The Intention of Softness

At the beginning of most yoga classes, the teacher asks the students to set an intention. This is supposed to be a short-term positive goal for the practice, such as “I intend to bring peace to myself” or “I will clear my mind during the next hour” or even “I hope to not fall on my face when moving into warrior 3.” A good intention doesn’t require dramatic change; it just calls for authenticity.

Today as I flowed through a yoga class in a new studio surrounded by strange faces, I pondered intention. What if instead of just one yoga class, I set a weekly intention for my life? Something simple to follow, yet challenging for my normal thought processes. As the yoga instructor told the class to soften our faces as we held warrior 2, I knew what my intention would be. Warrior 2 looks simple. You line up your legs and stretch your arms to the opposite sides of the room. As you bend one knee you look to the hand in front of you. Every muscle is in use, but when she said, “Soften your face,” I felt worry and strain leave me, even though I was in a strong pose.

What if I soften this week? What would the world look like with a soft gauzy filter, like the ones used in old movies or Instagram? What if the harsh lines blurred a little? What would happen if I judged less? Whenever things get hard could I soften my face and let go of my shitty self?

The world can be a crude place. Bitterness creeps in with every bit of news and each piece of malicious gossip. We all are judged and we then kick back with a vengeance. Everything has hard, brittle edges that leave scars. No wonder many of us struggle with anxiety and depression. It is as though we can’t catch our breath.

This intention of softness does not mean ignoring our desires or letting weakness overcome us. Softness is a conscious effort, just like the class did today while in warrior 2. We are strong, yet we forgive, we embrace, we try to understand, we love.

So my challenge this week is this: soften. When I feel myself clenching or condemning or looking at things with a sense of damnation, I will soften. When the politics of the day hurt my soul, I will soften. When worry consumes me, I will soften. It is a quiet yet powerful intention, a softening of the heart and mind. I will let you know how it goes, especially when that inevitable distracted driver swerves in front of me on the highway as she carelessly texts, sips a hot coffee, and attempts to light a cigarette at the same time. Soften.

“Softness is not weakness. It takes courage to stay delicate in a world this cruel.” - Beau Taplin

photo: http://img11.deviantart.net/5446/i/2013/123/7/1/windows_8_wallpaper_by_dtafalonso-d5y1jaf.jpg

photo: http://img11.deviantart.net/5446/i/2013/123/7/1/windows_8_wallpaper_by_dtafalonso-d5y1jaf.jpg

Swimming Away From the Shore: Practicing Courage

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue.” - Maya Angelou

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown discusses what it takes to be courageous. She states everyone wants to be brave, but that most of us believe heroics are only in the superhero stories, individuals with great strength and capes and magical powers who save the day as they zip across the sky, but true everyday courage, “is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.” Brown writes, “The root of the word courage is cor- the Latin word for heart.” Isn’t that sublime? Our courage lies in our hearts. This reminds me of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. He didn’t think he had courage, but as he defended his new friends against the Wicked Witch, his spirit took charge. All three of Dorothy’s new friends believed they didn’t have brains or heart or courage, but during their trek down the yellow brick road, they discovered their intellect and love and bravery was always there in their hearts. It is in all of us. We just need to dig deep and pay attention.

As I navigate my new town I am practicing courage. No, I haven’t saved any lives or rescued puppies from wells, but I do believe it is a small act of bravery to reach out to strangers, to show vulnerability, to desire connections. Courage does comes from the heart. I am trying not to hide away, but to walk into scary situations and for this introvert, that is indeed an act of bravery.

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” - William Faulkner

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We have moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future, and every day I will be practicing courage as I learn to swim away from the shore.

The Key to Our Lime Hearts

Over the weekend I finally made my first pie in our new home. It didn’t require an all-butter crust or sliced apples or even piles of sweet fruit. This easy recipe is sweet and creamy and full of zest. 

Key Lime pie is special to us because Key West was where we had our “wedding moon” over eleven years ago. Along with crazy chickens, fine cigars, and Coronas with shots of tequila, our adventures down there also included tasting the local delicacy - Key Lime pie. Every piece was a slice of lovely lime-induced heaven. 

The crazy thing about Key Lime pie is it is not difficult to make. The filling only requires four ingredients: egg yolks, lime juice, lime zest, and sweetened condensed milk. Some recipes call for a traditional butter crust, but I prefer a graham cracker crust. You can purchase pre-made, but homemade is easy and you also have control over the ingredients. Fresh whipped cream is a must. No fake stuff for this concoction!

Key Lime pie is just like our marriage: tart, sassy, simple, yet perfectly complete. Our new house is even Key West inspired, so this recipe was an excellent pick for a Saturday evening dessert. Enjoy!

Ignore the dead tree. We are hoping it is cut down soon.

Ignore the dead tree. We are hoping it is cut down soon.

