Uncategorized

PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION

PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION

Put the ac in the window. Read the directions. Who writes these fucking things, seriously is the diagram really intended for the laywoman? The single female homeowner who only until recently bought a drill for the first time in her life? What is that noise in the kitchen? Ruh Roh, the coffee pot is gurgling bad. Forgot to put the coffee pot under the filter after pouring water into the said coffee pot. Clean filter light blinking. Coffee liquid everywhere. Clean pot, start again. Go to the basement and find the wood pieces from the ac installation last year that this laywoman paid someone to put in the windows.

So happy to have saved it in one organized place. Good thinking. It’s awfully quiet down here. Ac in business turned way down for weekend. Check. Third floor Ac turned off until Michael’s return tomorrow. Check. Why is it so quiet? Ahh. The dehumidifier is not on. But the dehumidifier is connected to the pipe for 24/7 drainage. Arg. Empty dehumidifier bucket in sink. Clean filter as blinking light instructs, (learning last time that there is no filter replacement, but instead just a filter that comes out and gets washed under faucet. Progress). Water does not go down the pipe. Oy Vey. Perhaps staring at it for a few extra moments will make it move. How about tapping the pipe a bit shaking some likely sediment out of the pipe? Try to disconnect the tube that is connected from said dehumidifier to pipe for said 24/7 drainage. Nope. Super tight, no can do. Mmmm. Is a plumber call really necessary here? Wait, what’s this? Some little contraption lying right next to the faucets of the sink some kind soul left the last time this happened. Probably the fifty dollar an hour handyman formerly hired on a regular basis BDC (before drill purchase) left it either accidentally or intentionally. Take contraption and stick it down the drain hole and wiggle it a bit. Oh my, water is draining. Just saved about $150. Back to the AC. Not going to lie here, awesome boyfriend is helping with this one. Thank you awesome boyfriend. What? No yelling? Calm teamwork? Is this even possible? No annoyance, no eye rolling, no under the breath commentary? Who knew that a man and a woman who spend lots of time together, pretty much most of their time, could actually work as a team to get a project done with no yelling or fighting? Foreign concept for sure. But this man is the love of my life and the example of what a healthy normal relationship is supposed to be. No offense to previous twenty year marriage, but you just learn more the second time around and the learn more part is you tolerate less of the raised voice and more of the calm ones. Measure the inserts he says calmly, words filled with the understanding of capablility in their sounds. Must be the credibility gained from figuring out the problem with the television last night.

For about three months Channel 12, the go to station of weekend golf, had only limited sound. The odd thing was that the tv in the kitchen worked fine and the thought of having to call someone to fix this bizarre issue was cause for blood curdling. Does the tv need to be replaced, repaired? It is a four year young Sony, highly doubtful. Unplug everything and replug as former husband suggested. Nope. Does the TV need one of those lengthy updates that comes up right when you are getting ready to sit down and watch a movie. You know the one that you hit “skip” and it goes into the do it later list? Looking for the button on the TV that allows for a manual update is clearly something that requires a degree from MIT. Let’s try asking the Google bar the specific question. Voila. Though the answer didn’t come up for this exact situation, it did give enough information for some other possibilities, one being that maybe it was the actual COX box that was malfunctioning. Only one way to find out. Go to the tv in the kitchen and trade out boxes. Disconnect three wires from each box, trade the box and reconnect. Turn to Channel 12. Will it work? Did this laywoman who when married couldn’t even figure out the fucking remote control figure this out with zero male help, zero call the maintenance guy, call the tv guy? Yes. PURE EMPOWERMENT. How ridiculous. But today when all of the shit happened, there was unique calmness that allowed peace instead of overwhelming frustration, (well there was that feeling first). This is just an example of one less than twenty four hour day in the life of owning my own 3900 square foot 150 year old magic palace. This is a huge exercise in self satisfaction. Traipsing around this beautiful place, looking at everything that always needs to be done trying to replace the overwhelming anxiety of never finishing the checklist is an exercise in perpetual gratitude. PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION is one of the many helpful ALANON slogans that have become a part of my daily mantra. Just like ONE DAY AT A TIME, PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION is that lovely pause that allows the breath and the calm attitude. It allows the insert of gratitude when the main component of the thoughts are despair and frustration and fear.

What next? This is a typical auto pilot response when just one more thing seems to break or cease to work, one more thing to add to the list. Carpenter ants, bats in the attic, dishwasher not draining, weed the driveway, cutting back the wisteria that has an energy of growth that any bald man would appreciate on the top of his head, dividing iris that have taken over huge amounts of real estate in the garden, replacing the front porch railing, reorganizing the barn and the basement after the Jay’s Junk removal, paperwork, filing, staying organized after a full week of working, add to this the emotional drain when you find out a former employee wasn’t completely upfront about their leave, but then realizing that in the end it is always for the best. At the end of the business owning day, I have learned that anytime someone leaves, it is always for the best. Sometimes though it snakes its way into my heart as personal and this is usually not helpful. After all I am human, but I love owning my own business, the ups and the downs and usually if I find a feeling of disappointment, it is more often work I have to do in my own heart that allows me the freedom and growth of yet one more business and life lesson. One more Ann button push that I get to release from the work I continue to do.

Holy Shit. How can life get easier? So the question I ask myself as I have asked many people I have led in vision board workshops, If I could do anything I wanted without any barriers, money, time, anything, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

The first answer that comes to me is often sell everything and live way more simply. Then my pragmatic and grandfather voice kicks in as I love my home and my business and know that these thoughts are normal when you own a business and have a big house like this so then thought # 2 is to is to get rid of all technology. Is this even possible when one owns a business? I look at my glorious neighbor Dottie, who is approaching or already 84. Her only technology is Direct TV. No cell phone, no SONOS, no internet. Her telephone is still a wall phone hardwired old school. She doesn’t even have a car anymore. She is my go to superchick for any house question. Ants all over my back barndoor and don’t have any ant insecticide and it is 5:30 in the morning on July 4th in Bristol? Boil hot water and pour it directly on them. Check. Don’t want to use Roundup for the never ending weeds in the pretty gravel driveway? Vinegar, salt and water and spray, that will kill them. Check. Her never ending helpful list could have written a helpful hint from Dottie book for all single female homeowners who formally allowed their husbands to do all of “that stuff.”

As I contemplate my life, I get to do this with a view of a garden that my two hands have cared for this summer after another bout with cancer. I get to do this on my apple laptop while I sit in the shade of my back deck with my outdoor speakers playing Deva Premal, causing one bad ass deep appreciative sigh. Life coming at me is how I am a strong and kind woman, and a really good businesswoman. I learn from my mistakes. I forgive myself. I am appreciative of the days on the earth that I get to continue to learn. I am happiest with my inner circle of friends and the service I have been honored to provide for the successful business I have created. These are all good problems and the more I live in PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION, the more patience I have with the times that don’t always feel bright and sunny. It is in those darker times where the light is so much better because of its contrast to the dark when I come out of it.

