The weekend–still special

Despite the fact that I’m retired, the weekend is still a special part of my week.

You might think that since I no longer punch a time clock, each day is pretty much like any other, always with the option to stay up late or go to bed early, rise with the sun or sleep in until noon, do the yard work or the shopping or just sit and read.

time clock

Via Bing Images

I suppose that would be true, if I’d allowed it to be.

But even a retired person needs a balance and rhythm to life, a structure that includes highs and lows, busy times and relaxing ones. It takes deliberate choices to see that that happens. And maybe it takes having been a Benedictine oblate for nearly 40 years, living a rule of life that encourages a balance between work and play, between productivity and prayer.

Even now, sitting here on a Friday night, I’m anticipating the Saturday and Sunday before me.  Some of the excitement is probably a holdover from my working days when the weekend meant respite–but not entirely, because the weekend still means true respite.

shortcakeSaturday starts special with a special breakfast. It’s the day we break our healthy food regimen and feast–in moderation–on bacon and pancakes or waffles. Tomorrow, since it’s strawberry season, it will be strawberry shortcake with the bacon. Dessert for breakfast! I feel like a kid, getting away with something.

There will be no interviews for freelance articles; no major housework since I make sure it’s pretty much done during the week; no meetings, no obligations. I might putz in the garden, or spend some time in the sewing room. I might do some baking–because I like to, not because I have to. Sometimes George has a gig, and I might go if it’s a public event. If not, I enjoy the solitude and the silence.

Sunday is Sabbath, with all the reverence and separateness that concept implies. On Sunday we go to 10:30 Mass, so the morning is a buildup to that main event. MassBreakfast is simple, Morning Prayer is leisurely, “nice” clothes have been laid out to mark the solemnity of the day, and we go together to church to offer our past week as our gift, to give thanks in the best way possible for gifts and blessings received, to be part of a worshiping community, just as God is part of a community of Three.

Sunday is our day of rest. Even retired people need that both mentally and physically, as well as spiritually. On Sunday we don’t do laundry, buy groceries, clean the house, wash the car, go shopping or “catch up” on the things we forgot to do the rest of the week. On Sunday we let it all go, and we re-create ourselves.

There was a time when Mass was followed by lunch out someplace–and that still happens occasionally–but we figured that if Sunday is a day of rest for us, we shouldn’t contribute to a system that doesn’t allow it to be a day of rest for others. Does our effort make a difference in the lives of sales clerks and waitresses for whom Sunday must be just another workday? No, but it makes a difference to me that I haven’t practiced a double standard.

So instead of eating out, we plan something especially tasty for our meal at home. Maybe a steak on the grill, or a roast in the crock-pot, or a new recipe that tempted both of us. Then, if the weather cooperates, we might walk Lady in a “special place,” somewhere different from her usual jaunts. We might spend the afternoon on our personal fun projects–sewing or reading or catching up on Catholic newspapers for me, perhaps; music undoubtedly for George, or a few games of M.U.L.E. on the iPad.

readingIt’s a free day, a break from obligations that’s savored with a kind of joyful glee. It’s a day to notice that the floor needs vacuuming, and to feel not one bit guilty about ignoring it. A day when the myriad things involved in running a home can just get in line for Monday, or Tuesday or the days that follow. It’s a day where I can spend hours just reading if I want to–and anyone who really knows me, knows I often want to.

Our weekend ends with one last, simple splurge: ice cream! We’re fairly health conscious, but it’s the occasional treats we allow ourselves that help us stay on the straight and narrow the rest of the time. Two quarts of ice cream wait ice creamin our freezer at all times; one is my pick, one is George’s. Like two kids, at some point during any given Sunday, one of us will announce to the other, “It’s ice cream day!” I like mine in a cone, George wants his in a dish. Yum.

