Remembering My Dad

Today marks the tenth anniversary of my dad’s passing. I’ve been told that the loss of one’s parents is probably one of the most devastating losses a person can suffer, with the exception of the loss of a spouse and/or a child. I believe this to be a true statement. Being a surviving child of a deceased parent, I have found that you never really get over this heart wrenching but all too inevitable loss. No, getting over it isn’t (or at least hasn’t been) an option for me. There is grief of course, maybe moving past it and even being somewhat accepting of it. But when a woman loses her Daddy, don’t expect her to ever just “get over it.” It just won’t happen.

Shortly before his passing, because we knew it was coming (and knowing does NOT make it easier. At. All.) I had started to write what I thought would be a fitting tribute to the man who was my father. In the end, my thoughtful obituary, written in grief, was not what I wanted to convey about this wonderful man. Yes, it was descriptive, and very expensive to publish in the paper, but I don’t think I did him any justice. I could write a whole post about companies that take advantage of folks in their time of sorrow and pain, because I think they are disgusting (local newspaper, I’m looking at YOU!!,) but I will save that for another time. This column is about my dad.

Thanks to a free week with Ancestry, I have found out some pretty amazing things about my dad and his family. I discovered that my dad’s father came to America from Italy with his family as a little boy, a family that consisted of only a father and his five children. I have not dug deep enough to discover what happened to my great grandmother, and why her name did not show up on the Ellis Island documents. But this discovery means that my dad was the first generation in his family to be born on American soil. This was a fantastic find! If only I could trace far enough back to find out more, but this was a start!

My dad, John, was the second born of nine children, and the oldest boy. I remember him telling me that his own parents were up before the break of dawn each morning baking bread to feed and care for their family. My dad was nine years old when the Great Depression started, which made it harder to feed a growing family. But when he reached the end of his eight grade in school, Dad left school to work and help feed the family. As the firstborn son, it was expected of him to do this, and he did it without complaint.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, my dad enlisted into the army at the age of 21. He spoke of his time in the war proudly, because he believed in the cause of freedom and that his sacrifices contributed to the eventual victory of the allies. His European Theater of Operations saw him in places like Normandy during the D-Day invasion, in Belgium and Luxembourg for the Battle of the Bulge, into Bastogne and even liberating the Ohrdruf concentration camp (part of the Buchenwald camp) in Germany. He served in the 4th Armored under Gen. George S. Patton, and he was so very proud of that. He was awarded the Purple Heart for sustaining an injury when the half-track he was driving with hit with enemy fire. The soldier sitting right behind him was not as lucky as my dad. He lost many friends over the duration of his service. When he would tell me of those stories, his eyes would become glassy with tears, and I’d see him secretly wipe them away.

After the service, he went back to helping to feed and shelter his family working in the private sector. He had no real formal education, so learning a skilled trade was really his only choice in a post-war America. His parents met my mom at a local bingo, run by her uncle and his organization, in our home town. She was working there with her family, and surprisingly she had known her future in-laws for some time before she met Dad. When they met each other while roller skating, he fell in love with her instantly. He returned home to tell his parents about meeting her, and when he described her they told him, “That sounds like our Janie from bingo.” And sure enough, it was! They were eventually married in the summer of 1948, on my Dad’s 28th birthday.

Over the next twenty years, they welcomed four children into the family. First was a girl, Diane, then John (nicknamed Jack,) then Jeffrey and then yours truly. Between the older and younger girl was eighteen years difference. Dad and Mom bought a home for the low, low price of $14,000 with a 30 year mortgage in 1955 or 1956, shortly after the birth of my oldest brother. Dad worked long, hard days in Connecticut’s harsh climate as a welder, a trade he learned while working for C.W. Blakeslee Construction. As far back as I can remember, Dad was laid off for the most of the winter, starting at the beginning to middle of December. While we were all still young and school work could be given in advance, back when teachers and principals didn’t mind if parents took their kids from school for 2 weeks before Christmas break, Dad and Mom took us to Florida for the holiday. We stayed with my Mom’s aunt, Irene, and her husband Ray. They owned a bungalow in Oakland Park, which is a small suburb outside of Fort Lauderdale. It was only a two bedroom, one bathroom house, and it was quite a cozy fit for a family of five plus two resident adults. And after my sister joined the Air Force, and my uncle Ray had passed away (I was a baby when both those things occurred) it was still very cozy, so much so that the boys stayed next door with my aunt’s friend.

