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Susan Sleggs

Reflective observations to inspire conversation

Black, Green, or Other

It’s National Olive Day.  The olive, one of the world’s oldest fruits, is part of a traditional meze/tapas culinary experience. The olive branch is a symbol of peace, hope, love and friendship. It is also one of the most versatile fruits as it is used in breads, drinks, salads, stews and as a snack. (I’m not sure I knew it was a fruit.)

Growing up, Thanksgiving dinner was always at our house. The cousins would come down from the city to our country house 50 miles away. One year, I must have been around seven or eight, the dishes of black and green olives had been put on the adults table before dinner. Our big old house was designed so you could walk from room to room in a full circle, the bathroom having a door on both sides. I walked the circle enough times to be able to sneakily consume the whole dish of black olives before people were called to the table. It was the one and only time my mother sent me to my room. I remember being really scared because she had never done that before. She came upstairs to scold me about being selfish and let me go down for dinner, but you can bet I never did that again.

We often serve a dish of black olives when my grandchildren are here. Usually it is available before dinner to snack on. If the little ones don’t finish them by the time the meal is over, their uncle empties the bowl so none have to be put back in the fridge.  My husband has green olives on his daily lunch salad, and I eat a few while I make it. We also have them on our pizzas. Wegman’s is our local grocery store and they have an olive bar so you can easily get all different kinds of olives, prepared antipasto fashion, or just plain. They sure make it easy.

Olives have good health benefits. They are an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and cancer preventive food. They also provide copper, iron, fiber and vitamin E. The bottom line, eat your olives, but make sure you share.

My First Choice

It’s National Macaroon Day. Whenever there are holiday cookie trays in my reach, my first choice is the coconut macaroon. I never have liked those really dry, tasteless little coolies with lots of frosting. In the Jewish section of big grocery stores there are cans of Manischewitz macaroons. I have to resist buying more than one can, because I eat them all. What a treat! A moist morsel of coconut already prepared for me.

Macaroons are very easy to make. The National Day of Calendar gave two recipes; one made with egg whites and the other with condensed milk. I can’t tell you which one is better, but the fact one had you dip the cookies in melted chocolate got my attention. Chocolate at any time is a good thing.

In the novel I wrote, that is still just a pile of paper on my desk, I have my main character, Millie, making macaroons. It’s a cookie you can make as soon as you think about it because there is no waiting for the ingredients to warm to room temperature. They bake quickly and disappear even more quickly.

I think I need to stop writing and go put coconut and condensed milk on my shopping list. The next time my grandchildren are here would be a good time to serve macaroons, that way I won’t eat all but the two my husband enjoys.

WWII – in memorial

jaybluepoems

Once upon a battlefield
I stood where heroes fell,
where brothers, sons and lovers paused
to hear death’s tolling knell.

Once upon an open sea
I sailed where deep remain
the bodies of courageous men
who, by war were sadly slain.

Once upon the azure blue
I drifted through the crimson cloud
where valiant fighters dealt with death
to die alone in sullen shroud.

I’ve felt the moments summoned.
I’ve seen the grave despair.
I’ve witnessed every breath so gained
and every soul laid bare.

I’ve shed a tear not meant for me,
but for the uncaressed
that ne’er again felt warmth of love
before their final rest.

To their souls my prayer,
my honor and my truth,
that they be blessed eternal,
and blessed in memory’s youth!

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Use Sunscreen

It’s National Don’t Fry Day. This is another title that got me. I expected something about cooking, good thing I know enough to read further. It’s also National Heat Awareness Day so the days go hand-in-hand. In western New York state this is the long-awaited weekend people go to the lake to open up their summer cottages. If Mother Nature co-operates, the weekend is warm or hot, lots of cobwebs disappear, the beds are made, picnics happen and summer neighbors see their friends.

I remember doing this as a kid. I would sit in the un-air conditioned school room with the sweat dripping under my arms from about the first of May. We couldn’t wait to go to the lake. My summer was spent making a labyrinth of roads on the pebbly beach to “drive” trucks and construction equipment toys around. (We sifted the sand from the pebbles in order to get a smooth surface to make the roads.) We spent hours in the lake, trying to swim above the weeds that felt like monsters trying to grab our legs. We also didn’t step on the muddy lake bottom if possible because we were sure to come out with a leach/bloodsucker attached to our foot. Thinking about picking one off still makes me cringe. Our cottage had no running water or indoor plumbing. There was a pump in the kitchen to get water for washing and cooking and a two-hole outhouse in the woods that I hated to walk to in the dark.  We carried drinking water in jugs from home and did the laundry at a laundromat. Those were the days! Fun for me as a kid, a lot of work for my mother, though I didn’t know it at the time.