St. BenThen Monday arrives, and the rest of the week follows, and although we don’t go to work, little obligations rear their heads here and there. Always, though, the weekend lies ahead, two days that we’ve chosen to make special. Rhythm and balance. St. Benedict would approve.


Posted in Benedictine, Catholic, Catholic life, Faith-filled living, Lifestyle | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

How’s YOUR back?

Gardening has taught me patience. Not because I have to wait for plants to grow, but because I have to deal with myself.

Or maybe it’s just that with age has come a bit of wisdom. All I know is that now, in my retirement years, I’ve learned that yard work doesn’t have to be done all at once, and I’m trying to carry that new awareness into the rest of my life.

When I was much younger, spring to me meant backbreaking bingesLadder in the yard, pulling weeds, planting flowers, mowing, trimming, clipping, digging, in all the flower beds, on the same day. Even if I managed to get everything done that one day, just the idea of the maintenance required to keep things looking nice produced weed-inducing procrastination. In those days, gardening was an all-or-nothing proposition.

It’s not like that any more. It CAN’T be like that any more. With age may come wisdom where gardens are concerned, but that’s because age also brings gratzy knees and a twingy back. Overdoing means being overdone and a trip to the chiropractor where I spend money I could have spent on flowers.

So now, I take an hour  here and an hour there, pulling a few weeds, removing old growth and stopping now and then to listen to the birds or feed the chipmunks who like to eat out Gardensof my hand. The next day I may take another hour. I work on cloudy days when it’s not too hot, or when there’s shade and a nice breeze. After all, I’m retired. I should enjoy being able to pick and choose and follow no schedule but my own.

I use a garden bench to avoid back-killing stooping, dragging it along with me as I move, foot by foot, through the garden. I use a wheelbarrow to lug dirt-filled pots. I’ve been been known to let the weeds lie in a pile overnight, and pick them up the next day. I bet no one even notices.

I don’t even buy my annuals at the same time. I used to arrive at the greenhouse with a long list, and Stoolby the time I carried several flats of flowers to the car I was already too tired to even think of gardening. Now, I get the ones for the pots I like best, bring them home, leave them on the deck, and then, when it suits me, I plant a few. When those are planted, I get more if I need them, and repeat the process.

Today, when I got home from an errand and was heading for the house, I stopped to pull a few weeds that were in my line of sight. Next time I’m outside I’ll pull a few more. I’ll grab some as I take Lady for a walk, or before I settle down for Morning Prayer. There will be others waiting, and I WILL get to them–tomorrow.

SeagullTo some people, this would sound like procrastination. But this is where the wisdom comes in. It has taught me that slow but sure still gets the job done. I didn’t rush, hurry, knock myself out or work until I dropped, but my veggies are in, my pots are full, and it’s a pleasure to just sit on the deck and enjoy.

Best of all, my back doesn’t hurt, and my knees aren’t  complaining. THAT’S the way gardening should be done. All it takes is a little patience.


Posted in gardening, getting older, Lifestyle, Reflection, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Waiting for the rain

All the elements came together at just the right time today.

The newsletter that’s due Friday is far enough along that I could set it aside for the day. The rhubarb cake for tonight’s St. Ann’s meeting is in the oven. George is at rehearsal, so I have the house to myself. And the rain came.

We’ve had gloriously sunny days for weeks, it seems. Too much sun, maybe, for the things that are trying to grow. But now, in typical northern fashion, we have rain on the agenda for many days ahead. And it began half an hour ago.

I wished out loud when George and I were walking our dog after lunch.

“I’m looking forward to a rainy day when I have nothing to do,” I said.


Tulips like this always remind me of a tasty dessert.

I was visualizing that close darkness that presses against the windows when storm clouds roll overhead, the plinking sounds of rain on our metal roof, a comfy chair and a good book.

I didn’t get the whole day with nothing to do, but I’ll a take couple good hours over nothing at all. It started when the wind picked up, just before George left.

