Walking In Rain

I like walking in the rain for two reasons. No one can tell when you’re crying when you walk in the rain.

My mom died 14 years ago. I don’t know why but the past couple of weeks, the grief has been close to the surface. There are obvious triggers like birthdays but sometimes, it’s just the general disappointments life brings, coupled with the realization that I cannot pick up the phone and talk those over with her, that makes the sadness bubble up.

On April 17, 2004, I told one of the biggest lies of my life and to my mom of all people. I held her hand while she was taking her last breaths and told her it was okay for her to go. Every fiber of my being was silently screaming against the words coming out of my mouth, raging against the unfairness and injustices of life. And she knew I was lying.  When her breaths would slow, and my dad would yell her name, she would struggle to breathe again because she knew how much losing her was going to hurt us and change our lives, forever. But nonetheless, outwardly calm, I held her hand and in a quiet, soothing voice, without tears, I told her to let go, that we would be okay. That was a lie.

My mom and dad made the choice that she would stay home with my sister and me and the loss of a second income certainly meant sacrifice. New clothes were a rarity and were usually gifts for birthdays or Christmas. When I was younger, a lot of my clothing came from my cousins, and as I grew older, from the Agape Mission Store that our church had, and my mom volunteered at. I knew that it bothered her that we didn’t have new clothes, but it never did us because we were always certain that no one would show up to where we were wearing the exact same outfit as us. I held her hand and thanked her for teaching me, through my cousin’s hand-me-downs and mission store prom dresses, that a person’s value is measured by more than what’s on their back. That was the truth.

We never went on vacation. There wasn’t money for that, but I remember the one trip we did take and stopped by several of Kentucky landmarks. We were gone for two days. She packed all the food we would eat, we got up early, and had a long day of touring. We stopped along the road at the little picnic areas that used to dot the highways to eat. We stayed at a little motel that had a swimming pool. Karen and I swam until way after dark. As best I remember, we were up early the next morning, drove to various places, ate along the road again and got home late. I held her hand and I told her that this trip was one of the best “vacations” I have ever been on because it wasn’t about the destination but rather, it was about being together. That was the truth.

At one point, my dad’s company went on strike and he had to walk picket duty. We ended up on food stamps for a few months. My parents would drive outside of our small county to the “city” grocery stores to buy what we needed because they were embarrassed. The funny thing was, these trips to the big grocery stores were like an adventure to me and my sister. One week, after much begging on our part, she relented and bought a fresh pineapple (which we loved) and a coconut (which we didn’t). I held her hand and told her that being on food stamps was a fun adventure for us and how something as simple as a pineapple and coconut made it even more so and I thanked her for not passing along adult worries to us. That was the truth.

I wasn’t an easy daughter to raise. I was headstrong, stubborn, moody. I didn’t use the best judgement and did some stupid things—thankfully, none of them caused lasting or permanent damage. I challenged authority and walked the edge of what my parents would tolerate, often crossing that line. And as I aged, I was embarrassed for some of the things I did and apologized to my mom and dad for my behavior. I was so surprised when they couldn’t remember the things I was talking about. I figured they thought of them every single time they looked at me. They didn’t. When it was over, it was forgotten. I held her hand and thanked her for loving and caring for me and how blessed I was to have her as my mom and that through her example, I would be a better mom to my daughter. That was the truth.

And nine years later, on December 30, 2013, I told the same lie and truths to my dad.

Today was rough. As the tears mixed with the rain, during the worst of it, I looked down and found a dime. I’ve been told that it means a loved one that has passed is looking out for you. And that slowed the tears but when about a mile further I found the second dime, the tears stopped. I figured that was mom and dad’s way of telling me, enough was enough. And for today, it was. Like the rain, the tears dried up and the warmth of the sun filled the voids where grief had been but moments before.

Oh, and the second reason I like walking in the rain, it’s the easy way to wash off bird shit because yes, that happened today too.

Swag Killers

Several years ago, I had one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my traveling life which resulted in my husband and I inadvertently committing various crimes against swag.

