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I stopped on my errands yesterday to give a man with a hand written sign asking for help a few dollars. It’s a difficult call to know what to do when you see someone standing on the corner. You never know whether they are sincerely in jeopardy or panhandling is a way of making a living for them. I know if I had a family member on the streets I would hope people would lend a hand. Unfortunately, you can’t heal the world, but a Band-aid here and there couldn’t hurt.

When I worked in Boston I was struck frequently with the plight of their homeless population, particularly during the frigid winter months. As difficult as life can become for displaced people when the temperature begins to plummet it increases a hundred fold. One man tugs at my memory in particular. I met him on the first day I reported for work at the American Cancer Society in Boston proper. When hired, we lived in the picturesque town of Wakefield, a half an hour’s drive from the city. Although we’d been in area for nearly half a year my time in the state capital could be accounted for on one hand.

Not wanting to face the impacted morning commute by car, I parked the yellow “family truckster” at the subway station and traversed the steep steps leading down to the bowels of the beast. On the platform I purchased a ticket and boarded the first of two color coded trains that, according to the folded schedule in my purse, would lead me to my destination. The cold held a firm grip on Massachusetts that winter. Though covered in a thick wool coat fingers of wind still managed to sneak through the heavy fabric raising goosebumps along my skin. Instinctively I wrapped my arms around myself. Over the next three years the subway was to become familiar to me. The odors, the grinding of metal against metal, the glut of humans pushing and shoving on and off the steadily shifting trains. A metal monster voraciously gobbling up it’s human sacrifices only to regurgitate them further down the line.

Nerves a bit jangled, as nerves tend to do when starting a new job, I got off at the station indicated. A steady cold wind accosted me as I climbed the stairs slippery with melting snow. At street level I got my bearings and turned right at the first corner. Half way down the block a man in many layers of tattered clothing began following me. “Kuppacuffe, kuppacuffe”, he was yelling, as he trailed me down the street. People passing by paid little notice. Thankfully, leaving the strange man behind I entered the building I was to work in. Once inside I related the story to my new co-worker and was told the man was a common site on the streets. Emotionally handicapped, what he was saying was “cup of coffee”. Ahhhh. The next morning we shared the sidewalk again, this time with more understanding between us. I pressed a dollar in his sad looking glove and later saw him sitting in the corner of a cozy coffee house his gloves wrapped around a hot cup of coffee. We met every day for nearly a year until one day he was gone. I found I missed him after that, looking for him as I hit the street. Hopefully, he was somewhere else in the city enjoying a cup of Joe in another cafe and not in trouble or worse.

Many experiences come to mind while I was traveling the underground rails. Going across town midday, I boarded a train with maybe four other occupants. At the next station an elderly woman with a shopping bag over one arm entered through the front doors. You can stand or sit while moving depending on the foot traffic. During heavy commute hours there are hand loops or poles provided for those standing to keep you steady. Doors closing, the train lurched forward sending the woman hurling past several seated passengers absorbed in their reading material towards the back of the train. Shocked, I got up and made my way back only to find her splayed in a messy pile of human with her hat totally obscuring her face. Oranges and cans were rolling under seats and moving back and forth up the center aisle. At first I thought she was injured, but on helping her up realized she was totally plastered. The fumes emanating from her alone could have triggered a hangover. Helping her gather her belongings the woman suddenly leaned over the bench seat in front of us and proceeded to pass out cold as a wedge. Not a pretty sight. Not a pretty sight at all. Dress hiked up in back the rolled support hose she had secured about her knees squeezed the excess meat at the top of her leg over their rim like an oozing pot of oatmeal. Oh dear. Gingerly I picked at the fabric with my fingertips at least leaving her a bit of dignity. Of the four passengers, I seemed to be the only one who noticed this disturbing turn of events. The next stop was mine. Either I got off or continued far out of my way. Unable to wake the now snoring woman, but at least assured she was alive, I had no choice but to get off. Going to station personnel I related my story and was assured someone would check the car down the line and either get her off or offer assistance. Somehow I always felt guilty leaving her there. For all I know she’s still folded over that seat mooning someone somewhere in Brookline as we speak.

Extending a hand to someone always comes back to you in so much more than a returned gesture. When I distribute food at the food bank I never stop enjoying seeing the smiles on the little ones faces when they pick a donut out of the big pink box or a client stops by to thank you for donating your time. Choosing to look the other way when we see a homeless person on the street is sometimes easier than acknowledging them, but a simple “hello” can go a long way to making them feel visible in a society where they are often overlooked.

I’m a vegetable girl. Don’t understand me, I’m no vegetarian. Meat is included in my meal plans every week. This delicious vegetable soup, well with the exception of the bacon, however, is totally satisfying on its own.