“The rain is coming,” I said, not trying to sound prophetic, just recognizing the portents of restless trees, moving like spooked horses against their tethers.

I saved and closed the newsletter, quickly assembled the cake ingredients and slid it in the oven, then grabbed my camera and headed outside. Gray clouds hovered overhead, darker ones were moving in from the west. I had just enough time, maybe the last time, to snap a few tulip photos.

No longer young

No longer young, but still dancing.

I’ve been taking as many as I can, trying to capture and preserve their stained-glass brilliance in my garden. But their season is ending, their colors are fading, petals are twisted and drooped, some stems already stand naked. The wind and the rain, I figured, would finish the disrobing.

I got back in the house just in time. Rain’s forward scouts left crosshatching on the windows, and I settled in to enjoy, putting “all sensors on maximum,” as they say in the sci-fi movies. Now, it wasn’t just lilacs scents wafting through the open windows, it was that incomparable smell of rain, of wet earth and wet dust. The ping of rain on roof and skylights replaced birdsong. The atmosphere invited prayer.

“You sent abundant rain, O God, to refresh the weary land.” (Psalm 68:9)
“He gives rain on the earth And sends water on the fields.” (Job 5:10)
“The heavens dropped rain at the presence of God.” (Psalm 68:8)
“He covers the heavens with clouds, He provides rain for the earth, He makes grass to grow on the mountains (and on the crops in Door County).” (Psalm 147:8)

Peace, contentment, soft satisfaction and even the presence of God appear on no sensor sweep. But, after all, they do have the sound, and the smell, and the feel of a gentle spring rain.

Posted in contemplation, Faith-filled living, nature, Reflection | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Guilt-free banana bread

Food that’s healthy doesn’t have to taste like cardboard. I recently tried a recipe where the chef obviously didn’t get the memo.

It was billed as “healthy banana bread,” and had whole wheat flour, honey instead of sugar and unsweetened applesauce instead of shortening, among the other ingredients. So far so good. However, I should have realized that a recipe that also had no flavorings or spices would be pretty uninteresting. I tried it, and was overwhelmingly unimpressed. It was dry and tasteless.

For some reason, I didn’t just trash the recipe. I decided to tweak it instead. What I ended up with is practically a new recipe altogether, so I can safely say the result isn’t plagiarized.

I decided to use whole wheat pastry flour for a nice texture, and I made sure the honey was raw, which is SO much better tasting than processed honey. It also contains more vitamins and minerals. (And keep in mind that much store-bought honey is imported from other countries and is actually flavored corn syrup!)

The last change I made was to use grape-seed oil instead of applesauce. Most people now admit that fat doesn’t have to be eliminated altogether in order to have “healthy”; you just have to use the right kind of fat. Grape-seed oil doesn’t have a flavor of its own, which can be a plus, and it’s high in healthy omega 6 oils. I could also have used coconut oil, another healthy fat, and its coconut flavor would blend well with bananas for a tropical taste. Next time, I just might do that.

Anyway, here’s the final recipe–so far. Tweaking is never entirely done!

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup grape-seed oil
3/4 cups raw honey
2 eggs, beaten slightly
3 mashed overripe bananas
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp orange flavoring
1 tsp rum flavoring
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/3-1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350° and lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan. Banana breadIn a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and dry spices. In a separate bowl, mix together oil and honey. Stir in eggs, mashed bananas, and liquid flavorings until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture just until moistened, and mix in raisins. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 50-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

The results isn’t just banana bread, it’s more like a spice cake. You can adjust the amounts of the spices to favor the ones you like the best. I like to slice the bread, wrap each piece in waxed paper, and freeze it, taking out only a slice or two at a time. That way, there’s always a healthy, tasty treat on hand for visitors, or when you get the munchies.

Posted in Food, healthy eating, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Pen

This is a story about a church pew, long-lost friends, and a pen.

