Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Burrrrrrr’s cold outside, which means it’s cold inside too. The main floor of my house is particularly chilly, because all the warm air is escaping to the upstairs. Even though the kitchen and living room are cool, it’s nice and warm upstairs – perfect for sleeping. It’s like the polar opposite of my childhood.

As a child, my father was quite conservative with the heat, so he reasoned that heating the upstairs of the house, when we spent so little time up there, was money wasted. Of course, my sister and I strongly disagreed as we marched off to bed wearing our winter hats and gloves to stay warm as we slept. We tried to be clever by leaving the door at the top the stairs cracked open to allow some of the heat to rise up, but I could always hear him saying, “Somebody forgot to close the door upstairs.”

My sisters and I would get sneaky and crack open the vent to our room a little to get some extra heat, but as the boys walked by on the way to their room, they would discover our plan and rat us out. Sometimes, my sister and I would jump in bed at the same time and get ourselves as warm as possible – meaning doing scissor kicks quickly to heat up our bodies – and then realize that neither of us had remembered to turn out the lights. Shoot! After arguing over who should sacrifice themselves and get out of bed to turn out the lights, we usually just resolved to sleeping with the lights on. Occasionally one of our brothers would be coming up for bed and we would ask them to flip the switch for us, but they seemed to think our dilemma was funny – so the answer was usually “no”. ( typical big brothers )

I remember wearing long flannel nightgowns to bed, which I hated because they always managed to either get twisted around my body or I ended wearing the whole thing around my neck like a scarf before the night was through. They did work well in the morning though, as I stood over the floor vent – doing my best impression of a Goodyear blimp. Once my body temperature reached normal, I would throw my cold jeans over the vent in an effort to warm them up before putting them on. It was my childhood version of “hot jeans”.

Even after we all moved out of the house, Dad never did heat the upstairs unless we were coming home for a visit. And even then, he didn’t go crazy with the thermostat – he kept it nice and lukewarm. The in-laws have joked over the years that they dress their kids in their warmest Pj’s to sleep at grandpa and grandma’s house. Sometimes when visiting, we would catch my mother tweaking the thermostat to warm the house up a bit. Of course, she’s like me at my workplace – if it’s cold, I just crank it up to 80 thinking that will make things heat up quicker. My dad loooooved that!

A few years ago, my dad put in a geo-thermal system, which is fantastic because the heat is distributed evenly and the house feels warmer– hallelujah! Only twenty years too late!

Funny that now as an adult, I don’t keep my house cozy warm either. I like sleeping under warm blankets and I don’t like a lot of hot air blowing on me. I do want my house nice and toasty, but I also want to conserve like my father did. If you had told me that I would feel that way someday when I was sleeping with my long flannel “scarf” and winter hat to keep myself warm, I would have said that you were crazy! I guess it’s true what they say, “Never say never.”

There are many things my father did – my parents for that matter – that I never thought I would do once I was in charge of my own life. But such is the cycle of life that as we get older, we often realize the brilliance of our parent’s madness.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Celia prays....I pray....

I met a new patient this morning who absolutely broke my heart. I’ll call her Celia. Celia really revealed herself to me today and told me things she didn’t believe she could share with her loved ones because of who she believed they saw her to be. But I, being a mere kind stranger with listening ears, with whom she had nothing to prove was her chance to let go and unburden herself. And unburden herself, she did.

The details of Celia’s unfortunate situation is not the story here, it’s the way she has suffered through it silently and almost shamefully. She has not gone through it all alone – she has been married 37 years – but other than her husband, she has taken on the worry, the stress, and the anxiety primarily by herself.

She has let no one – not her grown children, not her siblings, and not even her friends – in on the real story of what’s happened to her. Because she feels the need to sugar-coat reality for her loved ones, she is left to share her sad thoughts and deepest fears with me – a total stranger. When she does speak to family and friends, she tells half-truths to keep them from worrying. So, in a sense, she is holding herself hostage in this prison she has created that allows nobody to visit her, comfort her, and give her what she truly needs.

She claims the anonymity of it all gives her peace; no judgements, no pity, no worry, no gossip…..but chances are, these are self-imposed ideas and while the possibility of one or two of them are true, with anonymity comes isolation.

Celia believes that taking this on – just her husband and her – without anybody knowing the truth of her trials will give her the strength to overcome the challenges she faces. She talked a good game with her bright smile and cheerful attitude, but I did not see peace. Instead, I saw a woman talking herself into the biggest lie of them all – that we can do it alone.

Celia clearly has a strong faith in God, which is a good start, but God gave us our family and friends for a reason. They can help us through the hard times and provide us the shoulder we need to lean on. While God may surround us with His love and His strength, His love is best felt through the arms of loved ones that he has so generously given to us. Heck, for as much as family drives us crazy, the least they could do is wrap their arms around us when we need a hug! I think God gave us family because they are bound to us forever with no returns or exchanges allowed, while friends are the ones we get to pick out ourselves and return as we like. We choose our friends. Of course, I’m certain God places them in our path and it’s up to us to let them in and be our friends, but we do choose our friends.