Two Pea Soup

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 ribs celery, sliced
3 carrots, sliced
6 scallions, sliced (white and green divided)
1/2 yellow bell pepper, sliced thin and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine (I used chardonnay)
8 cups rich chicken broth
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
5 slices cooked crisp bacon, chunked
2 zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1 15 oz. can navy beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 tsp. dried mint
3 oz. cooked snow peas
1 cup packed fresh spinach

Heat olive oil in large stock pot over medium heat. Add celery, carrots, white portions of scallions, bell pepper, and garlic. Cover and cook over low heat for 8 mins. or until vegetables are tender stirring several times.

Add wine, chicken broth, seasonings, green portions of scallions and bacon. Bring to boil. Cook over medium heat for 10 mins. Add zucchini, beans, and peas to pot. Reduce heat to simmer and continue cooking for 25 mins. Add mint, snow peas, and spinach. Cook for 5 mins. Remove from heat.

Serves 6

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finalI’m seriously considering going back to work. Not that I’m not busy enough at the moment, I am. However, depositing money into my savings rather than the other way around might be gratifying for a change. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, Rick and I may well live to a ripe old age. People are doing it all over the planet. Living to a hundred is far less unusual than back a few years. That being the case, we could have a long road ahead of us. I’d like a little padding to see us through our later years and to plump up the travel fund. Sitting around watching the grass grow is not my vision of how life should be when I’m fully retired.

Truth is I haven’t worked, other than volunteering, since we sold the restaurant in 2008. Ummmmm, I may be a bit rusty. Good news is I’ve kept my graphics skills up by volunteering where they utilize my artistic skills as well as my computer background. This is helpful.

My son is a corporate headhunter in Silicon Valley. Specifically, his job is placing the movers and shakers in the top jobs open in the high-tech industries prevalent in the area. Leaning on his expertise, I asked how I would go about reentering the job market. After a moment of silence on the other end of the line, he said, “you’re going back to work”? I know I’m not exactly a spring chicken, or even a summer one, but I am of relatively sound mind, equally relatively sound of body, and have some marketable skills still tucked away in my magic bag. Ach.

First he suggested I compose a brief resume. Interviewers, he said, are not interested in reading a novelette detailing your life since your first taste of Pablum. Rather they want the Reader’s Digest version of your last few jobs and an idea of what you bring to the table by way of benefiting their particular company. Oh. Other than the restaurant, which wasn’t really a job, more of a 24/7 lifestyle, I haven’t worked full-time since I resigned my executive assistant job at the newspaper. “What about all the jobs prior to that”, says I? “Anything prior to ten years, forgetaboutit”, I’m told. Oh. “But that’s sort of the meat in the burger”, I went on to explain. “Go vegetarian”, was the response. Okay.

Another thing suggested as imperative was not to discuss my frequently aired discontent with my cell phone. Expressing this out loud while job hunting, apparently, can be a deadly error resulting in public flagellation or worse. I’m sorry, I know I’m the only human left on the planet who doesn’t enjoy being umbilicaly attached to my devices, but I’m not comfortable being that connected. Shhhhhhh. Perhaps I’d better not list this blog as one of my accomplishments. My son, who has twenty devices each connected to the next, up to and including GPS tracking on every member of the family, is quite sure he was secretly adopted and I’m not revealing his true lineage.

A three page list was suggested noting my strong points and weaknesses on page one. Sorting through the short list of my strong points versus the tome of my limitations, I began a separate page where I was to weed out what I would like to do as opposed to what I prefer not to do. A third page was to be dedicated to my goals. He asked how I would respond on an interview if asked what my goals were. My guess is the appropriate answer might sound something like “develop my skill set and grow in whichever position I accept”. Actually, my goal is to inherit an obscene amount of money unexpectedly from a stranger I did a favor for back in the day. A man who remained eternally grateful for my little act of kindness. With this found money I will purchase homes for my loved ones, and give a huge chunk to the food bank where I volunteer and the children’s hospital. The remainder I would invest in an island somewhere off a gorgeous azure sea draped coast. Rick and I would then spend the remainder of our time roasting on a sandy beach like two holiday chestnuts, eating succulent tropical fruits and drinking mimosas. Just guessing but I’m pretty sure this answer wouldn’t land me keys to the executive washroom. Drat the luck.

Recently I was explaining to one of the younger members of my clan that work, in an ideal world, should be where you find your passion. Most people do not win that flip of the coin. Beginning your journey by stepping in the direction of your desire increases the likelihood of ever ending up there. Flailing about like a fish on a flat bottomed boat with no idea in this world or any other one where you are going, is not likely going to get you where you want to be when nearing middle-age. On graduating from high school I was pointed in the direction I wanted to go. My name could be found on a junior college enrollment form, classes were locked in, books purchased, and the school term had begun. Originally seeing flying the friendly skies as my chosen vocation once in school I leaned towards computer science. A surprise for me, as well as those around me who assumed “coffee, tea, or me” was right up my alley. Both lofty goals were shelved for love, a choice I don’t regret (well maybe a little on gloomy, rainy days) because my two beautiful children were a result of that choice. Life doesn’t always go in the direction you push it towards, but aspiring to a vocation that moves your soul and challenges your mind is a good place to start. The Millenials, or so I’ve read, are stumbling a bit when it comes to the future. I can understand this. Life seems more tenuous lately. Weather is crazy, terrorism on the rise, our infrastructure beginning to crumble, and the population swelling by the hour. Not as rosy a future as back a few decades, but then the earth has always been fraught with conflict. Not a new concept, but it seems as though it is up in our face more now there are more avenues from which to receive the news.

