Thursday, January 28, 2010

Blogging Therapy and A Revelation

I'm not sure exactly what my intention was when I started blogging... I think I just wanted to be a part of it, as at the time several of my Allrecipes buddies either had blogs or were delving into this unchartered territory along with me when I first took my plunge. Somewhere in the back of my mind I had visions of being the next Pioneer Woman, as if somehow writing about my day-to-day existence and sharing a few recipes would catapult me to international stardom. But in real life, I just wanted to write about random thoughts and experiences, just to get it out. I've always found writing to be very therapeutic for me, regardless of who may or may not read it. Once in a while you write something and it teaches you something about yourself that really changes some aspect of your life.

And that is what happened to me a couple posts ago.

After months of warily eyeing the intimidating machine on my desk called "the scanner", I finally decided to put it to use. And much like I do in my cooking, I winged it, because I was too impatient to wait for my husband to get home and explain the goings on and I hate reading manuals. And like many other things, the scanner turned out to be a all bark, no bite and a surprisingly user-friendly piece of equipment. It is my new best friend!

So, if you look back at recent posts you'll see a bit of my family history. Posting those photos of my Dad's family has inspired me to delve back into genealogy, a hobby I've really only tinkered with until now. I know that one of my ancestors, Samuel Woods, came to Massachusetts in 1620. That's the year the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock! Of course, you know me, day late and a dollar short....I am as much a Mayflower descendent as I am an extra in Motley Crue's "Kick Start My Heart" video. Samuel must have missed the first boat and showed up on the next one, and centuries later, I stood on my hotel balcony wondering what all those floodlights swirling around from the vicinity of the Whiskey-A-Go-Go were all about, opting to order a big platter of nachos and watch "The Bear" on HBO instead of mosying down the strip into MTV stardom.

But I'm not bitter. Samuel actually did some pretty cool stuff himself, and his grandson was a Revolutionary War hero. Hey, we are who we are.

Then came Mom's family, and the sad story of her childhood, how the kids were split up and how they reunited. All that stuff I knew about before I told you about Ma & Pa, aka Zelica and Arthur, my grandparents on my mother's side. But now I wanted to share with you something I did not know until I finished writing that post.

You see, Pa was the only grandparent I ever met, but he was not the kind of grandfather you went to visit often, or who showered you with gifts and attention. By the time I came around, Pa had a tough time keeping his own ten kids straight, never mind his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I have memories of him, memories I am proud of, because I would tell my friends at school on Monday that I had attended my grandfather's 80th birthday party the day before...just so I could brag about having a grandfather. But I never really knew him. Over the years, we sort of interpreted Pa based upon the stories our parents told about him, and my only personal impression of him was of the old man, sitting in the corner smiling, and occasionally mumbling something in French to one of the few people who understood the language. I can't say I knew him well, if I knew him at all.

When my grandmother, Zelica, died, leaving behind Pa and ten children, mom and my aunts always said "Pa couldn't take care of ten kids. He was an alcoholic, he was poor and they took us all away from him. He was not fit to raise us." One Christmas, my Aunt Loretta, who lived near Pa and his second wife, was all up in arms because Pa had knocked on her door and run away after leaving a Christmas gift on her doorstep - a carton of cigarettes and a bottle of Scotch. I remember her ranting, "What kind of father does that? And he signed the card 'Love, Arthur!'???"

His alcoholism was never a secret. In his retirement he would walk a mile or so through his neighborhood to the local bar, have a few drinks, and pick up a loaf of bread on the way home so he could feed the pigeons that congregated in his back yard. I would see him as we drove to my aunt's house, either walking along the road or feeding the pigeons in his yard. After his death, I discovered that after Ma died, Pa was actually committed to an asylum, because that's how they "treated" alcoholism in those days. My mother, aunts and uncles never spoke ill of him - they maintained a certain amount of familial respect towards him, but I always got the feeling that a part of them blamed him for the loss of their mother, and subsequently the childhoods they found themselves trying to forget.

I never harbored any animosity towards my grandfather for who he was. I was just happy I actually had a living, breathing grandparent. My mother had such a horrible upbringing in her foster home that I do believe part of her blamed him for the course her life took. Again, "He was an alcoholic, so of course the state wouldn't let him keep us". When he entered the nursing home at the age of 86, she rarely visited. When his second wife passed away eight years later, we attended her funeral - by all accounts she was a lovely, wonderful lady - then tagged along to visit him. At that point he was semi-catatonic. He was blind, deaf, and did not speak. They recommended you call before you visited, so they could dress him and prop him up in a chair for you. That's how he was on that day, and it saddened me to think his life had come to this. A tall, thin, frail old man, sitting in a chair, grasping the attached tray for dear life so hard that his arms trembled. You knew he felt as if he was going to fall, even though he did not communicate in any way, shape or form. The nurse told us he could not hear any more, but you could touch his hand and he may or may not realize you were there - she wasn't really sure.

Pa shared his room with a young man who was dying of brain cancer. He was about 40 years old, but had a stack of coloring books and 1st grade level story books that he gazed at in awe. He was very friendly, and seemed to enjoy the company although his speech slurred occasionally, and after the nurse exited, he excitedly told us that yes, Arthur does speak! But only when he's sleeping, and he only speaks French. He said "I think he can hear you, but you need to yell into his left ear as that one seems better."

My Uncle Paul and Aunt Rose visited him faithfully every single week. That day, Paul leaned over and said "Hi Daddy!" and received his usual no response. Aunt Rose spoke to him, too. She said, "Pa! Someone else is here to's Blanche and her daughter, Christine!" Of course Pa did not respond. He couldn't see, hear or speak. And at this point, no one was sure that he would be able to comprehend anything anyway.

