Every Four Years

February 29 may be just another date on the calendar, but for a lot of people it has a huge meaning; it’s finally their actual birthday! Because technically, if you’re born on February 29, you really only have a birthday every four years. Now that could be a real bummer when you’re a kid, but think about it as you get older. For instance, you’re technically becoming a teenager when you’re 52 years old. For the ladies officially turning Sweet 16, you’re 64. And could we ever do a party for that one!

Statistics indicate that there are approximately 187,000 people in the U.S. who were born on this day. Considering there are about 319 million people in the country, I’d say those leap year babies, who I’ve learned are generally called “leaplings,” are fairly rare. And that makes them pretty special! After all, the chances of being born on February 29 are 1 in 1,461.

0228_lif_carousel-400x257-c-defaultOf course being born on February 29 doesn’t really make them immune to aging like the rest of us. They just have to celebrate on the 28th or on March 1, which is usually the date most states recognize as a technical birthdate for anyone born on February 29. (Otherwise, you’d not be getting your driver’s license until you were in your 60’s, and that really wouldn’t be fair!) For leaplings that have children, unless their children are also born on February 29, their children will probably have had more actual birthdays than their parent by the time they’re 8 or 9 years old. How do you explain that one to a youngster? And how about the teacher who was born on February 29 and ends up having her students technically older than she is?

Saying February 29 doesn’t even sound right, does it? All the other months have a 29th, but poor February only has one every 1,460 days! Maybe it should be some kind of special holiday. We would call it Leap Day.

Just think…Bake shops would offer a free cake, or at least a free cupcake, for each leap year birthday. Restaurants would give a discount, or even a free meal to the birthday person. Even better, employers would give that person the day off with pay! (No it may not be totally fair, but is it fair they only have one birthday every four years?) Each birthday person would dress crazily that day and wear a huge button saying, “It’s my Birthday and I’m only ___ years old!” (That can get interesting, the older you get!)

Personally I don’t know anyone who was born on February 29. At least I don’t think I do. But if you do, by all means, wish them a very Happy Birthday! They don’t always get to hear it every year!

Back in Grandmom’s Kitchen

Grandmom’s kitchen was always a special place to be. I can still remember what it looked like, although I doubt it was really as big as it is in my mind. After all, the last time I was in it I was only eleven years old. There were actually had two separate “rooms” to her kitchen; one where she actually did most of her work, and the other being a huge pantry, complete with sink, electric stove, and numerous cabinets full of all kinds of cookware as well as the typical baking and similar goodies. Canned goods and vegetables were stored in her “root cellar” which you could only access from outside the house (and as a kid, I didn’t venture down there; it was dark and musty-smelling, and just looked scary!). That pantry was also where my mom and my aunts would help out with the family meals while Grandmom worked in the main kitchen.

But what I remember most about Grandmom’s kitchen is the big old woodstove she had against the middle of her back wall in the main kitchen area. The pantry room had been added on many years after the original house was built, but Grandmom’s original kitchen was the heart of her home. And that old woodstove was the heart of her kitchen. I cannot even imagine how many meals she cooked on that stove.

And the stories that old stove could’ve told…..

wood stoveWhen my mom and her four brothers and sisters were growing up my grandfather was working his farm every day, and had several hired hands helping him. In those days, the farmer’s wife cooked and served lunch for everyone. My grandmother was no exception, and although I don’t really know how many men Granddaddy had working for him, I’m sure that on most days there were at least four or five extra mouths at that lunch table, so that woodstove got a workout!

I can’t even begin to imagine how many huge kettles of jams and jellies were made on top of that stove. How many “messes” of turnip greens were cooked up. Plus I’m sure there were lots of cast iron skillets full of cornbread baked in that oven. And, since they were a farming family who raised hogs and chickens along with corn, potatoes, and soy beans, this memory wouldn’t be complete without mentioning how my grandmother used to fry up the pigs’ ears and pigs’ tails for my youngest aunt when she was a little girl. To me it sounds awful, but my aunt said they were delicious! I’ll just take her word for it.

woodstoveI cannot imagine the skill it took to prepare a meal on a woodstove. There was virtually no way to control the amount of heat, either on the top burners or in the oven. How in the world my grandmother managed to bake pies, cakes, and cookies without burning them up or ending up with a glop of under-baked dough, I have no idea. But I’m sure that’s why a lot of her handwritten recipes that I still have don’t have an oven temperature on them, or a cooking time! She just knew what to do. How she was able to fry chicken and pork chops and have them turn out juicy and golden brown, I cannot say. (I can’t get them to turn out well on a modern gas stove!) Roasting a turkey or a chicken in an oven where you can’t control the heat? I have no idea how she did it, but she did!

And this made me start thinking even further. How in the world do you actually manage to cook a meal on a wood stove? You can’t just turn on a burner and cook some vegetables or scramble some eggs. The fire has to be started, stoked, and established. Depending on what you wish to cook, you have to somehow adjust the heat accordingly. Not an easy thing to do, since it’s very difficult to control a constant temperature. Wood needs to be added continually or the fire will go out. It’s a matter of trial and error guesswork, in all honesty.

Grandmom didn’t use that stove very much by the time my cousins and I were growing up, since she had her other one, and the woodstove was quite a bit of work to keep operating. But we always begged her to make us toast in it when we came to visit. That stove made the very best toast I’ve ever had! There was just something so special about the flavor of sliced bread toasted in that oven and then slathered with real butter; I can’t describe it. I’ve tried to duplicate it many times, but you just can’t re-create the flavor that came from that wood fire.

