Saturday, June 17, 2017

Power Food


No fifty-something year old woman with no children or grandchildren around and who is fairly competent in the kitchen should be making a special trip to the grocery store to buy cream cheese, pretzels, Cool Whip, and Jello, all to be used in the same recipe...and be excited about it.  But, this is exactly where I find myself today.  I partially blame my Sifted Together blog buddy, Tracey, for this predicament in which I find myself.  She gave me a subscription to Taste of Home’s Simple & Delicious magazine for Christmas and this recipe is on the front cover of the June/July issue.  However, I can’t let Tracey take full blame for my enthusiasm surrounding the making of this recipe, most of it really is couched in realizing the power of food.

Let’s start with the individual ingredients…

Cool Whip - Most people won’t admit it, but almost everyone has a personal relationship with Cool Whip.  It may not be a basic staple in their diet, but I bet there is some family recipe that shows up at family holiday gatherings, probably made by grandma or passed down through her, that has Cool Whip as an integral ingredient.  And we all know that the holiday feast would not be the same without this dish. 

Cream Cheese - Cream cheese is the secret ingredient in  many dips, sauces, appetizers, and desserts.  I’m not much on eating plain cream cheese spread on my bagels, but I am as guilty as the next guy of using cream cheese for that extra oomph in a recipe, especially mashed potatoes.  But, don’t tell anybody!!!

Pretzels - I have to admit that pretzels, as far as I’m concerned, are a basic food group.  They are my favorite “chip” alongside a sandwich, afternoon snack with a Diet Coke, dessert when dipped in chocolate, and the perfect complement to a nice cold beer.  I’m not much of a drinker, but when I do indulge an adult beverage, my preference is a good beer.  That right there probably explains why I am excited about this Pretzel-Cool Whip-Jello recipe! :-)

And then there’s the Jell-O

I have a love-hate relationship with Jell-O.

As a child, Jell-O was a mainstay dessert at my house, made a bit more “healthy” with the addition of canned fruit salad.  Those of us of a certain age will definitely remember this combo.  And if you do, you will also remember that the flavor of Jell-O didn’t matter.  Whatever mom had on hand would do.  I was OK with this “dessert” except for the grapes in the canned fruit cocktail.  They brought the whole experience down a notch.  Grapes should not be canned under any circumstances!

I didn't carry on the family tradition of this Jell-O fruit salad dessert with my girls, but the canned grapes are not the reason.  My girls are the reason.  Let’s see if I can explain this delicately.  When I was pregnant, I had terrible morning sickness…and afternoon and evening and night sickness…and it lasted from conception to eviction.  My inability to keep any food down landed me in the hospital numerous times with both girls.  As any of you who have been in the hospital and on a liquid diet know, Jell-O is served at every meal.  I ate, and often returned, Jell-O in every color and flavor…except strawberry and cherry because they don’t give you red Jell-O in the hospital.  Apparently my prenatal Jell-O experience affected my children because neither one of them has ever really liked Jell-O.

Fast forward sixteen years, when I had suppressed the many episodes of returned Jell-O and other unpleasantries of pregnancy and childbirth, and Jell-O makes a fresh appearance in my life.

Weber, Offspring No. 2, and I went to Delaware to visit my dad.  While there, we had a lunch date with Dad's side of the family - his mother and my grandmother, his sister and my aunt, and one of my cousins.  We met at a local restaurant that was a cross between your typical local diner and Luby’s cafeteria.  As I was perusing the menu trying to make my lunch choice, my aunt and grandmother both said that I HAD to try the Jell-O Pretzel Salad.  For an instant, visions of canned grapes whirling around with pretzels danced in my head until I read the description of said “salad.”  Thankfully, no canned grapes were used in the making of this salad.  Frankly, there was really nothing about this side dish that resembled anything that I would call a salad.  Not only were no canned grapes harmed in the making of this salad, no fruit or vegetable of any kind was used, according to the menu description.  In this case, I think the word “salad” was attached in much the same way that “natural ingredients” is used on chocolate chip cookie packaging; these terms are meant to make us feel better about making not the healthiest food selections.  Whatever.  That day was about time with family, not about obsessing about food choices.  That said, I ordered the Jell-O Pretzel Salad and it was delicious!

