Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

As a young child I  had a unique outlook on life.  Since each experience was new to me, I lived in a constant state of surprise and amazement.  As I became a young adult, I seemed to be so sure of everything.  There was no gray area in my way of thinking...it was all black or white, yes or no.  But as I became an adult and assumed the accompanying responsibility, the subtleties of life brought on feelings of doubt and second-guessing.  It became harder to judge situations as right or wrong and easier to see both sides of any story.  Having reached maturity (that's a euphemism for getting old) I seemed to have reverted to those childhood feelings of surprise and amazement.  However, I am not amazed at the "newness" of things...I am amazed at how things just seem to work out.  Paul puts it like this in Romans:
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.
The operative words in this statement are according to His purpose.  My life experience has shown me that God has His own timetable and lately, that doesn't seem to be the same as my timetable!  And let's don't even talk about His purpose, because my plan isn't even on the same page.  However, if I calm down, let go and look for God's plan...well, that's where the amazement happens!
This was made evident to me this evening as I read a Facebook post by my fabulous son, GW.  He was the subject of an Alumni Spotlight article on the Cook Street School of Culinary Arts webpage.  This story begins when GW was a senior in high school.  As he thought about what he wanted to do with his life and the education that would be necessary to attain his goals, he decided that military service would be the best route.  He could serve his country, make a living and earn money to pay for his education.  He passed all the tests with flying colors and the recruiter said his scores were so high that he could be a nuclear physicist if he wanted.  However, there was one small problem...he had a slight hearing loss in his left ear and the Air Force wouldn't admit him.  Not even our senator and good friend, Saxby Chambliss, could pull the strings necessary for GW to get in.  He was very disappointed.  He ended up getting a Soccer scholarship to Middle Georgia College and then transferring to Valdosta State University, where he earned his degree in Criminal Justice.  He wanted to go on to graduate school immediately, but wasn't sure if he wanted a graduate degree in Criminal Justice or Public Administration.  In the midst of his deliberations, Christmas happened.  I usually give the kids money and let them purchase what they want, but I like to have at least one gift wrapped and under the tree to make Christmas morning more fun.  I looked all over town for a large cooking pot for GW, because he had borrowed mine while at VSU.  I couldn't find one in any of the stores.  As I searched the shelves at Lowe's for something else, I found a cookbook published by the company that makes Webber grills.  It had recipes and instructions to cook everything on a charcoal grill.  Since grilling had been one of Steve's favorite pastimes, I bought the book for GW.  And as they say...the rest is history!  He began cooking out of the book for his friends and found that he really enjoyed it.  In a few months, he told me that he had decided where he wanted to go to graduate school.  He wanted to earn a culinary degree.  He found Cook Street in Denver, Colorado, and excelled in his classes.  He did a 3 month internship in Italy after graduation, but when he returned home, he couldn't find the job he really wanted.  He worked in Chicago, taught cooking classes at the Arts Center and worked for a time at Park Regency Nursing Facility.  Nothing really suited him and he was truly disheartened, when by chance (or most probably, by God's plan) he found the job at Sweet Grass Dairy.  A year and a half later, he couldn't be happier.  To be highlighted in the alumni spotlight for his Alma Mater is icing on the cake...excuse the pun!  So here I am on a Tuesday night, amazed at the plan of God and that I (and my family) are a part of that plan.  If you would like to read the article about GW, you can find it at the Cook Street webpage.

P.S.  For my family...take note of the distinctive "Stinson mouth" that GW displays...the family trait of biting your tongue when you are hard at work!

Evidence that cooking is in his blood...he was assisting
the caterer at Angie's wedding at age 10.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Migliore di Sesso...quasi

There's nothing much on television tonight except the Grammy Awards, and I don't particularly want to watch a bunch of rappers strut around with all their bling and make acceptance speeches while murdering the King's English.  Just call me old fashioned, or maybe just old.  So I sat down at the computer to see what was happening on Facebook.  Maggie posted about satisfying her sweet tooth on a Sunday night and showed a photo of Sea Salt Caramel Gelato.  My mouth is watering so profusely right now that I can hardly type!  It's a good thing I don't live in Perry, Georgia, because I would probably have my freezer filled with every flavor of gelato that is made and I would also weigh about 300 pounds!  But seeing that gelato brought back memories of the trip the Maggie & I made to Italy in 2009 to visit GW.
After GW graduated from culinary school in May of 2009, he traveled to Italy for a 3 month internship.  He spent the first week at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners in Costigliole d' Asti, Italy.  
ICIF school.  I would have a hard time studying in such a beautiful place.