God I love to write. It always brings me back to the light. So grateful for PROGRESS. It will never be perfect, but my life is pretty glorious and I wouldn’t change a thing (until I can get my Airstream that is.)


writing in my garden as i sort through the bullshit of my brain.
recipes

HUMMUS

HUMMUS

Dearest Michael,

When I was only twelve, my grandparents, your great grandparents, took me on an almost one month trip to Israel and Italy. I have a clear memory of being asked if I wanted a full blown Bat Mitzvah or instead a trip to Israel with my grandparents. Typical of “clear memories” at twelve years old, I am not really sure if this went as described, however, I can’t imagine after seven years of Hebrew School and Sunday school, a Bat Mitzvah as the first grandchild of Isabelle and Herbie would have not been in the consideration pool. Frankly I am surprised I was given a voice like that, but I was considerably relieved because (if you can possibly imagine) the reason I didn’t want the Bat Mitzvah was because I didn’t want to get up in front of people and sing. I’m guessing this is funny to read because you know how much I love being in front of an audience. I love to speak publicly, so this may come as a surprise. The fact is though, this bright voice of mine as it is now was developed since that time and like most any pre teen with the notion of missing a few weeks of school, I jumped at the chance without a second thought.

What I didn’t know on my trip was that my parents were in the throws of their own despair trying to work out what would soon become the end of their marriage. I have no idea what my seven year old brother, Michael, your uncle you never physically knew, was witnessing as I was swimming in the Dead Sea and traipsing through Florence. Fast forward to your beautiful entry into our lives. I knew when you were born that my goal was to have you experience the same trip before or after the Bar Mitzvah I was surely not going to let you out of. The ironic thing was that I too was in the same despair my father was in as I contemplated the end of my own twenty year marriage. I really struggled with breaking up our family unit and I kept pushing the call to move on further out and away from any hard decision.

When an opportunity came up to be part of our friends, the Andreozzis, own family trip the November before your Bar Mitzvah, I jumped head first in. Of course I asked Dad knowing his response would be, “I am not going to Israel,” with that small town fear we so often hear when we talk about traveling there. I knew that would be his answer as I am sure you also understood and off we went for the first time not having Thanksgiving with Dad. He was so sweet about it though because he did understand how important this trip was to me and how important your Bar Mitzvah was too. As we traveled through Israel, we really had such an exciting time. I loved seeing your mind open to the world, to a different culture and language. I was so elated to see you and your friend, Chris jump into the different types of food and eagerly try Shawarma and lamb, hot peppers and the Hummus. Ahhh, the Hummus. Once one tries Israeli or any real Middle Eastern Hummus for that matter, it is virtually impossible to ever have store bought again.

I hope when you have your own kitchen, you will always make this from scratch remembering your trip to Israel as fondly. Even though the end of this trip was in many ways a deciding factor for the end of my marriage and your own family experience, as you had known it. I really hope you know that the decision was not entered lightly. Dad and I loved each other, we still do and we love you. We just were seldom a good fit as we both had such different ways we viewed life and our world. You though were the gem between us and we were always on the same page as parents. Food was one of our common denominators too and Dad’s recipes will be making a grand entrance in these writings. Dad and I still remain close as we always will when two grownups who act that way can be mature enough to take the good and leave the not so good at the door. Dad and I have done this and we hope that is your memory as you blast forward and falter backward in your own relationships.

The melding of two people for a long period of time takes lots of ingredients to work. When two people marry at 24 and 29, there is so much time ahead of them to work its way in with the inevitable changes that will occur. Your uncle Michael dying so young changed the way I viewed my world and it never went back. I think that some of this anguish made me look at life much more precariously and I lived with an attitude that had layers of young grief behind it. This, like life and time, is all because of the wisdom of retrospect; I never understood these changes as they were happening and likely Dad didn’t either. You, my love were both a distraction for us and a connector and I have not one regret of ever being married to Dad. I loved being married and I loved the wackiness of thinking that my hippie wild on the outside could live in a traditional role almost like a reparation for my own parents failure that I never really got over until I left too.

Marriage seems like a simple task when you are in love and planning a wedding at a young age. Once you get started in the early years, adjusting to the blend of two personalities, looking for a house, deciding on jobs and so on, the intricacies start to appear. Hummus is simple in its ingredients, but the blend has to be just right or else it can be bitter from the wrong olive oil, too garlicky by too much, bland by not just the right amount of spice or too sesame tasting by using too much Tahini or buying a generic one instead of an authentic. This, my love, is life; you play around with it, you season it, you leave stuff out, add too much of something else and then you end up with what you created by all of the ingredients. I can’t do life for you. Dad and I gave you the best foundation we could both together and apart and your job is to take what you need and leave the rest. I surely hope that we left you with a lot to take.

Like a good pesto, homemade Hummus (notice I capitalize it because it just deserves a capital H.) is food of the Gods. There are so many varieties, but I have perfected my own over time since our trip and this recipe I give you today is that joy. There is something magic about New York Pizza or Bagels, New Yorkers often say it’s the water. Israeli Hummus is the same. No matter how much I perfect my recipe, it never tastes like it does in Israel. Perhaps it is because once you go to Israel, it calls you back time and time again. Maybe it is the Hummus.

Love Mom

HUMMUS

Traditional Hummus calls for chickpeas. Here is my note on the chickpea decision. If you can use fresh, please do. The great thing about fresh is once you cook them, they can be individually stored in containers or Ziploc baggies in the freezer, they keep for a few months easily and this will be your go to “can” for the next few batches. If you are in a pinch or craving Hummus, but don’t have time to make some fresh chickpeas, then a can will do, but always drain and rinse well before using.

Also a note on the Cuisinart- I have a clear memory of Grandma Ann buying her first one and it was kitchen changing. I have had the same one since I was married and I hope that mine ends up in your kitchen eventually. Like a great knife, you must have a good food processor and in my opinion, the Cuisinart is the best.

2–3 cloves of garlic

Fresh Herbs, a small handful (I use cilantro and parsley generally, but basil is nice too)

Chickpeas (about 1 overflowing cup)

Lemon, 1 freshly squeezed

Tahini, 1 heaping teaspoon of good Tahini (I always buy mine at Sam’s Bakery in Fall River, Mass., the best one I have used- Keep it in the refrigerator, it keeps for quite awhile)

Hot Sauce (I use Red’s) a few dashes

Olive Oil — a good one

Fresh ground salt and pepper

Zahtar, a generous teaspoon. (I have never made my own because the Zahtar at Sam’s Bakery in Fall River, Mass is so delicious, I always have a big container of this right on my counter)

I am giving you a more precise direction here, my love, to get you started, but truth be told, I am so familiar with this mixture, I throw everything into the Cuisinart in one pile and pulse away. Do the recipe as I list for your first run, then once you get used to it, follow my lead and trust that mixing everything together in one shot will be easier and just as delicious. This is also a great base. I have changed it up over time by adding artichokes, or roasted red peppers. There are so many possibilities and because your taste buds are trained well, trust your additions and your imagination.

Put garlic in Cuisinart and mince well. Add fresh herbs and pulse in with the garlic.

Add chickpeas, tahini, hot sauce and lemon and pulse until mixed.

Add olive oil until you get to the consistency you like. Start with about ¼ cup and keep adding until just right. Like lots of life decisions, this is a personal decision, you will get a feel for this the more you make the recipe.

Add Zahtar, salt and pepper and pulse a few times.

Now taste it and decide what it needs. More lemon? probably. More salt? Maybe. More hot sauce, be careful here, hot sauce in Hummus is for the background. Just play around with it until you get to the spot where you are transported back to Tel Aviv or our first meal in the Old City of Jerusalem. You’ll know.

I LOVE YOU

Uncategorized

IT’S NOT FINE

IT’S NOT FINE

I tend to speak to people about my double mastectomy three and a half months out like I just got over the flu. It is likely a survival skill learned from my grandparents who grew up in the depression. You just plow ahead, leaving the trail behind you as you forge on.

