Old Recipes

I’ve been going through my mom’s things when I visit my dad. We get together twice a week for a visit and go out to lunch. Each time I go up, Dad has some things for me to cull through. In this way, we are cleaning out what I can use, what can be donated, and what can be thrown out.

Each morning at 7:30 am he calls me and we chat for a while, and wish each other a great day. Around 5:00 pm or so, I call him, and we talk about our day. We always end our conversations with ‘I love you,’ and it is a lovely tradition we have made together.

Recently I found two of my mom’s handwritten cookbooks. Some of the best recipes from them–stained and tattered with use–came to me in 1988 one Christmas when she gifted me with “Mama’s Best Recipes for Jane.” I treasure that cookbook, and by now have used it so much that it, too, is now stained and tattered.

I decided to go through all of Mom’s handwritten recipes, and type them out to pass on to her friends. It isn’t all about the recipes, either. For me it is a happy ramble through memories; coming home from school on a cold day, opening the door to smell the heavenly aroma of her amazing shish kebab. It was a dish I loved, and that scent seemed to wrap its arms around me, as Mom did when I came up the stairs.

Mom used to joke that she had a hundred ways to make hamburger; she learned early on how to make the most of what she had, and make it taste great. The recipes in the little book she gave me, all written in her beautiful loopy script, were easy to follow, easy to make and all were delicious.

When I  was growing up, every mom I knew baked at least a few times each week. There were always cookies, a cake, a pie or pudding in the house. I remember my Aunt Ruby (really, Mom’s Aunt Ruby, but I called her that as well) saying that a woman had no business calling herself a wife and mother unless she could cook, bake, pickle and preserve. A woman who could consistently turn out good food and take advantage of any fruit or vegetables by preserving them, was truly an asset.

When the three of us had dinner together, Mom always made it an occasion. The lovely slender brass candlesticks from her mother held white tapers which Dad lit before each meal. Whatever the meal was, it was prepared and served beautifully. We ate on the nicest dishes we had, and everyone talked about their day. It was a way to reconnect with each other, and everyone’s conversation was welcome.

The only proviso about Mom’s meals was this (actually it was always directed at me): if you didn’t like what was being served for dinner, you were welcome to make a peanut butter sandwich. Mom worked for many years as Editor-in-Chief at the local newspaper, then came home afterward to clean and cook. As she would say tartly: “This is no bar and grille–if you don’t like what’s on the table, you know where the peanut butter is!”

As I sift through all her recipes, I remember so many meals we enjoyed together. It wasn’t just about the food–it was the feeling of “belonging-ness,” the comfort of family, the easy chat about our days, and the sure knowledge that this was my family, my anchor, my safe place; my home. Reading these recipes brings those times back, and sometimes I swear I can even smell the shish kebob.

The recipe follows, and I hope you enjoy as much as I did.

Shish Kebabs


1 ½ lbs. beef or lamb, cut into 2” cubes

¼ c. salad oil

4 large onions, quartered

½ c. tomato paste

1 T. oregano

3 T. vinegar or lemon juice

S & P to taste

Green peppers, quartered (as many as you like)

Tomatoes, quartered (as many as you like)


 Mix the first seven ingredients in a large bowl. Cover and let stand overnight or at least four hours. Put everything, including the peppers and tomatoes, into a large pan and broil:

  1. Approximately 12” from broiler, 10 minutes
  2. Approximately 6” from broiler, 15 minutes
  3. Approximately 4” from broiler, 15 minutes

Comment: This is a delicious shish kebab dish, and it pairs beautifully with crusty bread, and a salad if you like. Great for picnics!

What to Remember on Memorial Day

We’ve come to another Memorial Day; many, many thanks to all who have served and who are currently serving this country so diligently and so well. My admiration and respect for all of them knows no bounds.

Here are the things I am thinking of on this Memorial Day:

  • Freedom is not free. It is paid for in blood and sacrifice.
  • We must never forget our history and how we got here.
  • We must remember what honor is and how to keep it in our hearts.
  • Patriotism is a conscious act of remembrance, pride, heritage and history.

I think of all those grand men and women who literally gave life and limb to pay for our freedoms; will we ever see the like of them again? One hundred years from now, will there still be veterans of war who will remind us in their sacrifice of the true price of freedom?