GW and his classmates at ICIF.

In August, Maggie & I traveled to Italy to see the sights and visit GW.  He was working at a restaurant near the town of Busseto, which is about 90 miles south of Parma, in the Emilia-Romagna province.  

Our week in Italy was quite an adventure...much too long to recount in just one post.  Suffice it to say, anything that could go wrong did go wrong!  I will recount some of our adventures in future blog posts.  Tonight, as I saw Maggie's post about gelato, I could almost taste the smooth creaminess of true Italian gelato.  We sampled enough of it during our week in Milan that I consider myself somewhat of an expert.  We were expecting warm weather during our stay because it was the middle of August.  However, we did not expect a record-breaking heat wave.  To add insult to injury, the Europeans have a very interesting attitude toward air-conditioning.  Most of the buildings were equipped with air conditioners, however, because all of the doors and windows were also open, you could hardly tell the difference between the temperature inside and outside of the buildings!  I thought that a nice glass of ice water (I knew better than to ask for sweet tea) would keep me cool, but I soon learned that there was only one ice cube in all of Europe and it was on loan to France the week we were in Italy!  So, even though it was hard, I forced myself to eat gelato to keep cool.  It is hard to describe the creamy texture of true Italian gelato to anyone who has never tasted it.  And the flavors...everything from vanilla & chocolate to cantaloupe and pineapple.  
You can see that I ate gelato at all hours of the day...and night!
Even though we were walking everywhere we went and sweating some pounds off during the heat wave, I realized that I couldn't eat gelato to cool off all the time.  One afternoon when we finished a tour of Milan, Maggie & I found another way to cool off that didn't add any inches to our waist and didn't cost a penny.

Dangling our feet in the fountain in front of the Sforesco Castle in Milan, Italy.

After reading all of this, I suppose you are wondering what the title of this post means.  I'll give you a hint...it's in Italian and describes what eating gelato is like.  I'll leave it to you and the Google translator to figure it out.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Hand and Foot

I love to play games...not the kind of games people play nowadays in relationships with other.  The kind of games I like to play involve cards, dice, letter tiles, giving clues and COMPETITION!  In my family, playing games is a long-standing tradition.  My Pe-Paw Stinson started it all, I guess.  He loved to play dominoes and cards.  Me-Maw & Pe-Paw were my daycare providers way back in 1953 when my mother went back to full-time teaching.  I can clearly remember sitting in the front room (that's what my grandmother called the living room) in his green chair by the window and playing dominoes for hours.  When he had a broken leg, we filled his cast with Tic-Tac-Toe games.  During the summers in Cedar Mountain, Pe-Paw loved to play a card game called Rook.  We still have the deck of Rook cards at the cabin.  My dad inherited this love of games in a big way.  When we would make our 14 hour car trip from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Cedar Mountain, North Carolina, every summer, Dad would always keep us entertained with games.  We used to "Count Cows" for hours at a time.  The teams were usually me & Dad against Mother & Bert.  We would count any cows that we saw on our side of the road.  We usually would set a limit for the game...play for 2 hours or until we reached Pineville, Kentucky.  Each time you saw another pasture of cows, you would add them to your previous total.  However, if you passed a church or a cemetery, you had to "bury" all you cows and start over at zero.  I loved having Dad on my team because he was always driving the car and knew where all the churches & cemeteries were located.  He was known to have taken a slight detour in order to avoid a cemetery!  Dad also loved to play card games.  He had a very sharp mind and could always remember which cards had been played and the highest card that was left to be played.  The cabin was not equipped with a television, so at night, we would play games for entertainment.  That's where a great tradition was started.  To this day, when the family is gathered at the Three Bears' House, we clear the table after supper, call all the relatives who like to play, gather the family around the large table on the back porch and play games until midnight.  There is no one in my family who is shy and retiring.  We all get rather boisterous during the games and competition is intense!  No one is left out of the game playing.  Ages range from 4 to 101.

Game night at the cabin.  Peyton is the youngest at age 9 and Nonnie is the oldest at age 101.  
Even the pets are included in the games.  Puddin loves to sit in my lap and watch the action.