After we returned home from that trip, I made the "salad" a time or two.  I hadn’t thought about it much since then until it appeared on the cover of the current issue of Simple & Delicious.  When I saw it, my first response was that I needed to make this recipe right now!  Usually when I thumb through food magazines, I make a mental note of recipes that I want to try.  Eventually I come back to them; or, I don’t.  I resisted the urge to go to the store and buy the ingredients right then, however that self control lasted less than twenty-four hours.  In the middle of the day, with a heat index of 105 degrees, Weber took me to the grocery store for pretzels, cream cheese, Cool Whip, and Jell-O.

I got to work making the “salad” when we got home.  Despite its simple ingredients, this is not an immediate gratification kind of dish.  The pretzel crust has to be baked and cooled completely before the cream cheese and Cool Whip layer is added.  This layer must then chill.  The Jello is made, cools, and partially sets before it can be poured atop the the pretzel and cream cheese base and sets completely.  The whole process takes a couple of hours

My creation was ready to be sliced and eaten about 10pm.  Jell-O Pretzel Salad…it was what’s for dinner.  Yeah, I completely forgot about making real dinner.  Sorry, honey!  Weber sat down with me and we enjoyed our treat together.  It was every bit as good as I remember even though I used black cherry Jell-O instead of the “traditional” strawberry.

As I cleaned up our dishes from this late night treat, I started thinking about why I was so intent on making this recipe.  I realized that it had little to do with the food itself - don’t get me wrong; this is delicious! - and more to do with the circumstance around which I first ate it.

That trip to Delaware and seemingly casual lunch back in June of 2009 was so much more…
  • It was my first trip back to Delaware since  my mother’s funeral in January of 2007
  • It was the first time I had seen my dad since I got divorced.
  • It was the trip on which I introduced Weber to my dad.
  • It was the first time in many, many years that I had seen my grandmother, aunt, and cousin.  (My mom was not much of a family person unless it was her side of the family.)
  • For the first time I saw my dad and his sister banter back and forth like brothers and sisters do, yet there there was an undercurrent of unmistakable and unconditional love.
  • That lunch was the last time that I saw my grandmother alive, the last time that I would be part of a four generation gathering of my family.
  • At the end of our stay in Delaware, despite me being forty-something, Weber asked my dad for my hand in marriage.


Looking back, I now understand why the Jello-O Pretzel Salad elicited such a visceral response in me.

And today as I sit here writing, I am facing the third Father’s Day without my dad and realizing that this day marks the fifth anniversary of my grandmother’s death.

Thank you for the memories, Jello-O Pretzel Salad.  You and I can enjoy one another remebering the first time we met and being thankful for those memories

Here’s to the power of food…


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Many Shades of Friendship

It's been a whirlwind of celebration and good times around our house for the last five days or so.  I know how blessed I am to be able to say that as there are so many people in the world who have nothing to celebrate and not much to call good in their lives.  My hope is that I'll never take any of the gifts of this life for granted.

A good friend flew in last Thursday to spend a few days with me.  It just so happened that Thursday June 8th was National Best Friends Day.  I got to celebrate well!   It was also the randomly assigned date that I was given to write a daily devotion to be shared worldwide by my church.  I have written here before about how blessed I am to have so many wonderful people in my life to call friends...people near and far, old and young, male and female.  To be assigned National Best Friends Day as the inspiration for my devotion was perfect!  I'm not sure that I can call any one person my "best friend" because all of those that I call friends are near and dear to my heart and all add their own unique gifts to my life.