Concluding our phone conversation my son asked me what area I wanted to pursue. I told him I thought I’d like to be a plastic surgeon. I’ve seen some of their work, and it looks like something I could do equally as well. Another job I might be suited for is weather forecaster on the morning news. It is one of the few jobs where you can be wrong nine out of ten times and still continue your employment. Dog walker might be fun, although I wouldn’t want large dogs as they’d walk me, or feisty dogs, or little yappy buggers. Never mind. Something will turn up.

These tender little scallops are a recipe tweaked from my grandmother’s original which I still have penned in her hand. Always delicious. I usually serve them with a dollop of tartar sauce and a wedge of lemon.

Gammy’s Baked Bay Scallops

1 lb. bay scallops, foot removed (35-40)
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbsp. butter, cubed

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Spray shallow casserole dish with cooking spray.

Distribute cubes of butter around bottom of prepared dish.

Beat egg in another shallow dish. Mix bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, salt, garlic salt, and pepper in another shallow dish. Roll a handful of scallops in eggs, then in butter. Repeat until all scallops are breaded. Spread out in single layer in dish. Bake for 20 mins. until lightly browned on top.

Serves 4

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2

My oldest granddaughter is old enough now to explore dating seriously. I know! When did that happen? It seems I was just holding her for the first time and introducing myself. Now she’s up and moved to Phoenix as an independent woman. Whoa. Pause the movie. I didn’t even have time to finish my popcorn.

Dating, in particular first dates, can be an arduous process. For me, whether I wished to pursue getting to know someone further usually became fairly clear by the end of spending that first evening in their company. Not always true, certainly, because we’re all showing our best sides in the early stages of a relationship. Let’s face it none of us arrives for that first dinner date in sweats and a “I Have Mixed Drinks About Feelings” tee shirt. We save these little surprises for somewhere down the line. If we posted profile pictures of our mouths gaping open with a hint of drool sliding down the side of our faces probably our mail boxes wouldn’t lighting up. I’m just sayin.

My granddaughter was asking probing questions during our last conversation about how you know if someone is “the one”, and what the difference is between infatuation and real love. You are asking me these questions? If I knew the answers to those questions I’d have written a best seller and won a car on Oprah. Speaking for myself describing love is such a personal thing. What I might deem as being in love with someone, another person might consider chemistry or simply attraction. Love, like most of our senses, is unique to the ones experiencing it. For instance, I might get positively euphoric when smelling coffee brewing in the morning (which I do), while someone else might find the smell of Starbuck’s obnoxious or off-putting. These people need to be put down, but anyhow.

Individual tastes certainly vary dramatically. The old adage tells us, “there’s someone for everyone”. True or not, finding this person in a world overflowing with people seems to be the dilemma. I think we should be tattooed with a number with an opposite number suiting us perfectly issued to another human. This would narrow the search significantly, particularly with social media and the advent of the Internet. Like all things I feel, if we were sure of our perfect match wouldn’t it take some of the excitement out of looking for him or her? Kind of like knowing you’re going to win at a game before you play it. What would be the point of setting up the board?

Caught in the tenuous grasp of attraction and excitement, it is easy to overlook differences in lifestyle, perspective, money habits, goals, and whether the person wants children or not.  No one wants to waste time while lost in another’s eyes dissecting whether they like hot climates while you like cold, or they are morning people where you like to bring in the dawn. However, if these questions are shelved until the wedding cake is in the freezer, there might be trouble down the road.

For example, I was married to someone whose job required relocating frequently and often without much notice. In such a situation you have to leave your family behind, and find your life in a state of upheaval most of the time. For some people this would be disruptive or unsettling. In my case, I found it interesting and exciting seeing new parts of the U.S. and meeting the people living there. Had I not, this definitely could have created a problem in our relationship.

Married at First Sight, a television reality show where couples agree to get married without meeting each other prior to the ceremony. The cameras then follow their journey once they’ve said “I do”. Interesting concept. I suppose it’s not a far reach from arranged marriages, which though less common, are still a practice in many cultures. In the 90’s I worked with a lovely young woman from India. Her biggest fear was that her parents, holding to very traditional values, would marry her off in such a way to someone she did not love. Having watched her parents struggle with a somewhat loveless marriage, she did not want suffer the same fate. Several prospective men were brought over from India for Pooja to be introduced to.  Rejecting each as they arrived, in the end she married a man of her cultural background of her choice in a beautiful ceremony. Happily a mother of two now, things worked out for her as they should have in the end.