Unfortunately Grandmom’s woodstove was sold along with the house and farm after my grandfather died and my grandmother came to live with my mother and me. I hadn’t thought about this in years, but now I’d really like to know where it went. Not that any of us in the family would have used it as a stove, but wouldn’t it have made a wonderful conversation piece in someone’s family room?

Oh, the memories…..

Grandma’s Apron

Let me say right at first that I did not write either of the two pieces that follow. I wish I had, because I love the sentiment behind them. But I will not take credit for someone else’s work.

The actual poem which inspired the story “The History of Grandma’s Apron” was written by Tina Trivett in August, 2007, as a tribute to her grandmother. It has appeared on numerous websites and blogs, and I am happy to re-post it as well, because it stirs up so many memories of my own grandparents.

apron 2When I started thinking about it, until my grandmother came to live with my mom and me, I don’t really remember seeing her without an apron on. Her aprons were almost always made of some flowery material, and very soft, from years of washing. And they were one of those big ones described here in the stories, made for doing just about anything that needed done! As well as protecting her clothes, of course, because back then, our grandmothers NEVER wore anything but dresses! Dresses which had most likely been carefully made by them on one of those beautiful old treadle sewing machines. Most likely that’s why my mother was such an excellent seamstress, since she learned from her own mother. Why her two sisters never got that talent, I’ll never know; I guess they were never really interested enough to try!

Now, most of us who do cook, at least almost everyone I know, don’t wear an apron. I only have one in my house. It’s one that my mother made for my husband when we were first married, sort of as a joke, because he was always spilling food on his shirt or tie (and still does!) My mom wore them from time, to time, but sadly I don’t even have any of those.

But oh, how I wish I still had one of my grandmom’s aprons. To cherish, not to wear!

The History of Grandma’s Apron (Author Unknown)

I don’t think our kids know what an apron is. The principle use of Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few. It was also because it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and aprons used less material. But along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.

Grandmas-ApronIt was wonderful for drying children’s tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.

From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.

When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.

And when the weather was cold, Grandma wrapped it around her arms.

Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove. Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.

From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.

In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.

When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.

When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch, waved her apron, and the men folk knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner.

It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that ‘old-time apron’ that served so many purposes.


pies coolingGrandma used to set her hot baked apple pies on the window sill to cool. Her granddaughters set theirs on the window sill to thaw.

They would go crazy now trying to figure out how many germs were on that apron.

I don’t think I ever caught anything from an apron – but love!

Grandma’s Apron – a Poem by Tina Trivett
(which inspired the story above)

The strings were tied, it was freshly washed, and maybe even pressed.
For Grandma, it was everyday to choose one when she dressed.
The simple apron that it was, you would never think about;
the things she used it for, that made it look worn out.

She may have used it to hold some wildflowers that she’d found.
Or to hide a crying child’s face when a stranger came around.
Imagine all the little tears that were wiped with just that cloth.
Or it became a potholder to serve some chicken broth.

Collecting-Eggs-2She probably carried kindling to stoke the kitchen fire.
To hold a load of laundry, or to wipe the clothesline wire.
When canning all her vegetables, it was used to wipe her brow.
You never know, she might have used it to shoo flies from the cow.

She might have carried eggs in from the chicken coop outside.
Whatever chore she used it for, she did them all with pride.
When Grandma went to heaven, God said she now could rest.
I’m sure the apron that she chose, was her Sunday best.

Thank you Tina Trivett, for inspiring so many of us.

Learning to Cook

Since many of my friends have teased me about the Saturday recipe blogs, although many of you seem to enjoy them quite a bit, I thought I’d take the time to explain some of the history behind this. (Plus, I couldn’t decide what recipe to post today, so it’s a perfect time for this story!)

Back when I was growing up as a teenager in the 60’s, we had a class called Home Economics. We started taking it in seventh grade, and believe it or not, since I have a reputation among my friends for trying NOT to cook more than trying TO cook, I was actually one of the student assistants for the seventh and eighth graders during both my junior and senior years.

A good reason for that is probably because I used to sew quite well (probably still can if I really tried, but I gave it up years ago), having been taught by my mother who had won a few local awards for her abilities as a seamstress.

cookie makingBut part of Home Ec, as we all called it, involved cooking, which I’d never really had a lot of interest in. I remember my mother introducing me to rolling out biscuit and cookie dough when I was really small. I actually remember being in our pantry and standing on a stool my father had made so I would be tall enough to reach the counter and help cut out the pieces of dough with cookie cutters my mother let me use. I think there’s a picture somewhere, but I haven’t been able to find it.

And yes, I did eat some of the raw dough, just like I’ve always told my own daughter not to do when she helps me. The difference is, I learned early on that not listening to my mother wasn’t the smartest thing I could ever do!

I don’t remember what those first cookies I made looked like, or even tasted like, but I can assume that my mother told me they were the prettiest ones she’d ever seen…the best she’d ever had. After all, that’s what most mothers do! I’m also fairly certain they were NOT the best she’d ever had! And probably not very pretty, either.

Several years later I got some kind of baking set for either Christmas or my birthday. It came complete with little mixing bowls and individual cake mix and icing mixes. This was before those Easy-Bake ovens, because I remember my mom helping put the little bowls in her oven and waiting expectantly for my cakes to cook. I also remember how delicious that chocolate cake mix was after all the ingredients were added, and how sick I got after eating almost a whole package of it.

hot chocolateThat was basically my cooking experience until I found myself in my first Home Ec class. I thought I would do great until I discovered the first unit was cooking…good grief, no! I had no idea what to do! We had to make hot chocolate. From scratch. Using a recipe. No instant packages! Fortunately we were in teams. Unfortunately my teammates knew about as much of what to do as I did. We put the ingredients together, cooked it, and somehow managed to burn the milk, and it tasted awful. In fact, I think most of us in that class had the same “success”.

