Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Slugday, Take 2

It's another one of those days.  I have nothing pressing to do, and so there's a stack of DVDs next to stack of warm blueberry pancakes, and both are calling my name.  Want to join me? 

Homemade Blueberry Pancakes
(makes about 12, 6-inch pancakes; serves 4)

2 cups self rising flour
2 tbsp sugar
1 3/4 cups milk
2 eggs
2 tbsp vegetable oil
about 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

1.  The secret to making pefect fluffy pancakes is heating your pan to the correct temperature.  Electric skillets and griddles have a pancake setting, but cooking pancakes on a stovetop is a little more tricky.  Before you begin mixing the batter, place your skillet on the burner and allow it to begin heating on medium heat.  (For me, the perfect temperature is one notch below medium.)

2.  Combine flour and sugar in a large bowl with a wire whisk.  Add milk, eggs and vegetable oil, whisking between each new ingredient.  

3.  Test the heat of your pan -- drizzle a small amount of batter onto the pan with a spoon.  The batter should make a sizzling sound.  If it doesn't, the pan is too cool.  Either allow a little more time for the stove to heat, or turn up the dial a small amount.  If the batter burns, the pan is too hot; reduce heat and give the pan ample time to cool before testing again. 

4.  When the heat is correct, dip batter by the quarter cupful into the center of the skillet.  (If it isn't a non-stick skillet, be sure to lightly grease it first.)  Immediately sprinkle a small handful of berries evenly throughout the pancake. 

5.  Allow bubbles to form and burst in the batter.  When the pancake is riddled with holes and the edges of it slide easily off the pan when  pried with spatula, the pancake is ready to flip.  Slide the spatula around all edges of the pancake before lifting it off the pan to ensure that it doesn't stick and tear.

6.  After flipping the pancake, the top surface should be smooth and brown with white edges.  If it is mostly white and covered in a light grid-like pattern, the skillet was greased too liberally.  This isn't a problem, as the first pancake will have soaked up the excess butter/cooking spray.  If the pancake is covered in a burned grid-like pattern, the skillet was greased too liberally, and it was either cooked too long, or the heat was too high.  Learning the cooking time/temperature for pancakes is mostly a guess and check process.  A little practice goes a long way -- by the end of your first batch you should have a clear idea the timing/temperature setting combination that works best.

7.  Finishing off the pancake is simple.  Allow thirty seconds to one minute for the pancake batter to finish cooking.  A good rule of thumb:  When small whisps of smoke appear around the edges of the pancake, it's usually finished.  You can also test the edges with the spatula to determine whether the batter is cooked.

8.  Serve warm with your favorite syrup and butter.  I recommend Smuckers Blueberry Syrup with these.

NOTE:  You can also substitute your favorite berries, chopped banana, nuts, or chocolate chips for the blueberries in this recipe.

This Sunday's DVD Line-up:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Love, Happiness and Hollywood

One day when I was young my mother told me that romantic comedies stop filming just in time to skip the heartache that is the real ending.  For a long while, I believed that.  I came to believe that total independence was the key to happiness.  Is it really so hard to doubt happy ever after?  There is plenty misery and sadness in the world to justify cynicism.  But there is also plenty joy, if you know where to look.

Happiness -- both a proper and common noun, adjective and state of being, destination and mindset.  How does one become happy?  How does one keep the happiness they find?  And what role does love play in the equation?  Is it an additive: Love + x = Happiness?  Or perhaps the solution: Happiness + x = Love?

For me, there was no neat and tidy formula for becoming happy, or for finding love, for that matter.  There was only a very messy moment in which I decided I could not wait for happiness to fall in my lap, but had to instead, theoretically, barrel through happiness' front door.  So I did.  I can't claim to know how it happened.  I think parts of it can be attributed to a purging of fear, doubt.  Perhaps a little of it came from superficial things -- a new haircut, a pair of perfect jeans.  What I do know is that it was a conscious effort to chip away at the unhappiness that eventually etched a smile onto my heart. 

But love?  Love is different.  If the brick road to happiness is yellow and clearly marked, the road to love is purple and hidden beneath a layer of grass.  It is both created and discovered (and sometimes it ambushes you).  There are clearly developed loves, like the love for a true friend, pruned and tended for years until its maintenance becomes second nature.  There is the love we have for our family, ever present and deep rooted, granted freely at birth and maintained by equal doses of help and need.  And perhaps most importantly, there is the love we don't see coming, the love we don't always ask for -- passionate love.

In one moment you are you, with goals and plans and interests, excited to watch figure skating in the Olympics and have a bowl of Cheerios.  You know exactly what you believe in and what you want your life to become.  Then suddenly love throws you a wild card and your world is turned upside down and all you can think about is someone else's favorite things, and where they'll be in five years, and if there's even the slightest hope that you'll have time to watch one figure skating routine before you have to meet this person for lunch.  Let's be clear, that lunch hour is now the highlight of your day.  In one instant, occasionally at first sight, but more often on a second or third date, you stop being yourself, and start being someone's love.  It's like a cinder block is dropped onto your playing card castle in the air.  Only you kind of like it.

