Thursday, January 30, 2014

Olive Garden Toscana Soup--at home!

Olive Garden Toscana Soup
from "A Treasury of Top Secret Recipes"

2 3/4 cups chicken stock or broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 medium russet potato
2 cups chopped kale
1/2 pound spicy Italian sausage
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

First a few opinions, then the directions.  I don't add the salt because the chicken broth, to my taste buds, provides enough salt.  If I use spicy Italian sausage, I omit the red pepper flakes.  When I use mild sausage, I add them.  I like using red/new potatoes as they don't cook to mush as the russet tends to, but in a pinch, I'll use any type potato I have on hand.  The recipe says simmer for an hour, but 45' is often enough.  This recipe doubles easily.  

1.  Saute the sausage.  Drain.  
2.  Combine the stock and cream in a saucepan over medium heat.
3.  Slice the unpeeled potato into 1/4 inch slices, then quarter the slices.  Add them and the sausage to the soup.
4.  Add the kale
5.  Add the spices and let the soup simmer, covered but not tightly, I leave the lid a tad off to the side, for about an hour.  Stir occasionally.  

Serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as an entree

Thursday, January 16, 2014

She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not, She Loves Me...

This describes perfectly my relationship with Facebook.  

I'm on my third page with...I've lost count of the screen names, my own twice, Inne Cogneeto and Pham Ili.  I was attempting to go incognito with Inne Cogneeto and my 26-year-old son told me Pham Ili, get it--family--was a bit ridiculous, that people realized who I was.  It was my effort at keeping a page limited to family members.    

My latest evolution on Facebook is trying to keep the people on the friends' list to relatives and closer friends, whereas in two previous pages, it was an ongoing virtual reunion of my childhood neighborhood and my high school. The childhood neighborhood, I relished that reunion.  The high school one--not so much.  

I still am delighted every time I see someone from the "old neighborhood" and exchange Christmas cards with a number of them to this day.  The Facebook high school reunion was a little odd at first because people who once didn't have the time of day for me, let alone a hello in the hall, were, after thirty years, my friends.  And in full disclosure, I was once confronted about that myself.  For the record, I didn't remember high-hatting the man in high school, I told him I was sorry, and I was happy to see and talk to him now.   I realize the short explanation for that is we grew up, and that's a good thing.

What wasn't so good was the day I posted about my stance on issues regarding the homosexual community, I disagreed with the hate the Westboro Baptist types spewed, (and I detest that they tarnish the name of good Baptists) but I agreed with the Bible, that the relationships are not ordained of God.  No one turned on me, but two classmates, incidentally a couple I had seen in recent years, turned on each other and virtual fists were swinging for two days.  

The second day, I deactivated the account, deciding that perpetual class reunions weren't such a good idea, especially considering I'd not bothered going to my real ones.  Many folks agreed with my stance, which I intended to be bridge-building yet not denying core beliefs, but the fallout that happened when two people disagreed vehemently wasn't worth it.  I vowed I wouldn't host something like that again.   

I've unplugged from Facebook twice, once for a year, another time for two years.  And in a technicality, from the page where almost everyone I'd ever met in my half century life was my Facebook friend, it's been over a year-and-a-half since deactivating that page.  There is overlap between leaving the fallout page and creating one for closer friends and family.  

My current page has 87 friends and family members, I'm not trying to drive that number higher, and it just dawned on me that the three people on the "face" of this earth I'd call if/when my world was falling apart don't have a Facebook account.  The last three women I had lunch with, one of the aforementioned close friends, and two more, also do not have Facebook pages.

I realize I'm overthinking Facebook, but I'm 50 years old, a former SAHM, now a SAHW, kids are grown and launched, so I have time to think.  I'm a word nerd and I recently ran across a word which spoke to me, integrous, rooted in the same Latin from which we get integrity.  The context in which the author used "integrous" was being the same inside and out, something I think requires integrity to do, but it can also get one in a bit of trouble.  

Someone with whom I'd had a strained relationship sent a friend request, I accepted without careful consideration, and the inevitable happened, but not on Facebook for all eighty-something of my friends and family to see--I told the person privately how I felt about repeated infractions which drove a wedge in a number of relationships.  I "unfriended" this person in my need to be integrous, then I was blocked by this person, apparently indignant I'd address hurtful behavior privately rather than play friends publicly.  My honest reaction to being blocked was a chuckle, the absurdity of two people in our age range communicating in this juvenile manner.