Christie & Rock’s Key Lime Pie

Graham cracker crust:

10-14 pieces of graham crackers 

4 tablespoons melted butter

Break the graham crackers into manageable pieces and place in food processor. Pulse until ground. Drizzle in melted butter and pulse until it begins to stick together. Pour into pie plate and press the mixture evenly on the bottom and up the sides. Place in 350 degree oven for ten minutes. Let cool a bit.

Filling:

1 can sweetened condensed milk

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup key lime juice (Nellie & Joe’s Famous Key West Lime Juice is the best! You can juice those tiny key limes, but, goodness, why?)

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zest and juice from one lime

Mix the egg yolks with stand or electric mixer until thick and creamy. Add lime juice and zest. Mix. Then add sweetened condensed milk and mix until smooth and creamy.

Pour into crust and bake for 15 minutes. Let cool. Refrigerate for two hours or even overnight. Slice and serve with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.

Whipped cream:

1 small container heavy whipping cream

1-2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

Whip cream until it begins to thicken. Add sugar and continue to whip until it peaks. Extra cream can be stored in the frig for a few days. Perfect for leftover pie or fresh fruit!

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We have moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future.

Our Front Porch

For years now I have wanted a big front porch. Not a puny one with just a few steps and barely room for a potted plant. A porch with comfy furniture, big pots of herbs and flowers, and, of course, a swing. A place to gather, to contemplate the day, to nod at neighbors, to just be quiet. That has been my dream, and now, finally, it has come to fruition. 

American architecture of homes has evolved over the years. Once upon a time the front porch was a staple in most houses. Before air conditioning, families gathered on the porch after dinner to catch a cool breeze and visit. Even after WWII when suburbia creeped outward, children played games in the streets as their parents gossiped together over coolers of cold beer. Eventually, though, houses became fortresses where families locked themselves in against the world. Two car garages now faced the streets while large decks were built behind fences, and high tech security systems protected the ones inside against the evils lurking beyond the front stoop.

In all the homes I have inhabited the porches have been small, nondescript cement blocks I attempted to beautify with pink begonias and tinkling wind chimes. These spaces welcomed visitors, yet did not invite people to stop, sit, and share stories. When we knew we would be moving to a new town, I had a wish list and a spacious front porch was among the important items. I looked at dozens of places, yet nothing spoke to me. I knew it was out there, this new smaller home where we would live and love. I would feel it as I walked in the door. And then I wandered into this community where almost every house has a front porch, some even two. I saw stately Adirondack chairs facing quiet ponds and wicker plumped up with colorful pillows. But most importantly, I noticed the porch swings. Somehow, this was where we were intended to live.

This past weekend my husband and I assembled four vintage looking metal chairs, two small tables, and, of course, a swing. Last night we sat on the porch, sipping drinks, and relaxing in the beauty that is our cottage. Even this morning I spent time on the swing with my journal and a cup of coffee. Later this week I will make a pilgrimage to the local garden store for flowers and herbs, but for now this porch fills me with gratitude and simple joy.

“I return to my front porch to find a place where the air smells sweeter and the sun feels warmer than at any other bend in life’s long road.” - John Sarris

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We have moved our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

 

Goodbye, Farewell and Amen

I am a Midwestern girl, and my husband is a Midwestern boy. We were born in the center of this country. We spent our childhoods and college years living within driving distance of soybeans, corn fields, and giant tractors.  When I completed my degree I lit out, promising never to return. But four years in Texas and seven in the Chicago area sent me running back to the town that nurtured me. My husband stayed close to home as he raised his two girls. Our lives collided seventeen years ago at a backyard party, and now after five years of dating and almost twelve married we are about to embark on a new adventure.

After a layoff and temporary employment that left him empty, my husband found his dream job down in the St. Louis area. The boxes are now packed and loaded into the POD. Our cars are filled with random items. Calls have been made. Services have been cut off. Tomorrow we place the cats in their carriers, wave goodbye to our brown house, sign papers, and then head to our new home in a neighboring state. 

Before we head south on I55, though, I need to reflect on what this town has given us. We are leaving fabulous friends who listen and laugh and love. Our family members who still reside within the 217 area code are torn. They know this move is a great opportunity for both of us, but their hearts are a little sad with all the change. We understand. Ours are too. We will miss our breakfast place, our butcher, and our Mexican restaurant. Rock’s best golfing buddies will be lost without his inconsistent long game and his sarcastic patter on the course. I will have tears for my yoga friends, kindred spirits who have guided my body and heart and soul.

The past few weeks have been littered with goodbyes: lunches with old friends and family, last golf games, long hugs, heartfelt gifts. We keep saying we’ll be back for visits, but we all know it won’t be the same. Our relationships will evolve, and the ones that are enduring and true will stand strong despite the miles we are apart.

Our hometown has a reputation that isn't always glowing, but this place is quirky and funky and full of tenacious determination. It will always be our home, even as we settle in a new place. Now is the time to discover how we will adapt to the novel, the strange, the unfamiliar. We can’t wait! And to all we love, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.”