After a full day of walking the Mall area of Washington DC and Arlington Cemetery with Billy and Donna, we went to eat a late supper.  When we travel, we have a rule of not eating anywhere that we can eat when we are at home.  Given that we were visiting such an ethnically diverse area, we added an additional rule of no “American” food until we headed back home.  With those perimeters in mind, we decided to try an Ethiopian restaurant.  Billy and I have eaten that kind of food several times and enjoyed it and knew Donna would as well.

Billy had Googled an area, not a specific restaurant so when we arrived at the strip mall, there were several places to choose from (or so we thought!)  The lone buffet was closed for the day, so we decided to go to the restaurant next to it–the one that said “restaurant” on the sign and had pictures of food in the window.  When we walked in, it was a bare room full of men playing table games. They all immediately stopped what they were doing and turned to stare at us. I know we looked like tourists–sunburned faces, tennis shoes, and cameras–but even so, it’s common in DC.  I was ready to turn around and leave but my husband, bless his heart, with nary a morsel of food in sight, decides to block my exit and ask the lone woman in the place if they served food!!!!  When she replied, “What kind of food?” I pushed past him and left.  I didn’t want to be rude, but the dead silence and stares made me more than a little paranoid and frankly, if they were giving away food, even as cheap as I am, I wouldn’t have stayed to eat!

By this time, I was ready to chuck our rules and get a Big Mac, but we ended up at a “cafe” a few doors down. This place also had food pictures on their windows. Surprise! It wasn’t a cafe. It was a hookah bar. (For those of you who don’t know what a hookah is, it’s a big water pipe that holds flavored tobacco that has several tubes coming out of it that you can sit around with people and smoke. In simpler terms, it’s a fancy, ornamental bong that contains legal substances!  And although in certain cultures it’s been around for thousands of years, hookah has become the new “thing” of the college generation.)   Donna said when we (meaning Billy and me) entered the hookah bar, we (again meaning Billy and me) brought the “swag” factor down a few notches. (And in case you don’t know what “swag” is, according to the Urban Dictionary, the term “swag” is used to describe anyone thought to carry themselves in a way considered by some to be sexy and/or cool.)  Well, if our mere presence lowered the hookah bar’s swag, you can only imagine how it plummeted when we ordered food!

The waitress was friendly and wanted to know what brought us in since it was obvious to everyone within a 20-mile radius that we (meaning Billy and I) didn’t fit in there.  When I told her the story about the restaurant just a few doors down, she laughed. And she continued to do so every time she walked past us!  It was so dark and smoky in there from the hookahs that the Main Swag Killer pulled the worst dad move in history. He had to break out his keychain flashlight just to see the menu!  I’m pretty sure when we ordered, the waitress walked out the back door, down the street, and got food from another restaurant because we were the only people eating.  Why she just didn’t direct us there is beyond me. And as we got up to go, the manager, in an extreme gesture of kindness, came and asked us if we enjoyed ourselves and stated she was looking forward to seeing us again–SOON.  I smiled, nodded and muttered something about “if we’re ever back in the area” but what I really wanted to say was, “when hell freezes over!!”

And, in case you’re wondering, we never did get the Ethiopian food we were hoping for, we (meaning Billy and I) never stepped foot in a hookah “café” again, and yes, he still carries a flashlight on his keychain…

Fear: Perception vs. Reality

While I was out walking, I saw this shadow of a spider on the ground today and had to laugh. If my daughter would have been with me, she would have panicked. She’s terrified of spiders and likely will destroy her house one day trying to kill one.

Now, I am always of the opinion that a little fear is a good thing. It keeps us on our toes. I don’t go around picking up every spider I see but I also don’t get a blow torch to take one out. It’s kind of a “live and let live” situation for me. But if seeing a spider in my house kept me from entering the room it was in or rearranging my day to avoid it, well, that’s a different story.

99% of the spiders we will come across in our lifetime will be harmless. They just appear bigger and more intimidating than they really are. Likewise, with most of the things we fear—we let our minds take us to places that we’ll likely never go. We are paralyzed. We cannot make the choice to kill the spider or ignore it and move on.

