AREN’T ALL SENIOR CITIZENS SUPPOSED TO BE GOOD COOKS?

My Mom was a really good cook.  So were my Grandmas.  And I’m sure it went down through the generations.  You might have thought I would have acquired some finesse from them …learned a few “tricks of the trade”…perfected a “special” dish, or even better an entire meal.  In Taste of Home Magazine, they even have an entire 2 page “spread” called “My Mom’s Best Meal”.  It’s doubtful my children will ever send in an entry for their Mom’s best – or even mediocre – meal.

It’s not that I’m totally inept in the kitchen.  Give me a tube of crescent rolls and a can of cherry pie filling and “voila” – a danish.  I even mix up some confectioners sugar and water and make a glaze if I really want to be fancy. A few “Grands” biscuits, cinnamon, sugar, brown sugar and butter – lots of butter – and there you have it – an exquisite Monkey Bread.  You get the idea, right? Providing those as church Fellowship goodies, I receive high praise for my cooking abilities.  I rarely tell them how little cooking was really involved.

I’m always collecting recipes and own hundreds of cookbooks, but when it comes to cooking meals (and if I cook it’s only during the winter when there’s nothing else to do, as the snow drifts higher and the winds blow ferociously).  My repertoire then consists of goulash, stew, pot roast (when we can afford marked down meat chunks), and a simple hamburg gravy with mashed potatoes.  Sometimes I get adventurous and add peas and corn.  Not always though.  I don’t want my husband to have high expectations in the weeks to come.

I’ve come to believe that my major problem is Time Management.  Managing time for a person with OCD/ADD can be a challenge.  I tend to start things and then my mind gets diverted elsewhere.  Time flies by and when 5 pm or so rolls around, I realize even if I wanted to cook, I haven’t defrosted anything.  Oh well.  Luckily my husband cooks for himself, and I like cereal, salads and leftovers.

Ask my family and they will regale you with stories of my past misadventures with family meals – usually family holiday meals.  Once I was still planning my menu for a 9:30 a.m. brunch at 11 p.m. the night before.  Then I began cooking.  At about 1:30, even the dog gave up on me and went to bed.  So after preparing 13 main dishes, 3 juices, a fruit salad platter, numerous muffins and sweet treats, I had completed the aforementioned meal.  Cookbooks were strewn about, dirty dishes were stacked in every available space in the kitchen area.  The family had arrived on time, but of course I wasn’t yet finished cooking all the food. Daughters-in-law tried to help, but by that time, there was no way to make up for lost time.  My son went outside, knowing there would be plenty of time to get his car washed before the meal was on the table. But not to worry, at 11 a.m. (or was it closer to 11:30 – at that point, who’s counting, right), I finally put the food on the overloaded table and declared the meal ready.  Most by then had cheated and eaten Easter candy which I’m sure dampened their ravenous appetites.  I forgot to mention..there were only 10-12 adults and some little grandkids who ate little or nothing (it may have been close to naptime for some of them).  Not a “dent” was made in the mountains of food,  And as usual I complained they didn’t eat hardly anything after I spent all those hours preparing the meal for them.

Once again, I had obsessed about celebrating the perfect Martha Stewart holiday.  I would prepare a meal comparable to the seemingly effortless ones my relatives “set out”.  Only thing was…it wasn’t comparable, I was exhausted and bitchy after staying up all night cooking and I was hurt there were so many leftovers and nobody would take any “off my hands”.

So now depending on the holiday, we eat at my daughter’s or my son’s home.  My daughter in particular follows in her grandmother’s and great grandmother’s recipes making many delicious dishes (and always having huge amounts of leftovers).  When at my son’s, meals are always on time, warm and tasty.  Strangely enough, often my husband and I are the last ones to arrive … particularly unusual because we live down the driveway maybe 500-600 feet.  I’m still rushing around waiting to take those “danish” and Monkey bread previously mentioned out of the oven.