Love is capricious. For some of us it eludes us completely, for others it comes later in life, and in some cases, like a friend of mine with nine children, it arrives in high school and remains in tact throughout a lifetime. Perhaps it’s how our cards read, Kismet, or fate, however one believes. Some of us destined to explore life alone, other with partners. As with most things in life love remains a mystery. An intangible emotion, with no rhyme or reason, yet as lusted after as the most perfect of diamonds.

This hamburger is a sum of the whole. Each part of it adds to the enjoyment of the next. I make the bruschetta topping and the buns ahead of time and then the onions, keeping them warm. All that’s left is the burger and you’re good to go. Gooey and delicious on their own they don’t require any condiments at all to be absolutely mouth watering.

1Mushroom Bruschetta Burger

Mushroom Bruschetta

1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. cubed mushrooms
1 tsp. thyme
1/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
3 green onions, white and green parts sliced
Pinch pepper and salt

Heat butter and oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic. Cook 2 mins. or until garlic just starts to brown. Add mushrooms. Stir and cook for about 5 mins. Add thyme. Deglaze pan with white wine and continue cooking until most of the wine has disappeared.

Add cherry tomatoes and green onions to pan. Reduce heat to med. low and continue cooking about 6 mins. until tomatoes have slightly wilted. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Buns

2 Tbsp. softened butter
4 hamburger buns, halved
2 tsp. garlic powder
4 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat broiler.

Butter both sides of buns. Sprinkle each with 1/4 tsp. garlic powder. Sprinkle each with 1/2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese. Place under broiler until browned and bubbly. Keep Warm

Fried Red Onion Rings

4 3/4″ thick slices red onion
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Oil for cooking

Beat egg in one shallow dish. Mix together remaining ingredients in second shallow dish. Keeping rings together dip each slice in egg and then dredge both sides in breadcrumb mixture.

Heat 1 1/2″ of oil in deep heavy skillet over high heat. Add onion rings to hot oil and cook until golden brown on both sides (about 3-4 mins. per side). Drain on paper towels. Keep warm.

Hamburgers

1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck
3/4 pkg. of Lipton onion soup mix
1/3 cup water
4 slices Meunster cheese

Mix meat, onion soup mix, and water together well with fingertips. Form into four patties. Cook over high heat on grill or stove until fully cooked and brown on both sides.

Top with cheese and continue cooking over medium heat until cheese has fully melted.

To serve

Place burger on bottom of bun and top with bruschetta and fried red onion. Serves 4

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1

Rick and I have been toying with the idea of getting a dog. Men, at least those in my life, often lean towards more substantial animals like retrievers or mastiffs leaving women to defer to smaller breeds like Yorkies or some of the hybrid versions like doodles (Dachshund/Poodle mix) or dorkies (Dachshund/Yorkshire Terrier mix). Definitely we are agreed on adopting a rescue dog, should we go forward with this plan. Neither of us possesses the patience to deal with a puppy, no matter how adorable, these days. An adult dog would be our choice. House training a must. Having volunteered at the local animal rescue facility, I saw firsthand the sweet and soulful faces of the adult animals abandoned, lost, or simply unwanted. The need is too great for older dogs seeking homes to get a puppy whose sweet little face will have no trouble selling itself to a willing owner.

Over the years I’ve trained my share of dogs. Training a puppy is a job requiring dedication, a strong stomach, excellent carpet cleaner, patience, and time. When my children were in high school we were a three dog family. Sugar, the Samoyed, Barnaby, the golden retriever, and Sushi the Shih Tzu shared space with myself, my husband at the time, our combined brood of three, two cats, two hamsters and a rabbit. To say the least I was a familiar face at the local feed and grain, not to mention the markets.

My husband traveled seventy percent of the time. In his absence I manned the oars and ran a fairly tight ship. He claimed all this travel was pressed on him by supervisors but secretly I believe he volunteered to go simply to escape the din at home. Barnaby originally came in a small package equipped with four huge paws the equivalent size of plump loaves of sour dough bread. The most rambunctious of his eight litter mates, he was a busy, busy, little puppy. From the onset he was my husband’s dog through and through, deferring to me only when there was kibble to be dished out or a present left in the back yard to be disposed of. Once I went out with my shovel to find piles of technicolor dog poop thanks to a box of neon crayons he had consumed earlier in the day.