I think I’ve said before that I am the Queen of What Ifs and What Wills. What if I do this? What will the repercussions be? Will I end up in a worse spot than I am in now? Will I destroy everything I’ve worked for? This kind of thinking leaves me in stasis. I stay in the same sad situation and live with the known fear because of fearing the unknown.

BUT… What if I reach out and stomp that spider into a greasy spot on the floor? Or just walk into that room, knowing that hairy eight-legged creature is there, and carry on about my day the way I had planned? I have faced my fear, conquered it and moved on with my life. I am no longer hindered by the unknown because I am now in control of my fear instead of my fear being in control of me.

I realize that many people would welcome a spider compared to what they are facing—marriages falling apart, serious issues with children, medical diagnoses, et al—and I am not making light of these things. They would terrify the hell out of me too. I’m referencing situations where we feel stuck and miserable and refuse to make changes because of fear. What if I make a career change? Will I fail? Will I like the new job less than I did my old one? What if I start checking off those ridiculous items on my bucket list? Will I be able to stand on skates? Will I sink instead of swim?

It’s nerve-racking to try something different, to step out and try something new but it’s equally as nerve-racking to live trapped and unhappy. I’m not suggesting that my daughter should become an arachnologist, but she does need to put the flame thrower down. Every time we face a fear and overcome it, we build courage, strength and confidence and that, my friends, is a good thing.

The next time you’re facing your spider, either stomp that sucker into smithereens or choose to live with it but refuse to give it power over your life any longer. You can do it!

Mirror, Mirror

It’s hard being a woman today. (And before the opposite sex objects, although I am sure it’s not easy being a man, I can only speak to the XX chromosome experience.) We are constantly bombarded by photo-shopped and airbrushed images of women with perfect bodies, perfect families and perfect lives. At least that’s the way it appears on the surface.  And therein is the kicker…  Underneath that perfectly coiffed, painted and pressed exterior lies the heart of a woman who is beset by the same insecurities as me.

Recently, I was surprised to read a Facebook post of woman who has come into my life at time when I really needed someone like her. Christie Bricking of EmPower is positive, upbeat, dynamic. She has a kick ass, take charge, “living my dreams” attitude. And have I mentioned she has also lost 150 pounds? Frankly, I’m kind of awed by her achievements. See to me, Christie has it all—a loving family, supportive friends, a life journey that has led her to helping others achieve their fitness goals. Her hard work and determination is touching so many lives in a positive way. She’s just awesome. And you know what? She has insecurities. She doesn’t like her arms.

Until she mentioned it, I had never thought about her arms. I was focused on all the other awesome things about her. After her post, Christie came to class in a tank top, completely vulnerable, and I was even more impressed by her. What a brave and courageous thing to do and what a good example for the rest of us. And once class began, all I could think about was keeping the sweat out of my eyes, my squats in proper position and my ripstixs in my hands. Her arms didn’t matter—to me. Afterwards, when I got home, I wished she could borrow my vision of her for a while, see herself through my eyes.

I do not want to minimize her feelings. I understand them completely as I have my list of dislikes about myself as well. But I want her to know how precious her arms are. Those arms have held people she loves beyond measure. They have helped shoulder the burden of heartache and pain. They have reached out to offer a hand of friendship or a pat on the back for encouragement. And while they may not look exactly the way she wants, they are strong! I’ve seen her use them to hold a plank position. Oh yeah, they’re strong alright.

So many women feel this way about themselves. My daughter works in a women’s retail clothing store and has talked about beautiful women who are model thin sob in a dressing room over the way they “think” they look. One woman, a size 6, who had just given birth a month earlier, was crying because she was now a size 8. Hey lady! Your body just grew and nurtured a tiny human life—give yourself some credit–and time.