Here is part of the devotion that I wrote on and for National Best Friend's Day.   It is based on the  passage from Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10
It's better to have a partner then to go it alone.  Share the work, share the wealth.  And if one falls down, the other helps.  But if there's no one to help, it's tough! 
A Word of HopeToday is National Best Friends Day, "a day to honor that one special person you call your “best friend”.   This day is a time to show them how much you appreciate them, how special and important they are to you and how you cherish their friendship."
As an only child and thus never having a sibling relationship, my friends have always held an extra special place in my life.  Whether swapping my favorite marbles on the elementary school playground, lamenting the woes of adolescence, or sharing the joys and sorrows of adult life, friends have taught me that it is most certainly better to have a partner than go it alone.  In many circumstances of my life, I know that my friends have been the hands, feet, and heart of Christ.  And like Jesus, they are the ones who have shown me unconditional love, often when I didn't deserve it. Friends are those people with whom we are comfortable and willing to share trust, support, sympathy and empathy.  But, how often do we think about those particular words when we think about our friends?  
The Urban Dictionary defines friends in this way: [Friends are] "people who are aware of how retarded you are and still manage to be seen in public with you, people who make you laugh till you pee your pants, people who cry for you when one of your special items disappears. When you don’t have enough money to get an ice cream, they chip in. [A friend] knows all of your Internet passwords. They would never make you cry just to be mean."  
Though this definition may seem a bit trite on first reading, it exhibits trust, support, sympathy, and empathy.  It is, at its core, the picture of what we value most in those we call our best friends,  painted in a way that most of us can easily relate.

Yes, the official day to celebrate our best friends has come and gone; however, we can and should be thankful for those people and our relationships with them every day.  

Who are your best friends?  Do you see the hands, feet, and heart of Christ in them?  Can they see and feel Christ in you?  Do you see your friends as a gift from God?  Think about your friends today.  Tell them how grateful you are to have them in your life.  Thank God for them.
If I had to name one best friend, it would be Weber.  He is the one that knows everything there is to know about me - the good, the bad, and the ugly - and is still willing to go to sleep next to me every night and wake up and stand by my side every day.  I'll be the first to admit that some days that is not easy!

One of the reasons that my friend Joni came to visit was to help us celebrate Weber's 60th birthday.  I have to say up front, he is not a birthday party kind of guy.  His dislike of birthday parties is less about the aging thing and more about the party part.  We had to have a little "come to Jesus" discussion about how life is a gift and allowing your friends to celebrate your birthday is a way to say thank you for that gift of life.


We spent Saturday evening, his birthday, surrounded by friends, family, and barbecue.  It's hard to be grumpy when your world is filled with such awesome people!  Banana pudding, instead of birthday cake, helps too!

And as if Saturday night's festivities weren't enough, we reconvened with many of the same people Sunday morning in church  to worship together and afterward to break bread.  Several of us were together again Sunday evening to watch the Tony Awards.  Yep...that's what friends do - celebrate together, pray together, eat together, relax together.  And sometimes we share hugs, tears, laughter, and hard truths.  Oh...and banana pudding!

Today, June 13th, is  International Albinism Awareness Day.  Though albinism is something I have lived with for my entire life, it is not something that I have ever thought deserving of a celebration.  It wasn't until about seven years ago when I became active with the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) that I allowed albinism to be more than just a part of me, but a part of me that is deserving of a celebration every day.

Through NOAH, I have many new friends with whom albinism was the commonality that brought us together, but our friendships are bound together by the things mentioned above - trust, support, sympathy, and empathy.  We are now the kind of friends that will cry together when one of your special items disappears (like those stitches on your sock gusset, Joni), lend money for ice cream (Becca), and hopefully will never make one another cry just to be mean!!!  Stealing your salad fork does not count as being mean, Becca! :-)

Here Joni and I are rocking our friendship and the albinism twin thing.  Lol!  We got to share most of International Albinism Awareness Day together before she headed home.


Thank you to everyone that I am blessed to call friend.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What If...???


If you ignore the weeds, eventually they will take over.  Just as if we allow people to make the same mistakes over and over and over again, the wrong or hurtful or dangerous ways will take over.  Why is it socially unacceptable to point out the error of one's ways?  Why is it wrong to acknowledge that making mistakes is natural.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Yes, even you!  When did it become a sign of weakness rather than a sign of humility to admit when we are wrong?  If not from mistakes, and even failures, how do we learn?  How do we grow?  How do we become better people?  Why do we consider a life lived unaware of our personal shortcomings to be a life of luxury?  

When did discipline, personal and parental, become passe?

When did relationships with power and money become blatantly more important than relationships with people?