“Enough with the crying already,” I can hear my grandmother saying. This was after I let her know that I cried the whole day of my thirty first birthday only four months after my only sibling died of cancer when he was only 25. This comment like so many others is yet another bad thing to say to someone who is grieving. There are stacks of bad quotes, commentary, and “helpful” intentions that are simply not helpful. But for the most part, people mean well. I have said many of them myself and I often cringe with my self-righteous comments BC (‘before cancer’ if this needs defining).

Because I happen to own a company that not only employs over twenty women, but also the main customer base is primarily women, it is not surprising that I have many opportunities to discuss my experience, after all, good or bad, I am an open book. I have actually always been an open book, but the cancer experience has given me a green light go attitude different from before cancer. I am often struck by how many women have had the same diagnosis. There is an immediate knowing that happens between us. Like an Alanon meeting, we don’t have to sugarcoat the conversation to help people who haven’t had the experience by minimizing its awfulness.

For my own personal experience, the second time around, once I went through it was easier than the first time. The first time was so overwhelming. It was all so new. Lots of reading, personal research, discussions with doctors, second opinions, genetic testing, (do I or don’t I?), surgery decisions, (lumpectomy or mastectomy?), decisions about preventative surgery, (keep your ovaries, remove them?) and the endless reading about nutrition and diet that is so confusing, you at some point just don’t give a fuck and eat the damn sugar. This was all at my first rodeo three years ago when “we caught it early, you are so lucky,” turned into “Fuck, you have the BRCA2 gene” and now the ‘we caught it early’ became a big RUH-ROH.

I am always fascinated by my own personal ability to compartmentalize stressful situations. I like this trait in myself, life survivor skills, my new favorite word is GRIT. I have grit. I love this part of my personality, perhaps it was from all of my early years of walking on eggshells in my subtle, sort of functional on the surface alcoholic house. My early life was never really sure about what sort of Ann (aka my mother) I would be getting so I tiptoed around her trying not to trigger any potential volatility. I am sure many children of alcoholic parents have had this experience and our grown up version of this experience has lots of common character traits. Some awful traits like a neediness for love in a way that requires lots of therapy to function, spending habits that require a discipline and skill set we simply do not have and many other dysfunctional behaviors that fortunately through life long work have become more reasonable and functional. The good traits though are also many. The love of service and care of other human beings has been one of the strongest characteristics of my business model. And GRIT. Grit, balls, fire, chutzpah, whatever you want to call it, I am confident in these descriptors of myself and this is what has propelled my success in both business and life. I intuitively have it because surely if I didn’t, I would likely be curled up in a ball somewhere begging for more heroine and another bottle of vodka.

So when Round 2 happened this past March, (what is it with March birthday diagnosis, this was the second time with this diagnosis around my birthday) I already had all of my information from the last time so I just needed to focus on one element-the mastectomy. When I read my previous writings, I am struck by how bummed I was about the notion of having my breasts removed, seriously I think I was more bummed about that than a second cancer diagnosis. I am cracking up as I write this. This is fucked up. Especially now that I have the wisdom of retrospect, the mastectomy was pretty much an awesome experience considering. My upper body is so rocking right now that there are times like this morning when I woke up on my side and I actually had to remind myself that this upper body was not my original. Progress.

So yesterday as I was speaking to one of our clients about this mastectomy experience and we were comparing our notes, another client waiting for her service overheard our conversation. When her service was finished and we started to talk at the end of it, she ended our conversation kindly saying, “I hope your health issues are ok.” I quickly replied as I usually do, “Thank you, it’s fine, all good.” She responded with, “No, it’s NOT fine, don’t say that.” Her words actually stopped me in my track. I realized I think for the first time in my neat little check shit off my list world I inhabit that she was right. IT is NOT fine. I may be fine, but the big IT, is not. I had fucking cancer two times, my son has an appointment for genetic testing so we can be sure he doesn’t live the path of my brother’s sad diagnosis, my aunt’s who is BRCA2 positive is right now recovering from her second round of cancer in a totally different spot that round number one and I need to stop minimizing the IT. I surely don’t have to wallow in pity as that will never be my style, but I can at least acknowledge that IT is NOT fine. This is ok to say. I love the random nuggets I receive when I give myself permission to open my ears, close my mouth and just listen. These are often the greatest gifts and I am thankful this new client yesterday courageously and with lots of care in her eyes said this aloud.

Indeed.


I wrote this when I found out I had the BRCA gene and it is a reminder to me that “IT” is not fine. The sun drawing was created by my brother, Michael when he was dying. Hanging in my house, I look at it every day as another reminder that IT is not fine.
recipes

CHOCOLATE CHIP PANCAKES

CHOCOLATE CHIP PANCAKES

Dearest Michael,

I learned so much about mothering from our friend and pretend family, Karen. Karen has been our neighbor right across the street for both my entire marriage and your entire life and along with her husband, Bob and their kids I can say we grew up together.

I have always thought about parenting and mothering as two different roles. I know I am a good parent. I learned this from my mother, she kept me safe, provided shelter, food, and set clear, albeit strict, boundaries and rules. She made sure I knew that my grades were talked about and education was of the utmost importance. She provided a religious education and allowed me to go to Israel when I was twelve with your Great Grandparents, Isabelle and Herbie for almost a month giving me permission to miss school because of how strongly she felt about seeing the world. She taught me how to be self sufficient by getting myself ready for school and making my own breakfast. It was Ann who made sure of all of this, she took on the role despite how young she was getting married. Until Grandpa Dave decided to leave her when I was about fourteen, the parenting piece of Grandma Ann was pretty consistent.

Parenting is about structure and boundaries. There isn’t a lot of fluff to it and even though there is love in the background, parenting is about trying to instill in your children a core compass, at least this is my opinion. Mothering is different. Mothering is the warm and fuzzy, the mushiness, the love and the birthday parties. Mothering is baking brownies for bake sales and showing up in the classroom to help with kindergarten art projects. Mothering is the hugging and the tenderness that shows up because there is so much love in your heart for the little human being that stands before you. I didn’t really learn this from Ann because she had kind of checked out by the time I realized this was something I should expect from her. Once Dad and I moved in across the street from Karen and Bob and we became friends, I started to witness the difference. Karen was a MOM. She would wake up in the morning and make eggs and bacon or French toast for her kids before school. This used to make me laugh as I thought she was spoiling them and not teaching them how to be self sufficient. She would say that her kids weren’t going to be there forever and she really enjoyed making them breakfast before school. She really enjoyed planning vacations or going on family trips just for a quick weekend. They had a dog, a chaotic noisy house that was welcoming and happy and filled with love. They had the house that you wanted to go to for a good dose of love and security. This was mothering and I wanted that. For you. Mothering when you don’t have this as a core example in your life growing up is not intuitive. It has to be learned and Karen taught me this through her example. There were times when I judged it thinking it was not teaching her kids survival in the world skills, but the thing that is great about learning something that is not innately part of you is that you can take what you need and leave the rest.

Making breakfast in the morning for you is one of the parts of Karen that I hungrily took from her, I love making you breakfast because in my family history with Grandma Kitsie especially, food was love. The simple act of making breakfast for you, and I try to still do it now that you are home from college, is a way for me to be Mothering. I know that what Karen always said about kids not being around forever in our homes is true and I have missed this morning routine since you have been away at school.