It is said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it; I’m afraid this is all too true. It is sad to see that, when the national anthem is played at any event, half the people there don’t know to stand up, remove their hats and place their right hand over their hearts to show allegiance to our country.

Does anyone say the Pledge of Allegiance anymore? Back when I attended grade school, it was the common practice to start our day with this and then the Lord’s prayer. This was back when no one questioned this, and no one I ever knew was offended by these practices. If any one of us would have sat down and refused to say either one, it would have been an immediate march to the principal’s office and a phone call to our parents. That’s just how things were then.

Back then, it was an insult and a defamation to let the American flag touch the ground; everybody knew that. These days when I see young people walking on or dancing on our flag, it hurts my heart. It is a slap in the face to all who have given so much to defend it.

My stepdaughter is a veteran who had five deployments overseas; the first of which was in Baghdad, the day before war broke out. Years later, when the Crankee Yankee and I, my stepdaughter and her then three-year old daughter, Ava, were at an event together, they played the National Anthem. I watched as she pulled Ava to her feet, showed her how to place her little hand upon her heart, and stand at attention. I have hope for her generation.

We don’t always value what we have always known. I do hope that American History is still being taught in schools; however, I am pretty sure it is not the history I learned in school. I took a look at the website of the National Center for Constitutional Studies regarding the “new” American History being taught these days. In a word, it is chilling.

This quote from Abraham Lincoln says it all for me: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

Let us on this Memorial Day not only remember our veterans and those who serve now, but also our past–cherish it, remember it, and most of all, learn from it.



Embrace the Joy

To those of us who have dearly loved and then lost a wife, a husband, a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a son, a daughter, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, friends, pets, and so on—we know the pain of loss. We miss that hug, that kiss, that ‘I love you,’ that smile over a cup of coffee in the morning; we feel that loss keenly. Our emotions can be all over the place, from tears to laughter and back again; it is a roller coaster ride with no brakes.

However, if we can remember all the love, the time together, the jokes and laughter, the life changes, the passage of time with those we have loved beyond all others–we can live in the joy of those richest of times. We can embrace the joy, laugh over memories, look through the scrapbooks that commemorate so many celebrations, holidays and gatherings—then those we love are back with us again.

This is not to say that we should live in past memories, but to go forward strengthened by those memories. Each new thing we do as we move forward without that loved person by our side, we can say “wouldn’t she/he get a kick out of this!” And how do we know that they aren’t with us in spirit, laughing right along with us?

It is said that, when you find a coin or a feather, it is a message from an angel, or a loved one who has gone on before us. Some scoff that this is merely coincidence; people drop coins all the time, and birds lose feathers. Let me just say that I have picked up more coins and more feathers over my lifetime so far that I simply believe these messages. Generally I can pretty much tell who left them, too.

My grandmother always seemed to send me pennies–when she was alive, at the end of each day, she would cull through any pennies she had or found. So when I find a penny these days, I just smile and say, ‘thanks, Ba!’ Now my mom seems to favor quarters. On what would have been Mom’s and Dad’s 60th wedding anniversary on December 27 last year, we found two quarters. Ever since then, I have been finding more of them.

Losing someone we love is traumatic; it’s like losing a leg or an arm. They have always been with us, and now they are gone. However, the joy of that amazing life stays with us, and if we can just remember to embrace the joy of that life, we are never alone. How wonderful, how amazing, how joyous it is to have these glorious memories in our minds and hearts forever! Let the tears come, let us go to therapy if we need it, let us pour our hearts out to a trusted someone–whatever it takes to break through to joy, we must try for it.

Life is amazing, and full of love and loss and redemption and acceptance. The joy is there always; we need only to embrace it.

Don’t Buy the Lie

We are being bombarded daily by advertising that tells us how we should live, what we should wear, what kind of house we should get, what school we must attend, what lifestyle we ought to have, what doctor we should see, what cell phone/television/vehicle/makeup/etc. we should buy and so on.

We become so used to this that we may automatically start craving those things we keep seeing and hearing about. That’s the whole point of advertising–to make you want and to make you buy.