It used to be that money, politics, and religion were forbidden topics of conversation even among friends.  What did people talk about?  What would Facebook look like if posts relating to politics, religion, and money were forbidden?   If the conversations that dominate are not about how we spend and/or waste our money, or debating whose religion is best and why most of the world's population is going to hell, or defending and criticizing political moves that have nothing to do with governing this country and everything to do with using, abusing and manipulating people so that a handful of undeserving individuals gain personal power, what would we see in our news feeds?  Lots of kittens and puppies?  That would be OK with me.

How did we get here?

Why are we still here?

Yes, we need to acknowledge and try understand the weeds.  We also need to learn how to tend our gardens...

...how to tame the weeds...

...how to keep them from choking out the roses.









Monday, June 5, 2017

About The Books

I said yesterday that I am a minimalist.  I don't like to be surrounded by a lot of "stuff."  I also said that the one exception to my own "if I can't use it right now then get rid of it" philosophy is books.  I like books.  All kinds of books.  Weber likes books too.  This is good for our relationship and bad for our bookshelves.  When we got married, we had limited shelf space.  We agreed that we would both purge our collections until our combined books would ALL fit on the shelves that we had...nothing stored in boxes or double-shelved.

That was seven years ago.

We have more books now.  We did not purchase shelve space at the same rate that we purchased books.  The books were double and triple stacked on the shelves and the floor.  We couldn't find the ones that we wanted.  I didn't even want to look at the shelves because it just made me sad.  This whole scenario was not pretty.  We finally decided that we needed to bite the bullet and do something proactive.  It was time for some new shelves.

Well...not some new shelves; it ended up being all new shelves.  We went the built-in route.  Fortunately, we have a very good friend who is very capable, talented, and more importantly, was willing to take on our shelf building project.

When it came time to install the shelves, we had to pull all of the books that were fortunate to be on shelves and add them to their friends on the floor.  Our library was a chaotic maze of towering stacks of books.  One false move, window-rattling clap or thunder, or cat who thought stack hopping her next new sport would cause the tenuous at best piles to be reduced to something that looked like a demolition site.

Fortunately the cat stayed away and the weather cooperated.  It was not until the new shelves started being moved in that said cat became interested.  I think she saw the new installation as six story kitty condos.  She spent a great deal of time choosing her perfect unit - checking accessibility and view from every possible location.


This photo makes "the neighborhood" look much more desirable than it really is.  There is just no truth in advertising!!!

Blueper B saw the the real deal and was not at all impressed.


He was not interested in renting a condo anywhere near here. Lol!

Once our friend got the shelves installed, my job of reshelving all of the books began.  I have no idea how many books we have, bu I do know we have approximately 160 linear feet of shelving, that's 1932 inches.  If we assume that the average width of a book is 1.5 inches and that most of our shelves are full, I'd say we have well over 1000 books.  That is a lot of putting book on shelves!!! Our goal was to get them on the shelves grouped in broad categories - poetry and prose, history,  biography, language, creativity, writing, photography and so on.  We will make a second pass and fine tune our categories and alphabetize the shelves a little later.  At this point, we just needed the books off of the floor and in some semblance of order.


Who knew that we had two copies of the Tao of Pooh and three of the Te of Piglet, Dr. Seuss titles in five different languages, two editions of Grimm's Fairy Tales - the happily-ever-after version and the not-so-happily-ever after earlier edition, an American history book with a publication date of 1865, family Bibles dating back to 1890, and a ridiculous amount of poetry.

Though it seemed next to impossible, my goal for today was to get everything off the floor and on a shelf.  This is where I was at lunchtime.


And at dinnertime...Voila!


We are just waiting on drawer and cabinet fronts.  I have a few little aesthetic things left to do, but for the most part I am done!  Even though things aren't alphabetized yet, I am confident that I can now put my hands on any book that I want in no more than a minute or two.  What a great feeling!

The dogs now think the real estate here is pretty nice.  That cat's final choice for her abode is a single cat residence in the form of an upholstered chair rather than in a multi-story cat condo.

