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.

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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:

https://www.freshpreserving.com/canning-101-getting-started.html

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

Strawberry Season

Even though we had a mild winter and the seasons seemed to blend together this year, I know that summer is approaching because strawberry season is upon us. Where I live, strawberries are the first fruit of the season and depending on my canning reserves, strawberry jam is the official herald of my canning season.

We have a small garden but we do not grow strawberries. We just don’t have the space for what they yield. The strawberries I processed came from a small “pick your own” farm about a 40-minute drive from my home. I had a game plan of what I intended to can and picked accordingly. With two pecks (around 25 pounds) of plump, ripe berries, I had a couple of days work ahead of me.

I knew I wanted to try a small batch of Strawberry Jam with Balsamic Vinegar and Cracked Black Pepper. I decided to try a soft set method without pectin. I mashed berries until I had two cups and allowed them to macerate with one cup of sugar for a few hours in the refrigerator. I then placed this mixture in a large skillet that was deep enough to allow the berries to boil without boiling over. I cooked the jam until it was reduced to half and thick, about 20 to 30 minutes. At that point, I added three tablespoons of a quality balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. I let that cook for about five minutes and then removed it from the heat. I poured the jam into prepped half pint jars and processed it in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. I ended up with two half pints (a cup total) and just enough left over for a few people to taste.

This jam is delicious. There is a pleasant, unidentifiable tartness from the balsamic that is finished with a slow burn from the pepper. It is a very soft set. The part jar I have in the refrigerator is the consistency of a loose fruit spread. That doesn’t bother me. I grew up in a household where soft set jams were used as a replacement for syrup on pancakes. This jam will be perfect ladled over a brie with a nice glass of red wine and a few crackers.

When I make this jam again, I will do a couple of things differently. After reading at least 20 different recipes, I compiled my own. I will double the amount of strawberries and sugar (four cups of mashed berries and two cups of sugar) as it’s a lot of work to only end up with a little over a cup of jam. I will only add one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar for each cup of prepped fruit instead of the 1 ½ ratio. I think less than that will not be enough and more than that makes the jam border of the edge of tartness that might be unpleasant for some. It’s fine for my taste as I drizzle balsamic over a salad or even vanilla ice cream but there’s some people, bless their hearts, that don’t appreciate the taste of it. I will also set my pepper grinder on its largest grind setting as I think it will help with appearance although when you add the balsamic, the jam goes from bright berry red to a deep purple in color. You can find the recipe here:

Strawberry Balsamic Jam with Cracked Black Pepper

For the rest of the berries, I made four batches of plain Strawberry Jam and two batches of Strawberry Pepper Jam, the peppers consisting of jalapenos and a habanero. The only thing I switched up was the type of pectin I used. Normally, I use Sure-Jell, but over the years I had been reading about Pomona’s Pectin. It is a vegan, gluten free pectin that gels with low sugar or any type of sweetener. It has made a believer out of me! I had five cups of mashed berries and only used one cup of sugar and the jam set up as promised. I will say that it does not have the glossy consistency of traditional jam canned with Sure-Jell but being able to reduce the amount of sugar from seven cups to just one, I’ll take it and the strawberry flavor is off the charts.

I am not getting paid or compensated in any way from Pomona’s Pectin but I am attaching their link as I think it’s an excellent product, especially if you’re looking to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet or find alternatives to using sugar as a sweetener when canning.

http://www.pomonapectin.com/

The picture attached shows the fruits of my labor, except for the cat. Whenever our cat, Flash, sees a box, he’s in it. His motto? “If I fit, I sit.” And if it were up to him, his furry behind would still be planted in that box and I would have had to find an alternate container to pick in.

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Smile and Say “Cheese!”

Today is Mother’s Day. Yesterday, after I could no longer deny my self-induced social media shame, I began searching for that “perfect” photo of me and my mom to update my Facebook profile. Sad thing was, in the brief few minutes I spent looking, I couldn’t find any of us together as adults. I’m sure there’s probably a few that exist, they just haven’t been scanned and saved yet. But given that I am the family photo repository, it bothers me that’s there not an assortment from which to choose.

Yesterday, we had a surprise 86th birthday party for my mother in law. We had a wonderful time. And the best decision of the day? People who know me well will be surprised to read this but it was having a photographer present to record and capture the memories of the day. I think after the search for my mom’s photo, I was particularly sensitive to it.

I have always hated having my picture taken—from my smallest to heaviest weight, braces, hairstyles, it doesn’t matter. I can always find something wrong. I don’t need an outside critic—no one can be harder on me than myself. And I think my mom was the same too. Compound that between the two of us and you end up with no photographic evidence of us together as adults.

Here’s the rub. When I look at pictures of people, I’m not looking at their physical traits (although some of the fashion choices we made makes me smile) I am looking at the sweet souls I love dearly. I am thinking about the day the photo was taken, the laughs we’ve shared and the times we’ve spent together. And sadly, for many of the people in these pictures, I can no longer get just a “me and them” photo.

The picture of me and my mom that I’ve attached to this blog is not the best but I smile every time I see it. We were having one of those “laugh until the tears run down your legs” moments that we often shared and someone captured it on film. I am so thankful they did.

There’s going to be a lot of photo taking today. Like Elsa sings in the movie Frozen, “Let it go!” Release the insecurities you feel and take the photo. It’s not about the perfect body or hair. It’s about the love and relationship.

Smile and say “Cheese!” The people who love you will be grateful you did.

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Sister Act

Most people would never admit this, but I’m not most people. I have laughed so hard at times that I have peed my pants. Of course, I have also sneezed and coughed and had the same result but those events correlated to age and childbirth rather than humor.