There were two other dishes we had to prepare. One being corn chowder. How many of you have ever had corn chowder? I hadn’t. But I have to say it was actually fairly decent after we made it. These days I’d add some potatoes and a bunch of clams and some macaroni and tomato, and turn it into clam chowder. Now THAT would be good! The other dish? Good old fashioned green bean casserole…who doesn’t know how to make that? Well, I didn’t at the time, but I excelled in that one! And I actually still make it quite a bit.

And how funny is it that I won the Betty Crocker Homemaker Award when I was a senior! I don’t remember what I had to do, but I can guarantee it was probably from taking a written test, and possibly submitting some of the clothes I’d made. Not for my cooking abilities! And yes, my husband still shakes his head over that one.

2016-02-18 20.34.39Now for the truth….while I like to tell people I don’t cook unless I’m forced to, I actually do cook. Not every night, and nothing near as elaborate as I used to “back in the day” when I had more time. I do fix huge holiday dinners, and love to make cookies and key lime pie! I also have a rather extensive recipe collection, and sometimes even use some of them.

And yes, most of the recipes I’m using on the blog are from our family cookbooks! I have to put them to use for something!

One Day, A Cure

I have lost family members to Alzheimer’s. I have several friends who have lost family members to Alzheimer’s. We are losing a friend of 35+ years to Alzheimer’s, and he is in our age group.

Recently I wrote a three part blog about our friend, called “Remembering Chuck”, detailing some of the challenges he and his family have been going through. The other day his oldest daughter Katy shared my blog post on her Facebook, with the following message:

“I’m not usually one for sharing super personal things online, but this is a struggle I know many have gone through and may yet have to.

I saw my dad this past Christmas for the first time in several years. Living so far away, I had heard from my sisters and mom how quickly his Alzheimer’s had progressed, and I thought because I understood it logically that I would be able to handle seeing him in person. That was…not the case. I had to turn away to hide my tears because it was just so clear how far gone he is. It was painful to hear him ask me if I was dating anyone (when he was at my wedding several years ago) and to describe living with his parents, who have been dead now for 51 years. And then to turn around and call me Katybug, as he always did when I was a kid. Some things are there and some aren’t.

I’ll be honest – going through this with my dad has been a drawn-out mourning process. I catch myself referring to him in past tense as if he were already gone, and honestly…in a lot of ways, he is. The difference is that he’s technically still around, and my grief over his loss has been extended over a decade rather than hitting all at once if he had died. Part of me feels like when he finally passes away, it will be easier because I’ve had time to process it (and because I know the happiness that awaits him on the other side). But if my experience this Christmas is any indication, it may not be after all.

Alzheimer’s sucks, especially of the early-onset variety, and I live in fear that it’s my future, too. I can only hope that I have more time to prepare than he did.”

Sobering thoughts from a young lady in her mid-twenties. She has two younger sisters, who are probably feeling and thinking the same things.

I was twenty-five years older than Katy when my uncles and my aunt started experiencing the effects of this disease. It was terrible to watch. Seeing a loved one you’ve known all your life as vibrant, active, full of life, turn into someone who sometimes doesn’t know who you are or anything about you is heart-wrenching.

I watched my mother’s oldest sister as she went through the stages of this disease, and although, like Katy, I wasn’t there all the time to see her descent into the valley of Alzheimer’s, along with hearing almost daily reports from my mother, I also saw Aunt Mary every couple of months, and the change I saw in her each time was terribly upsetting. She progressed to where she didn’t know where she was or what she was doing, or even who she was.

Many of you thankfully haven’t yet been touched by this disease. Oh, you may think you have because you’ve heard of a favorite celebrity who’s affected by it and think, “Oh, how horrible this is. They’re so great, so talented, what a shame. I feel so bad for them.” And then you forget about them.

You have no idea. Until it’s personal. Then it hits you. Then you understand.

What about my uncle who rose from being a minimum wage office boy to the comptroller of an international corporation? He developed Alzheimer’s and died not knowing who any of us were, or who he was, not knowing how to even eat or button a button.

What about my friend’s mother who not only raised five beautiful children, but had been a popular teacher, a successful realtor, and a deacon in her church for years? Who at the end of her life couldn’t speak, or focus her eyes on anything, or even pray to the Lord she had served most of her life.

What about another friend’s mother whose savings were depleted because of her illness and had to be placed in a state-sponsored facility because her children couldn’t afford anywhere else? Her mind would still function briefly but in her times of lucidity would cry out for her own parents who’d been dead for fifty years or more, because she thought she was a teenager and still living with them.

There are as many different stories of Alzheimer’s patients as there are people who suffer with it. Yes, it greatly affects the person who has it, but we cannot forget that person’s loved ones who are living it day to day in a different way. The patient doesn’t know he or she isn’t remembering things; to them, everything is just the way it should be in their own private world.

But for those of us whose loved ones are going through this, it’s a nightmarish reality that never ends. We try to rationalize their behavior and deny anything is wrong until we are finally forced to admit what’s happening. We cannot bring back our loved one’s memory; we cannot rationalize the “new normal” our loved one has become. They may still look like that person, but there’s a vacancy in their eyes and a look on their face that tells us everything is forever changed. We desperately want them back, but it can’t happen.