Not only do we choose who our friends will be, we choose the type of friendships we will have with them. They might be fun friends, occasional friends, similar-interests friends, or maybe just convenient friends. These are all great, but nothing is better than a true blue friend.

A true friend is the kind you let into your world to see it all - the good, the bad, and the ugly. They know the stuff only your family should know. Remember, family is stuck with you, but friends can walk out whenever they want. Real friendship is trusting that they’re not going to walk just because you‘re a little “cuckoo”. They know what scares you and terrifies you - what motivates and inspires you. They know what you pray for and what you dream of and they pray and dream for those things too. Let’s get real – if you win the lottery, what friend’s not gonna share it with another friend – especially the true blue variety?

Of course, the best kind of friend is the Double Decker friend – the sister who’s also a true friend – I’ve got two of them! Then you’ve got the “I’ve known you since you were five, I know all the idiot boys you think you loved in high school and of course, I would be honored to stand up with you as you finally marry the real love of your life!” I got five of them. But don’t forget the thirties – you need real special friends for this rockin’ time of life and I scored two of the very best – Jen and Sarah. Life gets more complicated as we get older, which means friendships are not all about fun and boys anymore. The stakes are much higher, so choosing who chooses to stand up with you now, is more important than ever. I know in my heart that every one of my “friends” would be devastated if I kept the secret Celia is keeping from her friends and family.

Celia prays that God will heal her without anybody ever knowing what she really went through and I pray that God heals the part of her heart that hopes for that wish to come true.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Toot Toot!

I love food. I love cooking it. I love baking it. I love tasting it. Sitting outside on a beautiful sunny day reading an enticing cookbook is one of my favorite past times. And as much as I love a good recipe, I can barely recall one that I haven’t tweaked a little bit. I think all good cooks tweak their recipes a pinch or two in an effort to add a touch of flare.

I think of recipes as mere suggestions on how to blend a variety of foods to acquire a particular flavor. I’ve found that if I do have a recipe in front of me, I follow the recommendations the first time to see if I like the flavor they're working for. Then, when I eat the cuisine, I start checking off things in my head that I would add or change to possibly improve it.

I have two straight-up rules – one for baking and one for cooking – that I follow every time I’m in my kitchen. One: If I’m cooking up something for dinner and the recipe does not call for onion, I just assume they forgot to write it down and I throw some in. Two: If I’m baking something delicious and the recipe does not mention vanilla, I know they forgot to write that one down, and I add an extra tablespoon or two just to make up for somebody forgetting – how dare they! Many times, I like to think of Vanilla and Almond Extract as long lost loves that never should have been separated and I reunite them and allow them to share the credit and the spotlight when people comment on the fabulous flavor of my desserts.

Of course, the more time one spends in the kitchen, the better one gets at knowing what foods play together well and what foods make beautiful music together. Eating at fabulous restaurants has been my greatest teacher when it comes to knowing what food combinations will make a big splash in the kitchen. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that almost everything goes well together. I’ve been at restaurants and read menus that made me lean back in my chair and think,
“No WAY!”

YES way! YUM!

I admit, I’ve gone a little overboard once or twice with the theory that all foods play well together in the kitchen. My taste buds, as well as my pride have taken some serious hits in the past, but luckily these little culinary bombs have only gone off in the privacy of my own kitchen.

I’ve learned the hard way never to make a recipe the very first time for a large group of people. I made an eggplant lasagna for the whole family once and it quickly became apparent that I had never worked with the purple vegetable before because it was so tough. Every single dirty plate came back with a slab of eggplant on it. Add to that, the lasagna itself was painfully bland. Very disappointing.

On the other hand, when I create something truly stellar, I do not hesitate to toot my own horn. If I make something that I absolutely adore and want to devour myself, I will literally “Toot Toot” my own horn. Why not? Good eatin’ is good eatin’!

Tonight the horn was blowing crazy loud, after I threw together some foods that I had a feeling might be happy together. I made some mouthwatering meatballs that contained ground beef, chopped spinach, bread crumbs, egg, ketchup, chitpole sauce, salt, pepper, and of course, large pieces of onion – so large, that the ends of them are sticking out of the meatball as you roll it, bake it, and eat it. Oh, and when I rolled them into their little odd-shaped balls, I tucked a perfect piece of Gouda cheese inside, so there would be a surprise lava – if you will – oozing from the center. Kind of like the tootise roll in the center of the Tootsie Pop – that surprise never gets old!

The one Golden rule with this type of cooking is that when you hit the jackpot like I did tonight, you savor every single moment of the flavor, because you didn’t measure a darn thing, so your chances of performing this magic trick again are not good. But you can’t worry about that right now. All your attention should be on the culinary masterpiece sitting right in front of you. With each bite, notice how your taste buds come alive over and over again as if drunk with happiness! Let them enjoy this moment that may never come again. It’s what makes the moment – and these meatballs – so special!

“Toot Toot!!!”