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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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Many times it is the small things in life that can make the whole difference in a day.  My granddaughter reminded me of this elementary fact earlier today.  During our lunch, she had spied a green balloon amongst the bright-colored balloon bouquet festooning the hostess station.  Being the smart little girl who she is as well as a planner, she had informed me and her mommy that she hoped the one lone green ballon could be hers before we left the dining establishment.  My daughter, being the straighforward caretaker who she is, responded by telling her daughter to ask for what she wanted. 

Sure enough, after we had finished eating and paying our check, my granddaughter asked the hostess if she could please have the green balloon.  And guess who left the restaurant with a bright green helium balloon attached to her small wrist?  My daughter’s daughter.  Yes, she did. 

As I walked beside my daughter and her daughter to our respective cars, I couldn’t help smiling and wishing that life could always remain so simple.  Wishing that a bright green balloon could put a smile on each of our faces for the rest of the afteroon.  Or barring that, until it accidentally popped or was released to the heavens.  By then, another easily found joy would have taken its place. 

Maybe life is still that simple.  If so, make mine a purple one, please.  Balloon, that is.

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.

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