I have some fond memories of Christmases in Florida, and some things I only remember in photos. For example, our family was the first on our block to visit Disney World. We have an old Polaroid photo with Dad, me and Mickey Mouse, date stamped December, 1971. I was only two that year, so I don’t remember that but I do remember being in the Bicentennial parade during the 1976 celebration. Jeff and I were picked to be in the parade from the crowd, and we were both given a commemorative medal and a copy of the Declaration of Independence. I wish I had both of those now. Our Christmases were sometime spent at the beach after presents were opened. I remember Dad washing “tar balls” that I had stepped in at the beach off my feet, and helping me to pick oranges from the backyard trees. And my Aunt Irene had some of the biggest orange trees in her backyard I had ever seen, even to this day. That was where I first heard the term “tangelo,” way back before Honeybells were known. We would pack the car’s floorboards with our clothes and stuff as many oranges as we could jam into our suitcases for the car trip back home in January.

Dad retired from his job in 1985 at the age of 65 years old, and it couldn’t come fast enough. Too many years of working in the heat and the cold of New England summers and winters had taken their toll on him. He had nerve damage in his ears from the loud machinery, before they realized that those noises could damage hearing. I don’t remember a time when he didn’t have a sore, achy back and only found relief at the chiropractor, who was his most trusted doctor. I had seen Dad barely able to walk into the office, and walk out standing straight and nearly pain free. That’s a good doctor in my book. After Dad retired, I was still only in high school, so he and Mom did a lot of volunteering for the marching band, of which I was a member. They helped to run the concession stand at the football stadium, and followed us around to every away game, just to watch me play in the band. Over the years, they developed some dear friendships and a ton of great memories. On the last regular game of the season, Thanksgiving morning, the band parents cooked up a hot, fresh meal for the band members as a way of saying goodbye to the outgoing senior class. When it was my turn to say goodbye to the band experience, it was a sad day for all three of us. Sometimes, I think my parents enjoyed the band days more than I did.

Those band years also took us to Florida and California for the end of the year “band tour.” Anyone who wanted to go on the band trip at the end of the year could go, and there were always fundraisers to help students offset the cost of the trip. Mom and Dad came with me on my sophomore trip to California, the first time they’d ever been, and to Florida on my senior trip. Most of my friends would have been horrified (and the ones who had been chaperoned usually were) by their parents tagging along on the trips. I would never have wanted to deny such an opportunity to them, especially since I knew how much they both loved the band atmosphere. Most of their friends also went, and the parents had their own itinerary of things to do separate of what we kids were doing. But I knew I could count on them to be watching the parade on July 4th, cheering me on as we marched in Florida’s blistering summer heat. Whether it was the scorching Florida sun or the bitter cold New England winter football games, they never missed a performance. Not one time.

After graduation, my folks decided it was time to start wintering in Florida. We call this phenomenon, “Snowbirds,” here in the sunny south. At first, they came down for a few weeks, then a month, and then for most of the winter. My mom’s brother would have annual tickets to the Daytona 500 in February, and it was my Dad’s favorite part of snow-birding. But finally, after a brutally cold winter they decided to sell the house and move to warmer climes. The house was on the market for a few months when an offer came in. The new couple loved the home and really wanted it. Considering that winter was coming again rapidly, and the housing market was turning sour, they took the offer and became Florida residents. I was the only one left without a spouse and nowhere to call home, so I came here with them.

Mom Dad Epcot Christmas

Mom & Dad, Epcot 1991

I would be totally remiss if I didn’t mention my high school best friend, who not only turned out to be my best friend for life, but a third brother to me, and a third son to them. Patrick, known only to my dad as “Padderick,” was a very important part of all our lives after we relocated to Florida. He is a talented artist and wanted to refine and hone his skill at probably the most prestigious art school, Ringling School of Art and Design. During Patrick’s four years at Ringling, he visited often on weekends when he had nothing pressing at school. Dad always looked forward to his visits. My dad, an avid thimble collector, always loved to share his collection and his passion for it with Patrick when he visited. We were all right there when Patrick graduated Ringling, celebrating with him. Dad was proud of his third son, as he was the only one to graduate from a four year college. When Patrick moved away after graduation, I know Dad missed him. He missed sharing stories. He missed his company and love. Recently, my mom and I decided to gift a portion of Dad’s thimble collection to Patrick. I know Dad would have approved.

Though we didn’t have pets growing up, I had acquired a cat after a roommate arrangement went sour.  She was in the backyard crying, a tiny calico kitten. I have a soft place in my heart for calicos and tortoiseshell cats, so I rescued her.  When I moved back home, Callie came with me, but as a condition of her being allowed in the house, she had to stay in my bedroom while I was working.  My dad, who had previously not been a fan of felines, couldn’t stand to see my kitten cooped up in my bedroom all day.  Usually when I came home at lunch, she was in the living room waiting for me.  Dad and Callie were fast friends, and when she wasn’t sleeping she was by his side, waiting for him to sneak a piece of meat under the table.

Dad and Callie

Best friends forever!