Last year, I went to a black-tie dinner. Since my idea of “dressing up” is wearing khakis instead of denim, I was out of my comfort zone. Couple that with other issues I have and I was a mess. I had spent nearly two hours getting ready for this event between makeup and dressing. (Yes, it sometimes takes that long, especially if you buy a body shaper that takes two people to help you wear and then leaves you bruised for days because of said application. Talk about suffering for vanity’s sake!) I was miserable and when I walked in, the first thing I see is a photographer and the event goes immediately from bad to worse. But that woman ended up being the best part of the event for me.

See, my husband told me how beautiful I looked but, in my mind, he kind of has to say that because he’s my husband. (And he said it after having spent about 20 minutes pushing and pulling on shape-wear and asking me why in the world I’d do this to myself. Why indeed?) This photographer, however, doesn’t have to say a thing other than “Smile!” When we walked up, she smiled at me and said she liked my tattoo. I had opted to wear a short dress and a tribute tattoo I have for my mom and dad on my leg was showing. Then she looked a little closer and said, “Ooooh, you have a nose piercing,” and turned to my husband and said, “Lucky you! You have a wild child here!” With that one small statement, my self-esteem rose about 1,000 percent. As sucked in and uncomfortable as I was in that body shaper and dress, I thought to myself, “Someone thinks this 51-year-old momma is a wild child.” She saw me as I wished I could see myself and it was enough to allow me to loosen up and enjoy the rest of the evening. Looking at myself through her eyes was an eye opener to me.

Women need to encourage and support each other. We need to advocate for each other and build each other up. That’s one of the many things I like about Christie, her daughter, Savanna and EmPower. I know there are times that I look like a complete goofball in class, off beat, missing steps in the routine, but they make me feel so good for what I did accomplish that I don’t dwell on what I couldn’t do.

I certainly don’t need anyone to point out my flaws and faults. I live with, and magnify, them every day of my life. But I would like to occasionally hear a positive and encouraging word. Why don’t we make a promise? Let’s promise, to each other and ourselves, to only say encouraging words and live encouraging lives. Let’s also promise to share our vision of others with them as well. After all, wouldn’t it be nice to hear that someone thinks you’re a wild child every now and then?

wild child photo cropped

This is the “wild child” the photographer saw that night. She even positioned me so that my tattoo would show in the photo!!

Here is a link to EmPower’s website with their class schedule. As Christie said after class one night, “Everyone needs to start somewhere.” If you’re looking for a place to start a fitness routine or to add something different to what you’re doing, I would encourage you to start here. EmPower Strong Link

(Disclaimer: I have received no compensation from Christie Bricking or EmPower for this link or mention. I am a fan and participant and just wish to share how good EmPower has been for me.)

The “Perfect” Dad

I have hesitated to write this tale as, on the surface, it contains two subjects that people in polite society never discuss in public—politics and religion. However, since it’s Father’s Day and the heart of the story has little to do with taboo subject matter, here goes.

Before I begin, you need some background to set the story up.

I know every parent says this but our daughter, Donna, was a child prodigy from basically out of the womb. I mean, this child survived a difficult birth and still managed to score a 9 out of 10 on the APGAR. (But of course, she is her mother’s daughter.) Up until first grade, she attended a private Christian school. The quality of the education she received was topnotch. She had beautiful cursive penmanship before she could print block letters. She could also read and do simple math by the age of four. Although we did not attend the church affiliated with the school (we were active in another denomination) their overall philosophy was mostly aligned with our belief system. Notice I said “mostly.”

More Background: It was October 1996 and Donna was five years old. I was back in college, working on my degree as I did not finish right out of high school. I attended a small college with a student body of around 3,000. I would sometimes bring Donna to school with me. She enjoyed attending classes as much as she did hanging out with my friends and participating in our functions. Even though I was a “non-traditional” student, I got involved in campus activities, one of which was being an active campaigner for Bill Clinton’s reelection when he ran against Bob Dole. Given his political and legal issues with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, that election was headline news for a variety of reasons that had little to do with being president.