 

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We will soon move our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We will soon move our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

The Homes We Make for Ourselves

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” - A.A. Milne

Almost twelve years ago after looking at dozens and dozens of houses, I stumbled upon this one. It had been standing empty for awhile with its dull kitchen linoleum, the rickety backyard fence, and an old shake roof. On the surface it wasn’t any different from all the others, but once I stepped in the door I knew. I recognized this would be the place where we would begin our married life. I felt its presence in whispers. Love will preside here.

Throughout the years spent in this house almost every room has been repainted, my husband and sons took down the fence, new wood floors were installed in the family room and kitchen, a red and brown roof replaced the shake, and gray carpet ousted the green, blue, and sickly yellow in all the upstairs rooms. 

These walls have given us song and hugs and celebrations, yet heartache and sadness have also gathered. No home knows only happiness; this one held us up as we wallowed in our grief and struggles. It was our sanctuary through hard times, our safe port.

I believe houses have souls and are passed onto new owners. But really, the souls leave with us, holding onto our memories of where we have rested our heads. I have resided in many places, each havens in their own special ways. The memories follow me, and I keep them close to my heart.

Now walls stand bare. Boxes are stacked. Rooms echo. A new home awaits. This was the house where we began. Our next one will be where we will continue our journey together. It won’t be easy to say goodbye, but the hello will be a sweet new tune.

“In life, a person will come and go from many homes. We may leave a house, a town, a room, but that doesn't not mean those places leave us. Once entered, we never entirely depart the homes we makes for ourselves in the world. They follow us, like shadows, until we come upon them again, waiting for us in the mist.” - Ari Berk

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We will soon move our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We will soon move our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

cold and broken hallelujahs

Easter used to be new dresses and chocolate bunnies and baskets loaded with candy. Patent leather shoes pinched toes. Children searched under bushes for hidden colored eggs. Hymns celebrated an empty tomb. The warm smell of glazed ham and cheesy potatoes wafted throughout the house.

Now children are grown and on their own. No visits from the Easter bunny. No hidden stashes of chocolate. Home is silent except for snores of cats and tumbling clothes in the dryer. 

This quiet gives me pause, and even though years ago I consciously stepped away from sitting in balcony pews on Sunday mornings, I acknowledge Easter as the story of redemption, of forgiveness, of hope.

Our messy, torn lives often invite judgement and accusations. We feel the scorn. We look in the mirror and hate what we see. How did everything get so hard? Where is the joy? Why is my story so wretched and tired and sad?

But then we take small, ragged breaths. We learn from the cracks which shine with gold, guiding us toward grace. Our scars are maps, no matter how fresh. We trace where we have been while knowing we’ll again get lost. New scabs appear. Our failures teach us patience. We slowly begin to forgive ourselves. This is our hallelujah. 

None of this is easy. I hold grudges. I loathe imperfection in others as mine slithers across the road. My finger points. My tongue clucks. I’m damn awful. I’ve hurt others. I’ve betrayed confidences. I’ve stolen trust. I’ve hidden away from the truth. I’m human.

This is who we humans are: defective, troubled, flawed. Full of shit. Full of unfulfilled promises, even as we wash the wounds, slap on a new bandaid, and hope for healing. But we are also glorious in our brokenness and this is our hallelujah. 

So on this Easter Sunday I am making a small vow to let go of at least one old hurt, to work on forgiving my own shitty transgressions, and to hold out a shaky hand to another who needs help up after a fall. This is my hallelujah.

Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.
— Leonard Cohen

"Over and over, in spite of our awfulness and having squandered our funds, the ticket-taker at the venue waves us on through. Forgiven and included, when we experience this, that we are in this with one another, flailing and starting over in the awful beauty of being humans together, we are saved.” Anne Lamott, Hallelujah, Anyway

Saying Goodbye to the Wicker

Moving from 2100 square feet to just a little over 1200 requires lots of purging. Most of what has been unloaded through either donations or selling online have been items that needed to find new homes: old dressers, dented pots and pans, outdoor furniture, flowered Corning ware, and appliances that have gathered dust over the years. The buyers have been all types, from young couples setting up their first homes to people buying furniture for a visiting aunt or a pregnant daughter. Everyone has a story.

I am grateful I’m able to help them out, so I just pocket the cash and assist as they load their car or truck. I have had no emotional attachment to most of the items that have left our house. I know we will not have room for such things in our new home. I’ve been brutal and almost cold as I extricate things we will no longer need.

Except the wicker. Ah, the wicker. Thirty years ago when I was living the single life down in Dallas, Texas, I purchased a wicker love seat and chair at Pier 1. These two pieces have traveled with me to three Chicago apartments, a rental home in Palatine, the duplex down the street from my parents, the first home I bought on my own, and this house we purchased as a married couple. They have graced living spaces, master bedrooms, and sunrooms. Samantha, one of my first kitties, often snuggled in this wicker furniture as my boys played around her. My old tortoise shell cat Molly snoozed every night on the love seat at the top of the stairs, watching over all who slept near her. Lately, the chair has been in a corner of my office, and as I pounded out words, either Finn or Zooey settled in to keep me company.