Eventually I met and married my soulmate, who happened to live on the other side of the country. This meant leaving Florida and joining my new mate in Oregon. The wedding was small but meaningful. We had all of the trimmings that most weddings have: the cake, throwing the bouquet, my first dance with my new hubby and my last dance with my daddy. It was a bittersweet moment, knowing that I’d probably never dance with him again. After the ceremony the family went back to Mom and Dad’s house. But after that day, I was not just his little girl anymore. Life had changed. The Monday following the wedding, hubby and I started our cross country trek back to a home I’d only visited twice, with a man I’d only seen three times before the wedding. Dad wasn’t there when we left the house. I wasn’t sure I could have left if I saw him cry, but I still regret that he wasn’t home when we left. That was my one big mistake and it haunts me still.

After I left the nest, Mom and Dad continued to travel back and forth to Connecticut. They celebrated their golden anniversary in 1998, surrounded by family, friends and neighbors. Their grandchildren, my sister’s kids, lived in Illinois so that was a popular destination while they were still able. We threw him a huge party for his 80th birthday in 2000. Then in 2003, my mom told me that Dad had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I was in college at the time studying to get an Associates Degree in accounting, but I wanted to come back to Florida, to spend time with Dad and help Mom, because I knew she would need it. So in the summer of 2004, hubby and I packed what we could bring with us, sold what we couldn’t and toted three unwilling cats across the country again.

Dads 80th birthday

Dad’s 80th birthday… the aftermath!

The next few years were precious but difficult. Day after day, we watched the leader of our family deteriorate. All of his years of hard work, and this was his fate. It was so unfair, so very undeserved, and so very hard to experience. In truth, my Dad was gone long before he passed, as the disease plundered his memory and personality. I hope with all that is in me that I never have to go through an ordeal like that with another loved one. But, we kept him home as long as we could, in comfortable, familiar surroundings. His war stories became more fantastical, going from reality to a Dad version of Rambo, jumping from his half-track and mowing those Nazis down singlehandedly. Even now, we still laugh about those stories. Evenings were rough for Mom, when she was alone with him and sundown syndrome had struck. Luckily, he was not able to walk well and we never had to worry about him wandering from home or getting lost. We joked about putting a necklace on him with his address when we first moved to Florida, never expecting that someday that would be a reality for us.

Around the time when we could see Dad was starting to lose interest in daily activities and things he normally enjoyed, we called my brother Jeff, who had a new infant daughter, to bring the girls down to see him. Though we had pictures of his youngest granddaughters, he hadn’t seen the baby and constantly talked about wanting to see her. So Jeff made a trip down with his family to see Dad. It was the last time I remember seeing him joyful and content. Jeff didn’t know that it would be the last time he would see Dad.

Shortly after Jeff and his family left for home, Dad stopped wanting to eat. He was getting weaker by the day, and Mom took him to his doctor, who in turn admitted him into the hospital for observation. A week later he was released, fully hydrated and nourished, and admitted to a rehab facility, with the objective of getting him strong enough to go home. It was during these four weeks at the rehab facility that he started to fail and decline rapidly. Eventually, Hospice was called to care for him. During that time, he didn’t know anyone, nor did he even have any self-awareness. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever witnessed, and I pray to God above I never have to again.

On the day he died, I planned on going from work to see him on my lunch break, but I couldn’t get away. It was March 15, 2007, the ‘Ides of March.’ Mom went to see him, and asked me what she should read to him, because she liked to talk to him and read to him, even though he was not conscious. I suggested that she read the twenty-third Psalm from his Bible. When she called me after work, she told me that she had done so, and was happy she did. Later that evening, Mom got the phone call from the rehab center letting her know that he was gone. In that moment, our lives changed forever.

Dad was an incredible husband, father and friend. His family came first, no matter the cost. His hard work and sacrifices throughout his whole life made our lives better, and I don’t think he would have traded any part of his life for something better. He had everything he wanted and needed with his family. We were more than enough for him. I wish the world had more people in it like my daddy, for it was a better place while he was in it.

It’s Time To Get Real!

I’ve been immersing myself in documentaries since I began this juicing journey. The first one, maybe not so obviously, was “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” If you haven’t seen it yet, I’ll sum it up quickly. This flick documents the juicing journey of one Joe Cross, an Aussie who came to America to embark on a 60 day fast, which he called a “reboot.” He suffered from a chronic, autoimmune disorder called Urticaria, which from what I understand is chronic hives with itching and pain. Sounds awful. Over the course of his 60 day reboot and over 3500 miles of driving across the USA he lost over 70 pounds and got himself off all medications that he took to manage his urticaria. Amazing, isn’t it?

It was this call to action that drew me in. Come regain your health!  Come lose extra weight!  I have vested interest in both. I am quite overweight, and together with the Fibromyalgia I admit I was sucked in. This isn’t a bad thing. We bought a juicer after Christmas and we started this journey on February 1st. We’ve both been moderately successful so far, but the fasting is only the beginning of a lifestyle change.

