summer hospitality job. Some days feel like a smooth paddle on a calm lake and others feel like a roller coaster ride through Hell. By mid-summer, I am physically and emotionally drained and I need something to make me feel centered again.

Writing is a good place to start the process of realigning myself. Writing is cathartic. Typing words onto a screen makes the rest of the world fade slowly into the background until there is nothing left but me, my laptop and my imagination. The minutes and hours I spend writing make me happy and bring me to a level of calm that is somewhat hypnotic. There is only one other thing that can take me beyond hypnotic to being completely detached from reality and that is cooking.

It is 38 degrees today with humidity and my gut told me that it was the perfect time to make a summer corn and zucchini chowder. When my parents were still alive, the times we spent in the kitchen together were some of the happiest moments of our lives. My mom was the queen of baking sweet treats for everyone and my dad loved to cook. My brother and I inherited his passion for creating tasty dishes and homemade soups. My dad was never one to use a recipe, unless he was making Martha Stewart’s Shortbread, and his food was almost always delicious…..I will save the story of his scrambled eggs made with eggnog for another day.

To me, there is no greater satisfaction than creating something from a bunch of random ingredients. Individually those ingredients can taste good, but when you combine them in a way they compliment the flavor of the others, that is sheer bliss. The bacon is fried, the onions are rendering in the bacon fat and the rest of the ingredients are ready to be thrown in. The result will be a tasty summer chowder that would make my dad proud.

At the end of the cooking process, I will sit down to a comforting bowl of soup for dinner and feel thoroughly decompressed. My mind will be back in its happy place and I will relish the memories of my mother calling us for each and every dinner, regardless of the menu, by saying, “soup’s on”.

 

 

 

 

 

Just things

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There are a million wooden spoons.  I’m sure I could go into any store, from a Walmart to a high-end Kitchen store, to replace the one I have.  But the one I have has a special function none of those other spoons would have. My spoon has the ability to transport me back in time.

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This wooden spoon is the spoon my mother used to stir her brownie batter and, when I was being good, was the spoon I was allowed to lick the leftover batter from until it was clean.  When I became old enough to take over in the kitchen, I was entrusted with the spoon and left on my own to make the brownies without my mom’s help. Even though I was far beyond those childhood years, I still licked the spoon.

This wooden spoon has had an epic journey and has lived in many kitchens but it now finds its place in my home.  It was one of the only kitchen items I chose to keep from my mom’s vast collection of kitchen gadgets after she passed away. It shares its space with the shiny stainless steel utensils, in just as shiny a container, on the counter in my kitchen.  It looks like a misfit toy lost in the pristine surroundings of Santa’s workshop but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There are times when I am afraid to use the spoon for fear that it will break and I will lose the last tangible part of the life I shared with my mother.  It feels like the last piece of her I can physically hold on to, have her feel close to me and be six years old again in our kitchen.

People will tell you “things are just things”, but when those things can keep you connected to people you have lost, those things become so much more than “just things”.

 

 

 

Party on Weight, Party on Girth! ~ Part Duh

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A couple years ago, I was in the same mindset and wrote this post and here I am again. Like most people who struggle with their weight, I have good moments and bad moments. Working in hospitality gives me even more of a challenge having to be around food all day, every day. And the icing on the cake (yes, I had to use a food reference) is that we just hired a new chef at the lodge and have been tasting all of his wonderful creations.

It has not escaped my attention that my body is not as willing or able to break down many of these treats complimented by cream sauces and bacon. Many years ago, I followed a very regimented plan where the only processed foods I ate were the meals I processed myself. I knew exactly what I was putting into my mouth and I could pronounce every single ingredient.

I have been slowly getting back into the way I used to eat. Every week, I make five or six salads in a mason jar for my lunches. It is a quick process to prepare lunch for the week and even easier to grab a jar and know I am having a very healthy lunch. I am going to make my own granola tonight for my breakfasts and my body will react well to the fact there are no preservatives that it has to figure out how to break down. I don’t need any more random ingredients stored in fat cells because my digestive system can’t come to the proper conclusion on how to dispose of the mysterious ingredients.

Weight and Girth (thank you Saturday Night Live) have been jamming in the basement of my viscera for far too long and the eviction notice is waiting to be served. Today I had my last Peameal Bacon on a bun from my Aunt and Uncle’s restaurant, at least for a few months. My fridge will be stocked with fruit and vegetables, whole foods and water.

It’s time to start the party in another room in my body and let Weight and Girth take up space in someone else’s basement. And by sharing this with everyone who reads this blog, I am making myself accountable to kick those two out on the street.  Party on Weight, Party on Girth…..just not in my world anymore. Schwing!