Yesterday afternoon a cute young couple pulled in our driveway to haul away my wicker. My heart lurched a bit as they loaded it in the back of their red SUV. I said, “I hope you’re not allergic to cats,” and they replied, “Oh no! We have four!” I knew then my old wicker would be in loving hands.

This morning the corner is empty, with only a carpet indentation left as a reminder. Both cats seem lost. The black one keeps disappearing upstairs while the big furry one snores underneath my writing chair. Their little world is in an upheaval, and all I can do is try to comfort them.

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“I know, baby kittens. Your things keep disappearing and I know you’re confused, but we’ll be okay. I promise. Our new place has big windows that let in lots of light for sunbathing and fresh perches for you to enjoy. You will help make this house a home.”

“I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.” - Jean Cocteau

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We will soon move our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

 

A Little Place for Our Stuff

“That's all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That's all your house is- a place to keep your stuff.” - George Carlin

Moving and downsizing is an exhausting exercise in figuring out what stuff is indispensable and what stuff is superfluous. Every item is a debate in my head. “Will this fit in our new house? What if I miss it when it’s gone? Does it give me joy? Will it give someone else joy?” I hyperventilate over random batteries and spare change stuck in the back of drawers. 

So I take breaths and calm my mind. No, it won’t fit. Sell it! Donate it! Throw that crap away. No one wants that shit.

Old furniture has sold to new owners. Boxes of dishes, linens, clothes, and other goods donated to a local charity. Books dropped off for the library sale. Our garbage bin continues to fill with broken things no one can fix.

But there are still items pulling at my heart. Pieces that will travel with us to fill our new, smaller space. My mom’s old music hutch covered in her hand-painted lilacs. A Hummel of my Aunt Bug’s. My grandmother’s quilts. A stone heart I found on a California beach. A wicker basket holding all my journals. A fall landscape painting once belonging to Rock’s grandmother. The rocker my mother gave me right after my first son was born. And, of course, all the pictures. Albums, frames, and boxes of photographs, each one telling a story of who we once were.

As I pack up, sell, donate, and throw away our stuff, I find myself pondering the past. Often it is shimmering in preciousness. Photos whisper memories. Objects tell of journeys. Drawers tumble out used and torn remembrances. A move forces a look back while envisioning the future. The present is a dusty reminder of the love these walls still hold as boxes begin to gather what we will bring to our new home. We let go. We breathe. We walk toward a future that isn’t quite in focus yet. Our stuff will soon find its place, corners will quickly fill with new and old, and joy will dance in each room.

“Actually, this is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That's all; a little place for my stuff. That's all I want, that's all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know?” - George Carlin

A job offer has presented us with a new opportunity for adventure. We will soon move our stuff from our hometown to a bigger city filled with rivers, arches, and Cardinals. It is both exciting and terrifying, but we welcome the journey. I hope to chronicle this odyssey as we stumble toward the future. Stay tuned.

The Beautiful Cruelness of Spring

Spring is about new beginnings. Fresh pinks and yellows and greens sprinkle the landscape. 

But oftentimes spring is cruel. Storms fly in with screeching warnings from the sky. We scramble to basements, praying for safety.

Along with daffodils and blooming magnolias, spring also delivers ends. Disasters still happen. Tragedy still strikes. People still die. Hearts still break.

Spring is prom, Easter, bunnies, flowering trees, and new clothes. We clean our houses with a renewed energy. The windows fly open, inviting breezes to gently kiss the curtains.

But spring has also brought Columbine, Oklahoma City, Waco, and other tragedies. Our hearts have cried with pain for the fear and hatred lurking in the darkness of souls.

Spring is a reminder. While there is expectation and promise, endings lie in wait. Flowers peek through while a freak spring storm cancels out the remaining buds. We celebrate the joys of spring, knowing life is breathing its way back to us after a long winter, yet finales creep up and tap up on the shoulder to remind us of what it is to be human, to experience joy and loss in the same ragged breath.

Spring rains encourage growth. We smell the future in each drop. And even though we know a tempest could be brewing, we still hope. We still know love. We still dance in the rain. We still celebrate life.

This is spring.

I am Chris’s mom. I am Jack’s mom.

The other day my husband and I went to our favorite breakfast joint. It is a small establishment with only eleven tables, so if it is busy, there is always a wait. Sunday was no exception. The dreadlocked, tattooed young waiter approached me as I held up two fingers. He then asked, “Is it okay if I just write down “Jack’s mom” on the list?” The thought made me grin. The boy had played travel soccer for a few years with my youngest son, and both were talented terrors on and off the field. “Sure,” I replied. Jack’s mom.

I have had many aliases throughout the years: my maiden name, my first married name, back to my maiden name, and my current last name. As a teacher, I was called Shu and later, Mrs. Mac, but my favorite names were always “Jack’s mom” and “Chris’s mom.”