My mother approached, and leaning over toward his left ear, said loudly, "Hi Pa! Its me, Blanche! Your daughter...BLANCHE!"

And the strangest thing happened. Pa took a deep breath. His arms and legs shook, as if he felt like he was going to fall. He clenched the edge of the tray for dear life. And he smiled.

Of the few memories I personally have of my grandfather, that is my favorite. Somewhere inside, my grandfather was still there, and at that precise moment a weight was lifted off my mother's shoulders when she realized she had a father, and the sound of her voice made him happy. It is because of that moment that I let go of any disappointment I might have felt towards my grandfather for not being there for his kids, for not fighting to keep them. Whatever decisions he had made in 1935, he had paid for his entire life. And now, here he was, three months away from taking his final breath, and there was simply no reason to hold any kind of grudge. I had a grandfather whose children were taken away from him because he was an alcoholic. I accept that. That's just how it was, and there's nothing to forgive.

Only now, after reading through my aunt's scrapbook, scanning in some photos and putting my thoughts into words, I've changed my mind. I realize I was wrong - we ALL were wrong - in our assessment of Pa. He did not lose his children because he was an alcoholic. He was an alcoholic because he had lost his children. He failed them. He let them go, releasing his paternal rights in the hopes they would all be adopted into better homes, and he regretted it the rest of his life. He drank to forget, he remarried to have someone to talk to because he was afraid of his children rejecting him. He did not pretend to be a father, because he felt he had been an unworthy one. That is why he kept his distance. That is why he chose to speak in French, even though he knew English. That is why he signed his Christmas cards "Love, Arthur".

And so, Pa, Grandpa, Arthur....I do not forgive you because there is nothing to forgive. But I hope you can forgive us for the way we thought of you all those years. Some of your children are with you now, probably laughing with you over the big misunderstanding that life can sometimes be, and I just wanted to let you know that I can laugh with you now, too. I am sorry none of us had the insight to realize the loss, the humiliation and the pain you endured over the years, and that our perception of you was clouded by our own insecurities. But this crazy world of blogging, which you know absolutely nothing about, has shown its worth to me by letting me learn to know who you were and who you are.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Our Life In Pets - Sabrina & Seiko

My husband, Steve, and I have always loved animals.

When we met, he had a dog, Seiko

and I had a cat, Sabrina.
For our second date, Steve took me home to meet his dog. Upon receiving Seiko's approval, we then took a ride over to Steve's parents' house a few miles up the road where I met my future in-laws. Yes, after I met the dog! A year later, Seiko was just as much my dog as he was Steve's (don't tell Steve that!) and as we were about to merge our households together by introducing Sabrina to Seiko, Steve seemed a little apprehensive.

"I just don't see what people see in cats," he would say. He didn't hate them, but just didn't see the attraction.

"I'm just afraid I'm not going to like ....what's her name? Oh yeah, Sabrina. I mean, what do cats DO?"

I, on the other hand, was more nervous about Seiko's reaction. On walks, he would try to charge after anything "cat-sized" that would scamper away - squirrels, rabbits, and actual cats. Weighing in at 160 pounds, with a thick fur coat that visually added another 30 pounds to his appearance, Seiko looked like anything but the gentle giant he least when he saw a squirrel. Or a cat. I was even beginning to wonder if Sabrina should stay at my parents' house. After all, she had never even seen an actual dog before, never mind a 160-pound one that was sure to chase her.

Sabrina's story was kind of interesting. This is how she came to be mine:

We had has a white cat living on our porch for several years. She had been a stray, and we soon found out she was deaf. We tried bringing her in the house, particularly during cold weather, but she didn't like it. I think her deafness made her other senses hyperactive, and she would constantly flinch or skulk away if she felt the vibration of someone walking around on the other side of the house. So, since she seemed to prefer the porch, and to make it more comfortable for her, my Dad built her a little house, insulated, and we bought her a cozy, fleece bed to put in it. She lived there for about six years.

One day she disappeared. She had been looking pretty old, so I kind of figured she had wandered off to die. But just to be sure, I placed an ad in the local paper for a missing cat, pure white with a purple flea collar. Old and deaf. Surprisingly, I got a call.

"I think I have your cat!"

I was kind of excited, to be honest, even though part of of me had already accepted that she was gone.

"She's all white, has a purple color and a little gray spot on her head. She's a very playful kitten"

I thanked the girl on the other end of the phone, but assured her that could not be my cat. Whitey was all white, old, and not in the least bit playful.

The next day, I received a second call.

"Have you found your cat yet?"

I had not.

"Well, I'm at the XtraMart (gas station next town over from where I lived) and we just found a white cat. Kind of old. With, um, looks like some dirt on her head or something. She's very hungry."

The thought of a stray cat tugged at my heartstrings, but at this point in my life I was actually seriously considering a move to New York City. I did not know if a pet would be part of that scenario. The ad in the newspaper was done more to honor Whitey. She had been a faithful friend, waiting up for me whenever I went out, accompanying my Dad on his daily walks around the "estate", inspecting the various flowerbeds we had planted.

"Thank you," I responded, "But I'm pretty sure my cat is gone." No way could she have made the 4-plus mile journey on her own. Too many cars, coyotes and Lord knows what else between here and there.

After I hung up, something nagged at me. I couldn't quite put my finger on it until the next night when the phone rang.

"I'm really sorry!" she said. "But...well...I know this is not your cat, and I don't expect you to be able to replace your missing cat but...."

It was the same girl that had called the day before...and the day before that.