Back to my original point. It’s time to get real. I have been watching, on the advice of others who have been similarly impassioned by other food-related documentaries, these movies about “Big Food,” and government conspiracies to keep the populace sick and fat. While I have a deep distrust of government, laying the blame for an overweight and obese society solely on the shoulders of government is a bit disingenuous.

At some point, the individual has to take responsibility for what goes into his or her mouth.

At no point in my life did a government official point a loaded pistol to my head and make me eat unhealthy food. It may be true that lobbyists are very powerful in government… probably more powerful than they should be. But I am more than capable of reading a “Nutrition Facts” label, and scanning the ingredients for nefarious items on said list.

One documentary in particular goes as far as to say, “It’s not your fault that you’re obese.” Really? …..Really??  Food companies make it difficult sometimes to ascertain what is actually in their products, but to lay the blame on a whole industry?  Where is personal accountability in this whole equation?

I’ve been told my whole life I’m lazy. Maybe to some extent that may be true. I’m not exactly what I’d call motivated, and sometimes I’d rather just sit and surf the Internet for an hour than do housework. But no one has really come out and told me that my weight has been the result of my own poor food choices. Not even my doctor (though, oddly enough my eye doctor suggested that I look into weight loss surgery. I wanted to ask his qualifications for making that assessment, but I held back) has come close to saying, “You’re fat. Stop eating fattening foods!” Everyone pussyfoots around this problem.

It’s time to get real.

If your doctor won’t say it, and society at large will not say it, then I will. You are fat because you make poor food choices!  I know this is a very non-PC thing to say, but someone has to be the beacon of truth.  The good news, and there is good news, is that if it’s your fault you are obese, then you have the power to change it!  In fact, you are the only one who can change this. That isn’t to say this is an easy thing to accomplish.  In fact, the diet food industry makes sure that your weight loss journey isn’t easy.  If they made it terribly easy, then they’d lose all those billions of dollars every year.  But this is where personal accountability really kicks in.  Because it is your responsibility to make sure you understand food labels and how to read them!

You can bet that if a food product says, “low fat,” that is code for “we added a crap ton of sugar to make up for the lower fat content.”  As a rule, full fat products contain less added sugar and chemicals than their lower fat counterparts.  This is especially true when it comes to dairy products, like sour cream and yogurt.  A quick glance at the ingredients label will show this to be true.  And besides, your body needs dietary fats.  And not all fats are made the same.  Avocado and olives are both considered to be fatty fruits.  However, olive oil is one of the healthiest oils available, and avocados have monounsaturated fats, which are heart healthy compared to saturated fats from red meats and other animal products.  In addition, cholesterol comes solely from animal proteins.  If you consume a vegetarian/ vegan diet, you will not be consuming dietary cholesterol!

A healthy diet should steer clear away from foods that are heavily processed.  Look for foods as close to their natural state as possible, with nothing added or taken away. Have you ever seen Hot Pockets growing on trees?  When was the last time you saw a hot dog walking around a pasture?  You haven’t.  Foods like that are so laden with chemicals that if you truly read what was in it and understood the ramifications of putting stuff like that into your body, you’d never eat it again.  Choose grass fed, free range beef and vegetarian-fed, cage free poultry and eggs, and wild caught fish (or better yet, stay away from animal proteins altogether.)

I make no apologies for the statements I’ve made in this article, because they are truth, as disturbing as it may be for some to hear.  This has been a realization for me in the past three months, too, since watching “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” for the first time.  Because I have been told repeatedly that my weight and health isn’t my fault, and there isn’t much I can do to change my weight because I can’t exercise how I need to for a drastic weight change (by the way, the “calories in/calories burned” equation is another lie.  It is nearly impossible for an average, busy person to burn off more calories than they take in per day!  Think about it.) This is my fault.  But this is good, because it means I have the power to change.

I hope you think about what I’ve written here today, and take it to heart.  I know since giving up the standard American diet of junk and processed foods and changing to whole, clean foods I feel better.  My head is clearer, I sleep better, I have much more energy and less pain.  All I did was juice for 23 days, and continue a vegetarian diet afterwards.  You can do it, too.  I have faith in you!  But you need to take the first steps towards change, and commit to it.  For your loved ones. For your health!  For you.

It’s time to get real.

Juicing Update, Part One

Hey y’all!  I updated about a week or so ago… might be longer, because time gets away from me, about hubby and my new project: Juicing.  We have been on the juice fast for one whole week already, and I thought I’d give a quick update.

Since we began last Wednesday, I have lost almost 11 pounds, which is fabulous!  Hubby is doing even better, but he won’t disclose how much he’s lost other than, “Quite a bit.”  I know his hesitation in telling me, but it would be nice to know.  Weight loss right now is a nice benefit for us.  He is the one with the most to gain from improving his health.