I don’t remember using sunscreen as I was never one to get a sunburn. I do remember being so darkly tanned my heritage could be questioned. Thinking back, the city kids tended to use sunscreen, us country kids couldn’t be bothered. I’m lucky to have the gene for good skin. All the hours in the sun haven’t affected my appearance and I’ve been lucky to never have a skin cancer scare. I know other people who have not been so fortunate.

This is the start of Memorial Day weekend in the U. S.. Please take a moment to remember all the fallen military that gave their lives for our country. Freedom isn’t free. And please, if you are going to be out in the sun, do yourself a favor and use sunscreen. Skin cancer kills a lot of people.

 

Take Your Own

It’s National Brown Bag-It Day. For you young people, that means what you carry your home-made lunch in, to where ever you are going. We used brown bags before metal lunch boxes/pails and before zippered insulated plastic cooler bags. I still send my husband to work with one on occasion. Sorry, I’m old school. And yes, he is expected to bring the bag back home because it has handles, is the perfect size and can be reused.

What does one put in a brown bag. Well, when I was in grade school, there were thin sandwiches, bags of chips, an apple, and home-made cookies. Wait! Think about how many carbs there were in that. I guess a growing child could handle them at the time as we still played outside and didn’t have video games to veg in front of.

I recently visited two different people close to me in the hospital. One is a diabetic and when the first, liquids only, meal arrived, we just stared at the tray which held juice, Jello, ice cream, and milk. He drank the milk. The sugary things he left where they were. It took a day or so before he could get a meal that wasn’t a load of carbs. One young lady was very helpful in seeing he got what he could eat. His sister came to visit too. She had a bag with her, unfortunately not brown. It held radishes, cooked green beans and sushi made with no rice, plus cashews for dessert. His eyes lit up. I have to admit, I wouldn’t have thought to bring that type of meal, but I would have enjoyed eating it.

The second person was in a different hospital, but the meal she got wasn’t much different; loaded with carbs, salt, and sugar. If you think about what I was taught as a young person and the five food groups, the meal fit it to a tee. I think with all the new facts about nutrition and the overweight problems of Americans, the five food groups pyramid needs a major overhaul and so do hospital menus.

The moral of the story; no matter where you go, making your own lunch to fit your own dietary needs is probably a good idea. I’ll give you a break, forget the brown bag and use one of those nice insulated mini-totes made especially for the purpose.

I’ll Claim Alan

It’s brother’s day. I’m not sure why they picked the picture above. I would have picked a bunch of young people sitting around a picnic table so everyone could identify with it. I envy all of you that have a brother because I didn’t. Sisters are fine, but you can’t go to them and ask how a male thinks. I claimed my friend Mimi’s brother, Alan, as my own. I used to stay overnight at their house and Alan and I would have talks. When I got stressed in school, it was him who I sought out because he knew what to say to unruffle my feathers. When I had questions about other guys, I went to Alan. He would always take time for me.

I have a young man in my life who I call my  bonus-son. The definition of that is someone I claim as a son, but didn’t have to give birth to. I have decided it would be all right to call Alan my bonus-brother; a male I could depend on like a brother and who cared about me like a sister. He was even better than a brother because he never tried to scare me with a snake, put a frog in my bed or steal my Easter candy. He was a really good friend and confidant. Unfortunately Alan died way too young, so I have been without him for the last 17 years. His sister and I still have lunch together once a month, she remains my most trusted secret-keeper, even as old as we now are, both over 60.

I hope you have siblings in your life that you can depend on and talk to. I know sometimes friends are better than siblings so I hope you have a special few you are close to. Brothers and sisters, in lots of cases, can make life so much easier to deal with.

I’m Glad Others Buy Them

It’s National Buy a Musical Instrument Day. I’m not going to run out and get one myself, but I sure do appreciate those that do. My husband and I like music. We enjoy watching the old musicals on TV and often go to dinner where there is live music, mainly jazz. In my sewing room I listen to Country because I identify with the stories in the songs.

Recently we spent five days in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Dixieland Jazz is prevalent. We enjoyed it so much we want to go back. One band in particular called the James Rivers Movement, we are still talking about. James, according to Google, is somewhere between the age of 76 and 81. He has been appearing in the New Orleans Jazz festival for the last 40 years. He played all the woodwinds, sang, and then surprised us by turning from the audience and turning back around playing a jazz melody on the bagpipes. We sat with our mouths open. He is not only a good musician, but also a showman. No one left the room until the evening performance was concluded.