She was moving, and could not bring their new kitten with them. At first the new landlord and mentioned that a cat would be ok, but he later changed his mind. Their three year-old daughter was devastated. To make matters worse, the kitten had a cold or something, and if she brought it back to the shelter it would surely be put to sleep. That's why she had been desperate enough to lie to me, hoping that if I laid eyes on this kitten I would not be able to turn her away.

Funny how when you think your life is going to head in a certain direction, something as simple as a sick kitten in need of a home can cause it to change course. As I said, I was about a week away from making a serious decision that would have changed my life...had I ever actually made that decision. I had a place to stay on Staten Island until I could find my own place, I had a love interest, although not serious - just in the flirtation phase, and I even had two people that swore they could get me a job. I told her I would think about it and call her back, and asked when was she moving.

"Tomorrow." she replied.

Well, okay then.

I never got to meet Sue. The following day was spent moving and by that evening she had to get their three year-old daughter settled in their new apartment, so her husband picked up the last thing at the old place, a kitten named Sabrina, and drove her to my house.

It's been years since that night, but I think of this family fondly very often. You just know when you cross paths with "good people". The car lumbered up my winding street, leaking transmission fluid and sputtering to a stop. It looked as though bubblegum and duct tape was holding it together. A very young man, no more than 22, knocked on the door. Before he brought the kitten to my house, he said his wife was so grateful I decided to take Sabrina that she wanted me to have these things - a brand new litter box, bag of kitty litter, dishes, box of kitten chow, toys, and last but not least, $20. The thought never crossed my mind to take the money, but he held his hands up, refusing to take it back, even though I knew they needed it.

And then came Sabrina. Actually, I went to get her. She refused to come out from underneath the front seat of the car, but I finally pried her loose, trembling and mewing away. In the light of my kitchen, I noticed her eyes were goopy and runny, and I could hear a slight wheezing as she breathed. What was even more painful was the uncomfortable guilt I felt radiating from this young man, trying to do the right thing. In one of my proudest moments, I tried to insist he take the $20 back. I even lied, saying I had a credit balance at the animal hospital (What? You should have just said your uncle was a vet or something...) But no, he was under strict orders. He said, sheepishly, "We know you're probably going to have a higher vet bill than you were expecting".

And so it came to be that I owned a cat named Sabrina. We got her respiratory infection cleared up in a jiffy, but for the majority of her thirteen years she had a chronic runny-eye problem. The consensus was, after trying ointments and antibiotics and examining her eyes for injury, that, well, she was a white cat. All cats' tears are brownish-tinged anyway, so they just show up better on white cats. Plus, she had no pigment in her skin (the rims of her eyes were pink, not black or brown) so she would be more sensitive to dust and things. Whatever it was, it didn't hold her back. She was playful and cuddly, around me, although terrified whenever anyone came over.

Which is why I was nervous about her introduction to Seiko, but we figured it was inevitable. I felt really bad at first, because she was TERRIFIED of him. She literally hid underneath a nightstand for two days, creeping out only when Seiko was outside, dashing back undercover if she so much as heard him bark.

Seiko, on the other hand, was curious. Thankfully he showed no aggression towards her, but to Sabrina his relentless curiousity was the same as if he was chasing her. Finally, one night I decided it was time to intervene. I grabbed Sabrina and brought her into the living room, holding her protectively yet firmly while Seiko approached. The massive dog poked and jabbed at her with his muzzle, tail wagging, ears perked up. Sabrina just shrunk away.

"Oh, Sabrina! Come on! Stand up to him!" I said, and I grabbed her paw and tapped Seiko's nose with it. Amazingly, she got the hint! And repeated the motion. Of course it did not hurt Seiko at all, but he backed off with the poking and prodding. And little by little, Sabrina came out of her shell.
She never ran from Seiko again, and in fact would commandeer his water dish when she was thirsty. He would step back and wait his turn.
She eventually lost her fear of people, too. We found that out one day when a contractor was in our kitchen, writing up a proposal for us. As he leaned over the kitchen counter, filling out his form, Sabrina hopped up, strolled across the counter onto his pad of paper, and head-butted him. I never saw fear in her again.

Guess she figured since she had defeated a giant drooling colossus of a dog, she must be invincible.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Old Family Photographs - Mom's Family

One of my pie-in-the-sky dreams is to write a book, preferably some sort of historical fiction type of work.

That fantasy usually seems so out of reach for me - what would I write about? What would I say? How do I get it to be interesting, without stealing some other author's ideas? And the big one...when would I have the time to do this, to research it properly? Well, I know in my heart of hearts, there is always time to do something you want to do. Frankly, if I had started this book twenty odd years ago when the idea first struck, I probably would have it done by now. And the idea came in a Creative Writing class I was taking, when my instructor, Bill Meeks, said this: "Write about what you know."

And the most interesting thing I know about is definitely my mom's family.

Unlike my father's side, which was always a little bit of an enigma to me since I had never met my grandparents and didn't really know my aunts, uncles and cousins too well, I virtually grew up surrounded by my mother's family - her nine siblings, in-laws and their children. Even as some of them moved away, or in some cases moved frequently, letters and phone calls always kept the family posted on the goings on in places like Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Washington and even Australia. Nearly every Sunday we gathered at Uncle Paul's house, where seven of my cousins (six boys and one girl) lived, and my second home was at Aunt Rose and Uncle Jim's house where my cousin Maureen and I grew up more like sisters than cousins.

(Note: My second idea for a novel is one tentatively titled "Between Sisters and Cousins", by the way...)