I can get into this topic more in-depth if there is a demand for it.  So let me know if you are interested in hearing our travails on the juicing path.  I will leave you with another recipe that I have found that I love for dinner.  It’s a savory juice with all veggies, but it’s not harsh tasting.  In fact, if you like the V8 type juice, or even if you don’t, you might still enjoy this one.  From Reboot With Joe, I present the “Bloody Mary” juice!

Bloody Mary Juice

  • 4 Tomatoes
  • 2 Red Bell Peppers
  • 1 Orange Bell Pepper
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Zucchini (I substituted a green bell pepper)
  • Large Handful of Fresh Herbs (I substituted a jalapeno pepper, seeded)*
  • A dash of Himalayan Pink Salt
  • 1-2 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Wash all produce well.  I remove the stems and seeds from all of the peppers, and the stem portion of the tomato before juicing.  Run produce through the juicer.  Pour into glasses; top with Himalayan Salt and/or Olive Oil before serving.  Makes 2 servings

*If you are working with hot peppers, such as jalapeno and hotter, be sure to wear gloves while seeding and prepping, as capsicum from the seeds can get on your skin and have a burning sensation.  Be especially careful when touching your face and eyes after your hands have been exposed to hot peppers, as the capsicum can injure the eye.  Don’t learn this from experience like I did.  Oops!

Happy juicing!


Juicing: Our New Endeavor 

A few months back I was chatting with a friend and the topic got onto dieting. I consider myself to be a professional dieter, having been on almost every diet known to mankind since I was about two. He has been a lifelong dieter as well, and asked if I had seen a documentary called, “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” I said I had not, and he immediately immersed me into the world of juicing, telling me about the near miraculous weight loss and transformation of the star of this movie. We talked for almost two hours that night; in fact, almost into the morning. Not very long afterwards I sat and watched the movie on my PC, all while munching handfuls of pretzels and probably a soft drink. Nice, huh?

I was very impressed with the content of the film, especially since hubby has been struggling with symptoms of MS, and I had seen what a juice-based diet had done for Joe Cross. Before beginning the journey, Mr. Cross had been suffering from Chronic Urticaria, an autoimmune disease he described as a chronic hive-like rash. Sounds like a living hell to me; as a chronic pain sufferer I would much rather have pain than itching. Pain, I have learned to deal with over the past seventeen years. Itching, however, is a whole different game, and I hate it. But the autoimmune part of his disease is what caught my attention, because MS is an autoimmune disease too. If Mr. Cross could get himself off of his prednisone and other medicine with a juice diet, then maybe hubby could avoid needing one of those scary sounding biologic medications doing the same thing.

Over the holidays, we saved gift cards and cash to plop down on a Breville Juice Fountain centrifugal juicer. Good ol’ Amazon makes shopping for stuff so easy, and the one we had our eye on was $75 off the normal price. Score! We ordered it a week or so into the new year, and it came in all of its 16 pound glory one week later. It’s a good thing we saved money on the juicer, because I think we will need it for produce!  Seriously, right now the inside of our fridge looks like the produce department of Publix, stocked with lots (and lots!) of kale, carrots, cucumbers, apples, oranges, ginger root, celery and spinach.

So this is our plan for the juicer. Hubby has begun a 20-30 day juice “fast,” consuming only freshly made fruit and veggie juice. After his reboot, he will continue to juice every day, probably for the rest of his life. He had experience with juicing before we met, but he never followed through afterwards. Now, he has a fresh diagnosis of Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis and a new, frightening medication hanging in the balance.  His next appointment with his neurologist is March, when we will need to make the decision about this drug. Hopefully, his body can start to heal itself during this time of rebooting, and he won’t need to consider the drug.

As for myself, I will be juicing as well, and have been slowly transitioning to healthier foods and away from animal products. After my first green juice, I discovered (more like remembered) that my body sometimes has a problem with fresh, raw vegetables and their digestion (I will spare you the “juicy” details… take that as you will 😊) So I will need to experiment with other ingredients and greens to discover what works for me, and what will not. For myself, I’m hoping for a significant reduction in pain and inflammation, and a subsequent reduction in the medication I take to manage Fibromyalgia.  I currently take some strong pain killers, and I discovered (again, more like remembered) recently how bad my pain is without these medications. I don’t ever want to experience that pain again. I might go nutty fruit loops if I do, and believe me, that is not a pretty sight!!

I will leave you with two recipes we have found we like so far. A green juice that hubby enjoys, and an orange juice (which ironically has no oranges in it) that I like. Both are credited to Joe Cross’ website, Reboot With Joe. 