I, on the other hand, now excel at soups.  Throw everything in a pot (did you know leftover spaghetti and meatballs can make a great soup), keep adding numerous vegetables and other ingredients until the soup pot is nearly filled to the top, let it simmer and it always turns out great..hot and comforting. No recipe required.  Leftovers? Either I eat them for a week, give them to my kids who live nearby, if they will take them “off my hands”, or take them to share at church.  Last option…give them to the dogs at about Day 6.

But standing in that kitchen, I’m now calm.  I feel the closeness of those ancestors who cooked at their stoves before me.  I can see my Mom at her stove making creamy ham and potato soup or amazing beef barley, chicken and biscuits, huge homemade cinnamon rolls oozing with icing, Swiss steak, pot roast. The list goes on and on. Even her soups I can’t seem to duplicate…nothing is as good as my Mom made.  But, no matter. .. the soup steams and bubbles, and I feel myself visibly relax.  I smile.  The soup is good… the memories even better.

DREAMS OF A GIANT WHITE RABBIT

Funny the things we remember from our childhood.  For as long as I can remember, I was much as I am today…nervous, anxious, fearing the worst.

Back then, my fears were different.  They often involved “repeat dreams”.  I had not just “repeat dreams”, but recurrent, repeat dreams.  Often there was a giant white rabbit, fluffy and very tall with long pink ears.  I should note first off that this was prior to the 60’s and hallucinogenic drugs.

Other “repeat dreams” involved climbing my grandparents’ massive dark wood staircase, holding onto the solid bannister as I made my way to the 2nd floor.  I was a very young child when I visited there.  They moved to another town when I was just barely older than a toddler.  Why, then, years later, would I often dream a scenario involving a hole being in the 2nd floor through which I peered down at my family sitting in the kitchen directly below.  I always could literally feel myself falling through this hole (in my dreams) to the floor below.  Each time it felt so real.

Later, I would think of flying in an airplane.  Always we took off, the plane banked to the left, and I would fall out into the blackness of space and the unknown.  I never saw other passengers on the flight…just me falling down – down – down into the darkness.

Several years ago I actually flew for the first time in 40 years.  I clutched the armrest as we took off.  This time my world-traveller sister was at my side.  I tensed as I heard the sounds of the engine, of the landing gear rising as down the runway we raced, faster and faster, until at last LIFT OFF.  We climbed into the sky. We banked to the left.   I didn’t fall out.  My seat didn’t move, I didn’t feel afraid anymore.  We were in the air.  That long ago fear was forever gone.  I was safe and enjoyed the rest of the flight.  After all, I didn’t fall.  I was still alive and well.

Now, after years of counseling, I’m thinking the common denominator of all these fears is Falling.  I believe it really refers to my fear of losing control, of not being in control, and feeling out of control, as I do in so many aspects of my life.  These fears – and their outcomes if only in my dreams – were out of my control.  I’d awaken not only scared but trembling as well.

Now I understand more.  I know the reasons behind my fears.  They have lessened, but I’m still left with one burning question. Since it wasn’t Easter, who the Hell was that giant white Rabbit and if he had to be in my dreams, couldn’t he at least have left baskets of candy?????

 

HIGH SCHOOL MEMORIES

Creativity does not – I repeat does not – come naturally to me.  Others in my family excelled through the generations.  There were the expert seamstresses, quilters, bakers, artists, craftsmen…and then there was Me.

High School was a challenge because apparently New York State made it mandatory to take such classes as Art, Music and Home Economics.  Eighth grade Art class in particular still haunts me.  Thank God for the short, wizened up old art teacher who could be “sucked up” to for a good grade.  It wasn’t right – I knew that – but if going up to her classroom each day in my free time and chatting, helping , “buttering her up” served as an impetus to achieve a good grade, so be it.  At that time in my life, I couldn’t even see why Art should be included in discerning a grade point average.  After all, it wasn’t a “real” subject, right?  Now all these years later, I take oil painting classes, visit Art Museums and marvel at the ability of artists, photographers, craftsmen.  Anyone who has the talent to make this world a more beautiful place.