The disagreement is not entirely my point.  My point is I want any time I spend online to be pleasant.  I'm not one to moan about being old, though I'm getting there and I do marvel at the speed of life, but I'm old enough to desire some drama free zones.  Can I keep this area of my life positive, productive and upbeat?--the way I'd prefer the life I live in this warm flesh as opposed to plastic keyboard and untouchable screen.  (I realize iPads and iPhones defy the latter comparison.)  That said, I've not won any popularity contests in person by my willingness to take one by the lapels when their behavior infringes on my peace.  Or as my late brother once said of himself, "I'm just dammit me."     

I want to be integrous in my online relationships.  If we're Facebook friends, I want to be comfortable enough to give or receive a telephone call, have lunch, or at least enjoy a visit once a year at family reunions.

Family is what keeps drawing me back to Facebook.  In the last several years, I've had a niece move to Italy, a son and his girlfriend move to Colorado, a nephew to Illinois, and my honorary granddaughter to Texas, all places which, to spin Jerry Clower a little, (if you know who he is, I know how old you are) "When you live in Valdosta, Georgia, you don't just drop by Italy, Colorado, Illinois or Texas."  

I want to see my niece's babies and my honorary granddaughter grow, my son climbing mountains, the places he and his girlfriend visit, and my nephew's photographs of banks of snow in contrast to the ponds, lakes, rivers and ditches filled with water of his childhood home.  I've enjoyed reconnecting with a branch of my family tree from my maternal grandmother, the DeLoaches.  I was delighted when, on the last deactivated page, the page following the one I deleted outright, my older son's girlfriend, now wife, sent me a friend request.  

It was a given we were destined to be family, but that she would associate with me online was heartwarming.  She gives great gifts, too, though that's not why I love her--it's the thoughtfulness and observation behind them that touches me.  Give a book worm a journal and her very first Vera Bradley (almost typed Vera Wang to show you how familiar I am with designers) bag to put her books in...that's a girl after my heart!  

I realize I took a bunny trail, but at my age and on my blog I can do that.  I am very proud of my daughter-in-love.  Older son said I shouldn't say that either, but daughter-in-law sounds so legalistic, so mandatory.  I love her and who she is to my son, so daughter-in-love it is.  Bunny trail finished.

There are a number of people on the pages I deleted and deactivated who I miss catching up with online, but rarely saw in person.  In person, there's the clincher.  I am old enough I still desire in person visits more than virtual ones and realistic enough to recognize I teeter between two worlds. I realize virtual is as good as it can be in a number of far-flung relationships, but when the knowledge one has more of their life lived behind them than ahead of them, it's quality, not quantity that counts.  I've had hundreds of Facebook friends and maybe that stoked and stroked the ego, but what I really want is to have someone over for soup and sandwiches or meet them for lunch.  

I don't want to go shopping with you, though.  I'm a lone ranger in that department.  I know what I need, seek it out like a mission, then go home. Another bunny trail, but it leads to home, where my heart is.    

Home is where the front porch swing at the top of this blog is, a place I enjoy visiting with someone more than anywhere else in the world.  When Baby Boy was home over the Christmas holidays, he talked a lot more with me out there than he does on Facebook.  The day he left for Colorado, his girlfriend, who remained behind to finish nursing school, and I sat on rockers...and cried and talked and cried and talked.  The conversations were real, the pictures of us aren't on Facebook, no one clicked like on them, and they can't be edited.  

They will, however, be treasured forevermore in my heart.

I also treasure the online conversations with a classmate who died shortly before Christmas.  For shut-ins, Facebook is a godsend.  I'm not shut in, though, and I don't want to let a computer website cause me to be one, connecting without touching, preferring the ease of online convenience to the effort it takes to see someone in person.  But there are those friends I've met in FlyLady and Proverbs 31 online groups, from all over the United States and even Scotland whom I wish to stay in contact with.    

Facebook, I love you, I love you not.  I abandon you from time-to-time, but manage to find my way back for a season, until it's time for us to go on another break.   

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Kizzie Kind of Breakfast

After I was old enough to have a dining table of my own, I vowed not to put several things on it:  frozen pot pies, Hamburger Helper and Frosted Flakes. Enough time has passed now I realize that was not the proper attitude, but more along the lines the fictional Scarlett O'Hara expressed in "Gone With the Wind":  

"As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again." 