Joe’s “Mean Green” Juice

  • 16 kale leaves, washed well
  • 4 apples, cores and washed
  • 8 stalks of celery, with leafy tops, washed
  • 2 cucumbers, scrubbed of any wax on the skin
  • 1 lemon, peeled, if desired
  • 2 inch piece of fresh ginger root

Note: this recipe is VERY gingery, and I tend to use less ginger if I am drinking it. Also, 8 stalks of celery is very strong-tasting, and I cut back to 2-4 stalks when I make this for me. Two is perfect, four is still a bit overpowering for my taste.  I have also found that adding a pear to this juice calms some of the “grassy” taste from the kale.

Get You Going Morning Juice

  • 3 carrots, scrubbed
  • 1 apple, cored
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger root
  • 1/2 of a sweet potato, scrubbed
  • 1 handful of spinach

As I noted above with the green juice, this can be very gingery, so if you don’t care for fresh ginger you can either leave it out or just use a tiny piece. This juice is sweet and aromatic, and is good for morning or dinner (I usually have my juice with a smaller meal.)

Over the next few months, I will check in with you and update how we are faring with our new lifestyle.

Happy Anniversary To Us!

I know I have been absent from these pages as of late, but I am working on something pretty special to be published very soon. Today, however, is a special day for this blog, because this is our second anniversary together, dear readers. I have shared with you pieces of my soul and some recipes from my family I swore I would make live beyond me.  I have enjoyed this journey we have traveled so far, and I believe the best is yet to come.

Today is also the second anniversary of my other blog, Life With Cats, on which I journal the trials and wonders of cat guardianship with my three little knuckleheads, one of whom has cameoed here on these pages.  Someday, hopefully soon, the old posts from that “other” website will be transferred here to share with you.

Here’s to another year of fun recipes, thoughtful insights and inspiration. I look forward to sharing these parts of myself with you.

God bless!  Shalom.

 

Merry Christmas, My Children

It’s Christmas morning, but the house is quiet, except for the sounds of a hungry cat trying to wake us for breakfast.  Sleepily I walk to the kitchen, two felines on my heels.  I try not to trip over them as I pop cans of food open and portion it out.  Mercy cries when she smells it, and Pixel runs to check on her, making sure it’s only the lack of food that disturbs her.  The three of us walk back to the bedroom as we do every morning.  Sassy, Pixel and Mercy are chowing down on their morning meal, but the house is quiet.

Our tree is still packed away from last year.  Mercy would have had it torn down in minutes if we tried, and you’re not here for it anyway.  All of the decorations are still in their boxes.  A couple of packages wrapped in the same paper sit by my computer, ready to bring to Grandma’s house in a little while.  The room where you would have slept is cold and empty, even though there is furniture inside.  A twin bed.  Some toys for the cats.  A window to the outside that only Pixel and Mercy sit and look through.  There is no sign of you anywhere.

This morning, the house looks like it does every other morning.  It’s too small for us but it’s where we are for now.  There is no inkling of activity anywhere.  Even the cats, with their bellies full of chicken and liver, are not making a peep.  Mercy is on her furniture taking a bath, Pixel is watching out the window and Sassy is probably under the bed.  The house is quiet.

It’s 8:00am. Around the world, children like you are eagerly anticipating Christmas morning.  The yearly visit from Santa.  You would have been good children this year, I bet.  Then again, you were going to be good kids anyway, even without Santa.  It is how we would have raised you.  You would have been kind and courteous, with giving and loving hearts, but knowing boundaries so you wouldn’t become a door mat.  I am in Grandma’s kitchen making cinnamon rolls.  There is enough for all of us, but you’re not here.  Daddy and I take a second roll each, because they are awful warmed up later on.

It’s 10:00am, and Christmas morning is over.  Presents were opened, but somehow it’s not the same without you here.  I wanted to see the look of wonder on your faces, the excitement of new stuff!  I wanted to get you that one special thing you wanted more than anything in the whole world!  To hear the sounds of laughter and yes, even play arguing. Maybe especially the arguing, because that would mean there was a brother or sister for you.  You wouldn’t have been an only child.  Yes, I would have wanted that for you.

Now it’s 2pm, and dinner is ready.  It’s only your Dad, Grandma and me today. The kitties are home safe, guarding the house. We are having your favorite for dinner.  Swedish meatballs and that yummy gravy with real mashed potatoes.  I made it myself for you, but you weren’t here.  Would you like green beans like me, or Brussels sprouts like your Dad?  Or maybe you would have liked them both.  I would have gladly made more if only  you were here.

At 5pm, it’s starting to get dark already, but it’s warm outside.  Maybe you would have spent your afternoon riding your new bike.  Or maybe inside playing with Legos with your Daddy.  He loves those things just as much as you do.  Maybe that’s why you love them, too.  Maybe you would have read your new book to Grandma as you tried so wonderfully to explain to her the nuances of the story.  She would have loved you to the moon and back, just like we do.