And yes, we mourn. As Katy, said we mourn while they are still alive because the person we knew them as is no longer there. We mourn our own loss of the last few years with them. We mourn because there are grandchildren missing out on knowing their grandparents. And we mourn because our loved ones are missing out on even more. Fortunately they don’t realize it.

But we do. And, like Katy, I cannot help but wonder if I will be on that road as well. And if that time comes, I may not even know I’m on that road, but my daughter and grandchildren would, and I cannot bear that thought.

One day, please, let there be a cure, as well as a prevention, for this awful disease. Before it grabs any more of us.

But I’ve Been So Busy…

“Yes, Dad. I know. I want to come see you, too, but I’ve got a lot to do right now. How’re you feeling? Oh, I’m sorry. What did the doctor say? Ok. Well, be sure to take those pills. I’ll try to get by on Sunday after church. It may be late afternoon, though, because we have to go to a committee meeting after service, and we always go to lunch with the group afterwards. Tomorrow? Well, I’d like to, but the grandkids have a soccer game and then we told them we’d take them all out for pizza. We don’t want to disappoint them.”

Glenn’s dad lived twenty minutes away from him. In fact, his dad’s house was actually on the way to and from Glenn’s job. His dad had dementia, and heart problems, and hadn’t been getting along too well recently. Glenn loved his dad, but it seemed he could never make the time to go see him like he said he wanted to. Other things always seemed to intrude, and then he’d forget he’d promised to do something for him.

In fact, his dad usually had to call him to see how HE was, rather than Glenn calling him. Plus, he really didn’t enjoy going to see his dad, because of the memory issues, and it seemed his dad always wanted him to stay with him longer than Glenn had the time to do.

Then one day a few weeks after that conversation, Glenn got a call from the hospital. His dad had been rushed there by ambulance with severe chest pains and difficulty breathing. He suddenly realized he’d promised to go see him, but never made it over there. Something came up…and he hadn’t even called to tell his dad he wasn’t coming.

Glenn headed to the hospital, swearing to himself if his dad made it, things would change. He’d go see him more, do things for him. Take him to dinner with the grandkids even.

But Glenn was too late. He’d put off doing what he should do one too many times. He didn’t even make it to the hospital in time to even say, “I love you, Dad.” He’d gotten this really important phone call as he was leaving, and in that fifteen minutes he was on the phone, his father went home to be with the Lord.

Glenn was filled with guilt. He started thinking back on how many times he’d visited his dad over the past six months. It didn’t even add up to once a month. If only he’d taken the time when he could…what difference would an hour or so have made in his important busy schedule, which didn’t seem so important right now. Last week it would’ve been a hassle. Now he’d give anything to have to rearrange that schedule to see his dad alive just one more time.

Too often we put other things in front of our loved ones. We think we have all the time in the world to see them, do something with them. We don’t want to interrupt our own lives, our own priorities, to make time for someone we really care about. After all, they’ll certainly understand. They know we care about them, but they certainly know how busy we are.

Hindsight is always 20/20, as I’ve written many times. If only we knew THEN what we know NOW, we certainly would have done things a lot different. But life doesn’t work like that. We all have choices to make in our lives; priorities to determine. Sometimes we make the right choices, and sometimes we don’t.

I will be the first to admit that I’m guilty of this at times. I think we all are. But to what degree do we allow ourselves to continually put ourselves and our own desires over those of our friends and family? Particularly our elderly family members? How often do we think, oh, everything is probably ok with them. I’ll check on them later; they know how much I care about them. I’m really busy with……right now.

Do they really know you care? Actions speak louder than words, as the saying goes. How would you feel if the situation were reversed? Would you feel deserted? Abandoned? Would you be upset that people you thought cared about you didn’t care enough to check on you when you were having problems?

It’s easy to let the busy-ness of our lives take over and rearrange our priorities, until our lives become so self-centered we don’t even realize what we’re doing. Then it’s often too late to make amends.

Are you too busy? If you think you are, stop and figure out what you can cut out of that busy-ness of your life so you can make time for some things that really count. Call a friend who’s going through a tough time and see how they’re doing. Go visit an elderly relative who’s alone. Call some friends you haven’t connected with in a while and get together and catch up.
Tomorrow is not promised. Today is only what we make it, and I am going to put aside some of my own busy-ness for someone else I care about.

How about you?

Dreaming of Chocolate

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. Yes, I know I already wrote some thoughts on the day, but still, Valentine’s Day traditionally means, among other things, CHOCOLATE!

Flowers are beautiful and smell wonderful. Diamonds are always the right color and sparkle. And wine and champagne, well, they’re celebratory as well.

But chocolate. Chocolate talks to you. It loves you. It really, really loves you. And let’s face it, there are really very, very few of you who don’t like chocolate. I’m sure there are a few scattered here and there, but basically, chocolate cures just about anything. Or so it seems.

You say you had a bad day? Eat some chocolate. You’re feeling a bit down? Eat a piece of chocolate. A bad hair day? Chocolate helps. Chocolate understands.

You get the picture, right?

And I’m not talking white chocolate. That’s good, in its place. But for now, I’m talking the true milk chocolate, or my personal favorite, dark chocolate.

So for chocolate lovers everywhere, for Valentine’s Day, or for National Chocolate Day, whenever that may be, here are two of my family’s special chocolate recipes to try.

Mom’s Chocolate Fudge Deluxe

3 c sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 c milk
1/2 c light karo syrup
3 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 1/4 c butter
2 tsp vanilla
1 c walnuts (optional, especially for me!)