This is where romantic comedies begin and real life ends.  Enter wild plotlines filled with insane coincidences and bad puns.  Someone cries "action!" and a fight explodes onto the screen.  Things seem hopeless for all of ten, maybe fifteen minutes, and then simultaneously, Leading Man and Size 2 Heroine realize that true love should conquer all.  Queue the misty-eyed reunion, a close up of big smiles...and then the screen fades to black and we are allowed to think that this happy ending was inevitable, that it was fate.

Fate does a lot of things.  It makes apples fall on scientists' heads, drives arrows into warriors' heels, and occasionally, it pushes two people together at the right time in the right place and sprinkles some pixie dust over their heads.  But fate doesn't get you a happy ending.  In this regard, my mother was absolutely right.  Love is no cake walk.  There are times of doubt, regret, name calling, and door slamming, even after the first misty-eyed reunion.  But I am a stubborn, persistent romantic.  I believe that a life without love isn't worth living.  A few slammed doors aren't enough to send me packing, especially not when fate was kind enough to toss pretty incredible pixie dusted boy into my lap.

So if happiness is something you make, and love is something you're given (but have to nourish), what does this mean for Hollywood and the star-crossed mushy gushy script writers?  I'm not entirely sure, but here's my theory:  That shining couple from the movie?  They're in for a rough ride, but I think they can make it through.  No matter what happens after everything fades to black, they were happy together while the cameras were rolling.  Fate tossed an apple at their heads and said, "What are you going to do with it?"  Last we saw, they were fighting desperately to make it to happily ever after.  Why should we doubt that they'll ever stop trying?  Better yet, why should we ever stop trying ourselves?

Make no mistake; I am not naive enough to think that everybody gets their true love on the first try.  I do however believe with all my heart that fate chucks down an apple for all of us, and that with patience and determination everyone is capable of keeping "true love" alive.  Still, the beauty of life isn't in making it to some movie ordained perfect ending, it's in chiseling out a happily every second for yourself, making the choice to do everything you can with what you're given.  Who knows what fate might throw your way next?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Post #321: Which Contains Shopping, Television and a few Tears, But Mostly Lots of Love

Ever wondered what unemployed Army wives without children do all day?  It's not exactly a thrilling schedule.  There are a lot of trips to the Commissary, the PX, the mall downtown.  There are lunches and babysitting with other wives.  Many hours are logged gathering the ten thousand pieces of my husband's Army issued gear into one place (only to have it pulled out again later in the week).  Occasionally something exciting happens and I actually do my mountain of dishes.  But mostly I watch a lot of television series via the internet.

Recently I've been watching One Tree Hill.  The first few episodes weren't anything special, but I waited it out until I got a little further in, and now I'm hooked.  There is one scene in particular that I can't get out of my head.  At one point, a character says that when you dream of someone that has died, it's like the spirit's version of email -- a loved one's way of letting you know they still care.  I have a strong desire to believe this is true.

Last summer, while I was four thousand miles from home fighting to get married, my great-grandmother was in a hospital bed fighting for her life.  Her health had been failing for a long time and when she passed away it wasn't exactly unexpected.  What was unexpected was that I would still be tied up in red tape when it happened.  I packed for a two week trip and fast elopement, not the four month hassle that ensued.  I never thought I wouldn't have a chance to say goodbye, but in fact, I wasn't even able to attend the funeral.

my great-grandparents:
Della &Thomas

When it happened, when I found out that she died, I didn't know how to feel, let alone how to write about those feelings.  The reality of the situation didn't sink in until I finally came home.  Two days after my plane landed in Kentucky, I drove out to the cemetery.  The funeral flowers were long gone, but the grave was still a fresh rich brown covered in straw.  I sat in the grass between my great-grandparents' graves and I cried.  And I cried and I cried.  When there weren't any tears left, my guilt seeped down my cheeks as well.  After that was gone, all of my love for them worked its way out of my heart too.  And when there was nothing left to feel, nothing left to give, I stood up, wiped my eyes and drove back home. 

I honestly thought my grieving was over.  But the thing I've learned about grief is that it's permanent.  All the emotion it pumps out gets sucked right back into your heart.  The love and anger and just builds up over time until there is so much emotion it has to spill out again.  Eventually the sadness is broken up by bigger gaps, but it doesn't stop altogether.  And it shouldn't, because we should never forget the people we love.

I went on being sad and healing and being sad again for months.  Truth be told I'm still caught in that cycle.  But one night last winter, after I came back to Kyle in Germany, something different happened.  I fell asleep and saw my great-grandmother.  True to dream nature, I didn't realize I was asleep.  We sat on a sofa and talked in a way we'd never quite managed when she was alive.  It wasn't uneasy.  There was no feeling that time was sliding away from us.  It was peaceful.  And then I realized that something was wrong.  Memory seeped into my peaceful dream and I knew that what I was seeing couldn't be real because my great-grandmother was gone from my world.

When I realized this, when I knew that I was dreaming, she saw it in my eyes and held me close.  More tears came spilling down my face and I said, "I don't want to lose you."  She said, "I know."  I don't remember anything else about our conversation -- just those two sentences and the way her arms felt around my shoulders.  She held me until I woke up, which felt quite a lot like falling asleep, and then it was over.

My practicality knows that this was only a dream.  My heart likes to think it was more than that.  My stubborn, relentless heart likes to think that maybe I got to say goodbye after all.

my great-grandmother Della, first pictured in her youth, and second as I knew her