Now the story:

One day I was picking Donna up from school and they were outside marching around the playground. Her classmates were in a row and she was last in line, jumping up and down and waving her arms. When I went to the gate to get her, she came running to me, face flushed, out of breath. We walked to the car, got in and I asked her the same question I did every day, “How was your day today?” And this is how the conversation went…

Donna: “Mom, is Bill Clinton a sinner?”

Me, completely taken aback by the abrupt turn of our everyday conversation matter: “Why do you ask?”

Donna: “Well, all the kids were marching around the playground yelling ‘Bob Dole’ ‘Bob Dole’ but I didn’t think that was fair so I was yelling ‘Bill Clinton’ ‘Bill Clinton’.

Me: Why do you think Bill Clinton is a sinner?

Donna: “Well, Mr. So and So said that Bill Clinton is a sinner.”

Me, now aware that the principal/preacher had initiated the idea: “Well, Donna, aren’t we all?”

(For goodness sakes, she learned the alphabet through Bible verse memorization with the letter “A” being Romans 3:23-All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.)

Donna: “That’s true.”

Me, now on a roll: “You know, there’s only one perfect man to have ever walked this earth.”

Donna: “Yes.”

Me: “Do you know who that was?”

Donna: “Dad!”

Me, incredulous that I had walked myself into this very trap: “Jesus?!!”

Donna: “Yeah, Him too!”

And there you have it, a five-year old’s combined views of politics and religion—no one could live up to her dad! Not even Bill Clinton or Jesus!

We had a lot of good talks, from the “perfect dad” to the “I put a rock in my ear today” (and finding out about three months later after an appointment with an ENT that narrowly avoided major surgery that she had, indeed, stuck a rock in her ear) and I am glad that I took to time to ask and listen although obviously, I sometimes failed to act.

And, as typical with any kid, that view of her dad changed as she aged but for one shining moment that is destined to live on as I keep telling this story, Donna believed she had a perfect dad.

Years later, although Bill still may not be “perfect”, he’s certainly been perfect for us—a loving husband and father, a good provider and role model. He’s lucky to have us but we’re even luckier to have him! Happy Father’s Day!



Love Triangle (Thinking Healthy)

Let’s finish the story today. What the leader at the weight loss meeting should have said was “Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels.” I can get behind healthy. Healthy is quantifiable. Resting heart rate, blood pressure, relief of aching joints… When I had lost weight and was exercising regularly, I had more energy. I could carry things up a flight of steps without being winded and when you live on the second story that is important. My overall sense of well-being was better. So why did I stop and why am I starting back now?

I don’t know for sure. Wrong motivation? Food deprivation? Cessation of exercise? All that I do know is now that I am approaching 53, I need to get back on track. I hurt—feet, ankles, knees, hips. I sound like a bowl of rice cereal when I get up in the morning. If I live to be a senior adult, I want to be an active one. The kind that kicks ass and takes names. (I’m kind of kidding about that last part. I just want to be able to lift my feet up and remember names!)

And now I start… Well, actually, I started about three weeks ago. I purchased a fitness band and began logging my daily food and activity. While it takes a bit of time, it’s so much easier than following a plan or counting points. It’s simple math of calories in verses calories out. That is the basic formula for weight loss. (Weight loss in real life should be so simple! At the very bottom of this blog, I’ve attached a couple of links that calculate calories.) I would like to lose 20 of the 30 pounds I gained. Why just 20? Because maintaining that full weight loss was a constant struggle. I don’t want to fight anymore and since I’ll never “feel” thin enough ever, I’m letting that go as well. I am eating better and incorporating intentional exercise back into my life. I walk more days than not and have added a fitness class using drumsticks into my exercise repertoire to mix things up a bit.

If you would have told me nine years ago that I would be where I am now, I would have told you that after working so hard to lose the weight, I would never let myself put it back on again. Heck, I would’ve said the same exact thing each and every time I’ve lost weight. And nine years later, I’m back at it. I’m not going to lie. It’s still a struggle. When I get up in the morning, I can think of 100 reasons not to walk. But when I look at my progress over these few short weeks, I lace up my shoes, crank up my walking music and haul my lazy butt out the door. And, I have started food planning. You have to when you are choosing to live a healthier lifestyle because hunger is an enemy of good food choices. When I’m planning now, I’m occasionally including small portions of food I love because otherwise, I’ll have an unplanned overindulgence.