Breakfast for you has been way more than a box of cereal and a glass of OJ. It has been Sweet Bread Stuffed French Toast and Cheese Omelets. And it has been Chocolate Chip Pancakes, not from a mix, but from scratch because this is where I am a purist. When Grandma Kitsie died, I had the wisdom to take her recipes and an old school Betty Crocker Cookbook that has every basic recipe you could imagine. This is how we arrived at the pancake recipe. I know it by heart now, and even though I know you know it by heart too, I wanted to write it down so you would always have a copy when you get to have the privilege of making breakfast for your children. I have also included a photo of the bowl, the pan, the chip dish and the spatula that made this recipe super easy to whip together- faster than opening a box of pre-made for sure.

CHOCOLATE CHIP PANCAKES

This recipe will make 6 or 7 full size pancakes. I always made the full batch and then put the rest in the fridge to use the next day or the day after. It can last a few days in the fridge. I think dad put it in a cup that pours when he made this at his house, great idea, leave it to dad.

As you know by now I try to use organic for everything so I am not going to write this, just know it as you read.

1 egg

1 c. all purpose flour

1 c. buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk, you can use whole milk, but you will need to use 3 t. baking powder and leave out the baking soda- but have the buttermilk, it is way better)

2 T. melted butter (melt the butter in the pan you will cook the pancakes in. when you are ready to make them, don’t add more butter, it cooks them better with less butter in the pan).

1 T. sugar

1 t. baking powder

½ t baking soda ( I have forgotten this step numerous times and it hasn’t seemed to make any difference).

Chocolate chips (a handful put in a small bowl to sprinkle in as you cook them, don’t add to the batter, they come out better when you add as you go. You could use fruit like blueberries or strawberries or bananas too, but you never wanted that- always chocolate chips.)

Mix everything until smooth- add butter last and mix well.

Spoon batter into a really hot pan. We have always made one at a time. It has always come out better and a perfect size, but this is not definitive.

Add a sprinkle of chocolate chips. Be patient. Don’t flip and check too much. Let the first side cook. You will get a feel for it after a few times.

Flip when ready.

When cooked to your liking, place on a dish and add a nice heap of real butter so it can melt while you cook the next one.

You always ate three. So repeat until you get to the amount you want.

You never used syrup because the chips were sweet enough.

I LOVE YOU

Hopefully all of these will land in your kitchen and when you pull them out to make them you will think about your young life with Dad and Me and it will make you smile.
Uncategorized

ANOTHER CANCER GIFT

ANOTHER CANCER GIFT

A dear friend gave me a necklace last night that said ‘SURVIVOR’ on it. Normally this type of gift with this type of word on it would cause me eye rolling and embarrassment as I would chalk up yet another cliché word to the world of cancer gifts.

I had already seen on her sister, but her sister’s said LOVE LOVE LOVE and I had commented on how much I liked it. My friend, who had bought this gift for me as a Christmas gift decided not to wait and instead give it to me last night. She offered it to me with such love and prayer in her eyes. I knew this gift was thoughtful and filled with grace as she eagerly commanded, “Put it on!” I awkwardly followed her direction and placed it over my head where the tag planted itself right between my new fake breasts. Solid. Strong. Hearty. I love a long necklace. I love a long metal necklace like this one. But this word… I wasn’t sure I could have it be a part of my future adornments, but I love my friend and I love her light, her kindness, her intention. I was humbled by her caring eyes and her expression of love in this gift so I kept it on as I walked home last night thinking that I would take it off and hang it somewhere in my house as an ornament rather than a piece of jewelry.

I woke up this morning and I went downstairs to get some coffee and sit on the porch as I do every single morning, my partner with the paper, me with my laptop getting ready to type away my thoughts. As I went to reach for my glasses, my eye caught the necklace. SURVIVOR. It occurred to me that this word is so much more than cancer. So much more than a silly pink ribbon. So much more than “You look great” and “How are you feeling?” and the awkward silence that lies after those two common phrases that often linger between two people sharing space in two totally different worlds. Not knowing what to say because cancer and survivorship seem to be the only topic now replacing, “How’s your son? How’s your hot, (yes this word is occasionally part of the question) boyfriend? How’s business? How’s your garden?” and the curiosities about life normally part of the equation BC, (before cancer).

As my fingers graced the pendant, I realized that Yes. I am a survivor. Aren’t all of us? When you are married to someone you deeply love, but you also know in your core that it is not the right fit, but you try to fit it because that is just what you do when you make the marriage commitment, you are a survivor. When you are a parent because it is hard work trying to turn out a balanced and responsible human being, you are a survivor. When you lose a sibling who is only twenty five to a rare form of cancer and when you have a mother who emails you, “I prefer you never contact me again,” and defriends you on Facebook, (that feels so juvenile to even say that aloud), you are a survivor. You are a survivor when you own a business and you get a rejection notice from a bank for a loan you know will help growth and as you are freaking out, a dear friend and mentor, Neil Ducoff says in an emotional phone conversation, “Wallow in self pity today, but tomorrow pull up your bootstraps hit the pavement and find another bank who believes in your story.” BAM. Yes. I did that. You are a survivor when you finally summon the courage after a twenty year marriage to leave it along with your house, moving three times in four years after each condo owner decides they want to sell and you don’t want to buy and in the middle of this, your business has a flood temporarily shutting down one of your operations. Then to add insult to injury, you discover in the midst of this chaos an employee has been stealing from you, not only you, but tips from your employees. Like with so many business lessons, you consider your own past mistakes returning to teach the Ghost of Christmas Past lesson you thought you had already learned from a dysfunctional family life and idiotic drug use in your early teen years.

You are a survivor when you find the house of your dreams or rather it finds you, (thank you Morgan) that will house both you, your son and your ten year old business. Its seemingly easy purchase turns into a nine month short sale of twists and turns giving you a feeling of sheer terror in one moment to sheer power the next confirming your lovely bad ass strength when the sale finally goes through. And so on and so on and so on. This is all way before a two time cancer diagnosis and way before the word as it is implied, SURVIVOR, hits my personal radar.

I am not alone in my survivorship. Everyone I know has tales and stories of their own versions of SURVIVOR. Being human is SURVIVOR. My problem is my constant minimizing of the word and its implications because of my comparisons to the “real” survivors I know and have read about. My friend, Lili who is a refugee from the Congo who had to flee her homeland with her family and somehow landed in my lovely life that pales in comparison to her traumatic events. My friends, Cathy and Lou who lost their adolescent and very healthy daughter to the flu which still seems unbelievable in our modern world of medicine. My friend and business mentor, Neil (the one who told me to pull up my bootstraps) who out riding his bike like he does almost everyday for both physical and mental strength, gets hit and thrown and lives and gets back on his bike. My employee’s friend, who has a healthy five year old one moment and then a funeral for her the next because of a random sickness the hospital couldn’t help her with. My dear friend and doctor who tragically lost her young and stunning husband and the love of her life leaving her with a tribe of young children to care for in all of their suffering. The McKenna family who lives in our quiet and easy community and lost not one but both of their sons, one in a tragic motorcycle accident when he was twenty one and then ten years later, their Green Beret son, Andrew in an attack in Kabul. No words except SURVIVOR. A resounding HELL YES.

My internal comparison list of qualifiers for identifying with the word and accepting it as my own is a hard sell. These are not my experiences, they seem so much worse than my own. A friend of mine said to me just the other day, “Alayne, you make breast cancer look easy.” WHAT? Speechless in one breath, I don’t know what to say to that. Part of “SURVIVING” for me is that life coming at you is what life is and when it does as it has, I pull up my proverbial bootstraps and hit the pavement sometimes running, sometimes walking but often crawling as we all do. What choice do we have? If you are not dead, you are alive and being alive is what the word survivor means. What we do with the trauma is how we navigate through it in our own time and we all do “it” each in our own way for no one to judge. Until we have walked in those boots, we simply do not and cannot identify with those experiences.