As Barnaby grew into his paws, all his unbridled energy needed a place to relieve itself. At the time we had a beautifully landscaped back yard, fenced both for privacy and to keep the animals inside. For Sushi and Sugar the fence served as a suitable deterrent, but Barnaby viewed it simply as a challenge. Most days on arriving home from work I found all three dogs sitting on the front porch. Out back there would be cavernous tunnels and piles of dirt where Barnaby had dug under the fence. Over and over we refilled and packed the holes only to find new ones replacing them the following day. Thankfully, the dogs weren’t destructive while roaming the neighborhood and we had good neighbors who were kind enough not to complain. However, it is illegal to let your dogs roam free and decidedly increases the chance of them getting hit or stolen. We tried everything from chain link barriers to wooden panels. When it became obvious none of these solutions were going to work we hired a cement contractor to pour a cement wall deep under the soil by the fence which put an end to Barnaby’s digging period.

Unable to dig his holes, Barnaby contented himself with what else was at hand. On days when it rained I left the dogs either in the garage or in the house. Left outside the two smaller dogs would seek shelter in the large dog house provided for them in bad weather, but Barnaby, one brick short of a full load would sit in the rain until he drowned unless someone came to rescue him. One day the dog, too much time on his hands, ate the wooden framework off the door connecting the laundry room and the family room and the wallpaper off one wall. I had just made the last payment after having the designer paper professionally hung. Without a clue in the world he lay snoring atop a pile of the lovely paper with the delicate reeds strewn across it. Pointing to the damage the dog sat looking from side to side like a Felix the Cat clock. Really? Fortunately I had no weapon at hand.

One weekend I had my stepdaughter visiting. While the children were occupied I decided to color my hair. Foaming the last of the gloppy dark goo on my head a commotion arose out back. Barnaby, asleep on the floor, was triggered into action as a strange dog rounded the corner. Before I could yell stop, the dog sailed over the living room furniture and made a bee line for the screen door. On reaching the door he continued right through the netting as though it had been constructed of water vapor. A large gaping hole flapped in the wind behind him. Sigh.

Trying to keep the goop out of my eyes I ran to the yard where the agressive springer spaniel male from next door was challenging Barnaby with snarling teeth. My son, defending his beloved dog, got in between them before I could grab him. Manned with a broom I got the other dog off rescuing my son and the dog ushering everyone in the house. Chasing the intruder back over the fence with my broom (please no comments) I surveyed the damage. One dog bite to my son’s hand, and one goofy dog with a huge messy flap over one eye.

No time to rinse my hair I called the vet to alert them I was bringing the dog in, and pulled on some shoes. Grabbing my purse, the whimpering dog, the children and my keys I rallied the troops in the car. At the vet they kindly made no mention of the fact that my hair, now hardened to my head, left me looking a bit like a department store mannequin or a feminine Ken doll. I left the dog to be tended to and drove to the doctor’s office where once again I endured the curious eyes staring at my hair while waiting to get stitches for my son.

Barnaby, to his humiliation, had to wear a large red bucket over his head for ten days until his stitches were removed. I had to replace the screen door, the wallpaper, and reframe the door. My hair fortunately did not fall out in clumps. However, the dye staying on far longer than recommended left a perfect band of color framing my face which lasted for several days.

Talking to my husband on his return I said either he got his dog in hand or he was going to disappear suddenly with no explanation and I wouldn’t be responsible for the consequences. Looking back I’m not sure if I was referring to the dog or my husband, but that’s another blog. Truly I could not follow through with this threat but it surely felt good to say it out loud. We enrolled the big lug in obedience school (again, the dog) which he soundly failed. The teacher, as I recall, said some dogs were born untrainable. Poor old Barn. He lived to a relatively comfortable old age, despite hip dysplasia. Never the sharpest pencil in the box, but always willing to cuddle at any given moment.

Do I want to take all this on again? I’m thinking about it. Boo, the Queen of Cats, has cast her vote and has threatened to veto any yeas coming down the chute.

I had this lighter version of potato salad at a potluck recently and asked for the recipe. Equally as satisfying as it’s mayonnaisey partner, I had to share it.

Green Bean and Red Potato Salad

6 large red potatoes, diced
1 lb. green beans, trimmed
1 red onion halved and thinly sliced
4 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
1/8 cup crumbled blue cheese

Dressing

1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. mint

Cover the potatoes with water in large saucepan. Bring to boil Reduce heat and cook until fork tender, about 20-25 mins. Drain and allow to cool. Dice.

Cover beans with water in saucepan. Bring to boil and cook until tender. Drain and cool. Cut in half if longer beans.

Add diced potatoes, beans, onion, bacon, and blue cheese to large mixing bowl. Whisk together dressing ingredients. Toss with vegetables. Refrigerate at least 2 hrs. or overnight.

Serves 6

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final

Stick a fork in me, I’m done. Been a busy, busy month or two and my mind and body are both loudly complaining in my ear. My feet are saying, “sit down” and my mind has simply quit functioning at an optimum level and is mucking about like a bowl of warm Jello. Today, for example, I realized I’ve booked two appointments at the same time. Unless my muddled mind has perfected cloning something has got to go. On top of this yesterday I woke Rick up bright and early so he could make a 9:00 doctor appointment. He made it all right, unfortunately, the only one in the office was the bookkeeper as his appointment is next week. Sigh.