So when I was asked last night by a friend to substitute for a missing player at their game night, I was thrilled.  Aileen McNair, Beth Sheahan, Patti Suggs and Fran Ambrocelli usually play games on Friday nights.  Patti was out of town, so I was invited.  Each person brings one course of the meal, they play a little while, break for supper, then play some more.  The evening is finished with a wonderful dessert.  Last night, we met at Fran's house.  She is the owner of the Barber-Tucker-Crawford House, a historic Bed and Breakfast in Southwest Moultrie.  We gathered around the kitchen table and played Hand and Foot.  It is a wonderful card game that is kind of like Canasta.  You play with a deck of cards for each player, plus one more deck, so an electric card shuffler is almost a necessity.  I had never played before, but since card games are among my favorites, I easily picked it up.  There was lots of laughter and the competition was keen.  For supper we had Spinach Salad, Chicken Tetrazinni, and homemade bread.  After 2 games, we finished the evening with toasted Pound Cake and Pistachio ice cream.  It was a wonderful night...playing games, eating good food, meeting new people and remembering my family tradition of playing games.

Kailey, Todd, Angie, Melody and Pam playing games when we gathered at the cabin for Nonnie's funeral. What a fitting way to remember her!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Oh Where, Oh Where Has This Blogger Been?

It has been a week since I have posted on my blog and I am honored to say that several people have reminded me of that fact.  So...people are actually reading what I have to say.  I really don't have an excuse for not blogging.  I have not been particularly busy for the past week, nor have I been out of town and away from my laptop.  I have just been uninspired and lazy.  Since Steve's death, I have noticed that I have experienced many of these periods.  At first I thought that it was my reaction to the grief of losing him and that I was going through periods of depression that were marked by listlessness, inattentiveness and generally feeling like I was in a fog.  These periods seemed to be brought on by events or situations that reminded me of Steve...his birthday, Christmas day, our favorite song playing on the radio, seeing one of his friends, or a finding a letter in the day's mail addressed to him.  As time wore on, I found that I could prepare myself for the "big" days on the calendar like anniversaries, birthdays & holidays.  If I psyched myself up for several days before the event and planned something different for that day, I could trick myself into not going into that deep, dark hole of sadness & anger that would pull me into the fog.  After 5 1/2 years, I was mastering this technique to the point that I actually seemed normal.  However, I began to experience these periods of fogginess for no apparent reason.  Such has been the case for the past week.  Over the weekend, it hit me like a lightning bolt.  In January of 2007, having finished radiation & chemotherapy, Steve's doctors performed several tests and determined that he was cancer free.  We were so elated and celebrated with BBQ and our friends.  Three days after that party, Steve experienced a day of disorientation and an inability to communicate effectively.  More tests determined that he had 2 brain tumors.  Dr. Johnson immediately scheduled Steve for Gamma Knife Surgery.  I was terrified, but Dr. Johnson assured me that it would be okay.  The procedure does not involve a knife and it is not surgery.  Steve's tumors would be subjected to concentrated bombardment with Gamma rays to kill the cancer.  On January 31, 2007, the procedure was performed.  It was like being in a Science Fiction movie.  A large metal cage was screwed into Steve's skull and he was placed in a contraption that looked like a CT scanner.  I was a nervous wreck, but Steve was happy because he was in a chemically altered state and all he had to do was lay there, listen to Willie Nelson albums and sleep.  The treatment was successful and 6 weeks later, tests showed that the tumors were shrinking.  The lightning bolt that hit me over this past weekend was the recollection of what we thought was a turning point in Steve's recovery and the realization that it had dredged up strong emotions that triggered "the fog".  So, I guess I'm not "over" Steve's death just yet.  That's very hard for me to say, because everyone thinks I am so strong and able to handle this.  If they only knew!  But recognizing what is happening is the first step in making it better, so I guess I am on the road to recovery.  I just wish I could move on and be whole again.  I'm like the person who prays for patience, but wants it right now!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Crafty Saturday

I love craft projects!  I have done so many cross stitch projects that I can't remember them all.  My easy chair used to be so covered up with bits of thread from my various projects that it was hard to tell what the original color & fabric really were.  I also like to do glass etching, painting, and sewing projects.  If I started right now and did nothing but craft projects for which I have already purchased the materials, I would have to live to be 150 years old to complete them...and that probably wouldn't include eating & sleeping.
This morning, I decided to work on a glass project.  I saw it, of course, on Pinterest.  It's a project to turn regular wine glasses into chalkboard wine glasses.  The finished glasses have chalkboard bases on which your guests to write their names so they don't get their own glass mixed up with someone else.  After the party, you simply wipe off the name and use it over again.  I started by taping the stem so I could get a nice, clean line.

Next, I mixed the paint.  You can use any indoor paint you wish, but make sure it is flat finish.  Pick any color you like.  Interestingly enough, I chose Claret.  You mix one cup of paint with one tablespoon of unsanded grout.

It is easiest to dip the base of the glass into the paint so that you get a smooth coat.  I transferred the paint into a disposable paint tray and began dipping.  You have to turn the glasses so that the paint is even and then prop them on the side of the tray to make sure most of the paint drips off.