Mix first 6 ingredients. Cook until it reaches a soft ball stage. Remove from heat and pour into large mixing bowl. Stir in vanilla. Cool for 25 minutes. Beat until thickened; stir in nuts, if desired. Spread in 8×8’ buttered pan; cool. Cut into squares and enjoy!
chocolate fudge
Aunt Mary’s Hot Fudge Sauce (just right for a special hot fudge sundae)

1 large can evaporated milk
4 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Pinch of salt

Mix ingredients and cook in double boiler until thickened, stirring constantly. Cool somewhat and pour over ice cream. Serve immediately!ice+cream+sundae

Remember, there’s always room for chocolate. And on holidays or other special occasions, there’s no calories in it!

Rethinking Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is Sunday. Three days from now.

The card shops are overflowing with red and pink; there are hearts everywhere, and an entire store-length row of cards, from mushy to funny, for spouses, sweethearts, kids…even the dog and cat! There are singing stuffed animals everywhere, boxes of candy and all kinds of cute figurines that scream “I love you!” Saturday evening the shops will be full of guys who leave everything to the last minute, and then realize their wife or girlfriend is going to be really upset if they’re empty-handed Sunday morning.

The florist shops are full of red and pink roses, whose prices are inflated (of course!) for the weekend. After all, roses are in high demand right now, especially red ones! Mylar balloons are appropriately displayed, and deliveries are already hard to schedule, because there just isn’t enough time.

Chocolate-Covered-StrawberriesThe candy stores are equally busy, making all manner of chocolate goodies, and as quickly as they’re made, they’re walking out the door. Chocolate covered strawberries are a hugely popular item this year, and of course, extremely pricey!

And the restaurants are advertising their special romantic “dinner for two” packages, with special menus, special wines, and decadent desserts. And for an extra $5 or $10, they’ll include a rose or two. You’d better already have your reservations at the really popular places, or else you’re going to miss out!

Everywhere you go, you’re bombarded with reminders of Valentine’s Day. You’re even hit with them at the grocery store!

You’re supposed to show him/her how much you REALLY love them on this day. But what about the day before, and the day after? The week after? Don’t those days count as well? Why should we limit showing someone we love them to just one particular day?

But there are many people out there for which Valentine’s Day is just another reminder of what they’ve lost. Like Thanksgiving and Christmas, it can also be a very difficult day.

What about those individuals whose spouses have died, and they’re alone, perhaps for the first time, on Valentine’s Day. They may pass by a card display in a store and see those cards reading “To My Husband/Wife on Valentine’s Day” and suddenly the pain they’ve put away for months comes back as they remember last year’s celebration, and even the cards they may have exchanged.

What about those people whose spouses have deserted them for someone else? They, too, remember previous years, and are now thinking how he/she is with that other person having a wonderful time, while they’re sitting home alone, or perhaps wondering if during last year’s Valentine celebration their now “ex” was actually dreaming about someone else.

Then there’s the young woman who was happily planning her wedding until her fiancé told her just a month ago that he’s changed his mind and calling it off.

What about the young woman or young man who is still searching for that special person to share their life with, and year after year Valentine’s Day is the same? A constant reminder that there’s no one out there for them yet, while all their friends seem to have already found the love of their life. Why not them?

And there’s the couple who just got a devastating diagnosis from the doctor. Now they’re wondering if there’ll even be another Valentine’s Day together next year.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Valentine’s Day; I always have. I enjoy getting a card or two from my husband, and I won’t turn down a box of candy, although now I ask him not to spend money on cut flowers (give me a rosebush I can plant!). But over the past few years we’ve had so many friends going through so much, it has really caused me to reflect on how we think about our loved ones, and how often we actually tell them how important they are to us; how much we appreciate them.
If you’re like me, you don’t do it nearly enough. It’s easy to get so entrenched in our day to day activities that we don’t always take the time we should to let them know we love them, and how much we appreciate those little things they do. And I’m just as guilty as the next person.

We shouldn’t wait til Valentine’s Day to send a message of love, give a card or a box of candy, or take someone out to a special dinner. If we wait, how do we know there’ll be another opportunity? And if there’s no one special in your life right now, call a friend and go somewhere with them; who knows who you may meet because of that particular “date”?

Our daughter has never been one to look to a boyfriend, and now her DSCN8558husband, to shower her with gifts on Valentine’s Day. In fact, she told us many times in high school and college that it wasn’t important to her. “Why should we spend all that money for one day to impress someone? We should do it every day if we really care. It’s just a way for the stores to make money.” I used to worry about her sentiments being a bit misplaced, but looking back a few years, I believe she taught us a thing or two. Sure, she and Chris usually go out on that day, and she did actually decorate a big Valentine cookie for him one year, but her attitude has remained the same. We should show our loved ones each day how much we care about them. While we still can.

How about buying a few extra valentine cards to have around all year, just to surprise someone when they least expect it? It could brighten someone’s day more than you know! Let’s extend Valentine’s Day into a lot more than just one day. After all, true love is not limited to just one day each year.

Into A Butterfly

Many of us are going through some big challenges and struggles in our lives right now. It may have to do with your family, your finances, your employment, your children, your health, or even a combination of things. But those challenges are there for specific reasons. To make us grow. It may not seem like it now, but the Lord knows what we’re going through. He knows our pain, our concern, and our frustration. He also knows how – and when – we’re going to come out on the other side.

Coming through that struggle makes us stronger. Without that challenge, without that struggle, we think we’d be much better off. But would we really? If everything in life were easy, where would we really be?

Several years ago our family went to Aruba and visited the Butterfly Farm. There were beautiful butterflies flying around everywhere. Moving quickly and never staying in one spot very long. Butterflies have no set flight pattern. They just fly from place to place, wherever the spirit leads them.