When I was a kid, I took piano lessons and in school I played the trumpet and then moved on to the french horn. I got the music appreciation gene, but not the one that likes to practice. I can still read a music staff and tell you how long to hold the notes, but that’s as close to it as I get other than listening.

We have multiple musician friends who we follow from gig to gig in our area. Sometimes they are playing in a church, a club, or at a festival. I guess you could call us groupies. We have even donated money to some of them so they can get a new CD launched. Like I said, we like music and the people who make it happen. An interesting side note; they all seem to have more than one instrument. I’ll leave the buying a new instrument to them and gush over it like it was a new baby the next time I see them.

“They were awful!”

It’s National Pizza Party Day. Really? I know a family that has pizza every Friday night for dinner. Does that make every Friday night a party? I doubt it. Who needs a party to order pizza. We probably have it three times a month, and it’s usually on a night I have been “busy” doing something else instead of making dinner for my hubby who still works lots of hours. The definition of busy could be anything from sewing, writing my blog, shopping or having lunch with the girls.

I have heard that pizza isn’t really Italian, but the National Day of calendar gives facts that says it is. It also says the original pizza used only mozzarella cheese, mainly the highest quality buffalo mozzarella variant which was produced in the surroundings of Naples, Italy. The first United States pizza establishment opened in 1905 in New York’s Little Italy. I guess we’ll give the Italians credit for pizza without argument.

It was estimated that the annual production of pizza cheese in the United States in 1997 was 2 billion pounds. That’s one heck of a lot of cheese. How much of that was consumed at your house?

I was the youngest of four girls, so from 7th through 12th grade, I lived at home with just my parents. I’m a people person so on many Saturday nights there were a few extra girls overnight. I liked to eat even then, so for a snack I would make a Chef Boy-ar-dee Pizza from a box. There was a package of dough mix that only needed water added, a can of sauce, and a package of very dry parmesan like cheese. I would add pepperoni or mushrooms sometimes. In my memory it seems like we usually ate most of it. I now have lunch about once a month with one of the girls involved. She admitted to me one day, “Remember those pizzas you used to make. They were awful, but you liked them so we all ate it.” I wish you could have seen the look on her face when she told me that. It appeared she could still taste how awful they were. We laughed and talked about what good memories those pajama parties left us with.

Next time you have pizza, don’t just have it for supper. Call some friends, get out the cards or a board game, and turn it into a party. Oh, and by all means, order a good one with gooey thick hot cheese and the toppings of your choice.

 

 

Add Some Nuts

Today is National Walnut Day. I would guess, though I didn’t look it up, that walnuts are one of the most consumed nuts alongside the almond. Walnuts make a great addition to cookies, cakes, breads, and all by themselves are a protein filled healthy snack. What would trail mix be without them.

One of my family’s treats at Christmas time when I was little, was a full dish of assorted  nuts in the shell. We had two crackers and four meat picks. The four of us girls would eat the filberts first, then the almonds, then the walnuts. We would see if we could crack the walnut-shell open in order to get a complete half. Somehow they tasted better if they weren’t broken. How innocent the mind of a young person is to believe that. (I miss those days.)

Also at Christmas time, we gave home-made Mrs. Clause Fudge and date nut bread to the milkman, the paper boy, the post office employees, the Charlie Chip man, our teachers, and friends. Both of these contained walnuts. There wasn’t the concern then about nut allergies that there is now. To this day when I make date nut bread, I give half of it away so I don’t eat all of it because there is nothing better hot or cold, with lots of butter on it, especially if the dates are left in bite size chunks. Now my mouth is watering.

I don’t know too many cookies that aren’t better with a handful of chopped walnuts  thrown in the dough. And let’s not forget maple walnut ice cream; another one of my favorites. Can you tell I like food. It’s rough being one of those people who lives to eat and likes everything, well most everything.

Whatever your plans for the day, may I suggest you take a resealable sandwich bag full of walnuts with you. They are a much more healthy snack than that sugar filled coffee you pay five dollars for.

Be a Tree Hugger

Today is National Love a Tree day. Trees provide more than just beautiful landscapes and a shady canopy on a sunny day.  They play a significant role in reducing erosion and moderating the climate as well as give us oxygen. Large quantities of carbon are stored in their tissues as trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

That’s the adult version of why we should love trees. I think my grandson’s idea is better. He has a maple tree in his back yard that is the perfect climbing tree. The large branches are close enough to the ground that he and his friends can ascend easily. There are enough large branches that three or four boys can be in the tree at the same time and they each have their own spot to sit. When it gets quiet in the yard, I have learned to look up. They haven’t run off to one of the other boys yards, they are usually up in the tree. It always makes me smile.