Characteristically it is hard for me to admit I can’t do everything. I don’t know where that comes from but it seems to be built into my basic makeup. Like an octopus I can fold laundry, carry on a phone conversation, bathe the cat (ach, not really), and install a carbeurator without breaking a sweat. However, and I loathe these words, as one gets older things that came easily when young sometimes take a little more effort. Whew, there I said it.

Last week we drove down to visit my mom. When asked what she would like for Mother’s Day, it turned out to be me. With a lot on my calendar it was not the best week for me to travel. Juggling things around I moved this appointment to that, and the one over there to the following week, and voila a four day travel window opened up. By the time we arrived Rick wasn’t feeling well. Something had upset his stomach. I suggested he lie down and got him some reliable pink elixer and he was off to dreamland. Somehow this set the tone for our visit. By the time we were heading home I was drinking the peppermint pink liquid out of the bottle with a straw.

I can’t prove it but I suspect my mother stores up “honey-do’s” for me between visits. Miraculously her coffee pot’s clean me light commences blinking when I pull up in the driveway and a stack of papers paper clipped with questions needing answering usually awaits my attention on her desk. No complaints here. I’m so thankful my mother is fully functioning and I am glad to help wherever I can. I know so many people who are dealing with aging parents who require so much more personal care, so realize how very fortunate she is, as well as I am myself.

Before I set down my purse, she let me know the television in the kitchen wasn’t getting cable reception. This tv has been around since Lucy was on prime time so I’m amazed it’s still working at all much less hooked up to a cable box. That said, I dialed the number given and went through the usual dog and pony show to get to a customer service person. Mother, speaking loudly in my ear, was telling me to advise them her cleaning lady probably unplugged one of the cables when trying to clean around it. Looking at the mishmash of colored connectors in the back I began to plug and unplug them as instructed concurrently pushing buttons on the remote when prompted. Finally, we recessitated the poor old thing and breathed into life into it once again. I resisted the urge to yell, “it’s alive, it’s alive”. We were, after all, in a retirement community, no matter how lovely the surroundings.

Mother has hearing issues. This is downplaying the situation on a large scale. Our standard mantra in the family is speak, repeat, repeat. Usually by the end of a day with her I find myself hoarse from speaking loud enough to be heard. I believe the suitable decibel for words to get through hovers somewhere around elephant trumpet. Not that she doesn’t have hearing aids, she does. They cost her a pretty penny and spend most of their time hearing only what goes on inside the box they came in. Whether it is vanity or not, I’m not sure, but while there I try to encourage her to use them so people don’t get frustrated trying to carry on a conversation. Recently we got her a phone that is captioned. What a great device. Everything said appears on a large screen making it easier on both parties to communicate. Unfortunately it is a wireless device dependent on the computer modem to perform. The modem, probably produced not long after the kitchen television, also decided to go south right after the coffee pot clean light began blinking. On calling her telephone service provider, I was informed the modem was no longer supported, and after some troubleshooting also no longer working. Goodie.

Further instructions from the customer service rep included going to one of their retail stores in the area to pick up the correct device to replace the old modem. I wrote down the number, grabbed my purse and my mother and drove the twenty-five minutes to the nearest store. Inside I was pointed in the right direction by a helpful sales person and with a swipe of a credit card we were on our way. Back at my mothers I spent two hours trying to get the modem to work before I hoisted a white flag and called the retail store to ask what was wrong. I got a man on the phone who informed me although his job was selling such devices, he had no knowledge about how they worked whatsoever. Really? Is it just me?

Hanging up, I called the phone company back and after circling the wagons in their phone system was once again hooked up with a real person. Explaining the situation I was told the modem I was given wasn’t going to work. Hmmmmm. Okay, so what’s the plan? After some discussion I was told to take this modem back and given the model numbers for two other modems that would work. Fry’s or Best Buy I was assured would carry either one or the other. Okay.

Back in the car we drove the twenty-five minutes to return the modem. Next we went to both stores suggested where the salespeople were unsuccessful in locating either item I was looking for. We were now about five hours into the program and Susie was fraying around the edges.

At the house I once again dialed the phone company. Again I spoke to a representative and explained I would be leaving for home on Sunday and couldn’t find the needed item to install to get my mother’s phone up and running. In the end they have to send an installer out this week with the appropriate modem. I suggested that since the situation wasn’t an error on my end perhaps they should foot the installation cost. They suggested where that foot should be placed. Sooooo, $100 for the modem and $100 for the installation later my mom will once again have a phone. Amazing.

My rant for today. We ate out so much during our trip when we got home I wanted something light. This delicious salad is so refreshingly good. Yum.