There were a couple of boxes there with things hanging in them, in different shades of green and brown. One green one had a thread of gold at the top. Our guide explained they were chrysalises and cocoons, which would turn into butterflies. He even took several of them out and explained what kind of butterfly each would become.
I found myself remembering the story of a man watching a butterfly come out of its cocoon. It was struggling, and trying so hard to come out of the cocoon that bound it. The man thought he would help the butterfly, so he cut a hole in the wall of the cocoon so it could get out easier.

The butterfly came out, with this huge body and underdeveloped wings. But the butterfly died. What happened? Well, the man thought he was helping the butterfly so it wouldn’t have to struggle, but in reality, the butterfly NEEDED to struggle against the cocoon to get out in order to gain strength. As a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, fluids are pumped through the butterfly’s body and wings, which causes the right development so it can fly! After the struggle it rests for a little while, while the wings dry, and it flies off.

The butterfly was imprisoned in that cocoon, and through struggle, it emerged in the form of something beautiful that could fly and soar to the sky. But without that struggle, as it was helped out by a well- meaning individual, it didn’t get the trials and the experience of overcoming, and it wasn’t able to fully survive.

This is not saying we aren’t to help each other. But some struggles we just have to walk through. But we’re never alone, because God is there with us, watching, ready to help in a way He knows is just right.

When the world seems like it’s closing in, it’s easy to put ourselves in a cocoon, hidden away from all our problems. But if we don’t struggle to get out of that cocoon, we will never come out to become the beautiful person God intended us to be. If we just sit around and give up and stay in our cocoon, we die, just like the butterfly would do.

Butterflies don’t spin a chrysalis; when the caterpillar sheds its skin for the final time, all that is left is something called a pupa, which hardens to form the chrysalis, which protects and hides that transformation that is waiting inside.
It reminds me of how we are when we are when we reach our limit in a situation. There’s nothing left inside of us. We can’t put up with anything else. We’re done. So our shell hardens and forms that cocoon/chrysalis, which protects what we are waiting to become while we’re still inside that shell.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 – “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

God designed the butterfly to have to struggle to grow and become beautiful, and He designed us the same way. A butterfly doesn’t start out beautiful, at least not what we think of as beautiful. But it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. The Lord sees us all as beautiful; we just don’t always see ourselves that way.

We cannot begin to fathom how God will ever make something beautiful out of the messes we find ourselves in. But He leads us through those messes, even when we don’t think we can make it. Each step is a struggle. We don’t have a clue in the world how we’ll get through it, and we want somebody, anybody, to just get us out of it. The easy way, of course.

But if God did it that way, we wouldn’t grow. Sure, we need people to help us through tough times, but as much as we want them to just pull us through, and “make it go away”, we know that unless God decides to do a quick, creative miracle, and we know He can, it doesn’t always work that way. Instead He places people around us who can help us through those tough spots. Not pull us through without a struggle, but give us encouragement.

And He watches us, His new butterfly, struggling to come out of the chrysalis. As we emerge, He smiles. Because He sees that new beauty He knew was there all the time. He watches as we rest, and prepare for flight. And He smiles. Because we’ve learned, and we’ve overcome!

What type of butterfly are you becoming?

Super Wings…Eastern Shore Style

Growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, no one really bought chicken wings to fix for anything special. They were sold in packages in the local grocery store, but the only people who bought them, bought them to make chicken soup or chicken stew. Or, like we did, to use for crab bait.

Back when I was growing up, chicken wings, and chicken backs and necks, were mainly used for crabbing. We’d buy them on sale and keep them frozen until we needed them. Then we’d thaw them out, safety-pin them on a weighted string line, and toss them off the pier into the Bay. We’d end the day with three or four dozen crabs, and have a great dinner! If there were any leftover wings, we’d re-freeze them, and use them the next time. After all, the crabs didn’t care whether the wings had been re-frozen several times or not. They didn’t have to worry about getting a stomach ache, because they were going to end up in someone else’s stomach!

But more on the joys of crabbing another time. This post is about making chicken wings for your Super Bowl party. Eastern Shore style wings. Made with what else, that extremely popular favorite seasoning for Maryland steamed crabs, Old Bay®! (Which our son-in-law puts on almost everything, but that’s another post for another Saturday!)

Chicken wings have become extremely popular for casual dinners and parties, since my younger days of using them as crab bait (and we still do when we have the opportunity to go crabbing). There are tons of variations. The traditional Buffalo (spicy) style, honey glazed, barbecue, teriyaki…you name it, there’s a recipe for it.
grilled wings
So in honor of Super Bowl 50, why not try one of these two Old Bay® chicken wing recipes? I can’t promise they’ll be the hit of our own Super Bowl party, but I guess it depends on which team our guests are cheering for! Of course, there’s no Maryland team in the big game this year…but I’ve already picked my winner!

Grilled Chicken Wings with Old Bay®

3 lb chicken wings (separate drumettes and wing tips)
3/4 c flour
2 tbl Old Bay® seasoning
1/4 c butter, melted
1/4 c hot sauce

Mix flour and Old Bay® in large re-sealable freezer bag. Wash chicken wings and pat dry; add wings, several at a time. Shake to coat well. Remove to platter. Repeat until all pieces are well coated.

Grill over medium high heat 20-25 minutes until chicken is cooked through and skin is crisp, turning often. (If you’re like us, it doesn’t matter if it’s a bit chilly outside. The grill is always ready!)

To serve, mix butter and hot sauce in large bowl. Add cooked wings; toss to coat. And enjoy with your favorite libation!