Carl shared my St. Joseph School years in the red brick, eight-grade schoolhouse that was part of our Catholic parish. Together we marched over to church for Mass each morning before classes began. We made our First Communion together in the first grade–even


Bill on the left, Carl on the right, and I’m in the upper right.

shared proximity in an old photo from that special day–and we faced the bishop together in the fifth grade to be confirmed.

Undoubtedly we faced each other in spell downs and multiplication races at the blackboard, too. We exchanged Valentines and shared hot lunches in the school basement, then went our separate ways at recess when the girls gathered for jump rope and the boys did whatever boys do in the dusty back lot.

We went our separate ways when it was time for high school, too. I went on to the Catholic school, Carl to one of the many public schools around town, and that was the last I saw of him, except for one time, at the movies, when I discovered he was an usher.

While I lost track of Carl and a lot of other classmates over the years, I also “lost” that entire grade-school campus. The school was closed, then the church was closed, and eventually everything was razed–church, school, convent and rectory. For a few years, the entire block remained empty. Now, I’m told–although I moved away long ago and can’t see for myself–that multiple-unit family dwellings have gone up. The space has been recycled, with only a little pocket park, named for St. Joseph, remaining as a reminder of what once was.

From far away, I had hoped for a piece of that church, built by German families in the late 1800s,  when I heard it was being torn down. Some people, I was told, were lucky enough to acquire bricks, or pew parts, or other bits and pieces that weren’t sold. I wasn’t one of those lucky ones.

Then along came Facebook. My high school class put up a page just for us, and the inevitable “whatever happened to…?” questions started to be answered. As more people joined the page, we began to “friend” each other, shooting messages back and forth and catching up on the many, many intervening years since graduation, back in 1966.

Facebook also has a memories page for those of us who grew up in my hometown. It was a comment I left there that got noticed by Carl, who did a search, found me on Facebook, and sent a message–right about the same time that Bill, another St. Joseph grad, made contact with both of us. Three old friends, all in that same First Communion photo, back in touch after more than 50 years.

One of the first things we shared, of course, were memories of those parish school years, commiserating over the loss brought about by changing times. Were any of us lucky enough to glean a memento? Apparently not.

But then, things began to happen. “Be watching for something in the mail,” Carl told me–and, as I learned later, told Bill that, too.

When the package came, I was astonished. Carl and I had fountain pentalked about our Palmer Method penmanship classes, bemoaning the fact that cursive writing is all but a lost art among young people today and that handwritten notes are as rare as fountain pens.

But Carl, who now operates a handcrafted pen business since his retirement, found someone willing to part with a weathered piece of pew from our old church, polished and shaped a portion of it, and produced an extremely limited edition fountain pen, with a cross-shaped clip. Each time I pick it up, I’m holding not just a pen, but a handful of memories, too, preserved by an old school friend who is one of those memories.

St. Joe's brickThe pen was just the start. Shortly after, Bill also promised a package in the mail. It turns out that Bill had a St. Joseph brick, which he divided into thirds, labeled appropriately, and shared with me and Carl. Another little piece of my youth has come to rest in my home.

How can I top that? I can’t. But I can write a tribute in this blog to two old friends, refound after many years, held dear for all the years to come, sharers in something no one else in all the towns I’ve lived in can share with me. My roots.

Posted in Catholic, Catholic life, friendship, getting older, History, Memories | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Avalanches and apple cake

I have a decision to make: Do I write about avalanches or apple cake?

Avalanches can be pretty serious and probably shouldn’t be ignored. I know; I live under one–or rather, under a steady stream of them. We’ve learned how to deal with them, but a well-intending  mailman or unsuspecting neighbor could find themselves a victim. So could our dog.

I heard George as he leashed her up for her after-supper tinkle.

“Just wait, Lady,” he said, holding her back as he slowly opened the door with one long-reaching arm. I heard the expected boom-crash.

“OK, it’s safe,” he said, now having to cajole her to step onto a deck that must have sounded lethal.