Now to take time to relax and read, read, read!!!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Celery Leaves

My dad was raised by a single mother who grew up during the Depression.  From this experience, he learned the importance of hard work and to not waste anything.  Dad would save anything and everything and repurpose it.  Plastic soda bottles with their bottoms cut off became mini greenhouses over pots containing cuttings that were rooting.  He had an unending supply of rubber bands collected from years of morning newspapers.  We won't talk of the many collections that were safely stored in butter tubs.  I did not inherit this practice from my dad.  I am a purger, a minimalist, an if I can't use it right now, don't save it kind of person...except for books.  I guess its a good thing that books can't be stored in butter tubs!

And food...I can't stand wasting food.

This is the first year that we have grown celery in our garden.  It has done quite well.  Over the weekend we harvested four bunches.  Yes, that's a lot of celery, but for me celery is like potato chips - a vehicle for dips of various kinds and, of course, nobody can eat just one.  Peanut butter, hummus, cheese, even the occasional Ranch dip are all fair game as companions for celery.  We cut and stored the stalks so they can be quickly and easily grabbed for snacks or meals.  Did you know that peanut butter and celery is indeed a meal?  When all was said and done, we were left with a huge pile of leafy greens from the tops of the stalks.  Most of the time these have already been removed from the celery when you buy it at the grocery store so you don't have to worry about them.  This big pile of beautiful greens sitting on the counter caused my don't waste food gene to kick in.  The problem is that I had no idea what to do with celery leaves other than make soup or toss them in salads.

Enter Google.

SEARCH: what to do with celery leaves

This search yielded quite a few articles.  Soups and stews, salads, homemade celery salt...the usual and expected suggestions were all mentioned.  The one thing that I had not thought about was celery leaf pesto.  I like pesto.  Celery leaves have a somewhat sharp taste unlike the sweet flavor of the basil used in traditional pesto, but it was worth a try.  I read several recipes, all very similar to one another and to basil pesto except for the celery leaves.  I ultimately chose the recipe I used because it called for the largest amount of celery leaves of the recipes that I found and it did not use parsley.

This is the recipe that I settled on, though I substituted pine nuts for the walnuts.





As is often the case with dips and sauces, the celery leaf pesto will probably be best once it sits for a day and the flavors have a chance to meld.  Though even at this point, it tastes better than it looks.  Lol!  Celery leaf pesto can be used as a dip, sandwich spread, over pasta, or in any way that you would use basil pesto.  Other than a few licks from the spatula as I was cleaning up, I haven't tried this yet "in context."  I'm giving it its time to "age."  I'll give you a full report once I have explored all of the possibilities.

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IN OTHER BLOG NEWS:

Pastries, Pies, and Tarts on Sifted Together

Blueper B and The Turtle Creek Chorale on Blueper B's Blueprints

Friday, June 2, 2017

What Day Is It Anyway?

My world has always revolved around the academic calendar.  I calculate every day and date around the start and finish of my semesters.  I know what day of the week it is based on my MW or TR Thursday schedule.  For the past several summers, I have taught summer school so my reference points have remained in tact all year long.  This summer, however, I am not teaching and I realize that half the time I have no clue what day it is.

I recognized when Weber retired that he lost track of the days of the week.  He'd ask me what time I'd be home and I'd say something like, "Well, it's Wednesday and I teach until 3:30 so I should be ready to come home around 4:30, just like every Wednesday."  His response was always the same..."I forgot what day it is."  Then, I couldn't wrap my head around this absolute disconnect from day and time, but now I am beginning to get it.  When you have been used to a rigid daily and weekly schedule and all of the sudden you don't have that, its absence is a bit crazy-making.

Most days this summer, we have no real need to set an alarm clock.  We rely on the canines to wake us up.  That can happen anywhere between 5:30 am and 9 depending on how late we all stayed up, how cozy they are in bed, or how hungry they are.  Essentially, we all get up when we get up, whenever the dogs are ready to get up.  And breakfast occurs equally as leisurely.  There is time for as many cups of coffee as I can drink without floating away.  I have time to enjoy my breakfast rather than slamming it down just because I know I need to eat or I won't survive six hours straight in the classroom.  Or, we can even go out for breakfast...on a Thursday!  At least I think it was a Thursday.

