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Where I work there is a department called the Transitional Services Unit (TSU) that helps incarcerated youth return to their communities.  I understand that it was not that many years ago that this unit did not exist and that youth who had aged out of the juvenile justice system were simply released.  Set out on the curb so to speak.  Now each departing youth has a team who works with them and on their behalf to help them navigate the numerous changes and challenges. 

This morning, I realized that I need one of these TSUs of my very own.  Now whether or not I would make good use of their offered services, I do nots know for sure.  But I cannot help but think that there might be some comfort in just knowing I had this team of humans who were looking out and ahead for me, even for a little while. 

Because where I am today is a familiar place.  Familiar but full of danger and darkness.  This place where I end up after the ground opens underneath me and I experience the free fall into depression, a cavern of great depth.  This time, I did what I used to do many years ago, I pretended I was not falling ~ for a while.  That is until either the invisible tether securing me to the landscape of life, separated or the growing velocity of the plunge forced me to admit I was in this place, once again. 

I must snap out of my funk.  Create toe and finger holds to climb, pull and grunt my way to the surface.  Pronto.  Today is my middle grandson’s 14th birth day family celebration.  I love this boy, dearly.  I am to bring the cheese bread.  Cheese bread ~ his Grammie’s cheese bread ~ is one of his most favorite foods.  To not show up, cheese bread in tow, is not acceptable.  I love this boy. 

So I must figure my way out of this quagmire of self indulgent angst once again in order to leave my home, get in Buster Blue, drive to the grocery, purchase the ingredients, return home, make the cheese spread, drive to my daughter’s home, participate in the family birth day celebration and be part of my life ~ part of my middle grandson’s life. 

Where are the TSU personnel?  Hello?  Can you hear me? 

With or without other human help, I must assist mine own self.  I have been in this place before, many times in fact.  Surely I must know the way up and out.  I will look for some markers and familiar signs pointing ahead.

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Life in the moment is good.  Very good.  Too good.  At least too good to wait until November to formally give our honor and thanks~giving for this abundant life. 

So my family and I are gathering this evening for a spring Thanksgiving Feast.  There will be the American dinner icons ~ turkey, mashed taters, gravy all served up with loads of yummy side dishes.  My daughter sparked the idea last week and the rest of her clan quickly climbed onboard. 

Life is good.  And when it is this good, one must eat.  Eat delicious homecooked food and sip a bubbly beverage, or two.  And you know me, who am I to swim against the tide ~ at least when it comes to celebrations.

Last evening mi casa was filled to the brim with folks ready to fill their stomachs with hearty fare on their way to winning big time around the dining room table turned poker stake haven.  None of us sweated the small ‘taters such as only one-be gambler bringing their betting money (aka bag of change) or the rules to Texas Hold ‘Em being temporarily lost inside the Betting Brains of the operation (she quickly recalled and/or made the rules up as we went). 

Brew pub food was the menu of the evening along with this host’s mantra of keeping it simple, keeping it simple.  So grilled burgers and all of their accompanying accoutrements of cheese, thinly sliced yellow onion and bright red tomato, sour and salty dill pickles and assorted condiments ~ crispy tater tots, the food item fit for comfort and crunch ~ and, ice cold chunked up watermelon.  Chocolate dipped shortbread cookies rounded out the pre-betting battle game.

Monopoly money substituted quite nicely for the betting exchange and we were off for raucaus rounds of dealer’s choice poker.  We played 5-card draw, 7-card stud and the aforementioned (perhaps variation of) Texas Hold ‘Em.  Wild bets, excellent bluffs, transparently bad bluffs and begging for “do-overs” went round and round the rectangular stainless steel table.  And in the end folks, this host was the last one seated with a lot of cash in front of her.  And you know what?  Just for an instant it did not matter that the cash was fake.  I felt the flush of victory ~

Of course, I did not brag.  I was not a bad sport.  I did not crow.  Nor did I do the victory lap around this rectangular table, making the losers other players move out of my way.  No.  Of course not, did I act in any such way.  But if this host did, she would most certainly not post it on her public blog the next morning.  A-hem.