Same with Music.  Got through that humming.  Those were the years before schools had magnificent high school choirs, bands and musicals that now rival Broadway shows.  All these endeavors showcase the students’ talents. My talents were very well hidden. Well, really they were non-existent.  As an example, even now I still mostly hum in church.  Even then,  I’m a little paranoid.  One of my exchange students asked me to stop humming in the car about 10 years ago…though in his defense he tried to take the edge off and told me it wasn’t good for my vocal cords. Too bad he was smirking at the time.

Home Economics.  Haphazard apron and ugly blue corduroy skirt, both of which I never wore after completion of the assigned projects in my Sewing class.  Thank goodness when that class, too, was over.  I still don’t sew …even a button on a shirt.  When I try they look lumpy and often the button won’t go through the buttonhole.  Oh, well, I reason, don’t really need that old shirt anyway.  I can go look for a new one.  Shopping is something I definitely perfected over the years.

Baking and cooking. Those were food related. Food was definitely my area of expertise (or at least eating it was).  Here was a chance for me to be at least Average.  And if I failed (and I often did), at least I could always eat my mistakes.  Seemed to be a win-win situation.  I still make really good no-bake cookies.

So I left the creativity to other family members. I praised their accomplishments, welcomed the gifts of their handiwork, cherished the handmade quilts and afghans lovingly made by my grandmothers who passed away many years ago.

Now all these years later, the creativity “bug” is beckoning me to try new things, to try them without lofty (actually any) expectations, without the illusion that perfection is a necessity.  It helps that I hang around with 3 and 4 year olds who appreciate anything Nana does with them, who never criticize, who challenge me to create…to follow my dream.

Yesterday I created a Lego garage for one grandson, a play dough ice cream concoction for a young granddaughter, painted a bright sun and pretty flowers on a sheet of construction paper for another to hang on the refrigerator.  At Christmas we brought back memories of my childhood, cutting strips of red and green construction paper and stapling them together to make bright paper chains for the Christmas tree.  As soon as I gain confidence using my new glue gun, “the sky’s the limit”!  I already feel an inner Picasso about to burst forth.  I’m certain of it.

I stop and chuckle.  Wouldn’t old Miss Hutchins be proud of me?  On the other hand, maybe it’s just as well I don’t know one way or the other.

DANCE LESSONS AND BEYOND

Over the years shows like “Dancing with the Stars” have flourished.  I imagine many women sitting at home envision being out there on the dance floor, held protectively by their handsome partner, each gliding effortlessly in unison with the other.

REALITY CHECK.  Between us girls, that “perfect partner” isn’t your husband, is it?  I’m sure I’m not the only wife whose husband never dances with her unless forced by unavoidable circumstances (family weddings being the only unavoidable circumstance I can recall).  In fact, the last time we danced was during the “Longest Time Married” dance at our son’s wedding.  Six weeks later at a company dinner, while discussing the wedding, I mentioned to our table that my husband and I had actually danced together.  “Cluelessly” he looked at me and said “We danced together?”.  Apparently not that memorable.

Several years ago I took advantage of the introductory offer at Arthur Murray Studios.  Scared, and knowing I had no rhythm, I braced myself, entered a large room filled with mirrors, and was introduced to Juan, my instructor.  He was smooth. He was handsome.  We talked.  We practiced five or six dances in a half hour.  He told me I did fine (I’m thinking there was some sort of commission involved for him to be able to lie to my face and not burst out laughing).  If I continued and paid an extra $300, he assured me I would be able to follow anyone.

Excitedly I went home and called my future daughter-in-law.  “Guess what?  I’m going to be able to dance at your wedding next week”.  Silence. “B doesn’t dance…he sways).  Not giving up, I called another son in Boston and repeated to him “I’m going to be able to dance at your wedding next year”.  Another silence.  “I don’t dance…I sway”.  I could see a pattern emerging.   Not giving up, when my youngest son walked in the door, I knew he was my last chance.  “So, do YOU dance?”  Without hesitating, he replied  “No, you never gave us dance lessons”.  The decision to not take advantage of Juan’s  offer was easy.  Why spend $300 so I could follow anyone, when apparently there was no one to lead????