The boys’s friends always called me that. “Chris’s mom, can Chris come out and play?” “Jack’s mom, can I have a snack?” “Chris’s mom, can I speak with Chris?” I will never forget coming home from one of Jack’s birthday parties at McDonald’s when the boy in the back seat said, “Mrs. Jack’s mom, I feel sick,” and then proceeded to projectile vomit all over my little white car. Mrs. Jack’s mom then spent the next few hours scouring the floor and seats of said car and using an entire bottle of Febreez to eliminate the smell of upchucked cheeseburger and fries.

When Kody asked if I minded being called Jack’s mom on the waiting list, I couldn’t argue, because that is what I am. Yes, I’m a wife, a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a grandmother, a friend, but I will always be a mother in my heart, despite the miles and the messes and the growing pains and the misunderstandings. These boys are my first thoughts when I wake and my wishes before I sleep. My love for them is undefinable, deep, precious, and unyielding.

I am Chris’s mom. I am Jack’s mom.

Happy Winds-day: A Pie Experiment

Winnie-the-Pooh: Happy "Winds-day", Piglet.

 Piglet: [being blown away] Well... it isn't... very happy... f-for me.

 Winnie-the-Pooh: Where are you going, Piglet?

  Piglet: That’s what I'm asking myself, where?

[he is lifted into the air by a gust of wind]

 Piglet: W-Whoops! P-P-P-Pooh!

Winnie-the-Pooh: [grabbing Piglet's scarf] And what do you think you will answer yourself?

- Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/disney/images/3/30/Winniethepooh-disneyscreencaps_com-2924.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120930070350

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/disney/images/3/30/Winniethepooh-disneyscreencaps_com-2924.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20120930070350

After a stormy night here in the Central States, the wind descended upon us. It danced on the windows and swooshed against the doors. The roof rattled. The remaining leaves fluttered and wafted and ruffled. 

What is a girl to do on such a blustery day?

Baking a pie is always the answer, but this pie lady has made a commitment to cut down on sugar. Can you bake a decent pie without sugar, you ask? After much perusing of the internet, many suggestions were discovered, yet, this baker didn’t want to use any artificial sweetener. Ah ha! Here was a recipe that called for apple juice concentrate and maple syrup. Now, before gasping commences, there wasn’t any mention of low calorie, just no sugar.

The pastry maker had to make a quick dash to the store to pick up sweet apples (Fuji and Braeburn), butter, and milk. 

If one spent the time to create a sweet filling, a healthier crust alternative was crucial. One using less butter and white whole wheat flour looked feasible. The ingredients were mixed together with a pastry cutter instead of the standard food processor, wrapped in plastic wrap, and placed in the refrigerator to set for a few hours.

The apples were peeled and sliced, and placed in a pan with thawed apple juice concentrate. While they simmered, the pie dough was rolled out to fit the pan. Using wheat flour and half the butter made the dough less pliable and dry. The bottom crust was brought together with the magic of plastic wrap and a strong hand on the rolling pin. The heated apples were spooned into the unbaked crust.

Now trouble arose. The alleged top crust was stubborn. It crumbled at first roll, but this pie lady did some trouble-shooting. What if maple syrup was added to the mixture and made into a streusel topping instead? This might work. Brilliant!

The wind did not subside all day, yet the cinnamon apple scent wafted throughout the house. A cat stood watch over the window, protecting the house against vicious bird invaders. The other feline hid under the table, anxious and fretful at the strange noises the gales brewed.

After 45 minutes the bubbling concoction came out of the oven. Could this pie lady wait until it cooled? A baker must taste test her creations. It is required in order to see if the recipe was a success or a complete failure.

Patience has never been one of this girl’s attributes, so a warm slice was quickly cut and enjoyed along with a cold glass of milk. Crunchy topping. Yum. Silky apples. Lovely. Juice everywhere. Bottom crust…well, definitely not on par with the usual flour, butter, and sugar recipe. It was a little soggy. Looking at the two recipes, this baker discovered the oven temperature should have been higher for the first fifteen minutes of baking time, and then lowered for the remaining 30 minutes. The pie tasted more like a crumble, but it was an apple-ly delight on this oh-so-blustery day. The wheat crust recipe may need a little tweaking, but that is for another day, because this glass of milk requires a little bit more pie.

Apple Filling: (from allrecipes.com)

6 large sweet apples

1 (12 oz) can unsweetened apple juice concentrate (no sugar added), thawed

1 tablespoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat oven 425 degrees

  1. Mix together the cornstarch, cinnamon, and one third of the apple juice concentrate. Set aside.
  2. Put sliced apples in a large saucepan with raining apple juice concentrate. Simmer until apples are tender. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and continue to simmer until thickened. Remove from heat.
  3. Spoon apple mixed into pastry-lined pie plate. Cover with top crust or streusel. 
  4. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly.