The clock chimes 6 o’clock.  I’ve been working to clean up after dinner while you would have been playing.  But now it is time to go home.  We pile all of our gifts into the little red wagon we bought, and it doesn’t even fill the bottom.  It should be filled to overflowing with all of your new favorite toys, that one special doll or stuffed animal that you would go to sleep with tonight.  You would be pretty tired by now, after a full day of excitement and play.

There is still time to catch a movie when we get home, but there is only two of us.  I could see one of you snuggling with your Daddy, and one with me.  Mercy might be licking the butter from the popcorn off your fingers, and trying to steal a kernel or two from your bowl.  Be careful!  All of us cuddled together on the floor, or maybe a sofa, laughing and pulling our last moments of joy from a perfect day.

It’s 9pm, and time for bed.  Daddy and I are tired, and even though I don’t go to sleep this early, I’m going anyway.  The kitties are fed for the night and happy.  They are the only ones in the bed with us.  Your room is still cold and empty.  The echo of your laughter fades from my imagination.  And I realize I miss you more than I can express, but I have never met you.  Tears come, and they’re hot and stinging the skin on my face again, probably for the tenth time today.  I was trying so hard to make this a special day for everyone, even through the tears.  Because even though I’ve never known you, I have loved you anyway.  And days like today only serve to remind me that you’re not here, and will never be.

The house is quiet.  All I can hear is Pixel purring at my side.  And I fall asleep thinking of you, my dear children.  My children.  The ones my heart misses and loves, but will never know.  I don’t know if you would have been a boy or a girl, or maybe one of each.  That is what I wanted most; a boy and a girl.

Christmas is gone.  The house is quiet.  Good night, my children. Merry Christmas.  I love you….

The Great Cookie Kerfuffle of 2016

Well, before I start out with this story, I want to wish my reader(s) a very blessed Christmas season!  I hope your family is close and your joys are many!

This year hubby and I decided not to pull our Christmas tree out of hiding and set it up.  There are two reasons for this, mostly:  Pixel and Mercy.  Last year, Pixel took great joy in stealing most of the ornaments from the bottom third of the tree and playing with them.  We use cat safe McDonald’s Teeny Beanie Babies to decorate the tree, and I do admit it is quite adorable, but Pixel always chooses one toy in particular to play with from the tree.  Last year, it was one of the lion toys, its name escapes me.  I have no reason to believe that Mercy, in all of her kitten-y goodness, would not be a terror when it comes to having a 6 foot climbing obstacle loaded chock full of toys to play with.  So no, we’re forgoing the tree this year.

One of the other things I usually do to make it feel (and smell!) like Christmas is baking cookies.  It is one of the things I actually don’t mind baking, and the recipes I usually use are foolproof (meaning I can make them with little problem.)  Unlike most folks who have holiday specific cookies they make on a fairly consistent, annual basis, I  have two recipes that I use no matter the time of year.  I have to like the cookies in order for me to make them, and I don’t necessarily enjoy the pressed cookies that come from the old “super shooter” type of press, or ones that I have to spend a lot of time decorating.  I’ve never baked a gingerbread cookie, and sugar cookies are too blah for me.  So my go-to cookies are usually shortbread, because I love it and it’s too expensive to buy in the store, and a variation of a chocolate chip recipe I got from Food Network some years back.  They may not scream Christmas or be terribly festive, but they are good.

I started sometime last week with the chocolate chip cookies.  These are adapted from a recipe from Alton Brown, called “The Chewy.”  I have made these many times before and they are just such a wonderfully decadent and chewy cookie.  I didn’t have the recipe written on a card or my book like I usually would, so I checked the Food Network website for it.  It looked a little strange, as I didn’t remember the dry ingredients being measured by weight instead of cup measure.  But I didn’t mind, because I had gotten a nifty digital kitchen scale over the summer and this would be my chance to try it out.  However, when I got to the brown sugar part of the dry weights, eight ounces looked like a LOT of brown sugar, so I went back and re-checked the video, which was taken from the episode of Good Eats where this cookie recipe was featured.  That is when I figured out that the video measurements were so much different from what the written recipe noted, so I started all over with fresh flour (because I had already sifted 12 ounces of flour with the salt and baking soda,) measuring out 2 1/4 cups instead, 1 1/4 cups of brown sugar, which ironically turned out to be 8 dry ounces, and the other measures in the video.

The cookie dough turned out good.  It was full of chips and nuts for the amount of batter I had, which is good.  Usually, when I make chocolate chip cookies, my last few cookies have very few chips in them because the batter to chip ratio is terrible.  So, following the directions on the written recipe, I baked one tray of cookies at a time, having only one cookie sheet, for the fifteen minutes noted.  Everything was smelling wonderful halfway through, and I switched the sheet from the top rack to the bottom third like I was supposed to.  But at the end of the baking time, the cookies were almost not recognizable as cookies.  By the way, if anyone is looking for some last-minute coal for stockings, message me.

