The Silver Maple Tree

It’s funny how sometimes I get a little “nudge” to write a post. Yesterday, I told my neighbor this story, which has been on my blog list, and then last night my “nudge” came in the form of a thunderstorm.

I love children’s books, and for many years it’s been a goal of mine to write one. I have a few ideas, but this is the story, which would be in a much shorter form, that has always been at the top of my list.

My childhood home had three large windows in the dining area of our kitchen. Those windows looked out into a large backyard that connected with all of the other backyards on our block. We had more than 20 kids in our neighborhood, and the center of it all was the home of just about every game you can imagine from softball to kick the can. It was also the site of a Civil War Battlefield created by my little brother and the other neighborhood boys, a go cart track, a campground, endless parties (including my sister’s wedding reception), and my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary celebration. At the very back of our lot, were two huge silver maple trees that were happy to participate in many games of hide and seek.

My mom was an only child and because of that, my grandmother visited our home on a daily basis. Much of her time was spent sitting at our kitchen table keeping an eye on what was going on in the backyard.  I can’t tell you the number of times while I was growing up I heard my grandmother say, “I guess it’s going to storm, the leaves on the silver maple trees are turned around backwards.” You see, when the wind blew a certain way, the leaves would, as she said, blow so that you would see their beautiful silver backside.

People from my grandmother’s generation may not have had as much formal education as generations to follow, but their wisdom came from their ancestors and from their experiences. My grandmother’s meterology skills were pretty accurate, as we nearly always got a thunderstorm following her prediction.

Post college, I moved away from my hometown and eventually was blessed with two daughters. My first born has always loved to read, which when she was younger prompted a whole host of questions and an eagerness to learn.

My girls were typical kids and were involved in many activities. One blustery day while on our way to a practice, I said out loud, “Gosh, I guess it’s going to storm, the leaves on the silver maple tree are turned around backwards.” My first born immediately wanted an explanation for such a statement.” So I told her about her great grandmother and the trees in my backyard where I grew up. She was very intrigued by such a prediction and immediately wanted to see a silver maple tree. Of course by then we had long passed the tree, so I told her we would just have to keep our eyes open.

A few weeks passed, but she didn’t forget about the tree and when we were out would often point to a tree and ask me if THAT was a silver maple tree. My answer was always the same, “No honey it’s not, but you will know it when you see it.”

It was a spring day and a swim lesson day.  We arrived at our destination, gathered our things and were walking into the recreation center when my daughter stopped and with the most excited look exclaimed, “That’s it!” “What’s it?” I asked. She replied, “That’s a silver maple tree!” She was right. It was right in front of her. There was a breeze and the leaves were turned around displaying a beautiful silver color.

That night I tucked the girls in their beds. We said our prayers and goodnights and I went downstairs to relax after all of the days activities. As I sat down, in the distance I saw a flash of lightning and then the rumble of thunder. A short while later, it began to rain, proving my grandmother’s theory once again.

E0AD0C42-59B4-4795-987D-5B7CE03C9729

 

 

A Meet Cute

I’ve had a really great week of spending time with some wonderful women. I’ve caught up with two friends from Kansas City by phone, had three breakfasts or lunches with local friends, and exchanged phone numbers with someone I was recently reacquainted with, that I am looking forward to getting to know better. I am so blessed to have all of these ladies in my life. But perhaps my favorite encounter of the week came in a serendipitous moment, or as Eli Wallach’s character Arthur Abbot referred to it in the movie The Holiday, a “meet cute.”

6D780386-7ED4-4B68-A850-4896951168CE

There is an antique mall close to where we live that many times I have driven past and thought, “I want to stop there,” but I was always going somewhere else. Not long ago, I finally made it my destination, and it did not disappoint. The majority of the booths truly are antiques or at least interesting pieces. I have been back a few times since, and it has become my favorite place to “get lost.”

About a month ago, I stopped in and bought a flow blue vegetable dish that I fell in love with upon sight. After a small amount of research, I was able to learn the pattern name and that the bowl was more than 120 years old.

64146EB0-21FB-4751-9472-FEAA553FB58E

That same day, I saw a picture that also caught my eye that looked like it was somewhere in Europe. I immediately thought, “Where would I put it, and would I need to have it reframed to go with the rest of my décor,” so I left without it. Shortly after, we left on a seven day trip and shortly after that was Thanksgiving. While I haven’t had the chance to go back, I’ve never stopped thinking about it.