So today and every time I get dressed and reach for a necklace to wear, I will reach for this new bauble because I am, like all of us, a SURVIVOR and I will wear this necklace with the pride and care that surrounded its instinctual and knowing intention. Perhaps its word engraved on its metal plate will finally embed itself in my soul reminding me of the power that this experience has given me. I know I don’t really need the external symbols of power to affirm my SURVIVOR status. I have two very upright and very firm magic crystal balls permanently attached to my upper body as my personal 24/7 reminder, but there is something about owning a word as my own that gives me a deep sense of super power strength that I am finally beginning to allow. My friend must have recognized this strength in me before I did.

And I must admit, I like this new found power.


recipes

CHOCOLATE CHIP PIE

CHOCOLATE CHIP PIE

Dearest Michael,

“You’re a really great baker,” you said so matter of factly to me when we were driving somewhere the other day. You were actually driving as you have sort of become my driver since you have had your license. Not sure if this is something you enjoy as much as I do, but I must confess, I love being driven.

These words from son to mother are like the sound of my favorite cardinal in the morning. I love to bake, I am good at it and baking anything connects me to your great grandmother, Kitsie and the happier times with my own mother. It also reminds me of the strength and connection you and I have because of what I learned the sad and hard way in my relationship with Ann. Baking is a great connection. It is repairing and centering and filled with love. There is no anger in my kitchen, it is always a happy spot and a grounding one.

Anytime I am in the kitchen, this is my zen place. Pulling out pans and sticks of butter to prepare something for you or any guests gives me such a warm feeling in my heart. I hope that when you have your own kitchen, this feeling will always be your go to place anytime you feel anxious or may be overthinking something. The kitchen, like the garden always propels me into the present and before I know it, any worry has disappeared. Just pulling out a special pan, or a certain wooden spoon knowing the thousands of recipes it has stirred or held is enough to feel like I just did a yoga class.

As I thought about the next recipe this morning when I woke up at 3:30 am, besides the brownie recipe (which as you know cannot be made public and is in the vault until I exit), it would have to be the CHOCOLATE CHIP PIE recipe. There are some recipes that are made so often, you don’t even need the recipe. This one I have changed slightly from the original because I have made so many of them, I have discovered a better way to make them over the years.

This dessert is super easy especially if you use a store bought frozen pie crust. For some purist bakers, the thought of a frozen pie crust is counter intuitive, but I have yet to perfect an easy go to pie crust and this is a really awesome time saver. (Likely loaded with every preservative I am always barking about, but what the hell.) I always keep a few in the freezer, Grandma Ann turned me onto Oronoque Orchards Frozen Pie Crusts years before I got married like in 1985 or something. This was a time in my life when I should have been finishing college, but instead was living with a boyfriend, searching for some home life or stability that for some reason I didn’t think I could provide for myself. Thank goodness that silly notion has changed. I have evolved and so has this recipe as years of baking any one recipe does.

This pie recipe I found on the back of one of the hundreds of Nestle Chocolate Chip packages I have had as a baking staple in the kitchen for my entire life since my first apartment. Thank goodness for BJS because they sell the nuclear version of Nestle Chocolate Chips and I always have at least one but more often two in my pantry and or freezer. I hope that anytime you see the golden yellow package of Nestle Chocolate Chips in your adult life, it transports you to the smells and sweetness of our kitchen when you were younger.

CHOCOLATE CHIP PIE (original recipe taken from the back of a Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip package at least twenty five years ago. I have doubled this recipe but I wouldn’t suggest it for your first rodeo of baking it, you have to get to know its personality first before assuming that simple doubling is just multiplying by 2 in a baking recipe, it is not).

2 eggs

½ cup of flour

½ cup of sugar

½ cup of brown sugar

3/4 stick of butter melted (if for some reason you only have a ½ stick this has worked too, this is an area where precision doesn’t’ really matter as much.)

1 stick of butter softened (not melted-like the way it is softened in BLUEBERRY CAKE. This part of the butter ingredient requires the entire stick so no cutting corners on this part.)

1 C of Nestle Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips (I have used Ghiradelli and other brands over the years, for some reason, this is the best for this recipe, maybe it is just tradition)

1 Oronoque Orchard Frozen Pie Crust — not deep dish, regular size.

(they come in a two pack, when you have one left, put it in a large Ziploc baggie and stick it back in the freezer for the next round. These crusts last “forever” see? Preservatives do have an occasional place in my life.

1 nice pie plate to put the piecrust in (keep the foil base on the shell and just insert the whole thing in the plate before baking, it looks better but it is also for the occasional spillage that occurs when it starts to bake).

Preheat oven to 325.

Put unfilled piecrust into oven while oven is preheating, this just softens it a bit before baking. Not totally necessary if you forget.

Melt 1 stick of butter and set aside

Beat eggs and the 1 stick of softened butter in a mixer or with a mixer until somewhat smooth. (hopefully you have my pink one and are enjoying its place in your kitchen.)

Add flour, brown sugar, regular sugar and melted butter and beat well until everything is nice and smooth. Go easy on the speed so everything doesn’t fly out.

Manually stir in chocolate chips.

Pour into pie shell and put on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. This is only necessary if the crust looks a little too full to avoid a mess in your oven.

Place in preheated oven and bake for almost an hour or until golden brown and not jiggly when you go to take it out.

I LOVE YOU.

the original recipe, but my improvement is way better, the pink kitchen aid mixer I hope never lands in Jays Junk and the nuclear package of chips (those are my feet)
Uncategorized

LIVING WITH NO CANCER

LIVING WITH NO CANCER

“What made you have such a voice from this diagnosis compared to the first one?” my friend, Julie T. asked me as she was interviewing me for a story she was writing. This was a great question that I hadn’t really thought about before now. I was happy to have the excuse to consider it more deeply this past Monday night over a glass of cold white on a hot steamy night with one of my favorite younger than me superchicks on the deck overlooking my garden.

The difference between my first diagnosis and the second is astounding. The first round I went kind of under radar on purpose. I hid out in Newport at my partner’s house and kept my circle small and tight. Too much psychological mass for my already busy brain to have to have dealt with at the time, I guess. This time around was so different. I was much more prepared, much more informed because the first time was learning and resourcing about all of the various treatments possibilities that I ultimately got to store neatly in my back pocket.

I really never considered that a second diagnosis would be so close to the first one. Many cancer survivors use the five year mark as a celebration point. I get that now because even though my first round was caught early, at the end of the day, it was still cancer. Cancer seems to like healthy fit bodies as I have discovered with my old high school friend that reconnected us because of our cancer diagnosis and my workout friend who has a terrible diagnosis. Both of their diagnosis has put me into a tailspin of eating brownies and ice cream almost daily, drinking a bottle of wine nightly, cleaning out crap from my house like I am moving and writing recipes for my son like I am on my deathbed or something. Very thankfully, I am not. I am not dying, I am not sick. I am not unhealthy. I am not my diagnosis, I do not have cancer. This I know, but this being said, every morning when I wake up usually on my back and I look down, there are these two, used to be baseballs, but now they are like bowling balls (thank you Dr. M.) resting neatly and immobile on the front of my body. It is an instant reminder that this is not a dream. This really happened to me and I have these two rockhard breasts to remind me for my duration. I also have a bizarre indentation that is not yet filled with anything from the lack of tissue that used to be there. It all had to get scooped out to keep me hopefully fingers crossed from round three. I do not want round three. I mean no wants round three. No one wants any round, but as I move forward with my lovely life almost (and only) three and a half months in, I on occasion have found that LIVING WITH NO CANCER is an interesting chapter.