After most of the paint has dripped off, you can stand the glasses in waxed paper and let them dry.  The paint is really thick, so it takes a long time for them to dry.

I can't wait until they are dry so I can try them out.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Little Things

Have you ever noticed that human beings are always waiting for "the next big thing"?  Cars, movies, fashion trends, books...we are so busy looking for the "big" things that we miss the "small" things that can really make a difference.  This notion really got my attention yesterday.  I have undertaken several renovation projects at my house over the past few years.  My aim has been to improve my life and lift my spirits.  In my bathroom, I  had the old fiberglass tube/shower removed, a new tile shower installed, new tile laid on the floor and new paint on the walls.  A couple of years after that, I bought all new appliances for my kitchen, new tile put down on the floor, granite counter tops and tile back splash installed.  I love these improvements.  It is really a joy to cook in my new kitchen and I really love my shower.  I have been looking at my living room and planning some improvements there also.  I have thought about painting, maybe a new area rug and even some new furniture.  The room seemed very crowded.  I have two overstuffed chairs with detached ottomans.  Steve & I decided several years ago that recliners just didn't seem to hold up to the heavy use they were getting at our house and that ottomans might last longer.  But lately, they always seem to be in the way.  As my two dogs race up and down the hallway and through the living room as they chase each other in play, the ottomans go careening across the floor.  One chair is so close to the doorway from the hall into the living room that I was always stumbling over it.  I even went so far as to stop by Turner's Furniture store yesterday to look at recliners, chairs and chaises.  I soon realized that I was going to have to spend close to $500 to purchase a new chair and then I had to figure out what I would do with the chairs that were already in my living room.  On the way home from the furniture store, I had an epiphany.  Why not just re-arrange the furniture and see if I could make more room.  I moved one of my chairs & ottoman across the room and voila...the room seemed larger!  How easy was that?  I sat in my "new" room for the rest of the afternoon and evening and marveled at the simplicity of this solution.  If simply moving a chair across the room could make it feel like I had enlarged the area, what small thing could I re-arrange in my life to open my mind and refresh my attitude?  I haven't found it yet, but I intend to try very hard to discover it this year.  It will probably turn out to be something so simple & obvious that I will wonder, "Why didn't I notice this before?"

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Katie & Mama J

There are many activities that I enjoy.  However, three that are at the top of my "favorites" list are cooking, doing crafts and spending time with my family.  It is a rare thing when I get to do all three at once, but today was one of those days.  Katie Garofalo (my son's girlfriend) came to the house around 9:30 this morning and we spent the day making candy, baking bread, etching glass and visiting.  I was in hog heaven!  Katie has been wanting to try out some candy recipes from a marvelous book she owns that is all about chocolate.  Talk about "right down my alley"...I would eat my shoe if it had chocolate drizzled on it.  I also have a few recipes from various Southern Living books.  So we compared recipes and decided to make Turtles.  Before we started that project, I mixed up the dough for Aunt Rhoda's bread and set it aside to proof ...that's fancy culinary jargon for "rising".  Katie realized that we were missing a couple of ingredients for the turtles, so she ran to Winn-Dixie while I did some prep work.  I chopped and toasted pecans and assembled wax paper sheets.  When Katie returned, we unwrapped and heated the caramels, then melted the chocolate.  Before you know it, we had a cookie sheet full of turtles.

A sprinkle of sea salt on top and they were finished.  Now all we had to do was keep our hands off of them until the chocolate cooled and hardened!  I took my mind off the turtles by finishing the bread.  After kneading and shaping the loaves, they went into the oven.  We had plenty of time to complete the glass etching project.  Tomorrow is the Secret Pal Tea at the Presbyterian Church.  Anyone who is so inclined can  put their name in the hat and pull out a name.  We remember each other once a month throughout the year with small gifts, cards, and surprises.  In January, we have a party and reveal ourselves to our pal.  I planned to etch a trifle bowl for my Secret Pal and Katie was interested in learning.  In between steps, we enjoyed some lively conversation.  The bread was done in an hour and when I took it out of the oven and placed it on the cooling racks the aroma of the bread & the chocolate-covered turtles was too much to resist. 

One loaf went home with Katie for her & GW to enjoy, two loaves will be shared with friends and you can see what we did with the other loaf!  There is nothing like the taste of bread, fresh from the oven.  The craft project turned out very well, also. 

If your eyesight is good, you can see the name of my Secret Pal on the trifle bowl, but I know I can trust you not to breath a word to her.