Wheat pie crust: (from amyshealthybaking.com)

2 cups white whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted cold butter, cubed

4 teaspoons milk

2 teaspoons pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

ice cold water

  1. Whisk together the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter.
  2. Whisk together the milk and maple syrup, and drizzle over the flour mixture. Whisk together the vinegar and 1 tablespoon of water at a time. Mix until all ingredients have been incorporated. Continue to add water 1 tablespoon at a time and mixing until completely incorporated into a dough. (Next time I will add a few more tablespoons of butter and water, so the dough isn’t so dry.)
  3. Transfer the dough to the center of a large sheet of plastic wrap, and shape into two four inch wide circles. Cover the tops with another large sheet of plastic wrap. Chill for at least an hour.
  4. Leaving the dough between the sheets of plastic, roll it out to an eleven inch circle. Peel off the top layer of plastic wrap, and turn it out into the prepared pie plate. Gently press the dough into the pie plate, and trim the overhang. Spoon the apple pie filling into the center.
  5. For a streusel topping, crumble the other dough into a bowl. Add more cinnamon and maple syrup. Use clean hands to make into a streusel. Place on top of pie filling.
  6. Bake the pie at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Without opening the oven door, reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Cool completely. (Ha, that’s funny.) Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Drunk on the Idea that Love Could Heal Our Brokenness

 

“O brawling love! O loving hate!

Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!

Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!

This love feel I, that feel no love in this.” -Romeo, William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet

Romeo’s despair has been swirling in my head this Valentine’s Day. How can we celebrate love with so much hate seeping into our existence? I gaze out at the gloom and my heart aches, so I close the drapes, turn off the internet, and stumble around in the dark.

But then…but then I remember the words. Those exquisite, brilliant words writers and artists and peacemakers have given us throughout the centuries. Words celebrating the heart, the soul, the complicated and the simple pieces that make us human. They ponder love and all its miraculous adaptations. 

Words will save me. Words will save us all, because we cannot let love die. We must fight against the harsh winds to gather love up and hold it close, because love is our only hope.

Where there is great love, there are always wishes. -Willa Cather

Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold. -Zelda Fitzgerald

What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us. -Helen Keller

Love is the ultimate expression of the will to live. -Tom Wolfe

Only love interests me, and I am only in contact with things that revolve around love. -Marc Chagall

Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. -Neil Gaiman

Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth be a liar; But never doubt I love. -William Shakespeare, Hamlet

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it—always. -Mahatma Gandhi

Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears. 

“After all this time?”

“Always,” said Snape. 

-J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

-Christopher Poindexter

-Christopher Poindexter

Savoring a Meal: Day 7

Day 7: Make a Meal, Set the Table, and Eat Without Distraction

We live in a distracted world. There is information everywhere. Even when you try to unplug, it is close to impossible unless you wander off into the woods like Thoreau.

Tonight I didn’t venture out to a log cabin on Walden Pond, but I did choose to have a device-free dinner. I made a simple pasta sauce with sautéed zucchini, served it over rigatoni, poured myself a glass of Zinfandel, turned on the Van Morrison Pandora stations (oh well, not completely device-free), and sat down without the television or my phone or even a book. 

I slowed down. I sipped the wine between each savored bite. The fire crackled. I ate until I was full. Lovely.

During the week my husband has been working out of town so I have been cooking for myself, which I do not mind…much.  I enjoy experimenting with recipes I know he wouldn’t prefer, and I often make enough for lunch leftovers.

But what tonight reminded me was I would rather cook for him, with a glass of wine at hand and the music playing in the background. We talk and laugh and share stories. This is my preference and his. Our favorite nights are spent together. Soon these weeks apart will end, but for now I will respect the silence, for it makes me appreciate the noise.

We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf.
— Epicurus

Pie Musings & Meditation: Day 6

This past weekend I baked two pies. 

The first was cherry, a request from a sweet young friend who wanted to learn how to bake one for her husband. She came over Saturday afternoon, and I walked her through the pie crust and filling recipes. It was a joy spending time with her, sharing stories, and giggling as we bathed ourselves in flour. I sent Kylie home with a warm pie, complete with hugs and love for her and her husband Drew.

The second was an apple, made for my niece who got into the high school of her choice down in St. Louis (According to my lovely sister-in-law, it’s a St. Louis/Catholic thing. You can look it up.). I made Chloe a celebatory deep dish apple pie that I hope she shares with her family. This smart girl is also a fabulous baker, so I love whipping up sweet pies for her.

The most time-consuming aspect about baking an apple pie is peeling and slicing the apples. Every time I begin this process I always think about that scene in Sleepless in Seattle when Tom Hanks tells his young son the story about how his late wife could peel an apple in one long, curly strip, AND we later see Meg Ryan at her kitchen table peeling an apple in a singular swoop. My mother has told me that my Nana could do the same thing. As I make my way through a bag of apples, I carefully guide my knife against the skin of each one as the green peel curls onto the counter. I don't always succeed, but I love the attempt. I imagine my Nana in her kitchen back in Burlington, Wisconsin, peeling green apples. With each cut of the knife, I honor this formidable woman. I can feel her presence in my hands and in my heart.