The little frozen pot pies used to go on sale six for a dollar at Harvey's, a southern grocery store chain; after my daddy died, those sales were a delight to my mother who was struggling to get by.  Making ends meet wasn't happening.      

That much, I held true to, none of those little pot pies in aluminum bowls, though Marie Callender's pot pies did make the table.  No Hamburger Helper, but Tuna Helper, yes.  Was there a shade of victory in helping tuna, as opposed to hamburger, get by my declaration?  I think so, twixt my ears.  

And Frosted Flakes, it's a wonder I didn't turn into Tony the Tiger as that was my main fortification before school for many years.  When I finally got daring enough to refuse to eat them in high school, my mother bought some Carnation Instant Breakfast packets and insisted I drink that stirred into a tall glass of milk.  I did--gratefully--and to this day I will consume that for breakfast; there's some in the pantry now.

Once in a great while, before I started high school when my grandmother still lived with us, she'd treat me to the most delectable breakfast I'd ever tasted--an egg scrambled in a small "spider", her word for cast iron skillet, and a piece of "light bread", modern day white bread, toasted on both sides in the spider.  She'd put strawberry preserves on the toast, a little salt on the egg, and I'd pour a glass of milk and enter heaven.

Mom made it clear we weren't to make Grannie do anything; she had health issues and needed to rest.  But Mom left before dawn to go to work and when Grannie offered to make me eggs and toast, I didn't decline!  It was rare, usually by the time I was up and getting ready for school, Grannie had already had her breakfast and taken her medications, we called it medicine then.  Every now and then she was running late and did I cherish those mornings!  

Some four plus decades later, I'll cook that breakfast for myself from time to time, when cereal isn't appetizing.  This frigid weather, called a polar vortex on the heels of Winter Storm Ion, had me in the mood for morning comfort food, a Kizzie (my grandmother's first name she didn't like) kind of breakfast:

I wasn't unhappy with *everything* on my mother's table--Oneida's chateau flatware was her pattern and I liked that.  It's been my pattern as well for nearly three decades.  

The egg was cooked in a Calphalon non-stick skillet, not much bigger than the spider Grannie used, sprinkled with kosher salt instead of Morton's and the bread is an oatmeal bread, not white.  I used a toaster rather than the skillet, less butter on the bread that way, and the preserves had no high fructose corn syrup.  The taste, oh joy!  Remarkably similar to Grannie's!  

Right now it's 29° in Valdosta, GA, unusually cold for this region.  My toes feel like ice cubes, but my heart is warm, very warm, with the memory of Grannie's lovingly made breakfast.  It was 21° when I cooked it!  Mom gets props, too, for it was she who taught me to add a little liquid to the eggs, water or cream.

I wish I could apologize to my mother for being a little food snob and I wish I could thank Grannie for teaching me how to feast like a queen on the simplest of fare.  For now, dear friends, I tell you.  

Stay warm!

Mrs. A        

Monday, January 6, 2014

Reunion with a Relative

As far as technicalities go, she has not been my aunt for around four decades. Still, I could think of nothing more fitting to address her by than Aunt Nancy.

Calling her Nancy would be out of the question.  Though I am a 50-year-old woman, I still adhere to my mother's teachings on proper respect in addressing individuals in deference to who they are.  Aunt Nancy is my senior, by, well, she told me her age, but I shall leave it to her to tell others.  I will say this, she could easily have told me ten less years and gotten away with it.

I cannot remember the year, but I was a very young girl, when I was first introduced to the concept of a divorce.  People didn't do that so often in those days, and only now did I learn Aunt Nancy tried for two years to keep it from happening.  

The details don't matter.  People deserve to have their past be just that.  I have a real problem with people who like to dredge up other people's past anyway. My mother and grandmother, Aunt Nancy's former sister-in-law and mother-in-law were appropriately discreet with information that a child didn't need to know.  What I did know was an aunt who used to visit fairly often didn't come by anymore.  

As years went by, my grandmother was eventually placed in a nursing home and I was happy to learn that Aunt Nancy visited her regularly.  When my still-Aunt Nancy's former husband died, an uncle I loved dearly, I was in the room when my mother telephoned her and welcomed her and her current husband to come to the funeral and be with her children.  My mother's words expressed that she didn't want her and her husband to feel awkward in this situation.    

There was a graciousness in these interactions that isn't as common in my generation, sad to say.