Anyway! The point is, on my mother's side of the family, I knew who I was and where we came from, long before I knew anything about my Dad's ancestry. I didn't even know what ethnic background I was, paternally, but I knew my mother was 100% French-Canadian, and that my grandfather's family had immigrated to Canada from France through Louisborg in New Brunswick. We even visited Fort Louisborg once on a family vacation. At one point, my Aunt Peg (not her real name, although we all call her that...there's a lot of that in my family! Read my comment on Tattoo's and Teething Rings post about names!) really researched the family tree and I was hooked on genealogy. Not only did I have those facts, but I had interaction regularly with people who knew my grandparents, and I even met my maternal grandfather on several occasions. We had a handful of pictures, and lots of first and second-hand memories from the ten children born to my grandparents, Arthur and Zelica.

Oh, and I had a grandmother with a very unique, exotic name, too!

Like many French-Canadian families, everyone refers to my grandparents as "Ma and Pa". This is Ma and Pa's wedding photo, which was one of the few photos we had of them.

They were married on October 30, 1922. This photo always fascinated me because it was one of maybe four photos I had of my grandmother, Zelica. Later, when Aunt Peg put together her scrapbooks for us, she was able to locate more photos of our relatives, including some from their wedding day...

From Left to right, Ma's sister, Mary; Pa's brother, Fleuriand; Pa and Ma, Ma's father, Patrique, and Ma's sister, Exilda. (Again with the names!)

Here's one of the boys...the third from the left, top row is my great-great-great grandfather.

Pretty cool to have a photo of your great-great-great grandfather, even if you don't know his name. I do know, from Aunt Peg's notes, that it is either Fabien or Dominic.

Here's the whole extended family.

It looked like such a happy day, and there definitely were happy times ahead. But it would be relatively short-lived.

Married in 1922, her first child was born in February of 1924, her tenth in February 1934. Then, early one morning, around 2:00 AM on November 26, 1935, my grandmother Zelica woke up, got out of bed, not feeling well (she had pneumonia at the time) and went to the kitchen to get a drink of water. My grandfather heard a crash and rushed in to see what had happened, and found his wife dead on the floor. I've heard it said that she was six months pregnant with her eleventh child. Even though only twelve years had passed, if you put her wedding photo next to the other one we had with her shortly before her death, you wouldn't have thought they were the same person. The resemblance was certainly there, but you'd think it was a woman and her grandmother.

My grandfather could not physically, mentally or financially care for the ten children, so they became wards of the state and while some went to live with relatives, others went into the foster care system.

My Aunt Peg wrote the following in the scrapbook she put together for each of her brothers and sisters:

"With the depression things were very hard and Pa just couldn't cope with both it and raising a family. All of us became wards of the state of Massachusetts. We were separated and, some in pairs, some singly, were placed with other families. Each of us has our own memories of these times. Prior to this, a neighbor came and took a family picture.

We all then went our separate ways. In order to give a chance at a good life, Pa authorized us to be adopted but only Loretta was in fact adopted. As time went on, our relatives started to take us out of foster homes.

In 1946 the family was reunited and a second family picture was taken. The order is the same as the earlier one.

From left to right, starting with the top row: Paul, Francis, Rose, Loretta, Cecile, Florence, Germaine, Simone (aka Peg), Blanche (my mom) and Ferdinand.

One of the first things we did when we reassembled was to have a monument made for Ma's grave. It was such a shock to find that she only had a number.

Coming from such a large loving family, it was hard to understand why no one had thought of this before."

I think it was a good idea for her to say "each of us has our own memories of those times" and leave it at that. It's true, those ten children all grew up in very different circumstances. My mother, for instance, was raised by an Irish foster family in Dorchester, a section of Boston that at the time was predominately Irish. Irish and French people didn't get along that well, so basically she was there as a servant and a source of a little extra income from the State. My mother is not one to exaggerate - in fact, she usually downplays events that touch her life - and I remember that she said "the family dog was fed better than I was". If they had pork chops for dinner, the family's biological daughter, Mary, would eat the meat, the give the bone and the gristle to my mother. They gave Mary the cream, and gave the rest to my mother (which years later would make mom laugh, saying "I was getting the healthier milk! Mary got all that fat! I bet she has cholesterol problems!")

But my mother was lucky, for a foster kid growing up during the depression. After the death of her mother, she had very few good memories of her childhood but at least there was no physical abuse. Her foster mother (and her daughter) treated her like the second-class citizen they perceived her to be. But between the near starvation, the long nights sleeping on the cot in the basement next to the furnace (at least it was warm, for when she was about eight years old, it was her job to stoke more coal in the furnace when necessary) and the constant reminder that her ethnic background was anything but desirable, she remembers with fondness the nuns at the hospital she passed on her way home from school - they would be waiting for her as she passed, telling her she was too skinny and giving her some oranges or apples to eat. She remembers the occasional visits with her sister, Germaine, who was with another foster family. And she remembers when, at the age of fifteen, she found she was going to live with her Aunt Rose and be reunited with the rest of her family.

I'm sure they all had similar stories. I've heard bits and pieces, but like Bill Meeks told me, "Write about what you know". So I'll leave it at that.

Perhaps it is because of their history, and because of the tragedy that touched them when they were children, that they grew up into the people they became. I can tell you that on my mother's side I have about 30 cousins, and every single one of them is kind, funny, loving, honest, hard-working, compassionate and in various ways, successful, whether measured by material things or their own wonderful families. The next generation will prove to be even happier, I think, because we all put our families first. I've heard my mother and my Aunt Rose both say "How on earth did we ever learn to be parents?" The younger ones have only scattered memories of their mother, Zelica, and all were raised in less than ideal conditions, to put it mildly. Yet each and every one grew up to be wonderful parents. It's as if someone decided that since they were denied worthy childhoods themselves, that they deserved to be better-than-average parents, knowing their children will never know the sadness that they knew as children.