Fun.  Fun.  Fun. 

If you had been here, we could have high-fived or knuckle bumped or winked at one another.  But come to think of it, had you been here, I may not have been the evening’s winner.  Oh well.  Sometimes opening one’s heart and hearth to a different outcome is a risk worth taking.  I’ll let you know the next time the Queen of Hearts comes to visit.

Patti LaBelle’s Over the Rainbow Mac and Cheese recipe has been a go to favorita recipe in my family for a few years.  Although I have dubbed it Somewhere Over the Rainbow Mac n Cheese, the ingredients are the same.  My grandkiddos and my daughter love this casserole and request it from time to time.  And what’s not to love?  This dish is all about kinship and comfort and the riches that come from being at home with loved ones. 

The cast of characters include four kinds of cheese, one of which is Velveeta (and yes, Velveeta belongs to the cheese family ~ ask any kid), lots of half and half, and eggs.  Last night’s version contained smoky bits of bacon and was topped with crushed Ritz crackers and more shredded cheese. 

The side dishes were comprised of green beans slow cooked with bacon and cold juicy watermelon chunks.  A southern meal for sure that was topped off with bite size red velvet cupcakes with a cream chese filling and frosting.  Can you spell L-O-V-E? 

So, once again Patti and I pulled off another scrumptious meal.  And with all of that fancy cooking going on up in my small kitchen, we didn’t say one cross word to one another.  I’d say that me and Patti did a right fine job of rustlin’ up the ole grub tonight.

My recent medical diagnoses has required me to change my eating habits. Drastically. As long as I can remember, salt has occupied its very own food group at the base of my food pyramid. Other foods were mere vehicles for my favored and craved after salt. I now take in less than 1000 milligrams of sodium daily. So as one might imagine, this shift in diet has not been without some grief and overall loss of appetite.

The change in diet and my faithful following of the doctor’s orders has rested solely on fear. Fear of being permanently plagued with the unbearable vertigo and the loss of what has been up until recently, very keen hearing. My desire to not lose my ability to hear and having endured severe bouts of vertigo for months on end have been the impetus and motivation, which in turn has fueled my robust adherence to this new eating lifestyle.

Changes take some time to grow accustomed to. That, along with the immediate revocation of my loved longed for and lusted after salty goodiness, basically stopped me dead in my tracks when it came to cooking anything tasty for myself or wanting to cook for myself. When cooking for others, I continue to cook with salt and have not required my friends or families to adhere to my strict new diet needs. But when it has come to my cooking to sustain myself that is exactly what I have been reduced to ~ cooking and eating to live and to survive; forget the thriving and enjoyment.

Up until this weekend that is. Today I am cooking a pot of white bean soup that is much lower in sodium than I would have formerly prepared but still has more sodium laden ingredients than I have been allowing myself. I think this is okay. I didn’t go hog wild ~ just enough to make the soup tasty enough to make me want to dip my spoon in more than once or twice.

The delicious savoriness is enveloping my little abode while the soup perks away in my slow cooker. Chunks of bright orange carrots, carmalized yellow onion bits, diced fresh shiny green jalapenos, a bit of browned salt pork, two dusty green bay leaves and a healthy dose of deep red cayenne pepper mingle with the white beans, all bathed in a splash or so of beef broth. I tossed in a dash of ground nutmeg just for kicks. So far, smells delisio.

Comfort.
A reclaiming of my kitchen.

If you were here, I would ladle you up a hot bowl of white bean soup.
Comfort.
Comfort with a spicy kick.
Oh yeah, baby, time to get back in the kitchen.

‘Tis the holiday season and no one could miss the sales spin on the merriest holiday of the year. Right?

But what about the heart and soul spin of this wintry wonderland’s holiday fest? Where do authentic emotions and heartfelt thanks-giving and joy-full memories of holidays from yesteryear fit in to all of this merriment?