With my pies, I share love, warmth, and contentment with friends and family. It is like giving a small piece of my heart to others. I know that sounds hokey and even a bit corny, but it is truly how I feel. 

It is also where I find a sense of calm and peace within myself. I try to concentrate on each step, experiencing the textures and smells. It is a form of moving meditation, complete with cinnamon and fruit.

Another pie day awaits!

Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.
— Jane Austen
Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.
— L.M. Montgomery, The Story Girl

Meditate: Day 3

My attempts at meditation have been sketchy, but lately I have been trying to find fifteen minutes a day to sit in silent meditation. I breathe, focus, and make an effort to be present. As of today I have mediated six days in a row, which may be a record for me. I settle in my big blue chair, often with a cat at my feet, turn on the Calm app, find an intention to guide me, close my eyes, and listen as peaceful beach sounds fill the room.

Join me as I begin...

I close my eyes and ask myself, "What do I need to know?" 

Breathe in. Breathe out. I trust the universe. I lift my heart.

Wait...was that the mail truck? I didn’t bring it in yesterday. Damn. I’ll get it after I’m done here. My nose itches. Can I scratch my nose during mediation? Well, here goes. Ahhhh....that feels better. 

Breathe in. Breathe out. Joy is everywhere. Shine my light.

Here comes the Finn. He’s plopped down next to my feet. I hear his breathing. Wait, now he’s moving to the other side of my legs. I need to remember to give him a dose of the eye ointment we got from the vet yesterday. Where is that other cat? Did I feed them today? Yes, I did. Cats’ entire lives are meditation.

Breath in. Breathe out. Life is good.

But is life good? Our world is so chaotic and frightening right now. I’m scared to death, but I know I need to focus on the good, the light, the joy, but....damn, it's hard. I need pie. Apple? Cherry? Maybe a banana cream. Cookies sound good. Or even potato chips. No! Not chips. Chips...bad.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Focus. Focus. Focus.

Did I get everything I need at the store? Shoot, I forgot tomatoes for the marinara sauce. Crap. I’ll have to go back later. I spent over one hundred dollars and forgot stuff. Stupid. Wait, don’t call yourself stupid. You’re smart, girl. Here you are...meditating and all. That’s smart, right?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Let it go.

I feel sleepy. Why does meditation sometimes make me want to take a nap? I love naps. Yesterday I took a two hour nap. Yup, and I needed it. Not today, though. I have too much to do today, and I slept late anyway. 

Breathe in. Breathe out. I am filled with love.

But am I? Sometimes I just want to kick and scream at the injustice, at slow drivers, at all the stupid people. Wait. I’m meditating. I shouldn’t think negative thoughts. Love. Peace. Patience.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Believe in truth.

Are the fifteen minutes almost up? Wait, I am feeling a sense of calm wash over me. Nice. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this. I wonder where we should go for dinner tonight? Mexican? Should I get a margarita? No, I usually regret that choice the next day. Yup, I’ll stick with sangria. I sure do like these beach sounds. I miss the beach. Warm sand and a cold Corona sound good right now. Wait, I shouldn’t be thinking about alcohol. Focus on the breath.

Breathe in. Breathe out. I am safe. I am guided.

Times up. Wow. I did it. Does my brain feel bigger? Have I acquired more wisdom? Am I happier? Do I have a different perspective? Is my anxiety lowered? What about more compassion?

Who knows? Sitting in silence is pretty easy, even with my manic monkey brain. I think I’ll do it again tomorrow, but I’ll try to focus more and think less. Think less? Can I do that? Is that even possible? I might hurt my brain. I think I’m getting a headache. Do we have ibuprofen? I hope so.....

Breathe in. Breathe out.

“If it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.” - Ani Pema Chodron

 

 

My Morning Pages: Day #2

Day 2: Write in my journal

Right after I retired in June of 2015, I picked up a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Her primary tool in discovering your creative self is to keep what she calls “Morning Pages.” This is a daily commitment to writing a minimum of three pages in a journal. The writing doesn’t have to make sense. It shouldn’t be critiqued. It encourages inspiration and discovery and helps develop a daily writing habit.

I began my morning pages over twenty months ago, have filled fifteen notebooks, and I’m currently working on the 16th. If I miss a day, I feel dizzy, like I’ve forgotten to take my medication or skipped a meal. These rambling morning pages start my day. From them I often get ideas for blog posts or other things I’m writing. They settle me. They energize me. These pages are an integral part of my writing routine. They help me figure out issues in my life. They are my therapist, my anti-depressant, my bartender, my friend. With these pages I have found the strength to stumble through rough times and the gratitude to appreciate simple bliss.

These journals are for no one else but me. I know I should probably throw them away, but I can’t bear to part with them. They remind me to push myself, to write with abandon, to love with grace, to conquer my fears, and to live every day with joy.