I think it was in 1989, we had a family reunion. Nine of them came (Freddie was later Photoshopped into the picture!) At one point, I drove a few of them up to the city they were from and saw the house that they had all been born in. They knocked on the door to ask permission to have a photograph taken in front of their old home, and to our surprise and excitement, we were all invited in to take a look around. I remember my mother commenting on the kitchen - with the exception of updated appliances and new linoleum and paint, it looked the same as it did in 1935. That sent chills up my spine, as I looked at the floor wondering where exactly Zelica had fallen. As we walked out, I felt as if some sort of closure had descended on the group. There were no tears, just calm and peace as we left to meet other family members for dinner.

It was a blessing to get them all together, from the somewhat reclusive sibling to the one who had spent the past 25 years in Australia. They talked, they laughed, they sang, and they bragged about their children and grandchildren, many of whom were also in attendance at some point during the multi-week event. I just sat back and soaked it all in, watching my mother in her glory, absorbing stories from all directions and all points of view.

And reminding myself every moment how lucky I am to have been born into such an amazing family. And how much I love them all.

Monday, January 18, 2010

My New Favorite Salad (This Week)

At some point last weekend I found a moment for myself to sit down and channel surf for a minute. Since I'm trying to maintain a healthy diet I've actually been staying away from FoodNetwork, and to a certain extent, Allrecipes. Much too tempting! But I came upon Martha Stewart, and her guest was actress Ellen Burstyn, and I arrived just in time to hear Ms. Burstyn say she sticks to a raw diet for breakfast and lunch, and then eats cooked food for dinner.

Hmmm. Interesting! I've been curious about raw diets - not that I want to actually change to a completely raw diet, but let's face it. Most of us could use a couple raw "meals" every now and then, and I don't mean sushi. So I watched to see what would happen next and she went on to say she loves salads. What followed was a simple, but interesting salad that I've been thinking about ever since.

Red Cabbage Salad - Click here for the recipe - I did tweak ever so slightly, but there's definitely room for adjustments based on your preferences. And let me tell you, if you're getting tired of lettuce based salads (like I am...did I mention I've lost 4.2 pounds since January 1st? Well, just in case you missed it...)

Mix together the vegetables - for about half a recipe, I used:
1/2 head red cabbage
1 cup English cucumber, diced
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 large carrot, grated
2 tbsp. raisins
2 tbsp. cilantro

Then, because someone was using the computer, I made the following dressing from memory (I was amazingly accurate!):

Juice of one large lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp. garam masala
Salt & pepper to taste

I was really tempted to add some more vinegar, but luckily I did not. The dressing is perfect as is!

Then I remember she put in sunflower seeds...I can't find mine. (I know I have them, though - doesn't that make you crazy when you know you have something but can't find it?!) Anyway, walnuts seemed like a good substitute, and it turned out to be a good choice!

Lemon juice, olive oil and garam masala - an EXCELLENT dressing! And this salad is crisp, colorful and delicious!

And along with Grilled Lemon Chicken from Allrecipes, it's going to be my lunch every day this week!

I'm going to need more cabbage.

***Note: Garam masala is a blend of various spices commonly used in Indian cooking. The best garam masala is made fresh from whole toasted spices ground together, but frankly since I have an overflowing spice cabinet, I use a simple recipe from Allrecipes for Easy Garam Masala. You can also find bottled blends (or packets of the whole spices, ready for grinding) in many supermarkets and ethnic shops.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Morning Smoothie: Pineapple Berry Blast


Way back when I started writing this blog, I came up with the idea of doing Sunday Morning Smoothies. I like smoothies for a quick breakfast treat, and by making them at home I can be sure of what goes into them. In addition to costing about $4 or $5 for a medium (and costing you 400 to 1,000 calories a pop), a lot of the coffee shop smoothies contain dyes, artificial flavors and fruit-flavored high fructose corn syrup. If I'm going to drink a 600 calories beverage, it better pack a pretty serious nutritional punch. And they just don't, usually.

These days there are healthier versions of smoothies on the market - Starbucks actually has a couple pretty healthy ones (made without any of the nasties you find at other places) that run less than 300 calories for a 24 ounce drink, and contain around 15 g protein, 6 g fiber and between 1.5 and 4.5g of fat. If you're making this a meal, that's not a bad choice!

But me? I'm cheap. And I like to photograph my food - they look at me weird when I do that at the coffee shop. And I've kind of developed my own little formula for making a smoothie. I always start out with plain yogurt and a half of a frozen banana. Then I add fruit, milk or juice, and if necessary a little sweetener. I also might throw in some ground flax, wheat germ or even some sort of nut butter for a little extra protein. Throw it all into a blender, push the button, pour and enjoy.

I'm going to try to keep up this Sunday Morning Smoothie trend. I kind of stick to the same things for breakfast during the week, so it's nice to treat yourself on the weekends. BUT, I'm not ready to go so far as to bake something or make French toast. I've been tracking like crazy over the past two weeks, getting in a little more exercise and I even joined Weight Watchers on Friday - I'm down 4.2 lbs. since January 1st and got my first reward yesterday when I tried on a pair of jeans I had not been able to fit into for the past five years...and they fit! And fit well, I might add.

Here's this week's Sunday Morning Smoothie - it's about 320 calories, but there's 10g of fiber and about 7g protein. Looking at it as a meal, that's pretty good!


1/2 cup nonfat yogurt, plain or vanilla
1/2 medium banana, frozen and sliced
1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup blackberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup pineapple chunks, fresh or canned and drained
3/4 cup skim milk (give or take)
1 tbsp. ground flax

Blend, pour and enjoy!

Then, it's off to do some housework. I have a few extra chores this week because yesterday was arts and crafts day at our house.....