I lived in Washington state when the tree huggers and ornithologists shut down logging for a time in order to save the habitat of the spotted owl. I’m a big animal lover but they almost killed the economy of the town and livelihood of the people where the logging companies had their headquarters. Personally I think people and jobs are more important than animals, but we don’t want to start an argument.

Think a second about the Christmas tree. Our winter would sure be drab without the holiday lights adorning pine trees; and in the south and west, palm trees.

It is the week of the Lilac Festival in Rochester, NY, and the Dogwood Festival in Dansville, NY. I know, lilacs are bushes, but I can drive down almost any street in my area right now and see the flowering trees and bushes in bloom. It is a beautiful energizing sight and smells good too. We also have to thank trees for their yummy fruit, tasty nuts, and how they are the homes to so many animals.

When you get around to thinking about all the reasons trees are important, it really is fitting they have a special day for some extra love.

 

Best Smell Ever

It’s National Chocolate Chip Day. In my opinion, chocolate chip cookies baking is one of the top smells on this earth. I learned to bake at a very young age and have been doing it ever since. To my surprise, the National Day of Calendar informed me that the Nestle Toll House cookie recipe has only been around since 1939. I know that’s a long time, but I would have guessed it was older than that. At least I’ve had the benefit of it for my whole lifetime.

There are many ways to eat chocolate chip cookies; warm out of the oven with permission (when the chocolate is still gooey warm), snuck out of the cookie tin (just before a meal of course), dipped in milk, in small savory bites. I could go on. Probably the best way is to be able to share the event with another person so you can tell one another if they have chocolate on their face.

These days you can buy chips in lots of different flavors, made by different companies. I suggest you buy good ones, you know the ones that cost more. There’s nothing worse than biting into a chocolate chip cookie and the chip has no flavor because it wasn’t made by Nestle or Ghiradelli.

I have a friend that bakes up a storm whenever we are invited for a meal. I rarely eat her goodies because they are tasteless and usually very dry. I feel if you are going to spend your time baking from scratch, use the best ingredients available, and don’t substitute low-fat this and low calorie that, because the flavor goes out the window. But then again, she’s thinner than I am, so maybe her thought process has something over mine.

Chocolate chips can be used in all sorts of other ways than just cookies. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that. And it probably isn’t necessary to have a day to celebrate them because they are almost a staple in anyone’s cupboard that knows their way around the kitchen. Just for fun, celebrate the day by making some fresh chocolate chip cookies for dessert. If you are afraid you might eat too many, give some away. I can already smell them baking!

It’s a Team Effort

It’s National Military Spouse Appreciation Day. This day is always celebrated the Friday before Mother’s Day. We all know, in the past that would have been very appropriate. The stereo-type still has most people thinking it’s only men in the military, but that is no longer the case. I didn’t check, but perhaps this day should also be celebrated the Friday before Father’s Day.

I’m an ex-spouse of an Air Force member. I’m proud that I was able to serve my country in that capacity. Serve, you ask? You’re darn right! We left our families behind, went where we were told, when we were told, and my kids have no real roots as their schools changed as often as our address did. I don’t mean to sound like I am complaining, but a transient life at the will of Uncle Sam is a lot less grounded than a life close to your own hometown with the folks handy to call on when a baby is about to arrive or one of the kids is sick.

In war-time when a military spouse is deployed, the other spouse is left holding all the responsibilities of the family. I have had people say to me, “Well, you knew that’s what you signed up for.” That’s true, but again, it’s not the same when you are in a foreign country or living on a military installation that is in the boonies of a state you are unfamiliar with. The best part is, the other spouses are in the same situation, and you bond quickly with the neighbors. The sad part, is when you get transferred, you rarely hear from those people again. It truly is a nomadic way of life. In my case, the experiences I had and the places I got to live and visit made up for that.

Some civil service jobs give preference to ex-military members. I feel that should also be extended to the ex-military dependents but I doubt that will ever happen.

I fly an American flag, correctly lit, 24/7. My time as a military spouse has given me an understanding that people not connected to the military don’t have and I’m proud of it. Next time you see a military member and think of saying thank you to them, add, and to your family too. I’m sure they will appreciate it.

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