The following week as I sat at the reception watching the young couples out on the dance floor (my husband had gone home long before), I thought “It might have been worth the $300 after all.  I could have brought Juan to the wedding!”  Then I looked at some of the “younger generation” who had been enjoying the Open Bar the entire evening, and I realized that it was very possible even Juan might not have known some of the “dances” they were doing (tent poles were involved…need I say more).  Maybe this “Old Granny” better just call it a night, go home, turn on a taped “Dancing with the Stars” and fantasize about Juan and I dancingt up a storm!

Guess I will just stick with Zumba.  No partner necessary.  My instructor says there’s no right or wrong way to do the Latin “Fast Dancing”.  Yeah, Right.  Bet I can prove her wrong.  I asked my 5 year old grandson after he went with me to Zumba one day, “So, do you watch us when we are dancing?”.  He replied “Yes, Nana.  You don’t do what everybody else does.”  So true.

HOOKED ON GARAGE SALES

I admit it.  I’m hooked on garage sales.  I don’t need anything.  My house is filled.  My grandchildren have more toys than they will ever play with, their closets are bulging with clothes for all occasions, as are all 4 of my closets (yes, one for each season).  Yet I can’t stop going.  I’ve gone to garage sales for nearly 35 years.  Even if it is attending only one on my way to work on a Friday morning, I’m like a drug addict needing my “fix”.  When I find that “great deal”,  I just can’t pass it  up, I’m happy and content.

Some people don’t understand the draw of garage sales.  Buy other people’s possessions (junk according to them)?  They’d rather do without than be caught at a tag sale.  Of course, if they visit an antique shop, consignment sale,  a second hand store or an auction, they see nothing wrong with buying other people’s possessions, at inflated prices, of course.  I mention to them that these same dealers are at the same garage sales I go to, but they scoff and believe only THEY  are getting the quality items.

When I started to sympathize with The Hoarders, I realized it was time to Simplify.  Clearing out our parents’ house after they passed served as a “wake-up call” to both my sister and myself.  We couldn’t burden our children with that monumentous job after our own demise.  My sister, being the organized professional, went up North to her home in Upstate New York,  and packed and disposed of bags and boxes of items no longer needed.  She even got a huge tax deduction for her donations, thanks to itemizing each item.  I, however, took a little longer to “jump on the bandwagon”.  It will be 8 years in January  since my Mom passed away (and 8 months earlier Dad had also died).  I am just now seriously starting the purging process.  I’ve lived in the same home for 40 years – and have the accumulations of papers and possessions to prove it!

The worst deterrent to my “simplified life” is my extensive cookbook collection.  After having 2 garage sales in the past year, I still have approximately 8,000 cookbooks – maybe more.  I’ve saved out all those published during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, through WWII.  Maybe, I reason, they’ll be worth money to my children someday after I’m gone.  They may ridicule my collection now (they mention often having a big bonfire fueled by cookbooks after I’ve passed), but they’ll thank me when they become rich, after selling my cookbooks to collectors.  I envision an Antique Roadshow event happening – in my garage!

My goal is disposing of 25 cookbooks (minimum) each week for five months.  A lofty goal, but not impossible, especially if there was some interest from individuals, a BOCES or college Culinary program, or in my wildest fantasies, maybe my Alma Mater,  would like to start a library named after me, when I generously donate my entire collection.  Ok, that’s why they call it fantasizing…a person can dream, right???

In a few short months, it will again be Spring.  The grass will be turning green, the birds will be returning from warmer climes, the trees will be budding.  And garage sales will once again be proliferating each and every weekend.  Maybe I can once again be looking for a “great deal”, the perfect gift, anything Batman, Star Wars or Disney Princesses for the grandkids…BUT NO COOKBOOKS!  No matter what the results of my quest to downsize my cookbook collection, I am still saving my Favorite 1000.  I’ll have plenty of reading material for years to come.  One last thing.  Did I forget to mention…I don’t cook!!!!

Please contact me if you are interested.  My family would be forever in your debt.