Sorry, Elsa!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Old Family Photographs...Dad's Family

I have always loved the look of old, black and white photos. They bring to life one's history, one's ancestry, and make you think of days gone by. They make you want to learn more about he people in them.

See this picture?

Well, until several years ago, I never knew it existed, but it is a family portrait of my Dad, his parents and three sisters. It was taken in 1929.

Dad is the little boy in the lower right (I had to say that, because some people mistake this shot of my Aunt Dottie as a little boy! Oddly enough, she was quite a beautiful girl her whole life.) Anyway, the girl in the upper right is my dear Aunt Lorraine. She was well-loved by everyone, including me, and was sort of the family historian, keeping all the old family photos, letters, papers and trinkets safely tucked away.

Sadly, Lorraine was diagnosed with lung cancer in the late 1970's, and passed away in the summer of 1981. I "met" my cousin, Shirley, at her funeral. I'm sure I had met her before, but this was the first time I remember meeting her, and I was quite taken with her. She was very sweet, kind and pretty, and she also provided me with something I had not had before and that was a new perspective into my ancestry. You see, Shirley and I shared the same grandparents, but she had been blessed to have actually known them, while I only had a faded photo or two of my grandfather, George. There were none of my grandmother. I'm sure Lorraine had some, but for some reason, when she was alive, we never sat around and went through those old boxes. I think she was more interested in talking about what we kids were doing now, as opposed to what things were like back in the day.

A year after Lorraine's funeral, we went to a family gathering at another cousin's house. While I very often got to see my mom's side of the family, we only saw Dad's family once in a while because they all lived just a little too far away, and were kind of scattered about. There, by the pool, as everyone told stories and got caught up on the goings on in each other's lives, a bit of family drama erupted. Someone brought up Lorraine's husband's name and Aunt Dottie reacted as if she had been bitten by a snake.

"I hope he rots in hell!!!"

Wow. This shocked me, because Dottie was sweet and fun, "young" for an aunt. I had never heard her speak this way about anyone! But come to find out, the problem was this: After several months, Lorraine's husband met someone. They eventually married, but that was years later. No one really minded about that, for he had been loyal and faithful to Lorraine until the very end, and devastated by her loss. The kicker was, when this new lady came into his life, he decided he no longer wanted the boxes that Lorraine had accumulated over the years, and instead of calling one of her sisters, he simply hauled them to the dump.

"All those photographs, gone!" Dottie cried. "Either burned or rotting in the bottom of the town dump! I'll never see my mother's face again"

With that, I kind of shared her anger towards the uncle I had once loved. I realized that now I would probably never see what my grandmother looked like. Lorraine was the only one who ever thought to collect those old photos.

But thanks to my great aunt Myrtle, I was wrong!

Meet my Grandma, Ruth....

There's not much I know about her personally. Through dabbling in genealogy, I know a lot of names of her relatives and ancestors and where they lived and where they are buried. I know she made hot cross buns at Easter, named my father after her favorite actor (who shared the same name as a brother of hers who died as a child), that she loved to have her family around her, loved to cook (well, duh!) loved baseball and the Red Sox, suffered the loss of one baby, but raised four others, and she collected things. LOTS of thing! When my mother met my father, the family still lived at the old homestead, a giant saltbox on acres of land where they had apple orchards and raised chickens. And every spare inch of shelving and windowsill was adorned with knick knacks.

One day, out of the blue, a letter arrived from my Dad's Aunt Myrtle. Again, I know I have met her, but I really don't remember her. Anyway, she was probably in her late 80's at the time, but spry as a spring chicken nonetheless. The letter had me rolling on the floor - she asked how we were, wondered if we could get together for a visit as she was cooped up and bored, then went on to say "I don't know why people are so afraid of people with AIDS, but if I was still young enough to fool around with strangers, you better believe I'd get myself some condoms!"

Love, Myrtle

I was so disappointed that I could not go (and believe me, I was SOOOOO curious about this out-of-the-blue, eccentric relative!), but my parents surely did pay her a visit. Oh, the stories they told. This woman was QUITE a character!!! But the best part of all was what she sent them home with - a cigar box, filled with old photographs, including the family portrait, the above photo of my grandmother as well as another of Grandmother Ruth...

Best of all, on the back of this photo was, in Myrtle's handwriting, "this is the one I want to have done. You know just the head. It's not very recent but its the best one I can find. She hated to have her picture taken."

Ah! I learned something else about my grandmother! Every little bit is precious.

Here's another portrait done a few years later of the two older girls, Bev and Lorraine...

"To Gram, with Love"

And here's "Gram", my grandfather's mother, Delia on the left... Dad in the middle, and his other grandfather (Ruth's father, Grant) on the right.

This one is Dad and his parents, taken the same day as the one above...

"She was so mad at me for goofing around! She could be so serious."

Grandma Ruth had reason to be somber. These photos were taken, I believe, the day before Dad shipped off to boot camp in 1943. He had enlisted on his 19th birthday and within a couple months would be in North Africa, and later India, China and Burma. I can only imagine what was going through this woman's mind, wondering if this would be the last time she saw her only son alive.

She probably didn't like the fact that my Dad was a born comedian, always smiling, always a twinkle in his eye.

I bet he got in trouble for wearing his hat tilted off to one side like that!

Well, we can't forget Grandpa George! He had also enlisted in the Army years earlier, but never made it out of Fort Devens in Massachusetts - World War I came to an end just as he finished basic training. I know he was proud of his son to choose to serve his country. But from what I hear about my grandfather, he was rough and gruff and prone to curse...a lot. For a while I was kind of glad I didn't get the chance to know him (or his temper), for fear he would *gulp* yell at me.