Not deterred, I put my second tray of cookies into the oven and reduced the time for baking from fifteen to twelve.  Again, the aroma of baking cookies filled the air and at twelve minutes, they were almost as charred as the first batch.  A little frustrated at myself for not being able to bake these stupid cookies, I put my third batch into the oven, this time for 1o minutes.  The last batch was still over done, but better than the first two, and spread out like melting ice cream on the sheet.  Not wanting to waste any more dough, I gave up baking that night.  The rest of the dough sat in the fridge for a day while I sulked.  I thought I was losing my touch.

The next day, I decided to give my shortbread cookies a try.  Those are REALLY simple, and only have five ingredients.  I couldn’t screw these up, right?  The dough came together very nicely and after turning it out onto my floured counter, I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge to stiffen a bit.  While that dough was resting, I gave the “Chewy” cookies one more shot.  This time, I decided to measure the ingredients using the scale and not let the amounts spook me.  Twelve weighed ounces of flour.  Eight ounces of brown sugar.  Two ounces of granulated sugar.  Like the last batch of batter, it came together nicely but had a bit more body, for lack of a better word.  I’m guessing this was the extra flour, because 12 ounces does not even remotely measure to be 2 1/4 cups.

I was getting tired and bit achy from so much standing, so I decided to just bake the shortbread cookies that night.  The chewy chocolate chip cookies would have to wait at least one more night.  The shortbread turned out beautiful, as I had hoped.  Finally!  A good result.  But it was Thursday night, and I really wanted to have some cookies to bring to John’s therapists on Friday.  But I was pleased that the shortbread baked up nicely.  As luck would have it, we never made it to the therapist on Friday before Christmas.  Achy muscles and cookie burnout were the culprit.

Tonight we went to my Mom’s for dinner and what was supposed to be church services online.  I brought the cookie dough and sheets to her house so I could hopefully finish these cookies, which by this time have become a real thorn in my side.  While our dinner was baking in her counter top convection oven, I worked on the cookies in her big oven.  This time, I lowered the oven temp to 350 from the recommended 375, and checked them at 10 minutes.  They weren’t quite finished at 10, and another two minutes made them a nice golden brown.  Perfection!  I could have cried, but honestly the cookies had plenty of salt in the batter already.

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Finally!  Chewy cookies that actually LOOK like cookies!!

So, here are my recipes, adjusted for what made them work in my kitchen and how I made them.

Shortbread Cookies

  • 3 Sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature*
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar**
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

In the work bowl of your mixer, mix together the butter and sugar until it is just combined.  Add the vanilla.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and salt.  Add flour to butter and sugar mixture; mix on low-speed until the dough starts to come together.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape into a flat disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/2 inch thick.  Using a pizza cutter or cookie cutter, cut cookies into rectangles approximately 3″ by 1″.  Place cookies on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes (I found they were perfect at 20 minutes, but watch the cookies from 20 minutes on) until they begin to brown around the edges.  Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool thoroughly before storing.

*Use real, unsalted butter for this recipe.  Substituting Crisco or margarine will not give the shortbread its classic buttery flavor.  Some things shouldn’t be skimped, and this recipe is one of them. You’ll be happy you didn’t skimp.

**I used fine granulated brown sugar, sometimes called turbinado or raw sugar.  Despite the different color, this does not carry over to the color of the cookies.  So if you don’t use regular white sugar, don’t hesitate to use the brown granulated (not regular brown sugar) in this recipe.  It will turn out as if you had used white granulated.

 

The Chewy (Courtesy of Alton Brown, tweaked by me!)

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces (by weight) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 ounces (by weight) light brown sugar
  • 2 ounces (by weight) granulated white sugar
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces (one bag) vanilla chips (white chocolate)
  • 1 cup macadamia nuts, chopped (optional)

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat until fully melted.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda; set aside.  Pour the butter into the mixer’s work bowl and add the sugar.  Mix on medium for two minutes, using the paddle attachment (or on medium with wire beaters on a hand-held mixer.) Lightly whisk the egg, yolk, milk and vanilla together; add slowly to butter and sugar mixture.  Turn the mixer speed to low, and mix until smooth.  Slowly add the flour, scraping the bowl down as needed.  When the flour is incorporated into the batter, turn the mixer speed to “stir” (or fold in by hand) and add the white chocolate chips  and macadamia nuts.  Chill the dough in the bowl for one hour.

Spoon cookie dough by rounded spoonfuls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Allow to cool thoroughly before storing or devouring!

 

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas!  Buon Natale!!