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.

 

 

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.

 

The good, the bad and the grossly unfair

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Death is selfish. It lurks in the shadows. It hides in a realm of certainty somewhere between acceptance and denial and it feeds on our inability to process its inevitability. It waits for nobody. It heeds its own agenda and it gives no signs of compassion. It simply reaps.

This past weekend began on a good note. I left work on Friday with plans for a full day on Saturday with a friend and things quickly changed. My weekend went from good to bad as Mother Nature unleashed her winter fury in the wee hours of Saturday morning and obliterated any plans for travel on Saturday. Since my car is still in possession of its summer tires, our plans were thwarted and I was home-bound for the day. While I made the most of the day by making soup and catching up on some reading, my disappointment still tainted my afternoon.

After a good night’s sleep, I awoke Sunday morning with a renewed faith the day would be great. With my shopping list in hand, I loaded up a grocery cart with items to make Freezer Crockpot meals for our local food bank, surrounded myself with a group of volunteers and we created twenty-eight meals that will each feed a family of four. The good that afternoon far outweighed the bad from the previous day.

When I got home a few hours later, I was greeted by the news an old friend has passed away on November 2nd after a brief battle with cancer. I was unaware of his passing until today and missed the opportunity to attend his funeral service. Even though my car is equipped with only summer tires, I would have driven through those early snow storms to pay my respects to Doug and his family.

He was a wonderful man. Charismatic only touches the surface of how animated his personality could be. He was quick with a smile, eager to share a laugh and truly one of the most genuine people I have ever had the good fortune to meet. To say he will be missed is an egregious understatement. I spent a great deal of Sunday night in tears, crying for the loss of Doug and the fact that so many people are taken before we are ready to say goodbye to them. Fuck cancer.

 

Good morning, Joe.

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I have the great fortune of having a good memory. My bosses will reach me in the office through the intercom to give them a phone number rather than look it up because they know I will be able to produce that number from the depths of my mind faster than they can Google it. My memory for numbers also comes in handy when they are buying anything online and I can rattle off the company Visa number without hesitation.

My ability to be able to retain faces and names is one of the things for which I am most grateful. Having been in the hospitality business for the majority of my working life, this gift has served me well. If I have the benefit of meeting a guest face-to-face and hearing their name, that name is locked in the vault of my memory. I make a point of using their name each time I address that person so our interaction feels much more personal for both of us.

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We had a group check into the lodge a few weeks ago and I missed the opportunity to meet the guests upon check in. At breakfast the next day, I made a point of introducing myself to each member of the group and was able to remember every one of them. The fact that I could refer to each of them by name did not go unnoticed. Several mentions were made about my being able to call them by name after such a short time and that level of service was compared to the service at the Ritz Carlton! Although we are a small, family run lodge that distinction made my heart swell with pride.

Hospitality has many synonyms that describe what it is about and the descriptions that ring true for me are welcome, warmth and friendliness. Those are the things I hold closest to me, not only in my job but in my life and I hope to be able to deliver those things for a long time.

 

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”.