But then came this photo...
"Shirley and Gramp. Isn't she a darling? She is never much farther away from Grampa when he is home"

Yeah, he seems like a nice enough guy!

I don't know why, but I love this one...Grandfather George standing at the edge of a lake in New Hampshire near the family "camp"...
I always wonder what he was thinking at that moment. Let's read the inscription for some clues, shall we?

So either he was looking for deer and bear tracks, OR he was wondering where the heck Al was with the beer!

Here he is again.

And finally, the kids - Dottie, Dad, Bev and Lorraine, this one from the late 40's.

I love this one, too. They just seem so happy, like they're smiling not because someone is taking a picture, but because they want to smile. It captures the spirit of family, the era of post-war America, when life was getting back to normal and good times were ahead, and the Great Depression was just a shadow of a memory. I'm proud to own this picture and to have known these four people, even if I did miss out on meeting their parents.

And I wonder if my daughter, years down the road, will browse through boxes of photos from my childhood, and be just as proud of her mom as I am of my Dad.

Yeah.....maybe not!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Healthy Start

Off an on during the day yesterday, I kept poking through bread and muffin recipes, looking for one that would jump out at me as something yummy, but healthy, that I could work into my breakfast routine. I kept thinking of cranberry orange muffins.

But just as I started to pull out my ingredients and muffin pans, I got to thinking...rarely is one muffin an adequate breakfast for me. Plus, muffins are more like a treat - especially loaded with fruits, nuts and whatever sweetener I opt for. There's usually some sort of fat added, for I'm not a fan of rubbery "non-fat" muffins, and as hard as I try, I can't just eat one, or I eat just one, then make myself a second breakfast of sorts. So, as I tried to set of on the right foot for 2010, I came across this recipe on Allrecipes:

I was really looking for something to use up that bag of fresh cranberries I had thawed, but alas, this holiday season I do have lots of dried cranberries in stock, so this worked for me. I also still have some frozen blueberries from our picking adventure last summer, so I put some of those to good use!

First, we tossed all the ingredients into a microwave safe bowl...
Old-fashioned oats, cranberries, blueberries, cinnamon, ground ginger, turmeric (which I halved), water and orange juice...I tossed in a few grates of orange zest as I was using a fresh orange for the juice.

Then I read the're supposed to add the orange juice after cooking. Oh well. Good thing "Following Directions" has never made my New year's Resolution List! No worries, though, it came out fine - just needed to nuke it for 3 1/2 minutes or so, instead of two.

And here's my breakfast!
Quite good! I did need to add just a little drizzle of honey. The turmeric was not as troubling as I expected, maybe since I used half the amount in the recipe it's sort of a subtle background flavor that you can't quite put your finger on. All in all, a very good recipe, and fast! It makes one BIG serving, too. Some chopped apples would be a nice addition, and I think I might experiment with a slow-cooker steel cut oatmeal version of this.

Cranberry-Orange Spiced Oatmeal from Leah H at Allrecipes


  • 3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric (optional)
  • 1 pinch ground ginger (optional)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup orange juice, or as needed


  1. Place the rolled oats, cinnamon, cranberries, and blueberries in a microwave safe bowl. Add the turmeric and ginger, if desired. Pour in the water, and stir to mix ingredients. Cook on High until water is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Stir in orange juice to desired consistency.
And, enjoy a nice hot hearty healthy breakfast!

Friday, January 1, 2010

My 2009 Report Card

I just realized I hadn't really put much thought into what my 2010 Resolutions will be. Probably because I'm not quite finished with my 2009 ones, which I blogged about HERE. Especially the big "L.W." one. Oh well, lets review, shall we?

2009 Resolution#1 - Lose Weight... My Grade: C+

My goal: Sheesh, did I even set one? I think I had 20 pounds in mind for a challenging, yet achievable goal. For a while, it looked as though I had the ambition and willpower to do it, but then life happened. The official tally is...... 13 pounds. Which in itself isn't all that bad. I mean, despite hormones and a busy and stressful work situation this year, a little turmoil on the homefront and a smattering of depression here and there, 13 pounds is ok. What sucks is at one point I was at 18 pounds....ah well, thankfully I'm at the start of a new year, and I'm already plotting my course.

My BIGGEST downfall was not the two weeks of holiday baking I did at the end of the year - I really didn't eat many of those goodies. My downfall was exercise, or lack of it. My focus for my 2010 Lose Weight Resolution (of course there will be one!) will be on exercise - I need to get to the gym more, as that was where my most effective workouts take place. I might even have a little extra moral support, as we're doing this as a family. My husband's been doing great, going to the gym at least 2 or 3 times a week, gave up his beloved Diet Coke habit (yes, even though it's "diet" it's really not good for you - too many phosphates, especially when you drink 2 liters a day...) He's down about 20 pounds, and "on his last belt loop" meaning he'll be digging through that bin of clothes we packed away a couple years ago, unable to fit into them nor part with them.

Anyway, our social butterfly daughter is at an age where she wants to go to the KidWatch Gym at the Y, make friends and play while Mommy and Daddy go off to the Wellness Center. So I guess my Tuesday and Thursday nights are booked! My biggest stumbling block is my work schedule, but I'm working on that one too.