Sometimes lunch happens and sometimes it doesn't.  That too depends on how late the dogs sleep.  If we sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast, it may be almost lunchtime before we are done eating and cleaning up.  Even though the clock says that it is lunchtime, no one's hungry.  When it gets to be mid afternoon and the hunger pangs start, it's almost dinnertime so we skip lunch.  Sometimes.  Or we might just move dinner.

Like getting up,  dinnertime can be a movable feast, happening anywhere between 5 and 9.  There is no real reason for it to be routine.  Lol!

For someone who is a slave to her planner and calendar most of the, this free form lifestyle is disconcerting and hard to get used to!  I feel out of control, but there is little for there to be control of.

I spent all day today convinced that it was Saturday.  It felt like Saturday because we were home most of the day.  I took a short nap this afternoon, usually a Saturday occurrence.  We also had symphony tickets for tonight, again,  usually a Saturday night event.  We got home and I realized that its only Friday so I don't have to set an alarm for church tomorrow morning.  Woohoo.  Now if the canines will just sleep late tomorrow morning!  And I need to remember that tomorrow night is Saturday and I do need to set an alarm for church on Sunday morning.

Is this what it will feel like once I retire?  There will be Sunday, church day, and then one other day each week, a 144 hour day, created from all the other days of the week that have all melded together into one big duration.  I don't know about this.  Without my planner and my routine, I may never accomplish anything ever again!

Oh, you mean I have to create a new routine???

But I don't know what day it is!

The only consistency in our week right now are the trash days.  How pathetic that trash days are becoming the defining moments in my week, assuming I can figure out when Monday and Thursday are actually happening!

Maybe I need to find more consistent things to be doing over the summer.

Or. maybe it doesn't matter what day it is.

I'll think about that tomorrow, Tuesday.


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Here is something for you to think about...name three consecutive days without using the names of any of the days of the week.
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Today's photo prompt was Sports.  The only sport happening in my world was amateur pie crust wrestling...and professional napping, but that picture would not have been pretty! :-)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Feeling Blue in June

In the eleven years or so that I have been blogging, I have written this same post countless times...the one about having gone missing for months and now being back.  They always come with a promise to do better.  And countless times I have failed, but I keep coming back and trying again.  Before writing this tonight, I have given some serious thought to why I keep falling short with regular posts lately.

It is easy to blame a busy schedule and too little time.  I know that's an excuse, not a valid reason.  And not even a good excuse.  I find the time to write my weekly contribution to Sifted Together, the blog I co-author.  I write a monthly devotion that is distributed by our church.  I helped Blueper B write a post on his blog every day during the month of May.  I have faithfully taken a photo a day for four and a half years.  Yes.  Time is at a premium some days, but I manage to accomplish all those tasks to which I have a commitment.  Apparently I have not made a serious commitment to regularly writing and posting here despite knowing deep within that that is something that I want to do.

Admitting to a lack of a commitment, I was still in search of a reason, a reason that I am able to keep so many other commitments but not this one.  Here's what I am exploring.  I think that perhaps social media, Facebook and, too some extent, Instagram, might be the issue.  I post my daily photos to both, usually with a bit of verbiage that places the photo into the context of the day.  My day is usually what I write about here.  Once I have posted my photo, I feel like I have said what I have to say and to write a blog post is redundant even though what I write here is usually a more developed version of my daily musings.  I don't know that this revelation about my relationship with social media is the real reason for my inconsistent blogging.  If it's not, at least I have a point from which to depart on  my quest for the real reason.

For the time being, I will continue to post my photos on Facebook and Instagram, but I am going to refrain from writing any commentary to go along with them and save that for here.  We'll see what happens.

So here is today's photo...


...taken at a local park at the blue hour, that magical time of day right after sunset (or right before sunrise) when the minimal light bathes the subject in a veil of blue thanks to the residual indirect sunlight that is below the horizon.  This image is intentionally unfocused.  Art mirrors life.  At the moment, I am feeling a bit unfocused and like my world has been colored blue.  Beginning again here is a first step to regaining some clarity, particularly with my creative life.

Today, right here in writing, I am making a commitment to post something here every day throughout the month of June.  If I can do it for Blueper B. I can do it for me!