I remember my teen years, when I believed with all my heart and soul that a certain brand of mascara would make all my dreams come true. The same with hair products, clothing, shoes, toothpaste; you name it, if it was on TV, I believed it. I was convinced (make that brainwashed) that having and using all these things would make me popular, successful and smart. Fortunately, I had parents to set me straight on that score. “Be who you are!” they would say.

The plain fact is that advertising exists to sell us stuff, and that is its sole and complete purpose. The most popular skincare product, the most expensive makeup, the $600 stilettos, the fabulous designer dress, the current ‘must-have’ car–none of it will make or break our essential “us-ness.”

The fact is that we all come in various shapes, skin and eye colors, sizes, mannerisms, backgrounds and so on–we are not meant to be all the same. It is a privilege to be unique, and this is the kind of ‘brand’ we ought to be selling. Be who you are, and don’t buy the lie.

I am an admirer of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and many of his quotes really hit the mark, especially these:

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

“It is not the length of life, but the depth.”

“Without ambition one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.”

And my favorite: “Make the most of yourself….for that is all there is of you.”


Jeopardy at Our House

By “jeopardy,” I mean the television show, “Jeopardy,” hosted by Alex Trebeck. This was my mom’s favorite show, and she claimed that all the cats she ever had enjoyed it, too. The Crankee Yankee and I began to watch it on a regular basis and soon found we were acting as if we were actually ON the show–that is, when we had the correct answers. We haven’t gotten to the point where someone keeps score, but I can see that happening sooner or later.

Like many others, we speculate on how well we would do on the show ourselves. Of course, that’s pretty easy to say when you are sitting in your own comfortable chair in your own living room. But I imagine that just being on the show would be quite intimidating. For instance, I couldn’t say “Sh*t!” when I gave the incorrect answer. Nor could I say, “you IDIOT! How do you NOT know that?”

But it’s fun playing along while sitting in our armchairs. We encourage (or scoff at) each other; when one of us scores, the other one says politely, ‘good one;’ when we goof up, there is a withering look and a scoffing ‘tsk-tsk.’ As if we were on the show, making no mistakes at all.

So, there we are, just about every evening at 7:30 pm, watching Jeopardy, and hoping that the categories are ones in which we can shine. For the Crankee Yankee, good categories are the following:

  • countries, states, rivers, lakes
  • presidents and all thing governmental
  • treaties and laws
  • bridges, roads, highways
  • engineering
  • gardening
  • names and dates
  • the military
  • tools
  • history
  • carpentry
  • the stock market

Good categories for me are the following:

  • books and authors
  • quotes
  • grammar
  • actors
  • plays
  • Shakespeare
  • poetry
  • cartoons
  • British-isms
  • Harry Potter trivia
  • regular trivia
  • gems
  • most things Hawaiian
  • cooking

As you can see, I am far more a lightweight player than he is. The Crankee Yankee is just the sort of person that, if aliens landed in our back yard, he would be their “go-to” guy for just about anything. If they landed when I was there, they would probably just pat me on the head and say in their alien tongue, “amusing, but no help at all.”

Who knows? Perhaps there is an alien Jeopardy show on in deep space somewhere, with home viewers yelling things like “Spraaaaadtk!” “Gnowret bizzzzzzzzzzz!” and worst of all, “J#ii*hr5–II@&!!!”

Thank you, Alex Trebek.

Caretakers = Heroes

When you become a caretaker for a family member, you take on a life-changing challenge. Unless you are a licensed nurse or doctor, it’s a whole new skill-set to learn. And even if you are trained, it’s still hard to be a caregiver for a loved one. Speaking from my own experience, you are constantly fearful that whatever you are doing is wrong or causing pain.

Thankfully, my mother had home Hospice for nearly four months before she died. My dad was the main caretaker; I was the secondary. Both of us leaned heavily upon the wonderful and amazing Hospice nurses. They became family to us, and they helped us not only with caring for Mom, but also how manage our time and energy.

My dad and I did the best we could, but felt we were lifted up by those incredibly kind and patient Hospice nurses. Additionally, my mother’s *PEO group organized a weekly menu of homemade meals for us. They were always delivered with love, friendship, compassion and a quick visit with Mom. Dad and I found that their visits and phone calls became a kind of safety net for us; their love and strength helped hold us together.

My oldest and best friend was a skilled nurse for over 30 years. Five years ago, she and her husband moved her mother into their home. Since then, she has been the sole caretaker for her mother, who is nearly 98 years old. I believe her when she says that the most important part of  her caretaker experience is simply listening. While her past nursing experience is extremely helpful in watching for signs of illness or or discomfort, keeping her mother’s records up to date, managing all the medical appointments, paperwork and finances, she feels that just listening to her mother reminisce about times past means so much–to both of them.

My friend is her mother’s advocate and voice, especially during a doctor’s appointment. As her mother is hard of hearing, my friend makes sure that she communicates to her mother what is going on, and in doing so brings her into the conversation. It is sad that medicine has come to a place where a doctor can only spend so many precious minutes with a patient, especially an elder one who is not used to the current “rush and hurry.” It becomes too easy for the doctor to speak only to the caretaker, and not directly to the patient. My friend makes sure that her mother gets the information she needs, and explains it to her in a way that is easy for her to understand.

I can’t tell you how many times I have leaned on my friend for advice and comfort during my mom’s last days. What sticks with me to this day is her telling me, ‘let her talk. Enjoy that time.’ And so we did. Dad and I told Mom over and over again how much we loved her, and how much she meant to us. She told us constantly that she loved us with all her heart.

My friend also told me that anger, fear and frustration are very common for caretakers. Anger because we are losing someone we love so dearly, fear because we are afraid we may make things worse by not doing the right thing at the right time, and frustration because we often don’t know what to do. Again, the best advice she gave me was to simply listen. Because of that simple reminder, my last days with my mom were memorable, wonderful and life-affirming.

I think that caretakers are true heroes. My friend is my hero now and forever for all she taught me, which helped me through my mother’s final days and death. My dad and I miss her, but we have no regrets. What we have is great gratitude for all the time we had with her, and all the love we shared together for years. As I believe that love never dies, I also believe that our spirits never do, either.

My gratitude to my friend, my hero, is never ending.

*For much of its history, the meaning of “P.E.O.” in the organization’s name was a closely guarded secret, never made public.

In 2005, the Sisterhood unveiled a new logo and an “It’s OK to Talk About P.E.O.” campaign, seeking to raise the public profile of the organization while maintaining its traditions of secrecy. Before then, the organization’s avoidance of publicity, and the secrecy of their name, caused it to be considered it a “secret society’.

In 2008, the Sisterhood revised its website to indicate that “P.E.O.” now publicly stands for “Philanthropic Educational Organization”. However, the Sisterhood acknowledges that “P.E.O.” originally had a different meaning that continues to be “reserved for members only”, and so the public meaning is not the only one.

Aliens Are Stealing My Stuff

There’s no other explanation for it; aliens must be stealing my stuff. My favorite black sunglasses that fit so well and made me look like Jackie Onassis (from the neck up, anyway) are gone, gone, gone. I have *no* idea where they went. I had them in my purse and now I don’t.

The same with the extra two pairs of black yoga pants I bought last year; they needed hemming, and they are no longer in the basket in which I put them. Same with the new blue jeans I bought last summer. Also missing are these:

  • the hot pink nail polish I bought last July to cover up the fact that my little toenails have turned into horns
  • the ‘perfect’ silver chain I swear I put in my jewelry armoire
  • the expensive packet of saffron threads I bought to make the perfect chicken soup
  • the nail clippers for the cats (they probably hid them on me)
  • the lucky blue marble with bubbles in it I had as a child

Now this is what my mother would have called ‘having a sloppy mental attitude.’ She felt that, if you couldn’t get your thoughts together, you probably would end up losing some of your stuff–or your mind.

As I have always been interested in the idea that alien beings have helped our civilization along for thousands of years, you would think that they would be much too dignified and highly evolved to hide (or take) our stuff. Or maybe their sense of humor is so intellectual that this is one of those epic alien pranks that they all laugh about at the alien bars located on one of the obscure rings of Saturn. Or who knows–maybe they are collectors who love to decorate their subterranean homes with knick-knacks and doo-dads as we do.

…or it could just be that I put all that stuff somewhere and just do not remember where……