That’s what happens, you see, when you install a metal roof. Snow curlDepending on how your roof slopes, it might be no problem at all. But if the downward slant is over your door, you have to beware: nothing stays for long on a metal roof. Snow, ice, slush, whatever winter has thrown at us, stacks up only for a bit, and then begins to inch down, bit by bit, curling over the eaves into one impressive pageboy before succumbing to its own weight and landing on the deck below–and on anyone in the way at the time.

Opening the front door can mean hitting that roof-line curl, bringing the whole thing crashing down. I don’t want to be caught in it. A beagle wouldn’t stand a chance.

While we don’t have to worry about shoveling snow off our roof, we do have to deal with shoveling that roof deposit off our deck. And in the summer–well, let’s just say that on a rainy day, we run a waterfall gauntlet. However, I think summertime’s raindrop symphonies more than make up for it.

It IS a bit unsettling, though, to sit in the house and see large objects falling past the windows, followed by large crashes. It’s like living under some kind of frosty lover’s leap, with hapless entities throwing themselves into the abyss.

Tonight, when George came inside after shoveling off some of those snow curls before they became dangerous, I was standing at the kitchen counter, peeling apples. (You see how I’ve segued into writing about that apple cake after all?) I knew that battling avalanches-in-the-making deserved a reward, and what better than a warm and tasty treat from the oven?

We’re eating extremely healthy these days, though, so treats that fit in with that agenda can be hard to find. This one-bowl apple cake is something acceptable, I think. Here’s the recipe:

2 eggs
1-3/4 C sugar (I used Stevia)
2 heaping tsp cinnamon
1/2 C oil (I used grapeseed)
6 medium Gala or Fuji or Honey Crisp apples
2 C flour
2 tsp baking soda

• Preheat oven to 350° and grease a 9×13 or two 9” round pans. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, sugar, cinnamon and oil.

• Peel and slice the apples and add to the mixture in the bowl.

• Mix together the baking soda and flour and add to the ingredients in the bowl. Mix well with a fork until all of the flour is absorbed by the wet ingredients. Pour mixture into the pans and bake for about 55 minutes.

Apple cakeGeorge hinted at seconds, so although this might not be the gooey, carrot-cake sort of treat, it was the perfect reward for my honey after battling roof-line avalanches.

Posted in Dealing with winter, Food, healthy eating, Humor | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

I’m ready, let ‘er snow!

I sent a story off to my editor tonight, put some beans on to soak, picked out a good book, and now I wait. There’s a storm coming.

My cousin Charlie once told me that people in his Baltimore area headed to the store for milk, bread and toilet paper–necessities of life, I guess–whenever a couple inches of snow were forecast. We’re expecting 7-11 inches in the next two days, along with some freezing drizzle, and the only thing we’re doing is planning how to spend our snow day.

Some people, alas, must go to work. For them I pray safe travels. Some people, God forbid, may have medical conditions or emergencies that will require venturing out in the storm. But George and I are retired and relatively healthy and we intend to enjoy the coming couple of days.

I worked enough years that I can still appreciate a “free” day, a day when I have no obligations, and have the perfect excuse to goof off. The fact that the goofing off has to happen inside is no hardship at all, not when there are so many fun things to do in this house.

Nothing momentous, you understand. That’s another thing life has taught me. It’s the little, familiar, comforting things, the small pleasures, that are the most fun to savor when when time is on your side.

We’ll probably sleep in a bit, or wake up at our usual time and lie there talking, laughing, making room for the dog, savoring the warmth of thick bed linens and body heat. We’ll linger over breakfast after I’ve put those soaking beans on to cook, along with a nice, meaty smoked ham shank. Fifteen kinds of beans, to which will be added spicy curry powder. Corn bread, some healthy raisin-oatmeal cookies–ah yes, the kind of meal that thumbs its nose at winter’s bluster.