Melony Spinach Salad with Ginger Lime Vinaigarette

Salad

3 cups fresh baby spinach, washed and torn into bite sized pieces
2 cups cubed watermelon (seedless)
1 1/2 cups cantaloupe, cubed
1/2 cup blueberries
2 radishes, sliced very thin
2 green onions, chopped
1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles
Freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients. Toss with dressing.

Ginger Lime Vinaigarette

1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. Key lime juice
2 Tbsp. Canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/8-1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 Tbsp. poppy seeds

Whisk together ingredients and refrigerate for at least 1 hr. prior to serving.

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final
On the best of days parenthood can be like walking a mine field in a pair of snow shoes. Odds are eventually something is going to blow up in your face. It starts right at inception. On becoming pregnant a woman ends up in an obstetricians office along with other women such as herself in various stages of the birth process. In the examining room your feet are placed in two stirrups and you get the first sense of what a humbling experience becoming a mother is going to be. Over the nine months each expectant mother’s experience varies. The less fortunate spend the first three months perched over the commode praying for release, living solely on soda crackers and 7-Up. Others, seemingly born to wear the suit of motherhood, breeze through one pregnancy after another virtually untouched by swollen ankles, rapid mood swings or midnight cravings for liver and apricot sandwiches. Each pregnancy is as unique as the children they produce.

Humans fare far differently in the parenting department than most of their animal counterparts. Lion cubs, for example, though dependent on their mothers at birth, are usually weaned and on their own some time in their second year. Humans, are likely to share space with their offspring well into early adulthood and with the economy such as it is now, perhaps even longer.

As your children grow, quite often the size of the problems associated with raising them increase accordingly. Certainly the expense of maintaining a pre-teen or teenager is generally much higher than when they were toddlers or in elementary school. Outside activities come into play (if you will) and suddenly bills are coming in for sports equipment, summer camps, clothing and electronic devices. Thirteen year olds without smart phones and tablets, so I’m told, are nearly social pariahs.

There are few jobs more important, yet nothing is given to you by way of instructions or direction when you sign up for it. It’s like putting you in a nuclear reactor and telling you to push a few buttons until you get the hang of it. At the hospital after surviving the delivery (another thing they don’t fill you in on in much detail) you are basically handed a baby and sent on your way. Unless you’ve had a caesarean section, you will most likely be released with your new child before the ink dries on your signature on the admission papers.

The first baby is the worst really. After that you at least have trial and error to guide you through the darkness. When your first born cries on endlessly after you’ve done everything humanly possible to provide comfort, you may or may not end up at the emergency room. Panic taking over on handing the baby over to the nurse, you find yourself secretly wishing she would keep him until he was old enough to drive. After a brief examination by the ER doctor you will probably be assured it is not as feared flesh eating bacteria, but rather a bout gas. $500 and a good dose of humiliation later, you will return home only to find ten minutes after you lay your tired head on your pillow the baby, gas and all, is now hungry. I highly recommend you do not keep any loaded weapons handy during this portion of your training.

Surviving the first year of your baby’s life, you will begin to breathe a little more easily. Sleep for most, at least more than two hours, has returned to your daily routine and life takes on a rhythm just short of steady chaos. It is set up this way, I believe, to give you a bit of a reprieve before your toddler turns two. Otherwise every street corner would contain a two-year old child with a sign around its neck reading, “take me”. Before your child can walk you spend a good deal of time encouraging him to do so. When he finally does you are ecstatic. When the baby is fully mobile you wonder why you were so excited about this prospect. Everything eye level becomes fair game. I knew people who had entire rooms decorated only at three feet and above until their children entered pre-school.

School seems like a time to at least for a brief period assume your life once again. Perhaps even go back to work. Women who choose to work often feel guilty because they are not at home. Personally I don’t think every woman can be completely fulfilled as a full-time mother. Aside from that in many households a second income isn’t a choice but rather a necessity. When I look back at my working parent days I amaze myself that I lived through it. Racing home from a busy job, gathering my kids, shopping if necessary, getting dinner, doing homework, throwing in a load of wash and throwing myself into bed just before the alarm went off. They say there aren’t enough female super heroes. I say they’re just not looking in the right places. All mother’s who dedicate themselves to keeping a home and raising children, whether working or not, deserve a big red “S” emblazoned on their chests. This could stand for super hero or survivor however you choose to look at it. In either case I wouldn’t change a minute of it.

So, I wish all of you who have signed on the dotted line and made a human or two a Happy Mother’s Day. You deserve it.

This soup is dinner in a bowl. Sooooo yummy.