“It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for living.” - Simone de Beauvoir

Today is a pink day. I bought new gel pens. So today I christen this pink pen; therefore, I declare it will be a pink day, full of smiles and sunshine and laughter and music and giggles. A pink day. I deem it so.

Mr. Blue Sky: Day #1

Day 1: Go on a Walk

Hey there mister blue
We’re so pleased to be with you
Look around see what you do
Everybody smiles at you
Mister blue sky
— songwriter: Jeff Lynne

I have a favorite trail not far from my home that sneaks by a creek and through some trees. On some days it is packed with bikers and dog walkers, but this afternoon I encountered just a smattering of stragglers searching for the sun on this first day of February.

Five miles later that damn fabulous orb and some upbeat tunes lifted my mood. I hummed along with Barry Manilow (yes, I’m a Fanilow), skipped to Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl,” and even danced a little as the B-52's sang about their “Love Shack."

Everyone needs to believe it’s a “Beautiful World," even as it spins into oblivion. “Perhaps this is as good as it gets,” Colin Hay crooned as I breathed in the cold air. “My, my, my it’s a beautiful world."

Someday soon I will drive back to the warm beach, sit on the sand, and my only thoughts will be when to walk down to the Pink Pony for a fruity drink, but for now my chilly walks soothe and remind me to enjoy these simple moments, and to crank the volume when I get back in the car so I can harmonize with Prince as he screams, “Let’s go crazy!"

Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down?
Oh, no let’s go!
Go crazy.
— Songwriter: Prince Rogers Nelson

 

 

February’s 28 Mindful Tasks

photo from www.wheniscalendars.com

photo from www.wheniscalendars.com

During February, that sweet, short month bursting with 28 days of groundhogs and valentines and discourse of great presidents, I have decided to take on a challenge. My mind needs soothing. My heart needs comfort. My aching body needs support. I have gathered a list of 50 mindful self-care activities. During the next month I will choose one each day, complete it, and then write a short blog post pondering the benefits such tasks have on my mental and physical health. I will also be addressing my triggers. What flames my anxiety and pain, and what can I do to lessen or even avoid them? 

Let the journey begin. If you want to follow me, I will be posting daily on my blog www.drunkonloveinthe.kitchen and on my Medium account at https://medium.com/@christieshumatemcelwee. If you want to join me on this mindful odyssey, comment on your own experiences. Who knows what we will discover together?

List of 50 Mindful Self-Care Activities:

(List ideas came from two articles on mindbodygreen.com: “30 Days of Self Care: Your Guide” by Danielle Orner and “28 Easy Self-Care Practices Anyone Can Do” by Rachel Gibbs)

    1    Take a long evening walk.

    2    Listen to my favorite album/set list with the lights low and a candle burning.

    3    Dance — by myself, in the kitchen, in a class, out on the town.

    4    Write in my journal.

    5    Make a meal, set the table, and enjoy without distraction.

    6    Go to my favorite coffee shop and order a special drink in a mug.

    7    Snuggle a pet.

    8    Visit a museum or an art gallery.

    9    Draw or paint.

  10    Do a favorite activity from childhood (color in a coloring book, swing on a swing-set, play with Barbies).

  11    Sing.

  12    Spend time on a hobby.

  13    Practice yoga.

  14    Bake, just for the sake of it.

  15    Meet up with someone who makes me feel supported.

  16    Watch a funny film or a beloved classic.

  17    Take a picnic or have breakfast in bed.

  18    Reread a beloved book.

  19    Knit, do a crossword puzzle, or play an instrument.

  20   Try something fun or relaxing I have always wanted to do but haven't gotten around to yet.

  21    Sit in nature.

  22    Enjoy a hot tub or sauna.

  23    Get a massage.

  24    Watch the sunset or sunrise.

  25     Meditate.

  26     Use aromatherapy.

  27     Mindfully, eat some dark chocolate or fresh berries.

  28     Write a letter or send a card.

  29     Pay it forward or contribute to a favorite charity.

  30     Try a new recipe, something challenging or foreign.

  31     Play with a child.

  32     Go to the park.

  33     Go on a walk.

  34     Try something new where I am not in control or the expert.

  35     Visit a family member and get coffee.

  36     Organize my books and sell or give away the ones I don’t want anymore.

  37     Turn off my computer, tablet, and cell phone for two hours or longer.

  38     Watch a favorite movie.

  39     Spend time at the library or a bookstore.

  40     Get a manicure/pedicure.

  41     Get lost in a magazine or a book.

  42     Try a guided meditation.

  43     Visit a new restaurant. 

  44     Read for pleasure.

  45     Eat alone at a restaurant.

  46     Walk around a favorite store without buying anything.

  47     Pick up the phone and call an old friend.

  48     Be a tourist in my own town.

  49     Start a gratitude journal.

  50     Take a day trip to a new location.

“Our grand business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” - Thomas Carlyle

“Our bodies are our gardens to which our wills are gardeners.” - William Shakespeare

“Allow yourself to enjoy each happy moment in your life.” - Steve Maraboli