On the other side of struggle is always something better

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It took me four long hours to write this post, but this is what I want to say. Life is not easy. Just when everything feels like it is finally going in the right direction, life is that hologram in your window, shaking its head, saying, “I don’t think so”. Life is ironic and unpredictable, but on the other side of every struggle there is always something better. And that something better is the thing we need to hold on to with every bit of strength we have.

I am no stranger to struggle. I have had my fair share of the boots of life kicking me in the face. But, for as many times as I thought the struggle had gotten the better of my resolve, things would always begin to look up. That something better always hung precariously in the distance but gradually inched its way closer to me every day. I let myself believe in the promise of it and I began to know in my heart it was there. And it always was.

Dealing with struggle is not always about pushing through, it’s about letting people in. It’s not about putting on a brave face, it’s about being strong enough to cry in front of people when you need to cry. And dealing with struggle is about knowing, and really believing in your heart, there is something better on the other side of that battle.

Don’t give up. Don’t let anyone or anything other than you win that battle. The world tries to break everyone but the ones who beat the struggle are the ones who take all of their pieces and rebuild a new world and a new happiness. Struggle is strong. You are stronger.

 

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz

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Most people have a favorite time of year and there are meaningful arguments for each of the seasons we are fortunate enough to witness. While I can pinpoint many things I love about each of the seasons we have in Canada, I can not only choose my favorite one but I can narrow it down to a more specific time. While it may be fraught with predictable end-of-winter perils, mid-April to early May is, by far, my favorite time of the year.

I got home from work yesterday, slightly after 5:00 pm, and the sun still held the world in its warm embrace. I sat on my deck, glass of wine in hand, and soaked in everything around me. The new blades of grass were pushing aside the oak leaves that I had purposely left for the small eco-systems that help to create a healthier lawn (good information for someone like me who isn’t particularly fond of raking), those pesky Day Lilies I had attempted to vanquish were winning me over with their fresh green sprouts and the world around me was saturated with newness. The trees were proud to show off the promise of new leaves with their bright red buds, highlighted by the crisp hue of the blue sky in the background, and the Spring Peepers were singing their greeting after a very long winter. For those of you who have never heard Peepers, these small amphibians are the truest sign that Spring has finally arrived. This sound is the best way to welcome the new season and a sure way to be lured into a peaceful slumber.

Casting aside the fact that the bugs are still comfortably ensconced in their winter phase called diapause, this time of year could not be more perfect. The air is not weighed down by humidity, the sun’s warmth and strength are just as effective as a mid-July day and the streets are free from the overwhelming increase in population from the summer residents. It’s a win, win, win.

Spring is the beginning of a new chapter. Spring allows me to enjoy all the parts of summer I miss because I work in the service industry. And Spring affords me the time to bask in all of the sights and sounds of a new life waiting to be discovered. It is hope. It is growth. It is a promise of what is to come.

Take the time

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“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

When you take a week off, and you enjoy every moment of that week, it makes it very difficult to motivate yourself to go back to your routine. I love my job, don’t get me wrong, but what I love even more was learning to put myself first and taking a whole week to do just that.

There was no long distance travel involved, only time spent with family and great friends (Although a few were missing) doing small things that had a big impact. I was even selfish enough to turn my phone off!

Today’s post is going to be abbreviated because its message is succinct. Take the time. Do things for yourself. And spend more time with the ones you love. Turning fifty has reminded me that my trips around the sun are waning and I am going to squeeze every bit of happiness I can out of each day. I hope you do the same.

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.

 

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.

(image credit)

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.

 

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.

turkey

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.