Yesterday, I was heading out to run some errands, and as I got in my car to leave, once again I thought about the picture. I got to the street and without hesitation turned right to head to the store. It’s in a busy area, but as I arrived, there was a parking spot right in front. A good sign, right? I went in the store and headed straight for the booth and table where the picture had been, and it wasn’t there. Upon further observation, I realized that the booth was actually quite large and the same woman owned all of the merchandise in it. Each item had a business card on it that said “Mary…” I went back to the beginning of the booth where the aisle began and slowly looked up and down, hoping the picture had been moved. I got about half way down the aisle and I heard a sweet voice say, “Let me know if I can answer any questions.” I looked up to find this beautiful woman dressed in a blue and green plaid coat with a scarf to match. And I said, “Oh, is this your booth?” To which she replied, “Yes, I’m Mary.” I told Mary about the picture and she helped me look, but said she couldn’t specifically remember what it looked like, and after a while we determined that it was supposed to belong in someone else’s home. Mary and I continued to talk and she told me how this was her and her husband’s retirement hobby. He was the shopper, going to estate sales, garage sales, etc. and then she took over from there, placing everything in their booth. The conversation flowed from home décor to European travel to my mom and faith and how could anyone live without it. She was like this person that I was just supposed to meet. Even though I was disappointed about the picture, I loved talking to this warm, interesting woman. We eventually said our goodbyes and she left and I decided to do a quick walk through to see if anything new had arrived since the last time I was there. I had seen a pretty glass dish when I walked in that I wanted to look at again, and I found a crock with blue stripes that I wanted to inquire about the price as it was missing.

I finished my browsing and began walking toward the front of the store to the register. I glanced to my right and almost gasp out loud when I saw my picture. Mary’s booth actually rounded the corner and I didn’t realize it and hadn’t looked there. I grabbed it, and it was actually more beautiful than I had remembered. I wanted so much for Mary to still be there so she knew I had it, but instead, I had to leave her a note at the register.

I love the picture so much. It’s hard to  believe I left it the first time, but if I hadn’t, or if I would have immediately found it upon arriving at the store, I would have never met Mary. Sometimes things happen the way they’re supposed to.

4B9D7D7C-7331-4727-849B-8F0DF1C82E3D.jpeg

 

 

 

 

First You Make a Roux

We love New Orleans and have visited there three times in the past nine years. We love it all…the food, the art, the architecture, the culture, the music. Ah, the music. I remember the last time we were there I made a Facebook post that read: Three things I love about New Orleans. 1) In the bars, there are no televisions, it’s all about the music. 2) In the bars, no one is on their cell phone, it’s all about the music. 3) In the bars, no one is talking loudly to each other, it’s all about the music.

The last time we were in New Orleans was the week after our daughter and son-in-law’s wedding, which happened to be Thanksgiving. All of our family had been at the wedding, so we decided to do something very non-traditional and do a weekend getaway for the holiday. New Orleans was our other daughter’s idea since she was tired of us telling her how much we knew she would LOVE the city as much as we did. Our Thanksgiving day began with beignets at Café De Monde and dinner ended up being New Orleans Style BBQ Shrimp (that’s another post) and Gumbo at another amazing restaurant. It was perfect.

One of the things that has been on my New Year’s resolution list the past few years, and my New Normal List (it’s the same as my resolution list), is to be more adventurous in the kitchen. In The Magnolia Cookbook, Joanna Gaines talks about her journey in the kitchen and says that Chip always tells her, “If you mess up, there’s always pizza.” Truth.

Earlier this week, I decided I was going to make my first attempt at Gumbo. There are two reasons why this was an intimidating idea. One, my husband LOVES Gumbo and at least once a week he goes to a diner close by that is owned by Cajuns just to get their Gumbo. And the second, one of my dearest friends here is from Lafayette, LA and I’ve had her Gumbo. Simply Amazing. But I won’t be intimidated, and I found an Authentic New Orleans Style Gumbo recipe. My neighbor, whose mother is from New Orleans, offered me her mom’s recipe that began with “Make a roux.” Seriously, this again? I need instructions. Yes, my Cajun friends are laughing their heads off right now.

I’m one of those people who hates reading directions, but I’ve learned that for cooking, my best success comes from reading the entire recipe first, which is what I did. I quickly figured out that this was going to have to be a rainy day project because it was going to take some time. Making the roux itself takes 30-45 minutes and then there is a LOT of slicing, dicing, and chopping to do. Honestly, I could have flown to New Orleans for the amount of money I spent on ingredients.