In my work, I see family after family who are all stressed and strained out with financial pressure to create a mythical picture perfect awesome memory packed event.

Whew!

And No they do not want a hug. In fact, get the heck away from them and give them some space to re-charge their batteries so they can return to the good fight in the anxiety riddled malls of America. All in the hopes that their loved ones will have this mythical picture perfect awesome memory packed event we call the holidays. But most importantly of all, so that their families will love them.

Folks, I know of what I speak. I did all of the above for all of the years that my daughter lived under my roof. No matter what rental we lived in, that rental became Holiday Central beginning on Thanksgiving weekend when I began baking tray after tray of cookies and fruitcakes [please forgive me, for I have distributed fruitcakes as gifts] and not ending until after the first of January.

There were the holidays with trees so tall and full that they had to be winched up over the deck into the second floor living room, there were years where I sat up all night after the open house on Christmas Eve, putting together Santa’s gifts. Colorful lights were strung inside and out, with lit up garage sale Santa’s and Frosty’s.

My daughter remembers barely one of these Decembers ~ a memory snippet here and there.

The one we both remember was one of the holidays when I was very financially poor and Care Bears were the rage. Oh how my daughter yearned for one of those little stuffed up darlings. And oh how I could not afford one. I ended up purchasing a less expensive light blue stuffed up bear the size of the prized Care Bear, cutting out a dark blue heart from an old shirt, embroidering the word L O V E and stitched it onto the bear’s chest. Quite the feat for someone who didn’t and still doesn’t sew worth a dang.

My daughter named this bear Blue-y and she did, indeed, love him.
And me.

I remind myself of this memory and these facts whenever the urge to buy my way into the heart’s of loved ones or to re-board the train traveling to the mythical picture perfect awesome memory packed holiday, strikes.

I remind myself that there is no need. That there is no such place other than in the myth.
I remind myself that I am already loved by those whom my heart holds dear.
I remind each of you that the same is true in each of our lives ~ we are loved ~ each and every day of the year.

You know that old adage ~ when life hands you lemons, make lemonade? Well in my current case that saying could be applied with one caveat ~ when life hands you lemons, make lemonade and make sure it is sodium free.

Say it ain’t true.
Please oh please.

But yet it is.
True.

My favorita food group ~ salt ~ has been all but eliminated from my eating plan.

All in hope of making my body such an inhospitable guest home that my Bastard Buddy Vertigo will move on. As in stop mooching a free and dizzy ride. As in flee his not so happy home.

But hey Buddy V before you go, have a glass of sodium free lemonade. On the house. After all, you did supply the lemons.

(Disclaimer: Yes, I realize that lemonade is not typically made with salt ~ that is unless one is mixing up a batch of lemonade margaritas.)

So I took a little poetic license ~ sue me. Why don’t you take a load off and have a sip or two of my salt free lemonade. Supplies are limited.

McKenzie over at mommysaidaswearword has given me my first (ever) super (duper) cool blogging award. Wow! Not only did I WIN an award but it was gifted to me by a sister blogger whose words and sharing I respect and utterly appreciate ~ McKenzie makes me laugh out loud and think and ponder ~ all pasttimes that I enjoy.

In accepting the award, I am tasked with sharing seven (7) secrets about myself. That’s a thinker, that task is. I already have the 62 trivial and tantalizing tidbits about myself page to my little blog… But hey, we all harbor secrets, right? Our shadow selves? Our too quirky to still be considered eccentric components. Right?? Okay here goes, the big “reveal” (re-appropriating an HGTV term) ~ hope we’re still buddies at the end ~

1 ~ I haven’t met any kind of goat cheese that I like, so far.

2 ~ I eat popcorn one kernel at a time and have been known to look down upon folks who shovel hand-fulls into their open gaping sometimes still chomping on the last hand-full, mouths. (Yes, I do understand that judging others is wrong. completely wrong minded. twisted. and tainted.)