 

 

We’re Not Getting Old, We’re Getting Better

I CAN SEE NOTHING GOOD ABOUT THIS DAY … EXCEPT IT’S ALMOST OVER.   I’m not usually a negative person, but for the umpteenth time I have returned from a doctor’s appointment frustrated, having heard a variation of “Well, you’re just getting older and things are slowing down, deteriorating, bulging, aching, wearing down…this is the Aging Process.”  Well, it sucks! I don’t feel old  – I’m not even 65 yet.  Why then do I come from physican’s or dental office feeling like if I was a car, I’d be recalled (or worse, scrapped and sent to the auto crusher).

Few of us feel our ages.  The catch phrase “60 is the new 40” resonates with us.  Yes, we listen to Oldies on the radio, remember Howdy Doody and Roy Rogers, and can remember growing up using items that are now considered vintage or even worse, antique, but we exercise, eat healthy (or at least healthier), work full time, volunteer and tell ourselves “we aren’t old; we’re still young and vital”.  And only to our closest friends and family, will we admit that we are exhausted and ready for bed by 10 or before after partaking in those activities.  We push our bodies and end up with aches and pains, but dismiss them as just being a consequence of being so active.  Just take a pill and they’ll go away.

We aren’t old.  True we thought our parents were always old when we were growing up.  Now we look back and realize they were only in their late 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.  Well, we aren’t like them – we aren’t old.  We pass on Senior Citizen discounts when they are offered, not wanting to verify what the clerk suspects.  Well, maybe we will accept them, if they are offered going through the Drive Thru lane, but not face-to-face.  We are offended by the obvious.

We look in the newspaper obituaries and see  many of our peers in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s who have passed away.  And we get scared.  That can’t happen to US – we are still young and healthy and active.  But the mirror (when we dare to look at it) tells us differently.  Several years ago, my Mother said to me “I don’t feel 83”. She said she was tired of going to doctors and being sick.  I replied off-handedly “It could be worse – consider the alternative”.  Apparently, she did and it didn’t seem that bad.  She died the next week.

Many of us are or will soon be Adult Orphans.  We’ve lost the two people who have loved us unconditionally for so many years.  Now we are the Older Generation.  And we’re not ready.  We can’t be – remember we’re not OLD.  We aren’t ready to be the wise older generation others turn to for advice and counsel.  We still wish we could turn to our parents for advice and counsel – they were older and wiser – they had lived many more years and had more life experiences.  We are still learning and preparing for that time.  We aren’t ready to sit back in a rocking chair and reminisce.  We’re too busy.  We have too many things to do – to yet accomplish.  We complain we are too busy – we don’t have time – but  we should remember there are many people in nursing homes who have all the “time” in the world and they must yearn to be busy – to be able to work and travel and be independent.

Checking the mail each day brings a reality check.  Offers for bladder control products, help with burial expenses, step-in showers, supplements to keep you regular, hearing aids – everything for Senior “needs and problems”.  Not to mention the offer to join AARP – at age 50 much less! These companies are apparently buying into that “Everybody Who’s a Senior Citizen Must be Falling Apart” propaganda. Not me.

Our sight may be dimming, but we can still see and appreciate the beauty of our newest grandchild, an incredible sunset, the waves rolling in with the tide.  Our hearing may be going, but we can still hear the cardinal’s song, the Canada geese honking as they fly over and my favorite, the whoosh of a hot air balloon flying in the distance.  Loss of smell? Not as long as we can sniff a pizza cooking, an apple pie baking or a newly bathed child slathered with baby lotion sleeping in our arms.  And no matter what our age, the feel of a hug, a soft kiss, a kitten’s fur, a child’s upturned face – they remain constant until we pass on.  Losing our memory? As long as we can remember the touch of our aging parents, our first kiss, the first date with our spouse, making love and the joy we experienced at the birth of each of our children and grandchildren, we’ve “got the essentials covered”.

It’s all about attitude.  Maybe the body slowly comes to a halt, the parts start to give out, the mind falters, the steps slow.  But right now, we should do all we can to keep the Aging Process from making inroads.  I want many more years of Family Time and “Me” time.  I hope GOD understands.  I’m certain someday I’ll look forward to seeing “the Pearly Gates”  But right now, watch out World.  I’ve got a list of the Top 100 Things I Want to See and Do Before I Die – and I’m not even at #10!

 

 

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