2009 Resolution#2 - Visit My Parents Once A Week ... My Grade.... B+

Started out strong, but as usual life gets in the way and there were a few weeks that a few phone calls had to suffice. Still, I am blessed with a wonderful mother and father, both of whom have had some health issues - some normal aged-related, and others more serious - but I have to hand it to them both - they keep on keeping on! My mother is a three-time cancer survivor - three different types of cancer (cervical, breast and colon), and while she had yet another scare this year (lung) it turned out to be negative. For now, anyway. My father, whose general health has always been pretty good except for high blood pressure, which he has controlled with diet and medication for the past forty years, has also had a few "blips" here and there, but is still doing well. His eyesight is failing terribly, but he can read with the aid of a magnifying device and has also taught himself to see using his peripheral vision. His hearing aid is tempermental, but he has taken to listening to music again and will always listen to his beloved Red Sox games. And despite the fact that he needs his walker to get around, he goes for several walks each day (and even did some gardening this summer!). He has to. If he doesn't, his legs and back stiffen up so badly he can barely move, so for a total of an hour each day, he walks, sitting down when he needs to, then climbs back up to my parents; second-floor apartment for a break.

Sometimes I get a little sad thinking that this is what his life has become. He turned 85 in 2009, and for the first time he's feeling what old age can be like. It's a very painful thing to witness, but on the other hand he lights up like a Christmas tree every time my daughter walks into the room, and better yet she has not been one of those kids who shies away from "old" people. On the contrary, she adores her Grammy and Grampy, and there is never that few minutes of "warming up to them" at the beginning of each visit, she just delves right in, dragging out her toys and recruiting them for games of cards (which my father can barely read!) Sometimes I join in, sometimes I sit back and watch, wondering if she has any clue how precious these memories will be some day.

(Excuse me, I need a tissue....)

Alright, let's lighten the mood a bit!

2009 Resolution#3 - Clean House My Grade: Incomplete

So many projects, so little time. Yes, I made a lot of headway into this one - that bedroom set, as predicted, made it's way into the Salvation Army truck, as did on old television set we were trying to give away but no one wanted. But no sooner do I get one corner cleaned up, another corner becomes a disaster. So give me a couple more weeks on this one. Things were looking good just before the Christmas decorations came out, and once they're back in their respective storage places I plan on finishing this one up to the point where I can...what's the word? Oh yeah! MAINTAIN. It sounds so simple.

2009 Resolution #4 - Visit Ten New Places My Grade: A

Let's see.... I blogged about the big trip - Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Buffalo, Niagara Falls. That's 50% of my goal achieved in one trip! Add in a few more local places - blueberry picking at Tougas Farm, finally visiting the Old Stone Church, a visit to the Children's Museum in Hartford, CT...I also walked around Newport, RI last May, when my sister-in-law was up for a visit. We've done the mansion and cliff walk before, but never the actual town. It was nice! Historic buildings, cobblestone streets, a nice seafood restaurant, a fudge shop....the weather was cool and rainy, and being slightly off season there weren't many tourists around, yet it wasn't deserted either. One more makes ten.....well, I know I went to at least two local restaurants that I had never been to before! Love those girls' nights out! One was a Mexican restaurant on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, and the other an Italian restaurant that had just opened and has since closed. Both were great meals and great fun. Might be stretching it a bit, but overall I think I did well with this one!

And finally......

2009 Resolution#5 - Read More My Grade: A

I blogged about my progress earlier this year and listed some of the books I had read. While my reading time kind of dwindled off a bit, I came back full force. In fact, this week on vacation I read three three days!

First, "Mr Timothy" by Louis Bayard. I grabbed this one off my shelf as I headed out to wait for my car to be was just a few days after Christmas, and the night before we had watched Scrooge, so I was in the mood for this one.

Set in the 1860's, this is the story of "Tiny" Tim Cratchit, grown to adulthood and trying balance survival and independence, while being haunted by his past, trying to separate himself from his benefactor, Ebenezer Scrooge and finding himself a sort of witness to a crime. The book captures what life was like during those times for those less fortunate, and the story is suspenseful and entertaining.

My daughter got a Playmobile boat and submarine set for Christmas (because Daddy wanted to play with it), and at some point Christmas morning, while a rescue was underway in my living room, I uttered the quote "Gloucester! They're always from Gloucester!" from "The Perfect Storm". I thought of that when I chose this book:

The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw

If you've seen or read "The Perfect Storm" about the tragic last journey of the Andrea Gail, lost at sea during a violent storm, Linda Greenlaw is the real-life captain of the Andrea Gail's sister ship, Hannah Boden. In this book, she chronicles a typical month-long fishing trip in the north Atlantic, including a few flashbacks into her childhood and early fishing career. While there's no real plot or story line, this journal of a fishing trip was very interesting. She explains the process of fishing, the technical and scientific side of running a fishing boat, and shares some stories of her very respectable career. Good book - I have her other book, "The Lobster Chronicles" waiting on my shelf and am looking forward to reading more about this really interesting person.

And this tearjerker I finished up last night, standing by the stove making popcorn and bawling my eyes out.

Chosen By A Horse by Susan Richards

A very poignant memoir of a woman who survives an abusive childhood, battles a drinking problem, emerges from a failed marriage to a life centered around her horses and her job as a social worker. When she takes in an abused and neglected horse, her outlook on life gradually changes. While the horse heals, the author also begins to heal and in her 40's returns to the dating scene. Just as the future seems to brighten for both, an illness rears it's ugly head. The most empowering aspect of this book is that the author decides not to run away from this problem as she always had in the past, but to embrace the heartache and pain of loss as an example of her own capability to love.

I needed tissues at the end of this one.

Well, all in all, I think I did pretty good! While the weight loss is still a problem for me, I keep chipping away at it, keep getting back up on that horse (oh that HORSE!!!! Waaaah! Seriously, that book killed me). But as I review 2009 I realize I got the scale to move in the right direction, I broadened my horizons in travel and literature, reminded myself to appreciate my family and even cleaned a little house!

I'm trying to think up a few specifics for 2010 resolutions, but to summarize: lose more weight, travel more, read more, live, laugh and love more.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year!