I honestly don’t know where this journey will lead. It would be a relief if it busts up the triangle/hexagon but old habits die hard. I know this because I have been trying to kill these for years. The only thing I do know for sure is that I’m headed into the right direction and according to my fitness tracker, I’m 227,681 steps further ahead than I was three weeks ago. Wish me luck!

Me at present day, after I managed to find the 30 pounds I had lost!


Here is a link to a site that allows you to calculate, based on age, sex, current weight, height and activity level, calorie intake needed to maintain or lose weight.

Caloric Intake Calculator

This is a link to a Body Weight Planner. You tell it your stats and what you’d like your weight to be by a certain date and it will calculate the number of calories you should eat daily to hit that goal. This is on the USDA website.

Body Weight Planner

(Disclaimer: I am not being compensated in any form for attaching these links. These are sites that I’ve found useful and just wanted to pass along.)

Love Triangle (When I First Realized I Was Different)

Love Triangle (Thinking Thin)

Love Triangle (Thinking Thin)

“Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” That’s what a leader in one of those organized, pay as you lose, weight meetings once said. Forgive me for my language but for me and every other person who struggles with their weight, I’m calling bullshit. I have lost and regained weight for all of my adult life. Most recently, seven years ago I lost 55 pounds and have since regained 30 of it. The weight gain was due to several factors but primary was the reintroduction of foods I had previously given up eating and secondary was the cessation of intentional exercise.

Let’s start with food, or more to the point, the lack of it. It’s that whole “deprivation” thing. After a while, it backfires. Big time. I hate deprivation about as much as I hate being overweight. Let’s face it, chocolate cake tastes good. As does fried chicken or a rare plus prime cut ribeye… Yes, those things, and many others, taste damn good. But as for how being thin “feels”? I haven’t got a clue. That “feeling” or lack thereof, is at the heart of my issue with food.

Once I self-identified as fat, no matter how much weight I lost, I never “felt” thin. Honestly, I could lose enough to fit into every chart and guide and still not “feel” thin. Minus 55 pounds, I still spent as much time in front of the mirror fussing over my appearance as I do now.  And when I say “fussing over” what I really mean is “critiquing my appearance against unrealistic standards for any human.” Thin is a state of mind that, unfortunately, many of us will never identify as no matter our size.  And in my mind, if I’m never going to be “thin”, why fight it? It’s much easier to succumb to this triangle/hexagon thing I have going.

And why did I quit moving? When I chose to give in to food, to stave off the inevitable weight gain, I had to move—A LOT! I think there’s a secret ingredient in chocolate cake that wears down your resistance over time. That would be the easy excuse to use. Actually, when I began to reintroduce more “junk” into my diet, I just didn’t feel up to exercising. Overindulging in fat and sugar made me feel tired and sluggish and just reinforced my innate desire to remain sedentary. And once the pounds begin to creep back on, fat starts coming back, previously conditioned muscles hurt from exertion and it becomes easier to let go.

Let’s face it; I used the word struggle for a reason. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is like being in a constant conflict with myself. After a while, the clash between my desire to eat and my desire to lose weight becomes too much and I give up and give in to food. Tomorrow I’ll move forward to present day and where I’m at now.

On the left of this photo is of me at my heaviest in 2007 and me after losing 55 pounds in 2009.


For Part One of this story, click here: Love Triangle (When I First Realized I Was Different)

Love Triangle (When I First Realized I Was Different)

I have a confession to make… I have been embroiled in a love triangle for a long time and this sordid affair must come to an end. On one side, there’s me. On the other side, there’s food. And, on the remaining side, there’s my desire to be fit and maintain a healthy lifestyle. If truth be told, it’s probably more like a love hexagon when you also consider my love for anything that remotely resembles a dessert, that I hate the feeling of deprivation when I’m “dieting” and that, in addition to work, my hobbies (blogging, reading, genealogical research) are sedentary. Of course, a love triangle sounds much sexier than a love hexagon but when you’re in conflict with food and your emotional and physical well-being, there’s nothing sexy about it whatever terms you choose to use.