Beer Baked Chicken Wings with Old Bay®

2 lb chicken wings (separate drumettes and wing tips)
3/4 c Old Bay®
1/2 c vinegar
1/2 c beer (brand of your choice)
1/2 c vegetable oil
Non-stick coating spray

Wash chicken wings and pat dry; place in re-sealable freezer bag. Stir together vinegar, beer, vegetable oil, and Old Bay®; pour into freezer bag over wings, shaking well so wings are covered. Put the bag on a big dish and refrigerate at least two hours; preferably overnight, turning a few times to coat well.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray two aluminum foil lined cookie sheets with non-stick cooking spray. Remove wings from bag and spread on cookie sheets in single layer.

Bake 40 minutes or until crisp and browned.

Serve with ranch dressing, bleu cheese dressing, or other dressing of your choice.

And may your team WIN!

Remembering Chuck, Part Three

“The only upside of Alzheimer’s I’ve found so far: introducing my dad to “new” things. This evening I took him to Starbucks, and he was like a kid on Christmas. It was endearing and heartbreaking at the same time.” Elizabeth, Chuck’s middle daughter, November, 2015.

If you haven’t read Parts 1 and 2 of this story, please do so before reading this last installment, so you will better understand the struggles our friend and his family are going through.

Although Chuck now has no concept of time or holidays, his daughters were all able to get together with him at Christmas, just a few months ago. It took him a little while to remember his oldest daughter Katy’s husband Chase, but eventually he did. He kept looking at him, and then looking away, like something was trying to register. Then suddenly Chuck walked up to him and said, “Chase! How are you? How is school?” That moment of recognition brought Katy to tears, and everyone else as well.
Chuck and Girls cropped

At one point that day Patty (his ex-wife) asked him if he remembered her. He said, “yes,” but couldn’t remember her name. He did later on, and gave her a ‘bigger-than-he-should-have’ hug, which made the girls very uncomfortable. Patty quickly hugged him back and then pulled away, and the girls stepped in. Chuck can’t help it. Alzheimer’s patients live in the past; it’s their clearest memories. Patty has gone from being his wife, to his ex-wife, his sister, his daughter, and now back to his wife. Every day is different. There have already been days when he doesn’t know who one of the girls is. That is the hardest of all. Because one day he will stop remembering them, and the memories won’t return.

Unfortunately the last nursing home he was placed in didn’t work out. The facility was not what they had thought it would be, and although he wasn’t able to escape, no one was happy with his being there. So the search began again. Just four days ago we found out a new place has been secured for him, and he has already been relocated there. This facility looks like an ideal home for someone with Chuck’s symptoms. There is a library, a computer center, and a full recreational schedule of games and puzzles, trivia contests, music, and movies. He will be able to interact more with people, and will be encouraged to participate in activities with other residents. I pray this will be the place he will finally be able to call home.

Just a few hours after finding out this news, my husband and I were surprised with a FaceTime call from Patty. We were thrilled to see/talk to her, but what we weren’t expecting was to actually be able to see and talk with Chuck, who we hadn’t actually seen except in photos in probably twenty-five years! To say we were happy as well as excited is one of the biggest understatements I could write!
2016-01-28 13.18.00

While I will not elaborate on the details of our conversation, what I will say is that we were delighted to see and talk with him! He remembered both Ben and me, and he remembered our daughter, his goddaughter Ashley. He remembered where he and Ben met, and who they were both working for at the time. He remembered when he proposed to Patty, although none of us can remember the name of the restaurant. But he thought he had talked to his parents just a few days ago, and they’ve been dead for longer than we’ve known him. He talked about things we’d all done together, and when he told us he was having fried chicken for dinner, and I reminded him how much he’d enjoyed my mother’s fried chicken, he remembered that as well.

We have no way of knowing how Chuck is processing his thoughts anymore. Some of our conversation was like it used to be twenty-five years ago, and some of it made sense only to him. But the important part is, we were able to re-establish a relationship with him, and as often as we can, we hope to continue that relationship. Good friends are too important to lose, and even if the memories may not all be totally clear anymore, one day when we are all together with the Lord, they will be. Until that day hopefully many decades in the future, we will continue to enjoy as many conversations with him as possible, and if they don’t exactly make sense to us, as long as they do to him, we will continue to have them. That’s what reunited friends do.

As Patty has said many times, “This breaks my heart. Every day I wish my girls could know the Chuck that I married. Fortunately they have their own special memories of their daddy, and they all love him dearly. That’s all I can hope for.”

img149We still have our own memories of Chuck before this happened. That same man is definitely still there, although locked inside a mind whose memories no longer work exactly the way they used to. We have pictures to go along with some of those memories, and so do his children. They call him, and visit when they can, and show him pictures to remind him of family. They bring his grandson to visit, and the two of them play cars and trucks on the floor together, just two children having fun. Like the trip to Starbucks his daughter talked about, every day is a new adventure, because he usually doesn’t remember from day to day, or week to week. The things he used to enjoy he sometimes doesn’t remember ever doing. Each day there are just a few less memories.

But we remember Chuck.

Even if Chuck doesn’t always remember himself anymore.

Note: If you have a loved one suffering from this disease, please seek out a support group. Read all that you can about it. Ask questions. And above all, continue to love that person. Respect them. Don’t belittle them when they don’t make sense with what they say. They cannot help it. Their world is not quite the same as it was any more.

Remembering Chuck, Part Two

“The only upside of Alzheimer’s I’ve found so far: introducing my dad to “new” things. This evening I took him to Starbucks, and he was like a kid on Christmas. It was endearing and heartbreaking at the same time.” Elizabeth, Chuck’s middle daughter, November, 2015.