In recent years, my husband and I began to bump into Aunt Nancy and her current husband at dinner time.  All of us were at the stage where it was easier for two to eat out than to cook for two, or maybe we just didn't want to cook, whatever the case, it was good to see them.  I did address her husband as Mr. L--- as I'd never known him as an uncle, and he was an older gentleman, and that would be exactly what my mother would prescribe, so Mr. L--- he was, and each time I'd see them, he would greet me kindly, shake my hand, which again, is what Mom would have suggested I do.  

Long ago, I said to Mom that I'd seen a former classmate and I didn't know what to say to her.  She was in a wheelchair as a result of a self-inflicted bullet wound, a failed suicide attempt.  Mom didn't miss a beat.  She said I should say, "Hello, it's good to see you."  

Oh Mom had a temper from hell, I'm told I'm a bit like her, but when it came to appropriate behavior in polite society, she was as dignified a southern woman as was ever born.  I aim to be like her in that way as well.  

Anyway...I was sending out Christmas cards mid-December, and Aunt Nancy and Mr. Lamb came to mind, so I sent them one.  I was thinking of the lovely cards she would bring my Grannie on her birthday and other special occasions.  Shortly after sending the card, my husband and I ran into Aunt Nancy and Mr. L--- at Olive Garden.  I was saddened to learn that he now resided at an assisted living facility.

Mr. L--- enjoyed collecting Christmas village sets and Aunt Nancy said she still will put them out to honor him.  She invited me and my husband to come see the display, and the picture below she sent me shows but a fraction of the collection.     

This picture captures the essence of the young Aunt Nancy I knew so long ago, pretty, polished and well-dressed.  The lovely scarf, she made.  I know I'm not supposed to compare people, but I can't help myself.  Aunt Nancy wore lipstick and perfume and had her hair done, unlike my mother, who hated the feel of cosmetics on her skin, was allergic to most perfumes, and combed her naturally curly hair into the same pompadour her entire adult life.  Mom's idea of being well-dressed was having "my behind covered."  

I bet most women can remember being a little girl, seeing a lovely woman, and thinking that it was not possible to ever become like that.  With my uneven ponytails, freckles across my nose and tomboyish ways, it didn't seem likely, but Aunt Nancy gifted me with the encouragement of lip gloss appropriate for a child and shampoo decanted from a Charlie Brown bottle, both from the Avon line she sold.

I mentioned the shampoo and Aunt Nancy laughed and said someone asked her son what his mother did, and he informed them she didn't work, she sold Avon.  

She lives in an adorable brick home that belonged to her late parents.  I did not remember ever visiting there, it would still have been her parents' home when I was a small girl, but Aunt Nancy felt sure I'd been there "with your Grannie."  And that is likely so, as where Grannie went, I often went, too.  I once told my Daddy a man came and picked us up and took us downtown.  My Grannie, long widowed at the time, explained to Daddy we'd taken a cab.  

And that is about the level of innocence through which I saw the world along the time the path of Aunt Nancy's life and mine diverged.  It was wonderful to spend time with her again after so many years.  She spoke only briefly and factually about her marriage to my late uncle, and blessedly for both us, without an iota of bitterness or vitriol, another example my generation could take a cue or two from.  

I marveled at how adept she is with modern electronics--digital camera, e-mail, texting, and she even looks at Facebook but doesn't participate.  I don't blame her there as I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, but that's a blog post for another day.

She took a picture of me and my husband with her Christmas village as a backdrop, then we all went to Cracker Barrel for dinner.  We plan to do that again soon!  

Back when Aunt Nancy used to visit my childhood home, also the home of her then mother-in-law, I had 24 aunts and uncles, plus scads of great-aunts and great-uncles, Grannie's brothers, sisters, and their spouses, who visited regularly.  I never knew who would walk in the door--at our house that was the way it was, doors weren't locked and family didn't have to knock--and was always happy to see whoever it was and who they brought with them.    

Through life's attrition, I have only one living aunt by marriage and she lives in Michigan.  Man, am I ever glad I was wrong about having only one.  

I found another aunt who lives about ten minutes from my current home and to say I'm delighted is an understatement.  She picked up with ease where we left off, didn't stay long there, and brought me up to date with the last few decades of her life.  

The chance meetings we had over the past few years have evolved into something even better, a renewed relationship I will cherish.    


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year, Welcome 2014!

The 2013 calendar was just removed from the kitchen wall and I'll be headed to Books-A-Million today to replace it, hopefully with another featuring the art and inspiration of Thomas Kinkade.  His work always draws me in; he wrote as well or better than he painted, but that isn't what I intended to blog about today.  I was saddened again, though, to recall that his once vibrant life didn't end on the best note, but I hope it is the better times which stand out among those remembering him.  