Well intentioned, “You look great! How are you feeling? Big Smiles, Thumbs Up.” come at me often because of this big out in the open take me or leave me sassitude I am now known for, my own doing, I know. Kind and stellar people who I don’t know, but recognize me from the pictures I post on these writings come up to me and let me know how something I wrote resounded with them or that they passed it on to someone they know who was recently diagnosed. Lovely comments from friends far and near come at me often and I feel so lucky that the one great point of all this is I have opened my own channels of communication with constant writing about my thoughts, my feelings, my heart and my life to anyone who wants to take time out of their busy-ness to read. I totally appreciate the commentary and I never tire of its intent. The comments have actually energized me and propel me to write more.

Living with no cancer is a weird dichotomy. One part of me feels like I shouldn’t dwell on “it” and then the other part of me feels like I am minimizing “its” significance, almost forgetting that I have had this force in my body to battle with for my remaining time on this place we call Earth. How to find the balance of not affirming its next visit by perpetually thinking of its possibility (and I mean in all practicality, monthly doctor visits, upcoming second surgery in the fall, my aunt’s second diagnosis, my son’s upcoming genetic test, how can I not consider “it”) and the put my head in the sand and party hardy because all this future thinking is out of my fucking control anyway. I seriously doubt that not eating sugar and eating totally clean for the rest of my time is going to influence its decision to return or not to return. I surely don’t want to be on my deathbed after ten years of no blueberry cake and Brunello wishing I had indulged in just one more piece or one more glass.

Can I turn off the BRCA 2 switch that was turned on three short years ago by diet and exercise? Or is this all just an uphill battle that doesn’t allow me to live in the glory of cake and ice cream for the rest of my life? I wish I could be one of those people who could just be super disciplined to take all of my supplements every day without fail and eat mostly vegetables and barely a drop of sugar to pass my lips. I wish I could say that that was even a goal. It used to be, but it is not anymore. I have learned to accept my inadequacies through LIVING WITH NO CANCER in a strange and more patient way. I know there are times when I will be the healthiest and there are times when I won’t. This is life. Ups, downs, sideways, backwards, five steps forward, three steps backwards, sometimes seven steps backwards. What I enjoy mostly is my new found love of patience with myself. This is a surprising strength that I have been very surprised to gain and throughout the remains of my mostly healthy life, I hope I can keep this new friend always in my back pocket.

A great setting for an interview- stay tuned, hopefully September. Thank you Julie T.
recipes

BLUEBERRY CAKE

BLUEBERRY CAKE

Dearest Michael,

There is something about a recipe that is handed down from generations. Like Grandma’s HOT FUDGE SAUCE, the blur of the typeface from years of butter on my fingers and hence the recipe, the yellowing of the card, the smear of chocolate all add to the magic of the recipe.

This is a new recipe as you have just started to break out of your comfort zone for your morning breakfasts. You used to be very particular about the am food intake. Chocolate Chip Pancakes, Sweet Bread Stuffed French Toast, Cheese and Red Pepper and Onion Fritatta or Cinnamon Sugar Bagel from Bristol Bagels with only Bristol Bagel cream cheese- see picky, or rather particular. I raised you this way I suppose. Of course, you were always game for breakfast at our go to morning hole in the wall, HOPE DINER. Nowadays, (thank you college and THE LOBSTER POT summer employment) you have branched out into onion or everything bagels, fried egg sandwiches on Brioche rolls from Baptista Bakery, and this new Whitehouse favorite, Mrs. Chace’s Blueberry Cake passed down from one of my dearest friends, Marcia.

In this fast paced world of drive thru muffin shops, four dollar donuts coated with fruit loops, buying a store bought mix these days now seems retro. Baking “from scratch” is so easy and quick if you have the ingredients on hand. Besides the fresh blueberries in this recipe, I always do. Flour, sugar, butter, baking powder, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla- the staples of a baking pantry. I learned this from your grandmother, my mother and she learned it from her mother. Lucky for this lesson, you, my dear Michael, are the luckier one.

There is something inherently old fashioned about waking up in the morning and pulling out the perfectly sized square Corning Ware glass pan. This favorite cooking dish belonged to your Great Great Grandmother Mimi and I received it from your Great Grandmother Isabelle when they were selling our summer family home in Naples, Maine and had to break down the house belongings. There is something comforting about creaming the dish with fresh butter and setting the stove to 375, getting the recipe ready while you are sleeping. As I sift the dry ingredients and look fondly at the recipe, I am connecting with generations of women who have baked this very recipe for their families. There are some recipes that I just don’t want to re write so I am including it just as I received it from Marcia at a birthday party I had for myself when we first moved into our condo on Poppasquash in March of 2011 when I turned 46. I had just left Dad and I know this was a hard time for you. I am hoping that the continuity and the efforts Dad and I made to keep you in our foremost focus during this difficult time made this painful transition at least a bit softer. My dear friend, Ros has since passed away, but his famous blueberry bushes live on forever in their proud place in this glorious recipe.

MRS. CHACE’S PRUDENCE ISLAND BLUEBERRY CAKE (as written by Marcia to me)

My husband, Ros has 60 blueberry bushes on our property on Prudence Island, and we look forward to July when the early bushes produce fruit. One of the first things I cook with the berries is Mrs. Chase’s blueberry cake. This recipe originated with Mrs. Eugene Chase, a year-round resident of Prudence Island from the 19th century well into the 20th. This recipe was first in print in the early 1940’s. Blueberries, blackberries, wild strawberries and elderberries are native to the island.

We enjoy this blueberry cake all summer with a hot cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of red wine after dinner as a summer dessert.

2 C sifted flour

2/3 C sugar

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

½ C softened butter (not melted)

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

½–3/4 C milk (Marcia and I have discussed this, she has used almond milk and it has worked fine, I have used buttermilk and ½ and ½ and it has also worked terrifically)

2 C blueberries

Sift dry ingredients. Cut in softened butter. Add slightly beaten eggs, vanilla and milk and then blueberries. Place in a well greased 8 x 11 pan. (I have used the square pan as mentioned but it is a little small. The pan I prefer is the grey square that is a little bigger, but I baked this recipe for Stephen and Julie B. when Stephen’s mom passed away so they would have something to eat before going to the funeral and I am waiting for its return.)

Topping

½ C golden brown sugar

1 Tbsp butter

½ t cinnamon

¼ C pecan meats (optional) I don’t use pecans (neither do I)

Mix brown sugar, butter and cinnamon together. Then add the nuts if desired. Spread over cake before baking.

Bake in 375 degree oven for about 35 minutes.

Here are a few pointers:

· “C” = CUP, “T = TABLESPOON, “tsp” = teaspoon

· Do not skip the sifting.

· When measuring the flour, scoop it into the measuring cup, then with a knife swipe it across the top of the measuring cup so that it is exactly the right cup full. Baking is precise, too much flour will make it dry, but if you do decide to be lazy, you can always add a little more milk.