If you haven’t read Part One of this story, please do so before reading this one, so you will better understand the struggles our friend and his family are going through.

Far too often, people have a tendency to think of Alzheimer’s victims as only the elderly, who are expected to go through changes such as this toward the end of their lives. This is simply not true. One of our friend’s fathers is ninety-four, and his memory is as clear as it was fifty years ago. Chuck’s memory issues began most likely in his mid-fifties.

After we started catching up with Chuck and his ex-wife and daughters, it became very clear Chuck was rapidly going downhill with this disease. Shortly after re-connecting, his two oldest daughters got married, and the next year, Chuck became a grandfather. The pictures we saw of Chuck and the wedding party revealed a man who looked like our friend, but yet, there was just something about the look on his face that told us he wasn’t the same man we remembered; something was missing.

This man was not quite the same Chuck we remembered. Alzheimer’s does that. It will take the mind of its victim, gradually squeeze the best parts out, and leave behind someone who still looks mostly like that person, but yet, the eyes that are looking out of their mind are clearly not accurately registering what they’re seeing.

The worst part was how much his children are missing, because the father they dearly love isn’t the same any more. He isn’t able to give them the fatherly advice young women still need from their dads. He wasn’t able to bond with his new sons-in-law and properly welcome them into the family. Although now he still remembers his grandson when he sees him, he will never be able to take him fishing, teach him to ride a bike, go to the park, or spend a Saturday afternoon playing baseball with him, and that little boy will miss out on doing all of the fun things a young boy should do with his grandfather. That young man will never have the pleasure of knowing how special “Grandpa Chuck” really is. He’ll never hear stories about his grandfather’s childhood, because even though many of his memories are based in the past, they are still jumbled and confused, and make sense only in his own memories.

Patty told us details about the progression of his illness, but not without some personal pain of her own. “I do not have bad feelings about the years I was married to Chuck. My only regret is that we couldn’t make it last. I always wanted to be that person who married and stayed that way forever. Had I known then that his problems stemmed from an illness, I would not have deserted him. Sometimes I wonder, if I had stayed, had we worked through things, would the onset of this disease have progressed at a much slower rate? I’ll never know. But it is so unbelievably sad all the same.”

Patty, you did not desert him. You are caring for him now as no one else can. And we all cannot thank you enough for that. I also personally cannot thank you and the girls enough to allow me to share his story, in hopes that other families will read it and understand they’re not alone; that the things their loved ones are doing because of this disease are not that unusal.

Chuck always loved to travel. Even when he was living on only his social security and barely making ends meet, he would get his check, pay a few utility bills, jump in his car and drive somewhere.

2016-01-28 13.06.39Deeper into the Alzheimer’s journey he would take off and drive from Texas to Indiana or Utah, supposedly for job interviews, but there were none. Part of him must have known his money was limited, because during or after a trip, he wouldn’t eat or get a hotel room, even if he drove for three days. He would stop in rest areas to sleep, and fill up on soda and chips along the way. By the third day, he would be in such bad shape mentally that he couldn’t find his way home. Once, Patty had to drive from Texas to Arkansas to get him. He had been found by police, incoherent, at a stop sign in the middle of a national forest. He had no idea where he was; his car was out of gas, and his wallet was empty.

Because of his taking so many of these trips, he would come home with almost no money. When the landlord showed up looking for his rent, Chuck would pay whatever token amount he had left. This amazingly went on for fifteen months before the landlord finally evicted him. Patty went to court with him, because, sadly, Chuck didn’t even understand he was being evicted.

Patty bought a small mobile home for him (so no one could raise his rent) two blocks from their own house, and she and her husband moved him into that. Patty was designated his legal representative to make sure his bills were paid, and would take him shopping for food every few weeks.

A short while later she started getting calls that Chuck was stealing from the local grocery store. He’d stopped eating the food at his house, and only wanted ice cream and donuts. Patty would buy ice cream when they went shopping, but when he ran out, he would steal more, leaving the healthy food untouched. If she gave him any extra money he would spend it for more ice cream and donuts, and when that was gone, he’d go back to stealing. Remember, Alzheimer’s patients do not have any concept of what they are doing; this is not unusual behavior. The Chuck we had known would never, ever, do anything like this.

Three years after moving into the mobile home, Patty knew Chuck could not be left alone anymore.

2016-01-28 13.18.39They found an assisted living facility for him, but three days later, Chuck had become so delusional the facility called and told Patty she had to remove him immediately. He spent three weeks in a psychiatric hospital until a nursing home was found for him. That home was a locked facility, but within a few days, they made him leave as well. Somehow he kept escaping, and one time Patty found him walking up the highway towards where he used to live. He was returned to the psychiatric hospital for another two weeks until they found another secured nursing home in Ft. Worth, from which they were assured he could not escape.

To even have to look at nursing homes, memory care centers, or similar residential care centers as somewhere from which a loved one cannot escape is sadly part of the reality of this disease. I remember all too well one of my uncles being in the dementia/Alzheimer’s section of the local nursing home and having to wear an ankle bracelet so that if he tried to leave an alarm would go off, and he could be stopped. At the time I didn’t understand why such measures were necessary, and thought it was so wrong.

Now I understand.

Friday, a special conclusion, “Remembering Chuck, Part Three”.

Note: If you have a loved one suffering from this disease, please seek out a support group. Read all that you can about it. Ask questions. And above all, continue to love that person. Respect them. Don’t belittle them when they don’t make sense with what they say. They cannot help it. Their world is not quite the same as it was any more.