C3EB9E80-EAB5-4153-89B0-E2B47714E589

Yesterday, I got my cold rainy day. When my husband left for work, he looked at me and said, “So we’re having Gumbo for dinner?” to which I replied, “Or pizza.” I knew it was going to be a long morning, so the first thing I did was turn on my iTunes and let it play. Ever so often a Christmas song would pop up, which was just fine. So away I went chopping, dicing and slicing onions and peppers and celery and parsley and shrimp and chicken and Andouille sausage and stirring the roux, and stirring the roux, and stirring the roux. The recipe warned about “stirring the roux constantly, not letting it burn, getting the color and consistency right, and that it would take 30-45 minutes.” There was no mention of making sure you went to the bathroom before you began making the roux. Good thing I read those instructions ahead of time. I’ll admit that despite that most Cajun recipes begin with, “First you make a roux”, I prepared all of the other ingredients first, so when the roux was ready, everything was ready to be added to it. I know, I did it wrong. I’m not sorry.

The author of the recipe said the Prep time was 20 minutes, Cook time 1 hr, Total time 1 hour 20 minutes. What?  A little over four hours later and a little Voodoo thrown in for good measure, my gumbo was ready. We had it for dinner, I didn’t have to order pizza, and my husband gave it a thumbs up. He took his lunch to work today.

F6EF9828-C8F2-493D-B261-5258D741397A.jpeg

 

 

The Old Cookbook

I saw a funny quote recently that read, “I have come to the conclusion that buying craft supplies and actually using them are two separate hobbies.” It made me smile because I have often had a similar thought about myself and cookbooks. I like to buy and look at cookbooks more than I actually like to cook. I don’t think people purchase many cookbooks anymore because there are so many recipes online through websites, blogs, pinterest, and you can practically find anything if you just “google” it. But for me, there is something that attracts me to particular cookbooks, and I still enjoy holding them in my hands and thumbing through them with the best of intentions of making some of the recipes. I even keep some of my favorites in a basket on my kitchen island.

96D1A70E-FF93-4F63-BE43-3CD4AA29A71C.jpeg

My mom was an amazing cook and most of what she made was from a hand written recipe or off the top of her head. It appears that she didn’t share the same love for cookbooks that I do because recently while going through her things, I came away with a large stack of handwritten recipes, which I am so grateful to have, but only a few cookbooks. However, one of the cookbooks is really special. The cookbook’s front cover is missing, but upon further inspection it is a Salisbury cookbook from many years ago, in fact, back when telephone numbers only had two digits.

I don’t believe I have ever seen it before, but mom definitely used it as it has hand written notes on several of the pages, and it’s a mess with ingredients spilled on the pages.

15C1EB12-03D3-411E-AD53-E2FDE8DDA55D

It isn’t only mom’s added touches though that makes this cookbook special. It’s the recipes that were submitted by so many amazing Salisbury women that were the backbone of our little town while I was growing up. People whose names I haven’t heard in years, but have such fond memories of…Mrs. Eldrige Griswold, Mrs. Melvin Keyes, Mrs. Harold Sutter, Betty Hollis to name a few.

One of my favorite entrys is a recipe submitted by Mary Sue Nicholas, the first grade teacher of many of us. The recipe is in fact the popular Asparagus Casserole my mom always made for Thanksgiving. I found it a bit humorous that Mrs. Nicholas’ recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups rich white sauce. Obviously at the time every one could just whip up a perfect white sauce off the top of their head, and maybe some of you still can, but I need a recipe.

A40EDBF0-8E75-4B9A-B7A5-D39480E629B2

This old cookbook may not make the basket that sits on my counter top, but I will be keeping it for the sentimental value it holds. With the holidays coming up, maybe you’ll want to include my mom and Mrs. Nicholas’ Asparagus Casserole in your menu.

2 T. corn starch

2 cup cream

4 T. margerine

1/2 t. salt

1/2 t. pepper

1 can asparagus tips (sliced)

6 hard cooked eggs (sliced)

1 c. grated cheese

1/4 t. salt

1 cup slivered almonds

For the white sauce: Mix corn starch and cream until smooth. Bring to a boil stirring constantly over medium heat.  Boil one minute. Add margarine, salt and pepper. Set aside. In a casserole dish, layer 1/2 the asparagus, eggs, cheese, almonds and 1/2 of the white sauce. Repeat layers ending with the white sauce. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly, about 25 minutes.

Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

 

The Butterfly

Many people have told me since losing their parents or loved ones, that they receive signs from them, or from God, that they are still with them. Not things that just remind them of them, but actual signs.

I promise I’m not planning on focusing my blog on sadness or struggling, because as I said in my first post, I’m ready to be out of that mindset, but I do want to share with you about the picture at the top of my page. First of all, I love it. I love the flowers and the big, bold colors.  The photo credit goes to my sister and is a part of a much larger picture that was taken at the graveside service for my parents.

Mom and dad’s wishes were to be cremated and their ashes put together. It made total sense, especially if you knew my parents because they were inseparable. We followed their wishes and they were put together in the same vault. After my mom’s funeral mass, the vault was moved to the city cemetery for a graveside service. As we left the church, we asked the funeral director to please take along the beautiful flower arrangement that had been sent by their dear friends.