As I flipped through a calendar I'll save, my kids can throw it away when I'm gone, I paused on June.  "A romantic life includes an element of exploration and adventure."--Thomas Kinkade  

My baby boy left home in June, and shortly after he and his father embarked on a cross country drive to Englewood, Colorado, I saw this on the calendar.  " element of exploration and adventure" is a fitting description of Baby Boy's life.  I marveled that the Lord, through the work of a deceased artist, would speak to my heart in perfect timing.   

It was also perfect timing for Baby Boy to fly the coop, having earned a degree in finance at age 21, then procured a job as a stockbroker after a long and exhaustive search.  Prior to landing the job in Englewood, he asked me one day to iron a dress shirt for him, he was going to apply for a job at a retail sporting goods store.  My heart felt heavy over his frustration in finding a position in his field of study, but I admired and respected that he was willing to work anywhere he could find full-time employment.  His willingness and diligence, I believe, was rewarded when he was hired by Fidelity Investments.

On the same June page of the 2013 calendar was another Kinkade quote: "Unfolding miracles take the form of natural circumstances with perfect timing."  The Lord and Thomas Kinkade did it again, speaking encouragement to my aching heart!

It doesn't feel natural when a piece of your heart and the love of your life go on a cross country trip in which only one of them would return, but it was a natural circumstance in perfect timing.  

I suppose that is the standout milestone for me, and of course for Baby Boy, in 2013.  

It was an overall very good year with little to regret, one that passed more quickly than any other I'd lived, but my elders before me told me that would happen.  It was hard to believe then, when it seemed I'd never get grown and on my own, but it is among the truest things I was ever told.  

The years have begun to pass in what feels like cut time, a musical term in which notes are played at half their length.  (I only studied music for five years, not long enough to learn why the composers didn't just go ahead and write the music in the time intended rather than making one do math calculations while simultaneously playing a clarinet.)  I commented to Mr. A that it would only be six months before it is Christmas again.  The rapidity of time passing increases the urgency of living each day well.  

I am learning that living each day well includes accepting the ordinariness of many days which was prophesied on my wedding day by Fr. Thomas Peyton, the namesake for my firstborn son, incidentally, whom we called Thom.  Fr. Tom said these ordinary days could be quite extraordinary, and he was correct.  I didn't know fully what he meant on September 21, 1986, but I believe I do now, and I also believe my understanding of that will only increase as I embark on the second half of my life.

I've had some remarkably extraordinary ones to be sure, marrying a sweet man who still loves me and I him, having two precious baby boys with him who grew into handsome, intelligent men, witnessing their college graduations, seeing Son One married, sharing his joy over the first house he and his wife purchased, and in 2011, having my first book published.

See, I told you they were handsome.  L-R, My sons, Thing One, Thing Two, and
their handsome cousin, The Sailor
The rose painting above The Sailor's shoulder, a gift from Mr. A nearly
30 year ago, several years before I became Mrs. A

To be sure, there was heartache and hard times mingled amongst the days, ordinary and extraordinary, but that is not what is on my heart and mind today.  2013, indeed my entire life, is one I can look back on and say the blessings outweighed the burdens.  

I have made no New Year's resolutions for which to beat myself up later when I haven't kept them.  I am someone who is always looking for a better way to do things, for making any improvements I can, so in a way my resolutions are renewed daily.  My ambition in my adult life was to create a warm and loving home for my family.  I made decisions I'll never regret, such as the one to be a full-time homemaker.  I sneaked work in like substitute teaching at my sons' parochial school, stocking books at Target while they were in class, and on days they weren't, I took them with me.  As I stocked books, I realized I should be writing them, and lo and behold, the Lord allowed me to do that!

Two years after retiring a newspaper column and having a book published, the well began to replenish and blogging is filling a creative desire.  I have another blog I took down as it largely comprised the contents of my first book, so who knows where this one might go.  At 50, I am entirely too young to stop dreaming.  

Dreaming may have been what I was doing as 2014 arrived.  I was awakened by a shotgun blast, the shrill pitch of launched fireworks prior to explosion, and snnkkknnnk.  That was Mr. A snoring.  

And that ordinary beginning to an extraordinary new year suited me just fine.

May 2014 bring you many sweet days to cherish.  Happy New Year!

Mrs. A