· The recipe and some others will call for “cutting in the butter.” This may seem odd the first time you try the recipe, but it is exactly as it sounds- you take a slightly softened full stick of butter, cut it down the center lengthwise and then cut it into small cubes. Add them to the flour mixture and with a fork and knife, just simply cut it. It will be chunky and will not be mixed in smooth. This is the glory of this recipe and what makes it so moist. Baking is about not over mixing and not overthinking. Kind of funny that I am a good baker because I tend to overthink many things, but not baking. It is my happy place for sure.

· Always place in a prepared over, meaning preheat to 375 and don’t put in the oven until it is at 375, hot and ready.

I LOVE YOU.

recipes

DEAREST MICHAEL

CHICKEN SOUP W MATZO BALLS

While I was busy getting my barn ready for Jay’s Junk’s visit, I came across three old cookbooks. For a while I was sort of collecting old cookbooks because they have so much history and reflections of certain eras, (hence the need for a business like Jay’s Junk because along with cookbook collecting comes vintage kitchenware, turquoise canister sets, and an endless collection of many other collections, but more on this in another writing). One was called The Whitehouse Cookbook written by former Whitehouse chef, “Francois Rysavy as told to Frances Spatz Leighton,” head chef before Jimmy Carter. Not only does it have the recipes prepared for presidential and state dinners, but also some of the recipes from the actual Presidents and their wives. This book is a gem because it really demonstrates the different formalities of these times pre-Pinterest, pre-Tweeting and pre-Ipad. It has collections of meals like, Thomas Jefferson Birthday Dinner on the 228th Anniverary of His Birth and is listed under Chapter 8, named Jefferson, the First Whitehouse Gourmet.

The other delight was The Tollhouse Cookbook, by Ruth Wakefield the actual owner of The Tollhouse Inn. I never knew, or questioned for that matter, where the phrase Toll House came from when it came to the endless batches of cookies my grandmother made (and froze) or the Toll House chocolate chip pie I whip up for many hungry adoring fans, (you know who you are). It turns out the actual Toll House Inn was in Massachusetts and the Toll House cookie was created there too.

The third cookbook I came across was a cookbook written in 1959 by Mildred O. Knopf (sister in law of the famous publisher, Alfred, sometimes proving it’s not what you know, but who- just sayin’) named Cook, My Darling Daughter. The premise of this cookbook was from a mother who loved her daughter, Wendy, so much that she wanted to write a cookbook that was “Not a book about ‘how to boil water,’ but a book for young women who want to learn how to love to cook.” Brilliant. Each section preceding has a letter to her daughter on the thought process for the upcoming section. It is lovely and it makes me connect with all of the food that has been cooked for me over the years. Food is surely a connector.

What got me thinking was the intent of two of these cookbooks, both including personal dedications to the daughters they loved and I started thinking about what kinds of inspiring and thoughtful memories similar to this I could leave my son. Actually I first thought how sad that I don’t have my mother to write this for me, but because of all of my therapy and work I have done, immediately replaced these potentially sour thoughts with how I could translate this into a memory for my own son.

When he was first born I wrote in a journal every day until he was about three. I was really disciplined in doing this and when I pull out the writings I laugh at how excited I was by a five hour night sleep or a simple expression he made for the first time. On each birthday, I wrote him a letter probably until he was eight or nine sealing each of them to give to him later. Not sure when. College graduation, first job, first home, marriage, first born child? Who knows, when the time is right, I will know. This I know. I came across them the other day when I was getting ready for my soon to be new best friends, Jay’s Junk and contemplated opening them. I have absolutely no idea what they say and I am guessing that was the point. This must be why I sealed them and they are not addressed to me so I have released the need to open them. I wish I had put them in one unique place, but I didn’t, I know where at least these five of them are and as I move through cleanup phase, I will create a Michael spot so I (or he) can access easily when that time is right.

I love the idea of a cookbook, but with the added twists and turns of life intertwined from the stories I include with the recipes.

These cookbooks were a sign of the times- recipes directed at “busy housewives” to make their busy day with their children easier and so they could also be fresh and ready for ‘their man’s return from his busy day at the office.’ I like the idea of knowing that Dave and I raised a young man who can fend for himself in the kitchen and that Michael knows that when two people are raising a child, it takes both to participate in the meal preparation. We taught him unintentionally by our example a love of food, of love of kitchen, good knives, good pans and some kick ass meals. Dave tends to cook big and thick, mac and cheese with bacon and sausage or his mother’s stuffing loaded with Portuguese bread, sausage and chourico, a spicy Portuguese sausage because one type is just not enough. Dave taught Michael a love of BIG ASS burgers and trying new recipes. I taught Michael to buy really good meat at Persimmon Provisions or Venda Ravioli, and to drive endlessly for great food to specialty stores like my grandmother taught my mother and my mother taught me. Dave taught Michael daily shopping for the meal to be cooked that evening. He learned from me simple healthy cooking, homemade salad dressing with just oil, lemon, garlic, Bolognese sauce with really good crushed tomatoes and the best pasta. I love the mix of these unintended lessons, it is just who we are as parents and when we were married as a couple and as we moved on through a divorce how we live in our lives when Michael is with each of us.

It was really important to me that Michael travel and see the world so he experienced Madrid, Menorca, Tel Aviv, London and seeing some of our own beautiful country. Food was always a part of the great experiment called child rearing and his love of ethnic food comes from his exposure to the other parts of the world. Besides healthy eating in both of our Whitehouses, he has learned a love of homemade baked treats, cheesecake from our friend, Morgan, themed sugar cookies from our friend, Karen, and of course the slew of chocolate chip things I have been making since he was born. Sugar is bad for sure, but when sugar represents love and family, how can it be all that bad?

When I think in terms of writing a cookbook for him, I can’t help but think of the mishmash of theme. In one moment we are eating beautiful salmon baked with only a dollop of coconut oil, salt and pepper and fresh arugula salad and in the next meal eating buffalo chicken lasagna loaded with blue cheese, cheddar cheese, mozzarella and ricotta. Dave could be making a prime rib with mashed potatoes one night and the next night serving extra large cheese burgers on white bread buns and tator tots. My old neighbors, Karen and Bob may be making a big vat of American Chop Suey, circa 1960’s and sharing it with our tribe. No shortage of delicious food coming at him and he has a delightful and very opened appreciation of great food. So as I contemplate a compilation of recipes that tell a story of his young life, there are so many I would have to include not only from Dave and me, but from grandparents and extended family as well as friends who have stepped in for the family we don’t have here around us. With all of the endless discussions about nutrition and clean eating, all my own personal self talk about my constant worry of indulging in some old tried and true recipes that are dairy or sugar or chocolate (or all three) and the endless worry I have about my son’s non organic raised beef consumption or lack of regular fruit and vegetable intake, what I do know is that good food cooked for someone you love with love is love. Love is healing. So even if intake is not always the best, I know that the intention of the food and how it lands in your lap (or in your stomach) can be a miraculous cure all. Just look at the well known healing properties of old fashioned Jewish Chicken Soup, my first entry into this LETTER TO MICHAEL. I am imagining this project will be quite a long process as I add this to my ever growing list of things I want to accomplish. Here is my start- a test run.