We arrived at the gravesite shortly after the service. My siblings and I sat down in the three chairs that were provided for us, surrounded by our family, right in front of where the vault and the flowers were placed. Within seconds of being seated, a black swallowtail butterfly danced it’s way toward the flower arrangement and landed on one of the three verbena flowers. The priest began the service, but all eyes seemed to stay on the butterfly who was enjoying the nectar of all three of the verbena. The feasting continued until the last “Amen” and then the butterfly floated away in the same fashion he had come. I felt that this could not be coincidental, and decided to do a bit of research.

My instinct proved to be correct and I learned that butterflies are in fact, very symbolic of change. The butterfly is transformed from a caterpillar in a very short period of time, the connection being that we should accept the changes in our lives and keep our faith as these changes occur. The Ancient Greeks as well as many cultures and religions relate butterflies to the souls of those who have passed away. I determined from looking at online photos that this was a male swallowtail and I’m convinced it was my dad joining us to reassure us that he was with us and there to help us accept the changes in our lives.

Today while I was running errands, I stumbled upon and purchased a book by Roma Downey called “Box of Butterflies.” She writes, “Butterflies have appeared in moments throughout my life when I needed a sign of God’s goodness. I pray that each story within it, each poem that I’ve chosen, or quote, or image selected will remind you that although we sometimes feel alone, we are never truly alone.” Her inspiration for writing the book was a butterfly that appeared as she visited her mother’s grave for the first time as a little girl of ten years old. Since then, she writes, “butterflies have always been a reminder to me of God’s presence, even in the darkest times.” Coincidence? I think it was a sign that this should be my next post.

So, for the butterfly who has emerged from it’s chrysalis or cocoon, and my parents, who are now in heaven, Life Has Begun!

 

 

Life Has Begun

This past May, I quit my job of 14 years. I had been thinking about it for a while. Some things were changing, and I felt I had reached a point of mental fatigue. The day after Mother’s Day, a few hours into my work day, I knew I was done. I kept thinking the feeling would leave, but it never did. I got home from work in the afternoon, picked up my Surface and emailed my resignation to my boss.

I worked for a few more weeks, but looked forward to and wondered what my “new normal” would be. Little did I know that it wouldn’t be normal at all and I would literally have the worst summer of my life. I doubt there is anything in this world that could prepare someone for dealing with sick parents, suddenly losing the more healthy of the two, finding care for the one who was left behind, selling and cleaning out your family home, losing the second parent, and then cleaning out and preparing to sell their second home, all over a three month period of time. Grieving? No time for that. Oh, and I live 795 miles away.

I love to write, and I always feel better after I get things out and down on paper. For some time now, I have wanted to start a blog (maybe) or maybe just a journal, so doing so has been a “new normal” goal. That goal of course, has been delayed by the aforementioned events. It is now October 1st and while there is still much to be finalized at home, I have at least reached my first week where there is nothing on my calendar, except going to a cake tasting for my good friend’s daughter’s wedding. Yes. Please.

It appears that one of the hard parts about starting a blog is simply choosing a name. Over the past four and a half months, I have often had the thought, “Today is the first day of the rest of my life,” but that’s kind of cheesy and way too long for a name. Given all that I have been through since leaving my job in May, a natural choice is “My New Normal” or “Finding My New Normal”, but those are already taken and if you google that, it is all about grief or people who are struggling, and I want desperately to get out of that mindset. So yesterday, on our way back from Mobile Bay, I was thinking about possibilities.

I have a dear friend, who was my college roommate my sophomore year. Beth was from the Deep South and had an accent to prove it. She sang and played the guitar and was a French major who intentionally mispronounced all of the most common French phrases just to be humorous. She was an enormous amount of fun because she loved and lived life, and every time she had an amazing experience she would exclaim, “Life has begun!”

Post College, Beth spent some time living in Paris, but eventually returned home to teach French in her hometown high school. We have kept in touch and quite honestly, she has become my inspiration. Over the past few years, she too has been finding her new normal, losing her sister in Hurricane Katrina, and more recently retiring from teaching and losing her father. However, as I type, Beth is in France leading a walking tour of Provence and the French Riviera. When she returns, she will no doubt get back to teaching yoga and playing in her bluegrass band, all part of her new normal. Beth will quite often share on Facebook something amazing that she has experienced, to which I comment, “Life has begun!” and she always comments back with a smiley face.

So, I’m thinking “Life Has Begun” needs to be the name of my blog, or whatever this turns out to be. In a way, I am starting over, unemployed and parentless. The phrase was born out of positive energy and I need positive in my life right now. Thanks for the memories and inspiration Beth. I’m signing off to go do Yoga.