Let the sunshine in

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I had not realized I was suffering from the winter blahs until this past Saturday. I have successfully maneuvered myself through many winters and this one, although highly unpredictable, seemed no different. How wrong I was.

Saturday morning, I awoke to the sun beaming through my bedroom window. I was initially confused by the brightness in my room as I had become so used to the monochromatic mornings of December and January. I had not registered what the beautiful light represented.

The mercury reminded me the morning was frigid so I accomplished all of my needed tasks as the sun continued to warm the day. When I got home in the middle of the afternoon, the temperature was much more comfortable than the morning and all I wanted to do was sit in the sun. It was at that moment I realized I had nothing to sit on. I had sold my patio set last fall and had not thought about my winter sun tanning until now. I raced to the local hardware store and bought what seemed to be the only folding chair in stock in February.

I opened up my new purchase and set it to directly face that glowing ball of goodness in the sky, I closed the gate so I wouldn’t have to be concerned about my dog, I poured a glass of wine and I sat. And I sat. And I absorbed ninety minutes of glorious sunshine.

The warmth of the sun was welcomed like an old friend we spent some time getting reacquainted. It is a long-standing tradition in our family to cover ourselves in layers in the middle of winter and soak up some much-needed Vitamin D. I’m sure my parents were smiling as I carried on that tradition. The photo below is circa 1975 ish.

As the sun sank into the horizon, I reluctantly folded my chair and went inside. Besides the noticeable pink hue in my cheeks, there was an immediate change in my demeanor. I was invigorated. I felt happy, effervescent even. I went from feeling like I had been sleep-walking through the last few months to feeling recharged. My mood was elevated and I spent the rest of the day smiling for no reason.  At least now, I have the chair ready and the next time that sun is out all inside tasks take a back seat. You’ll know where to find me.

 

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.

 

When you just want comfort food

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I have been obsessed with my Christmas present and have sous-vided (is that even a verb?) many pieces of protein over the last three weeks. I can accurately predict that my kitchen will soon be adorned with a 12-quart Rubbermaid container with a fitted lid so I no longer have to use my soup pots and transfer my precision cooker from pot to pot depending on the size of the meat or fish being cooked.

Sous Vide is a wonderful cooking technology that allows a chef to cook proteins to an exact temperature without overcooking, unless you forget that protein in the water bath for several hours or cook at too high a temperature. Last night, I cooked a pork tenderloin, Chinese BBQ style, without the actual barbecue. The taste of the marinade combined with the tenderness of the pork was delicious. I broiled the pork for a few minutes to give it that nice crust on the outside and it was better than I anticipated.

When I came home from work tonight, I knew the leftover pork would be used in my dinner preparation. While I mulled over the many things I could make, I thought of my dad. My father was the King of leftovers. There was nothing he couldn’t take from previous meals and not make into a delicious meal the whole family would love. Without thinking, I reached for the rice and prepared to make Barbecue Pork Fried Rice.

There were moments during my meal preparation I could hear my father’s voice, especially when I transferred the rice from pot to frying pan. If I were truly following in his footsteps, I would have spread the cooked rice onto a baking sheet and let it dry slightly overnight to give it the perfect texture for fried rice, but I skipped that step. I did fry the onions to a caramel brown, added the bacon, the peas, the pork and the eggs, allowing the eggs to scramble slightly before incorporating the rice into the mix. I could swear I heard my father sigh when the eggs had cooked properly before I added the final ingredients. The result was delicious.

As much as I love cooking, sometimes a simple dinner of comfort food will taste better than anything I could have toiled to make and I’m sure my dad is smiling knowing he was the influence for my meal choice.

 

 

Follow the bubbles

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I have learned many things about the ocean and its inhabitants by watching documentaries and television shows.  I have been amazed by the palette of colors the ocean is able to use to paint itself, the varied species of creatures who contribute to life under the sea and the vast array of reefs and wrecks still waiting to be explored further.  But I learned more from the bubbles than I did from the documentaries.

Scuba divers follow their bubbles to the surface when they don’t know which way is up.  When they are so far into their dive they become immersed in their surroundings, those bubbles are the true measure of reality.  Divers can become so convinced the path they are following is the best path for them and they become disoriented and swim sideways, not realizing their journey may put them in peril.  Sometimes the simplest solution is the one that helps the most.

The more I began to think about that, the more I realized those bubbles represent the most important people in our lives.  When we find ourselves a little lost or unsure of where we are headed, we look to those people for support and guidance, knowing they will always lead us to the place where we can once again catch our breath and feel like we are above the surface of our problems.

The ocean diffuses the light, just like life diffuses our perceptions.  We may feel weightless in the ocean, we may feel hopeful and trust our feelings, but our feelings can play tricks on us just like the light can alter our judgement.

No matter how lost you feel or what your brain may tell you, trust those bubbles.  They will always lead you in the right direction.

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.

 

Is the omission of truth really a lie?

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It is interesting to see how my life has evolved over the last twenty-five years.  I’m certainly not going to tout that I walked uphill to school both ways in the snow in bare feet but there are some long-forgotten truths about things that happened when we were surviving our impressionable years, some that our parents were oblivious to…..and for good reason.  Back in the days when not wearing seat-belts and driving under the influence were almost socially acceptable, there were some essential unwritten rules shared by siblings and friends.  The most important being – “Things that happen in your teenage years, stay in your teenage years”.

But, after the Earth had orbited the sun a sufficient number of times, I felt a little more comfortable regaling my parents with a few of the stories that happened in the good ol’ days since I had a nice cushion of “time gone by” and didn’t think I was eligible to be grounded anymore.  The sealed records had been expunged, the statute of limitations had expired and I was ready to open the locked vault that contained the evidence of our teenage shenanigans.

Running with scissors would have been a much more acceptable behavior and a much easier tale to share over a cocktail or two but my folks took everything in stride, just like I knew they would.  All things considered, after leaving a 19 and 15-year-old home alone while they went to Florida, they were not as shocked as I thought they would be to find out why the kitchen linoleum had tiny burn holes directly in front of the stove (it wasn’t the bacon) and why the giant satellite dish was perched at a precarious angle at the top of the steep hill behind our house.

My brother and I, for all intents and purposes, were respectful human beings and responsible kids.  My parents knew our friends well and we were trusted to roam about town in our pimpin’ ride – the Pontiac Acadian.  If I had to guess, I would say my brother had a Rum and Coke held firmly between his legs (maybe not so responsible) when the little blue car crested the hill.  It was winter and the steep decline was more than treacherous.  All of the defensive driving techniques my dad taught us could not have prevented the outcome of this evening.  The momentum carried them down the hill and my brother strategically maneuvered the tiny car as it tipped on its side and wedged itself between a tree and a telephone pole at the bottom of the hill.  My brother impressively “stuck the landing” and all of the occupants were completely unharmed.  The car, that only weighed what felt like 100 pounds, was pushed out, righted and driven away with minimal damage.

acadian

(ours was a 4-door, but you get the idea)

After spilling the goods to my parents, a little bit at a time, they seemed unnerved.  I always wondered if they had known these things all along and were just waiting for us to come clean.  Was the omission of truth a lie?  Were we terrible children for wanting to shield our parents from the horrors of the real world?  Was it wrong to want to keep them in their safe little bubble?  Only time will tell.

Now that they have both passed and have access to all of the details of our lives, my brother and I may eventually be in for a long overdue time-out when we are all together again.