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!

 

The week of turning fifty

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For the first time in almost a decade, I have taken time off from work. I don’t really like to travel so I have never taken advantage of the vacation time I have at work, but this year is different.

This week is the week of my fiftieth birthday and I decided it was a significant enough occasion to release myself from the constraints of my job and take some much-needed time for myself. Although Sunday was spent as it always is, making crockpot meals for our local Food Bank, yesterday was spent lounging around the house in the morning and taking myself shopping in the afternoon in search of an outfit to wear for my birthday dinner on Thursday. I immediately remembered how much I disliked malls and shopping for clothes!

Today, although not yet my birthday, is the most anticipated day of my week off. Today is the day I will get my first, and most likely only, tattoo. The thought of a permanent picture on my body never crossed my mind because I could never come up with an image that meant enough to me to permanently etch it into my flesh. But the more I thought about doing something monumental for my fiftieth birthday, the more the idea of a tattoo kept invading my conscious thoughts. When the picture eventually presented itself, it was perfect.

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Having lost both of my parents long before their time, this image is the perfect blend of the things that remind me the most of my mom and dad. My mom loved butterflies and my dad loved owls. From where I sit in my living room as I write this post, I can see the framed needlepoint monarch butterflies my mother created in the seventies and the carved wooden owls my dad hung in the living room of our childhood home. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate image to have as a permanent reminder of the two people I loved the most.

Turning fifty is not a burden, it’s a gift. It affords me the chance to look back on a half a century of love, laughter, friendship and memories. Turning fifty gives me the wisdom to prioritize the people and the things that are most important in my life. Turning fifty allows me to ignore the things I have learned from and have been able to leave in my past. And turning fifty makes me truly appreciate the fact I still feel like I am in my thirties.

I can’t imagine a better way to welcome fifty than to embrace the journey I have taken to get here, to hold close the people I value most and to look forward to what is yet to come.

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.

Always in like a Lion

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“It will take time, but the strength that comes after will be beautiful,  I promise you.” ~ J.E. Rivera

In my emotional register, March always comes in like a Lion and goes out like a Lamb.  Although my parents passed away eight years apart, March 7th and March 9th are very difficult days since they mark the days I lost the two most important people in my life.  My dad died on March 9th in 2006 and my mom died on March 7th in 2014.  When I look at those dates, I am shocked to see so much time has marched on since they were with us.  It seems like yesterday we were all together and I can still hear their laughter as our family shared some wonderful times.

But time has a way of taking moments and turning them into memories in the blink of an eye.  The pain of loss never goes away but, with time, there is a beautiful strength that comes with the perpetual grief.

Through the years my parents  have been gone, I have come to understand that pain can be turned into power.  I have taken that gigantic sense of loss and molded it into my ability to overcome an immeasurable atrocity.  I have survived the worst and I spend each day being stronger than the last and I can now see the beauty in that strength.

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.

 

Hold my attention

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Facebook is alive and well with ads for the latest Masterclass contributors. For those of you lucky enough to NOT be sucked into the vortex of Facebook, Masterclass is an online platform for creative people, giving them the chance to learn from their famous mentors. The one who caught my attention and made me investigate this latest phenomenon was Margaret Atwood.

The beginning of her video makes me want to quit everything I have been doing, my job, my charity work and my social life, to just write. When she rewrites the beginning of Little Red Riding Hood by starting with, “It was dark inside the wolf”, fireworks went off in my head. Expletives poured out of my mouth, tripping over each other to be heard and, more than once, I had to pick my jaw up from my lap. Those six words made my entire novel seem like a four-year-old wrote it.

One minute and eight seconds into her official trailer, she said the three words that make writers lose sleep, “Hold my attention”. As an avid reader, I know exactly what she means. If a writer veers into a mundane few chapters, I am more than happy to put the book down and I will eventually forget I started reading it. But if a writer can keep me on the edge of my seat, I am in it for the long haul and I will lose sleep to finish reading that book.

Writing is a tough business, but as Margaret says, “You become a writer by writing. Do it, and do it more. Do it better”. Many people, just like me, have written books. Many people, just like me, believe so much in their story and are convinced it will be published one day. But many people, just like me, are one tiny dot in a portrait created by stippling. We are a minute speck in a massive painting. But the more we write, the bigger our speck becomes. The more we write, the more our words have a chance of being discovered. And the more we write, the more we will master the art of holding your attention.

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.