My Morning Prayer, beside a flickering candle, will be enjoyed with a cup of hazelnut creme coffee, or maybe cherry creme. George’s guitar will weep and wail, I suspect, and my sewing machine may hum a bit as I enjoy tending to neglected projects. There may be a cut-throat game or two of backgammon on the agenda, and for sure we’ll both adjourn to our recliners at some point and bury ourselves in our current novels–a thriller for me, a Heinlein for George, I suspect.

We’ll have to venture out long enough for Lady to do her business,

Back from pee

Lady heading in after a quick potty stop. Photo by Monica Sawyn

but being a smart beagle, she won’t insist on a long trek when the wind blows up her nose and flares her ears like Dumbo’s. No, she’ll squat quickly and head back for the house even more quickly, where her favorite spot on the couch will still be warm where she left it.

I’ve got letters to write–and who knows, maybe even another blog. The TV won’t figure into this scenario, though. George and I don’t give it a thought all day, but save MASH or Waltons or Star Gate DVDs for that time after supper when the light is gone and night presses against the windows.

The only thing that would disappoint tomorrow is if the snow doesn’t show, if the storm wimps out. If that happens, I might have to do something really constructive, and after all the weather hype of the past week, I’m just not in the mood for constructive.

So come on, Winter. Don’t fail me now.

Posted in contemplation, Dealing with winter, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

The never-ending pea soup story

A few years ago I stumbled onto a pea soup recipe that was certainly different from my mother’s. It had curry and cream in it and was, my family thought, lip-smacking good. Here’s that starting recipe, which I found in a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook:

• 1-1/4 cups dry green split peas
• 1 smoked ham shank (Don’t use hocks. They don’t have as much meat, but they do have a lot of outer skin which I don’t think tastes very good.)
• 1 cup coarsely chopped celery
• 1 cup coarsely chopped carrots
• 1 tablespoon curry powder
• 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram or thume or 1 teaspoon of the dried version
• 1 bay leaf
• 5 cups chicken broth
• 1 cup cream (or half and half, but of course the cream is better)
• Salt & pepper

The original recipe called for putting this in the crock-pot, but my crock-pot wasn’t big enough, so I did it the old-fashioned way, on the stove. I put the ham shank into the soup pot about 5 hours before I wanted to serve it. After about 3 hours I add the veggies and the peas, because they don’t take as long to cook, and if you soak the peas overnight, they’ll take even less time.

When the meat is tender remove the shanks from the pot and take the meat off the bones. A lot of people chop it up, but I prefer to pull it by hand, shredding it and ensuring that bits of meat are present in every spoonful. Then add it back to the soup pot. The cream is added and mixed well just before serving.

The recipe mutated a bit after a while. I discovered “spicy curry” by Spice Islands. I mention the brand because curries vary widely, and someone else’s “spicy” variety might not be quite the same. This has crushed red pepper in it, which gives the soup that little bit of heat that I love in a lot of my dishes. We like the spicy curry so much that we order it online, since our local groceries don’t carry it.

By now I figured the recipe couldn’t be improved, but then we started getting really serious about healthy eating, and I started to worry about that cream. It called for only one cup, and in the whole scheme of things that one cup, divided by several servings, probably wouldn’t do much damage to us even though we try to avoid saturated fats.

One day I wondered if I could find a nice, creamy substitute–no skimmed milk, please! So, without saying anything to George, I used coconut milk instead–the good kind, extra virgin, organic. Yes, it has saturated fat, but plant-based, and thus without the negative properties of animal fats.

The result was wonderful! And George thought so, too.

Yesterday, the soup took yet another twist. I decided at the last minute to make it, and hoped I’d have everything I needed. I always keep a ham shank in the freezer, so that was good. I didn’t have chicken broth, but I did have a jar of vegetable water from recent vegetable steamings. Lots of good vitamins caught and saved.