 

Dearest Michael,

As my first entry into this book I write for you, I have to begin with Chicken Soup as number one. The warm garlicky broth base has been the go to soup since you could eat real food. Its intense healing power has cured colds, flus, coughs, cold nights and been part of our tribe and our extended family for over twenty years. This soup as been a proud member of our family menus for every Jewish Holiday we have celebrated in both small company and large gatherings of over forty for Passover, Hanukkah and Roshashannah. The recipe actually started from one I found in a Bon Appetit Magazine called Garlic Soup. As a young and enthusiastic wife, I used to get cooking magazines well before cooking shows had their own network let alone existed. Ruth Reichl was the editor of Gourmet and I would hungrily read each of her entries from her travels and forge ahead with the recipes filled with butter and cream and unusual ingredients. “Back then” we mothers and fathers, if they were interested, (yours were) read cookbooks and magazines teaching ourselves in the kitchen. This recipe transformed into the soup you know and love and is one of my favorite meals to cook for you as soon as the weather gets that first New England chill. I hope this recipe becomes your go to meal for your future family. I am imagining that with both Dad and my influence, you will add and tweak it to make it your own in your next twenty years as you head off onto your own yellow brick road.

Love Mom

MOM’S (AKA ALAYNE’S) JEWISH CHICKEN SOUP

INGREDIENTS

GOOD OLIVE OIL

15–20 CLOVES OF GARLIC

4–6 ORGANIC CARROTS

3–4 ORGANIC CELERY STALKS

1 MEDIUM ONION

1 LARGE ROASTED ORGANIC CHICKEN (PRECOOKED IS THE EASIEST)

SALT, PEPPER, BAY LEAF

FRESH PARSLEY

CHICKEN STOCK OR BROTH (2 BOXES OR MORE)

RICE (OPTIONAL)

LEMON

FRESH SPINACH LEAVES

MATZO BALL MIX

HOW TO TURN THE INGREDIENTS INTO MAGIC

Heat ¼ cup of good olive oil or coconut oil in a pan that makes you happy to cook in

IN A CUISINART, mix the following:

Garlic, carrots, celery stalks, onion

MINCE WELL and add to the heated oil above.

Add a lot of fresh salt and pepper and a bay leaf- (more salt than you probably think)

Saute until fragrant and soft about 7–8 minutes- do not brown.

While this is cooking take the Cuisinart bowl and add cooked chicken pieces- chop till chunky.

(I buy a whole cooked organic chicken at Whole Foods because it is easy, but if you want to go purist- then buy a whole chicken and cook it ahead of time, keep the broth for future use.)

Add chopped chicken to this and mix well until heated, about 6–7 minutes

Add 2 boxes of organic chicken stock or broth

Add about 3 Tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley

Bring to a boil (if you are adding rice- add about ¼ cup here) and then turn down and simmer for as long as a few hours. You will probably need more salt and pepper- I used to add three bouillon cubes back in the day until I found out they were loaded with MSG so I stopped (but it does add a rocking flavor)

MATZO BALLS

If you want to add them (and you will because this is the secret to this soup and this is what made you love it when you were little) go to the Jewish section of the grocery store and buy the box that says Matzo Balls and follow the directions. The secret to them being fluffy is to drop them in the boiling water and cover the pan with the lid while they cook. When they float to the top, they are ready. Add them to the soup anytime. They won’t get mushy.

10 MINUTES BEFORE SERVING THE SOUP- Add a few handfuls of spinach leaves, a squeeze of lemon and a splash of Cayenne Pepper, this is especially important if you are making the soup because you or someone is sick. It seriously seals the deal. Cover until spinach is just wilted and serve with the joy you know it will be bringing shortly.

Uncategorized

A GOOD LEGACY

A GOOD LEGACY

Yesterday, I woke up with the glorious anticipation of today. Jay’s Junk is arriving at 11:00am and I had to get ready. As I contemplated the immense quantity of items I have accumulated in my life, I tried to look at the task from a different perspective.

One day a few years back I found myself sitting in an emergency hospital waiting room and came across an article in a health magazine targeted for hospital waiting rooms. It was written by a man who has the unfortunate task of going through his mother’s household after she had died and there were a lot of things. Apparently, her death was not a sudden loss. She had been ill and had many months if not years to consider the contents of her home, but chose not to, leaving it for her family. Maybe she thought that these things she was leaving were important legacies for them. Photos, old cards from family on birthdays and anniversaries, furniture from her grandmother’s house she had taken into her own. AND MUCH MUCH MORE.

Her son was writing an article on legacy and bereavement and his point was that so many parents are concerned about leaving their children gifts of money, real estate etc, but that he felt one of the better gifts is to leave the children without the stuff to have to sift through. This article really stuck with me because I have things that my son would have no idea of their importance. I could see the frustration in having to determine what should stay, what should go, who should have what and so on. Do I keep the turquoise dial phone she never used, but had on display in her pantry? (yes) What about all of this art? (yes) Her Wonder Woman collection? (yes) see the problem? I am already having heart palpitations thinking about what would become of these things. My grandparents decided early on that whatever we wanted we should tell them while they were alive and they would tag each item so after they passed away, it would be easier. This is a great thing to do and my personal plan is to start putting stories and histories on some of the more valuable things so it doesn’t end up in Jay’s truck after I am gone, but in my son’s bank account or in a friend’s home.

The article was insightful, filled with the pain he and his family had in going through her salt and pepper shaker collection and thinking what on earth am I going to do with this? The feelings of guilt at throwing it out because as much personal value it had for his mother, it had zero for him and it surely had no significant monetary value. What to do?

His suggestion was to make sure that the content of your home was deliberate. I really appreciated the honesty as I considered my own piles. I have also recently heard of a story about a woman who passed away, I think she may have been an art teacher or an artist or something. Her family decided to do a pine coffin at her wake and everyone who came to the wake was able to write or draw something on the actual coffin. It may sound sacrilegious to some, but I really loved the idea of this. The other really great part of this funeral was she had a collection of something, I can’t remember what, let’s just say salt boxes for the point of this. They took the entire collection and put it on a table and asked everyone to take one on their way out. I LOVE THIS IDEA. Not that I am planning my funeral or anything, but what a really creative way to have parts of yourself and your collection spread out to friends and family. I can actually see my entire turquoise collection of kitchen ware at my service for all to take.

Anyway as I began the ridiculous project of going through my things I tried to remove the emotion out of it. This is difficult because as I began going through photos especially, trashing photos is hard. Seriously what the hell am I going to do with five thousand photos of my son that are duplicates and already in photo albums that he probably won’t ever look at anyway. It’s funny, the older I get, the less sentimental. I was super sentimental when I was younger probably because I had such a fractured home life. Every single thing my grandparents would offer me I would hungrily take thinking it would fill the big hole in my heart I had from the loss of my teenage years. The reality though is that I took that loss and with my husband at the time, transformed it into a really stable home life for our son, both married and divorced, we never lost sight of Michael, except for maybe a few blips. Michael doesn’t have the hole I had. He is good. So the photos and the stuff don’t have that type of sentimental significance that it had for me. As I approached the project, I decided to look at it as if I were Michael going through his mother’s things. What would I know to be important and what could I easily remove?

This is how I came to my day today, waiting patiently for Jay’s Junk to arrive and begin the process of getting my house in order so that the only things that are left here are the things that have a story I could tell to him by what is left.

I know this is only the beginning of the process, because once I start to see the clearing of space, once I feel the lightness it offers up, it will likely become an addiction. When we surround ourselves with things that suffocate and weigh us down, it blocks universal flow; at least this is my experience. So moving it, removing it, changing its place of importance at the foundation of my home, my basement is a freedom I personally am looking forward to. Stay tuned for the after photos, I am sure we will all breathe a sign of relief.


This is just my basement, pretty much almost everything here is getting recycled or tossed, i can’t wait to feel the liberation. Can’t wait for the after photos.