In my family we have a saying, “Some people may eat to live but we live to eat.” From home cooking to fine dining and everything in between, count me in. I love food. Always have. I was every mother’s dream. Put any jar of Gerber’s in front of me and I ate it. Food marked every special occasion or celebration and was a way to demonstrate love.  As in, “Happy birthday! Here’s your favorite meal of fried chicken, gravy, mashed potatoes, corn and homemade rolls. Oh, and I made your favorite, an oatmeal cake with brown sugar icing for dessert.” And at our family reunions, the amount of food could feed a small third world nation. Now before you get any ideas, I must tell you I had an extremely happy childhood, surrounded by people who loved and supported me. But in addition to the abundance of love, there was always an abundance of food.

The teasing and taunts about my weight began around fourth grade. I don’t think I really noticed a difference between me and my peers until they ungraciously pointed it out to me and from that point forward, I became “fat.” It started to become ingrained into my identity. I wore “chubby” sized kid clothes (I think they call them “pretty plus” now). I was picked last for any group activity in gym. I started choosing more solo activities to avoid the name calling. I developed a warped sense of my body image. If my peers thought I was fat, well, I saw myself as bigger than fat. The result of this?  Around about the age of nine, my love/hate relationship with food commenced and the love triangle was firmly in place.

I’m not asking for a pity party and I certainly don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. This is just part of my story and before I can move ahead, I feel I owe you a bit of the backstory.  Tomorrow, I’ll delve into my attitude towards weight loss.

This is my fourth grade school picture.

Fourth grade edited

For Part Two of this story, click here: Love Triangle (Thinking Thin)

Strawberry Balsamic Jam with Cracked Black Pepper

This is a soft-set jam with the consistency of a loose fruit spread.  The balsamic vinegar turns the jam a deep purple and adds a tartness, which is unidentifiable as vinegar, and the black pepper provides a slow, pleasant heat. This recipe will make approximately 2 cups (or four half pints) of jam.

4 cups mashed strawberries

2 cups sugar

4 tablespoons of a good quality balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons of freshly ground cracked black pepper (grinder set on largest setting)

Place strawberries and sugar and a non-reactive container and refrigerate for a few hours, even up to overnight. This will allow the fruit to macerate and dissolve most of the sugar prior to cooking.

Before you begin cooking the fruit, prep and prepare your jars for water bath canning. If you are new to canning or need a refresher, Ball, is the universal canning guru. I am not receiving any compensation from Ball or any of their affiliates. I am attaching a link to their site because they are just so good at what they do. In my opinion, they set the gold standard for canning. Following is a link to their site:


Place the strawberry and sugar mixture in a heavy skillet that is deep enough to hold the mixture and allow it to boil without boiling over. Place over high to medium high heat and stir to dissolve any remaining sugar crystals. Allow mixture to come to a boil, reduce heat to keep it at a low and stir occasionally to keep the strawberries and sugar from burning. Once the berries have reduced to half in volume (this can take anywhere from 30 minutes on up) add the balsamic vinegar and cracked black pepper and cook for about 5 minutes more.

Remove prepared jars from canner. Fill jars to about 1/4 inch from top. Apply lids and rings and place back into the canner. Allow water to come to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove jars from counter and place on a heat proof surface. Listen for the distinctive “pop” or “click” to indicate that the jars have sealed. Allow jars to sit, undisturbed, for about 24 hours, check the seal, and if sealed properly, remove rings and store in a cool, dark area. (I have shelves in a rarely used guest room that I store my canned goods.)

Any jars that have not sealed, place in the refrigerate as they are not safe for room temperature storage.

I plan on enjoying my jam over brie with a glass of red wine and some crackers.

JamStrawberry Season