I dumped that in the pot along with the ham shank, and added “some” water. I didn’t measure, and when it came time to add the peas, I didn’t measure those either. I guessed that the peas I had left in two different bags would be enough. Well, I guessed wrong.

About an hour before dinner, I realized the soup was much too thin. So, I thought, how do I thicken this up, preferably with “real” food? George’s eyebrows went up when I told him what I added.

“Really?” he said. “In pea soup?”

pea soup

THIS pea soup is guaranteed to stick to your ribs! (Monica Sawyn photo)

I added rice. It’s that delicious organic basmati brown rice that is my new favorite. I hadn’t a clue how much to add, so I did three handfuls. The rice itself soaked up some of that extra liquid, and it also released its own starchy thickener that completed the job.

I’ve never heard of rice in pea soup. Potatoes, yes. Maybe even pasta. But as far as I know, rice is a first, for me anyway. And it’s really, really good. What was a rescue operation will now be my newest mutated version of pea soup, thick and hearty and perfect for these cold winter days.

I have to wonder, though: what other tweakings lie in the future?


Posted in Food, healthy eating, nutrition, recipes, soup, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

It’s all Martin’s fault

It’s Martin Luther King Day. I hate Martin Luther King Day.

It’s not because I have anything against the man. Him I like, as well as what he said and his valiant efforts to bring some peace and equality–maybe peace through equality?–into the world. No, what I don’t like is that its designation as a federal holiday means we don’t get any mail.

In saying that, I feel a bit like those old fogies on my sons’ paper routes whose only reason for getting up in the morning, apparently, was to read the newspaper. When the paper was late because of winter storm, press break-down, or a delivery truck flat tire, my sons bore the brunt of their very nasty ill temper. And they all insisted they be the first on the route to get that paper, a nice piece of illogic that none of them could seem to recognize. Get a life, I wanted to tell them.

Our Very Own Mail!

Here’s proof. The big event for me when we first moved here nearly six years ago was bringing in the first piece of mail–a letter from my mother. Photo by George Sawyn

I assure you, my day isn’t defined by what comes in the mailbox. Whether it comes at all is another thing. Sundays I understand, because even I refuse to work on Sunday. But a holiday where only a select few get the day off? What’s with that? Isn’t it more important that the mail go through?

Today, for instance, was the day the weekly letter to my mother was supposed to go out. Last week’s weekly letter, that is. Every Thursday or Friday, like clockwork, I send my 92-year-old mother a letter. In a pinch, when I’m running behind, the letter goes out on Saturday. She still gets it early the following week.

Last week, for various reasons, the completed letter didn’t make it to the Saturday mailbox in time. That’s OK, I thought; I’ll get it out Monday and it will still be there mid-week. Oops, nope, guess again. It’s one of those no-mail days. If I were like those old fogies from my kids’ paper-route days, I’d be calling my postman and complaining long and loud.

Lucky for him, I’m more sensible. Doesn’t mean I like it any better. My whole day has been one of false starts: heard a truck rumble past, thought “mail!” and then remembered. Got the dog dressed up to walk in this frigid weather, grabbed the mailbox key–and remembered. Got excited about our parish directories that were to be mailed out today–but nope, that’s not going to happen.

If I’m brutally honest, I’ll admit that there’s never anything very exciting waiting in that box. A letter from my mother, once a week. A letter from an incarcerated friend, now and then. Packages, as often as I’ve found something irresistible during online browsing. Other than that, it’s catalogs like crazy because every online merchant in the universe seems to have my address; incessant letters from Charter cable which can’t seem to accept the fact that we don’t have a TV for anything other than watching Netflix DVDs or streaming; credit card offers, solicitations, the odd bill now and then. And did I mention catalogs?

How often I get good mail isn’t the point. It’s the possibility of getting good mail. It’s that wonderful feeling of anticipation, like buying a lottery ticket knowing you’ll probably never win but savoring that tingly, anything-can-happen feeling that you might win. This might be the day when I get an unexpected piece of mail, like a real letter from an old friend or a dear relative, or a package I forgot I ordered, or–better yet–that someone ordered for me.