Chicken Taco Soup

2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cooked
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/3 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1/3 cup orange bell pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 can Ro-Tel tomatoes with juice
1 14 1/2 oz. cans diced fire roasted tomatoes with juice
1 6 oz. cans tomato sauce
2 cups water
1 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. taco seasoning mix
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz. can whole kernel corn, drained
1/3 cup chunky salsa
Tortilla strips
Grated Mexican blend cheese
Sour cream
Ripe olives

Cover chicken with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking for 20 mins. or until thoroughly cooked. Shred with two forks.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add peppers and onions. Cook for 8 mins. until vegetables are tender. Add garlic and cook for 1 min. Place onion mixture, cooked chicken and all remaining ingredients through and including salsa in stockpot. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and continue cooking partly covered for 50 mins. stirring frequently.

Serve with sprinkled cheese, tortilla chips, sour cream, and ripe olives.

Serves 6

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With the drought here in the Golden State keeping a parched dry grip on the land, firefighters are likely to be kept busy this summer. This weekend I’m going to spend some time getting “fire ready” if you will. Important papers are going to put in boxes easily accessible to the car and family pictures either stored digitally or packed away in boxes in the garage. I don’t believe one should summon disaster, however not looking it in the eye isn’t a good plan either.
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Recently we had a fireman in our area get badly wounded falling through the roof of a fully engulfed home, accenting once again what a dangerous job they do. Fire, as I’m sure most sane people, terrifies me. I can’t think of a more unpleasant pursuer and find these men and women who sign up to do battle with it really courageous.

My first experience with a fire station was when I was five. A different world back then. Children played outside unattended, seat belts in cars a thing of the future, and if one ran an errand in the store leaving a child for five minutes without supervision wasn’t out of the ordinary.

Halifax, Nova Scotia where I made my home at the time had a small town feel in spite of being the capital of the Province. When walking down the street people nodded and pleasantries were exchanged. Neighbor watched out for neighbor, and crime, at the time, wasn’t the main source of news.

Both my grandfather and two of my uncles chose to pursue the medical profession. My grandfather and his son, my Uncle Gordon, were both urologists and shared a practice. To add to the medical mix, my grandmother was an RN and my aunt’s husband a pediatrician so when one of us kids sneezed I guarantee it didn’t go unnoticed. So much cod liver oil was shoved down my throat I’m surprised I didn’t sprout gills.

Living in a house with my mother and two grandparents in attendance I didn’t lack for attention. Both my grandfather and Gordon held to the practice of house calls. Nowadays this seems absurd the thought of a doctor coming to your house, but back then it was what a physician did. Often this was to geriatric patients, but certainly not limited to them as they visited patients of all ages. On a day when Gordon was heading out to see patients I asked to tag along. My mother and grandmother were not totally excited about the prospect but Gordon, feeling I was a bit overprotected, suggested it might be a good idea. Off we went in his black car with me seated next to him on the bench seat carrying my stuffed dog.

At several houses I went in, but being five the excitement waned quickly and before reaching the next residence I’d curled up in the front seat and gone to sleep. Covering me with his jacket Gordon went in to see his patient leaving me in the car with the doors locked and the windows cracked. Waking up to find myself alone I began to cry. A resourceful little kid I figured out the door lock and let myself out of the car. Standing in front of a long bank of houses I had no idea which one Gordon had gone into.

Tears dripping down my face I walked along the street dragging my furry dog behind me. Shortly a very tall man, well to my perspective at least, bent over to ask what was wrong. Nowadays this would produce an Amber Alert, but back then he was being kind. Explaining I was lost and would like my lunch, he took my hand and said he would help. Down the street we walked and around the corner. At the fire station we stopped and went in. As it turned out he was off duty but this was where he hung hat, if you will, while working.

I was thrilled. In the middle of the large room were two huge red fire trucks, one of which I was set upon. A small fire hat was popped on my head and questions thrown my direction about where I lived and my name. Sensing I was most likely in trouble at this point, I suggested I would spill the beans for a two scoop ice cream cone which came my way after being shown the inside of the truck. While enjoying it I watched a man come down the fire pole and heard the siren roar.

All in all it was an exciting day for this little girl. My uncle, not so much. He had to explain to my grandmother and mother he had somehow misplaced me along his route. This news was not well received. Police had been alerted and once my ice cream had been consumed I became tired. The information requested was given up. A police car picked me up and dropped me off in the arms of my worried family. The usual lecture ensued and I was sent to bed without dinner. At intervals during the evening both my mother and grandmother showed up with a plate of food so the lesson wasn’t entirely a difficult one.

These oranges are so pretty on the plate and taste delicious. I serve them with a wedge of chocolate or pound cake or a scoop of vanilla ice cream or both. Yummy.

Mimosa Oranges

4 large navel oranges, peeled
3 cups champagne
1 1/2 cups orange juice (no pulp)
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole allspice
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/8 cup sliced orange peel

Peel oranges reserving 1/8 cup of orange peel sliced thin. Using a sharp knife cut between the sections in each orange being sure not to cut all the way through to the bottom.

In deep sauce pan add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Add oranges and continue cooking for 6 mins. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Place in deep bowl in refrigerator covered for 24 hours. Serve with sauce.

Serves 4.

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