3 ~ I, along with thousands of others, dread to see babies and little tykes boarding the same airplane that I will be tortured flying on. No matter how cute. or beautiful. the little one is. I feel dread and the internal begging begins, which goes akin to this, “dear god, please oh please oh please oh please, do not have me sitting beside the baby.” (Yes, I do know that it is not the infant’s fault that they cry ~ their poor little ears hurt. And yes, I do know that the tyke who keeps kicking the back of my ill fitting seat is not the devil’s spawn but, instead, a poor wee one who is as sick as I am of being cooped up like an everdead sardine.) I still say the endless loop prayer.

4 ~ When I am really super stressed, I fantasize about the perfect home ~ the location, the floors (polished stained concrete, hardwood, bamboo) ~ the views…

5 ~ I love, as in deeply, love my smart phone. (Yes, I understand that it is wrong minded to love an inanimate object, a mere piece of technology ~ but, I do and what’s more, I tell it so every day).

6 ~ I still do not know what I really look like even though I am more than half way through this life time. Glimpses, here and again. but nothing permanent or lasting.

7 ~ I still miss my first omma.

Well, that went quicker than I imagined it might. The second and last part of receiving this award is sharing 15 blogs that I follow and enjoy. Now, that’s a no problem sort of task. In fact, I am honored to list the following blogs and to encourage folks to check them out ~ some are uber funny, others contemplative in nature ~ but all of them have enriched my life in some fashion or another, time after time. Oh, and remember to check out mymommysaidaswearword afterall, McKenzie is the one who chose me to receive this fantastic award.

Happy reading ~

Terri’s Little Corner

all the elbows

KoreanHapa

Trailer Park Nirvana

Joy the Baker

The Wednesday Chef

My Parents Are Crazier Than Yours

One Crafty Girl!

Burnt Lumpia

Mixed American Life

Roboseyo

Urban Simplicity

Plum Bananas

An Apple A Day

Hello Korea!

Or at least of a young lad and a dutch oven. My quandry this morning is how to combine the usage of my slow cooker and my dutch oven. I am fixing to cook up a batch of beef stew, you see, but do not know how long I will be gone from hearth and home during the day as I am getting the pleasure of spending part of the day with a delight-full young lad.

The beef recipe is a new one, which incorporates beer and paprika and calls for a little white sugar. What? Relax. Relax and trust a recipe. Jeesh. Don’t make me talk you down off the ledge this early in the morning, Missy. What? Yes, I realize it is me whom I am speaking to? Do ya think I’m nuts?

Hello?! So back to what I was saying…

So this is what I’m thinking. I’ll start the stew out in the slow cooker, sans the assorted ‘taters (gold, baby white and round reds) and orange carrots. When I return home from time spent with my eldest grandson, the young but tall lad, I will throw in the already chunked up (note to self, chunk up veggies prior to heading out) veggies after I transfer the beef stew mixture into dutch oven. Which I will have already placed over a low to moderate burner on stove top, where I’ll let it perk for another hour or so until veggies are tender but not falling apart and the meat falls apart when I glance its way.

Yum.

Plus, I am looking very forward to conversations with this particular young lad as the time has flown by since our last one-on-one hanging out together. Adolescent minds can be full of rich ideas and illuminating perspectives. And, of course, there is the part of my simply loving this particular guy to pieces.

It’s gonna be a good day.
All the ingredients are aligned and point in that direction.

As to live a life of so much abundance? How is it that I get to have at hand the gustatory gifts of succulent ocean shrimp, jewel red strawberries, dusky blueberries, plump yellow onions with their papery skins, extra virgin olive oil and fancy balsamic vinegars?

How?

How is this so? I live a blessed life. How do I know?
I open my refrigerator door and stand there and simply gaze at the bounty heaped on the wire and glass shelves.
And I know.
Know, that I am one lucky lucky lady.

Thank you Universe and whoever and whatever else had/has a hand in the decision making of my life ~ my life of abundance ~

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