Every morning we wake to a brand new day with nothing written on it, and anything can happen, I’m fond of telling people. The same is true of mailboxes. They may sit there cold and empty in that dim morning light, but there’s always the hope that they’ll fill with a delightful surprise when the mailman goes by.

But not today. Today is Martin Luther King Day. I have a dream, he said. I’m sure it didn’t include a vast, coast-to-coast sea of empty and silent mailboxes. He was about bigger and brighter things than that.

RIP, Rev. King.

Posted in Holidays, Human behavior, Humor, Lifestyle, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Souped-up veggies

Now and then I get tired of vegetables just cooked and plopped on a plate. Even adding spices and herbs doesn’t relieve the tedium, especially in winter, when there aren’t as many kinds of fresh vegetables available.

I could cream them or mix them with other sauces, but we’re trying to avoid those kinds of add-ons that are usually full of fat or other useless calories. I do manage to roast them, or whip them in combination with each other to come up a new taste, and that helps. Can’t forego them altogether because they’re just too important for all-around good health.

So, on this cold, gray winter day I decided the answer was a big pot of soup. I hadn’t planned it ahead of time, so I had to make do with whatever veggies I had on hand. But that’s the beauty of soup: The list of ingredients is entirely variable.

I started with two big leeks, sliced thin as far up the stalks as I could go. I sautéed them in coconut oil along with some white mushrooms, added garlic powder, turmeric (love that beautiful yellow color it gives to everything, to say nothing of the taste), salt and pepper. When the leeks were soft, I added the cut-up chunks of a chicken breast half. The ones I buy are huge, so half is plenty.

Once the chicken was no longer pink, I transferred all of it to a soup pot, and added vegetable broth and enough water to equal about 7 cups. The broth is my own. Whenever I steam veggies, I save the water in a quart jar in the fridge, mixing it all together and then using it for soups, gravies or anything else that needs a flavor boost. That way, I don’t dump any stray vitamins down the drain when the steaming is done.

In this batch, I had the steamings from beets, rutabagas, carrots and parsnips.


Photo by Monica Sawyn

Thanks to the beets, the color was really dark, and I did wonder what this would do for the eye appeal of my soup. Turns out, with the yellow of the turmeric, I ended up with a deep golden color that was wonderfully appetizing to look at.

Anyway, to this mixture I added half a dozen or so carrots–the last ones I had in the fridge–two stalks of celery, the stem portion of some beet greens, and about three handfuls of organic basmati brown rice, which is much more flavorful than regular brown rice. I let all of it simmer for about 45 minutes, then added the chopped leaves of two beet stalks, and a healthy bunch of chopped spinach. It takes only minutes for the greens to wilt down.

Just before serving, I whipped an egg and drizzled it slowly over the top of the soup. It immediately cooks up, and adds some natural thickener, as well as lovely color and flavor.

Usually I make my own bread, but I confess this time I served the soup with an onion-and-cheese bread I bought from a local bakery. Toasted, it was the perfect accompaniment to the soup. Since we use as little butter as possible, we brush a bit of olive oil on the toast. It’s a wonderful substitute for butter.
The mushrooms and the greens have the added attraction of being good sources of potassium, which plays an essential role in the response of nerves to stimulation and in the contraction of muscles. So, if any of you deal with leg cramps or any kind of mild erratic heartbeat, you might think about increasing your intake of potassium–and that doesn’t have to mean gorging on starchy bananas. If I had planned ahead, I might have soaked some white beans overnight and used those instead of rice, since white beans are one of the highest sources of potassium.

Meanwhile, this soup looked good, smelled wonderful, and tasted delicious. I’m SO glad we have leftovers!

Posted in Food, healthy eating, nutrition, recipes, soup, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments