Welcome Spring

Nothing speaks to spring quite like tree blossoms. We have several fruit trees in our backyard. The blossoms depicted above and below are from our pear tree, one of our youngest/newest additions. I look forward to blossoms every spring, a reminder that life reemerges every year from the frozen ground. In parallel to life, looks can be deceiving. After the harsh winter, death surrounds us, but life waits beneath the surface.

It has been a difficult year.  I watched the pandemic move across the country and, as a nurse, I knew the road ahead would be treacherous for a while.  I have not been a nurse at the bedside for years and after several weeks, I was released to work from home.  My heart grieved and feared for my colleagues as I watched people I have known and loved perish or become permanently disabled.  

Life as I knew it, looked and felt entirely different.  People and activities I cherished were no longer possible in this new COVID world.  I had taken them for granted, believing they would always be there. It never occurred to me that seeing my family or taking a hike would ever become a risky behavior.  

But here we are, and I must take a lesson from the pear blossom.  I see bits of normalcy emerging from the dust of past months.  Today I am hopeful, and it is this hope that fills my mind and heart this morning.  I hope you are filled with hope as well.

On a side note, I would like to welcome our new subscribers and thank everyone, newcomers as well as those who have been with us over time, for just being here with us.  We appreciate you.  It is nice to know others are out there, even when we cannot “see” them.  Give us a shout-out in a comment; let us know how you are doing.  Tell us what you like about our site and what you would like to hear from us in the future.

May peace and blessing be yours,

Deb

Mushroom Soup

There is an Asian grocery store on Refugee Road, not far from our favorite farmer’s market in Canal Winchester.  This small store has a great selection of mushrooms in varieties not found in the larger chains and at a fraction of the cost.  Like most of our adventures, we make the trip an all-day affair, stopping at the farmer’s market (if it is summer) and one of our favorite restaurants.

If you are vegan or vegetarian, mushrooms are a great alternative to meat.   Mushrooms are rich in fiber, protein, and antioxidants, low in calories and sodium.  Nutritionally, mushrooms are known sources of zinc, copper, potassium, and certain B vitamins.  If they are raised with ultraviolet light exposure, they also can be a good source of Vitamin D. 

After each trip, I can always count on mushroom soup.  Each time, the results are a bit different.  This time, John tried a new recipe.  Of course, he always gives his creations, his special magic touch.  The results are delicious, healthy, and nutritious. 

Note: You can find this recipe at https://www.theawesomegreen.com/vegan-mushroom-soup-for-a-comforting-autumn-dinner/.  Bon appétit!

The Not-So-Great Escape

According to the police report, the entire fiasco could have been avoided.  The day began innocently, a typical family of edamame out for a stroll.  They left the cool comfort of the refrigerator as they had done on countless days, trekking southward through lush green pastures of fresh spinach.  The fatal error occurred when they forgot to bring water.  With temperatures soaring, heatstroke was inevitable.

Police found the bodies beneath an avalanche of shredded butternut squash topped with tomato salsa.  As a last resort, the edamame family had taken refuge within the hollow of an avocado buried in the rubble.  Perhaps, they thought they would escape, but the fork had other ideas.

Not Your Typical Breakfast

Imagine it is breakfast time. What is on your plate? Is it eggs or sausage? Maybe you are a starch lover and opt for pancakes, grits, oatmeal, or potatoes. On a fancy day, perhaps you throw in a steak. You may decide on a certain food based on health or simply choose what sounds good.  

Many of you know that we (John and I) are plant-based eaters, so we forgo the animal-based options in our diet. Many days, I find whole wheat pancakes or steel-cut oats waiting for me at the kitchen table. Typical breakfast food, right?

Yet, on some days, breakfast is a source of amusement. Why? Because, on some days, not only does breakfast surprise me, but my surprise is also surprising.  Yes, I know. There were far too many surprises in the last sentence, but please bear with me.

(John’s Breakfast Cheese Sauce)

I am surprised (and delighted) by the fact that breakfast sometimes challenges my preconceived notions about food choice. Certain foods belong only to specific meals. Take our Monday morning breakfast fare – a colorful assortment of tomatoes, potatoes, salsa, avocado, broccoli, and mushrooms. Add a plant-based cheese sauce and you have all the fixins’ for an omelet without egg or cheese. My brain saw all the lovely vegetables and assumed we were having lunch at 9:30 a.m. 

I bet if you think about it, you probably have few “notions” of your own. Take the typical restaurant menu. If you were the breakfast customer, would you think it odd if the menu listed roast leg of lamb, pasta marinara, and bean burritos, but not omelets or waffles?

Why the nerve of those people!  Where is a good egg when you need one?

The eggs were set aside, of course, in favor of a more adventurous food choice. Breakfast was delicious and I was not arrested by any breakfast police because I broke established food rules. Honestly, it is a lot of fun to challenge these notions, opens a whole new world of culinary possibilities.  Try it!  You might be pleasantly surprised. 

A New Voice Beckons

A new voice beckons me.  She is quite annoying, calling to me in the middle of the night while I try to sleep, yet strangely silent when I ask her to speak.  Without discipline, she lives within storylines, ideas, and thoughts, a parade of possibilities eager for exploration.

I retired at the end of the day on December 31, 2020.  That evening, I asked Alexa to cancel my 4:30 a.m. alarm for the following day.  “Do you want to cancel all 4:30 a.m. alarms?” she asked. 

“Yes,” I replied. I had been looking forward to making that statement all week.

The following Monday, I woke up later than usual and texted my former associates, telling them I would be extremely late for work.  I still have not arrived and have chosen to blame my absence on mountains of snow.

John keeps asking me if I feel retired yet.  I honestly do not have an answer to that question.  I am not sure what retirement is supposed to feel like.

I spent the first week of retirement staring off into space.  Sometimes there was a strange screen in front of me.  I wrapped myself in sweats and watched babbling characters march across this strange screen, immersed in some fictitious event.  The cup of coffee laced with dark powdered cocoa warmed my hands.  Next to me, the poodle had already fallen to sleep. 

That new annoying voice reminded me that I promised not to be the old woman sitting in front of the television set eating Bon Bons and watching soap operas.  I told her to shut up; I was too busy to entertain such thoughts.  John asked me if I was talking to him.  “No,” I said, “I am talking to the poodle. 

In my defense, over the course of weeks, I have learned to pamper myself with hot baths and great books, allowing my mind to wander, ponder and reflect.

“You should do something with those thoughts,” the voice says. 

After six decades of living, what exactly do I want to say?  As I sit in front of the dreaded blank page writers always talk about, I wonder if I need lessons on how to listen.

Frankly, the freedom of retirement is both a blessing and a challenge.  After many years of tight schedules, one is left to build a daily structure from scratch.  I also am left to find my voice, one that is my own, beyond the dictates of my past.  The responsibility can be intimidating, especially if one wants life to matter.  

In the middle of the night, the voice comes to life and reminds me of dreams waiting for life, words yet to be written, art yet to be captured.  When most of the world is silent, the voice in my head is not.  I scribble some notes on the pad next to my bed to guide the coming day.  

“Where do I start?”  I ask.

“Just where you are,” says the voice, “at the beginning.”

Feeling Vulnerable

John found this lovely Butterweed plant in our side garden.  Tall, bright, and yellow, this small wildflower stood-out among peonies and daylilies struggling to bloom in an abnormally cold and gray spring.  I noticed the plant when a first single flower appeared at the top of the long stem, surrounded by several waiting blossoms.  I could almost feel the power in the plant’s sturdy stem.  On a damp and windy day, I snapped many images, trying to capture this wildflower as it danced in the wind. 

Spring has been difficult, with much more time spent at home in dismal and sometimes depressing weather.  We know we are among the vulnerable, seniors that are at a higher risk over our younger counterparts.  Our age can be a reminder of our vulnerability, the fact that time is sometimes unkind and limiting.  

Each day, I have visited this wildflower and am greeted by more flowers perched on top of a still wavering stem.  Somehow, this little plant makes me feel less alone, a companion plant for John and I.  This one is determined to survive.  So are we.

Timeless Symphony

I was inspired to produce this composite image while standing on the shore at a local park last spring.  Leafed trees reflecting upon the water reminded me visually of the sound waves produced on audio systems years ago.  Music has ancient roots, an important part of our history and awareness.  On that day, the rustle of those leaves in the gentle wind mingled with the sound of young birds eager for the warmth of spring continued to fill my ears, a musical symphony that was truly timeless.

I am reminded that music, both figuratively and literally, continues regardless of surrounding circumstances.  This year, sheltering-in-place has prevented my participation in many of the activities I took for granted last year.  Yet somehow, it is comforting to know that birds will still sing and tree leaves will still rustle in the wind.

Unexpected Sunshine

Winter makes me sad.  Perhaps it is the gray or the cold, but my smile seems to disappear with the last dying sighs of fall.  For me, winter means weeks spent indoors peering through dirty windows, longing for budding flowers and nesting birds.  In winter, the vivid colors of spring, summer, and fall fade to sterile pastures laced with pale blues, grays and muted white.

Yet, after days of bitter cold and treacherous weather, we had a bit of a weekend reprieve in our great state of Ohio.  A mid-winter thaw brought the temperatures up to the mid-fifties, a safer bet for hiking with aging knees and hips.  Hubby and I braved the remaining remnants of snow for a day-trip to Dawes Arboretum, cameras in hand.  I hadn’t expected much, but at least had hoped for enough white blanket for a few picturesque shots.  For the most part, my shakey optimism was met by slush and muddy shoe prints.

Hiking proved to be difficult as we tread slowly on uneven and slippery pavement, rock and grass.  By sunset, we had reached the lake, completely snow covered, barren and seemingly lifeless.  A common winter scene for a picture, I thought  – except for the sun that seemed to rest so perfectly on the side of the tree with light so bright as to appear to have taken a bite from the tree’s sturdy trunk before gradually descending into the night.  John saw it while I lamented the ordinary and I captured this bit of sunshine with the press of one button.  

The beauty of sunshine glistening on blankets of snow, fragments of ice or a small lakeside tree is winter’s gift and the fact that I had not expected it made the gift all the more special.  Unlike other seasons when sun and warmth are more common, the stark contrast of winter highlights gifts that are too easy to take for granted.  That should keep me smiling for a long time to come.

A Pelican Feast

During our recent trip to New Orleans, we took a day trip to Grand Isle on the Southern tip of Louisiana to observe the birdlife in this region.  A flock of pelicans were feeding close to the pier and the gal pictured above caught my attention.  I watched her dive for food and emerge with “something” that looked difficult to swallow.  After a bit of a thrashing to drain excess water from her pouch, she flew to the pier and landed close to where I was standing.  I watched her extend her neck and swallow repeatedly.  The “meal” slowly slid down her throat coming to rest at the base of her neck.  I wondered if she would indeed be able to digest the large catch.  When I left the area the meal in her throat had not moved further and protruded like a large tumor on the side of her neck. 

Pelicans are fascinating creatures and one of my favorite birds to observe.  From high in the air, I have watched them pinpoint a catch and dive into the water like a precision arrow shot from a bow.  Rarely do they miss an opportunity to capture their prey.  Despite a heavy body, pelicans can soar at 10,000 feet and remain buoyant in water, thanks to the air sacs in their bones.  Despite popular belief, pelicans do not store fish in their pouch.  Instead, they use the pouch to “house” the catch just long enough to drain the water, tip the head and swallow.  This gal worked hard for her food and didn’t seem in any distress when I left the pier.  Pelicans are designed to eat whole fish and that fact alone amazes me.  Still, I marvel how such a feat is possible, that a large fish can move through what appears to be a much smaller pipe.  Nature has designed this bird with just the right capabilities to survive and it is wonderful to observe.

CONTEMPLATING NEW ORLEANS

My husband and I decided to visit New Orleans as our 2018 winter vacation destination.  I knew from the start that this vacation would be different.  Most of our vacations have consisted of fine sand beaches, picturesque trails, and amazing wildlife.  As a historic and cultural mecca, New Orleans would most certainly be none of the above.

We arrived in New Orleans mid-day on a Saturday, greeted by miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic.  I had expected “quaint,” but instead we sat on an elevated bridge overlooking the Superdome and a dirty, sprawling city.  I wondered if I really knew what I had signed up for.  My initial impression of New Orleans was not what I had expected.

Over the course of several days, we visited the typical New Orleans landmarks – the French Quarter, the Garden District, famous eateries such as the Commander’s Palace and the Lafayette cemetery.  We listened to fine jazz in the clubs lining Frenchman Street and wandered thoughtfully through mazes of art galleries on Royal.  This was the New Orleans I had read about, heard about and wanted to experience.

Yet, New Orleans was still not what I expected.  New Orleans was much darker and much edgier.  Laced among the tourists and everyday Joes, people pass with vacant stares.  Some drop in front of you and curl up next to a storefront to sleep.  Street musicians line corners collecting money in well-placed buckets and hats.  Conversations of poverty and sickness fill streetcars.  Glassy eyes glance your way without a hint of emotion. Drug deals line nighttime streets and tent cities reside beneath downtown underpasses.  Dinner at a finer restaurant is interrupted by a vagrant pounding on the outside window.  He is hungry and has nothing to eat.  In one art gallery, pictures from Hurricane Katrina tell a grim tale of a city laid waste by mass destruction.  

Weeks later, I still do not know how to feel about New Orleans, a city of seeming contradictions.  Of life and death. Of celebration and despair.  Yet, among her contradictions, is a picture of life that is raw, real and tangible in a way I have not experienced anywhere else.  New Orleans is a story in the making – of recovery and relapse in the best and worse ways life has to offer.  

I don’t know how to feel about New Orleans and, perhaps, that is the point.