I think I got my sense of humor from my mom. My dad thought things were funny and would laugh and carry on but he could quit giggling at the snap of a finger. My mom and me, not so much. We would laugh until we nearly made ourselves sick (or wet our pants). Air gasping, sides hurting, tears streaming… And whatever the event that would start these uncontrollable fits of giggles, they would be just as funny to us days, if not years, later. Yes, we made public spectacles of ourselves on more than one occasion but the one that comes to mind and was probably our first public display just happened to be at the expense of my sister, Karen.

I loved to sing and began my sharing my “talent” with my church when I was around 14 years old. Thank goodness that they loved and cared about me as that first year or so was painful—for them and me but that’s another story. As I gained confidence, I expanded my repertoire. I would occasionally play the piano or do an instrumental duet with Karen, her playing the French horn and me, the piano. Where I made the critical, and hysterically funny (at least to me and mom), mistake was deciding to do a singing duet with her.

Karen is five years younger than me and very good natured. I come up with hare-brained ideas at times and she is usually a willing participant. Naturally, when I asked her to sing with me at church, she agreed. We were going to do a simple duet, “Give Them All to Jesus” by Cristy Lane, but even simple songs required practice. We knew that song inside out and were prepared for every possible disastrous scenario, except one…

That Sunday arrived and, as we stood to sing together for the first time, we looked out over a congregation, filled with family and friends, that had watched us grow from small children and was excited to hear us perform. I knew Karen was nervous because I grabbed her hand and it was ice cold. The first chords were played and we began on cue. We were singing and doing a fabulous job until the chorus. Part of the chorus was written as an echo. I started with “Give them all” and Karen echoed “Give them all” but the second time, her voice cracked on “Give.” At that precise moment, I looked at mom—the disastrous scenario for which we had not planned.

Believe me when I say this, you would never find a mom who was more loving or supportive as ours but she was also a mom who was finely tuned to our nervous systems. If we had nerves, she did too and I think it was harder on her watching than on us performing. That being said, mom and I locked eyes on the cracked “Give” and that was it. I spent the next 90 seconds giggling, tears streaming down my face and trying to catch my breath while Karen continued to sing.

I had no idea how my church family was reacting because every time I looked out, it was at mom. Actually, it was at the top of her head. She was bent over, laughing so hard that the pew was shaking. I could see my dad, mortified, poking her and telling her to stop but she couldn’t. Neither could I. And bless Karen’s heart (and I mean “bless” in a good way, not in the Southern way), she, much like my dad, never cracked a smile and sang until the song was over. At the end, all I could do was reach over, hug her, apologize and tell her I loved her.

It was then that I finally looked at the congregation. Everyone was clapping and a few were crying. Afterwards, nearly everyone, to a person, told us what an excellent job we did and that they were touched by our duet. Dad, on the other hand, forbade us to ever sing together again if mom were going to be watching in the audience. And mom and me, we laughed like crazy after church and years later, every single time we would talk about it.

As for me and Karen, there was never to be a “Sister Act II”. Since that fateful Sunday, we have been on many hare-brained adventures together at my urging but I was never able to convince her of a repeat performance. I guess love covers a multitude of sins except laughing through a debut singing performance with your sister!

Karen and me

Happy Birthday, Mom

Today, April 28, is my mom’s birthday.  She would have been 77 years old. I often wonder what she would have been like as she aged. She was active and interested in new things, especially technology.  She had her first computer long before I did and I’m sure she would have been texting or using a smart phone before me too.

My mom, Donna Sue “Susy” Yelton Deaton (I use her whole name, including nickname, as genealogy was one of her passions), was an amazing woman—she wasn’t perfect but she was perfect for our crazy family. She loved us without measure and was a great encourager to have in your corner.

She’s been gone since April 17, 2004. More days than not, I can talk about, tell stories and remember her with smiles and laughter instead of tears. Some days though, without warning, the grief will wash over me in waves and take my breath away.

I don’t know if we ever come to the end of grieving the death of a parent. There is always something missing. It’s like putting together a puzzle that has 1,000 pieces and when you’re almost done, you realize that you’re about 10 pieces short. You can see the whole puzzle but you notice there’s something missing as well. Thankfully, from my personal experience, one thing I’ve found is that the days eventually get better. They will always, from now and until I’m gone, be different but they slowly become better.

So, what about today, her birthday? I will acknowledge her special day and the fact that she is not here with us to celebrate it. Ignoring these days tends to deepen the feelings of loss and isolation that often accompany grief.

Today, amidst smiles and a few tears, I say,

“Happy Birthday Mom. I love and miss you. Until we meet again, you will always remain in my heart.”

Your “favorite oldest” daughter,

Nancy Lynn

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Cornflower Blue

Most people would agree that there are things that will trigger memories—maybe it’s a perfume or a song—that transport us to a moment of time in an instant. But what about a color? Can a color do the same thing? Well, for me it can. There is one color that never fails to remind me of a few miracles that happened on a certain Saturday when I was around 10 years old.  And the color? Cornflower blue…

I have a younger sister, Karen. She’s the only sibling I have. I am a little over five years older than her. If you have ever read any articles on birth order and spacing, they often tell you that having children separated by five years or more is optimal for rearing well-adjusted children. For those of you who know us, you know we destroyed that theory!! The five-year gap presented challenges in that, when we were young, it was light years away in life experiences. When I was starting school, she was born. When I was on my way to middle school, she was starting elementary. Likewise, when I was in college, she was in middle school (and a great asset to me with Algebra 101!) For the most part when we were kids, we got along very well, probably because we didn’t have similar interests and stayed out of each other’s way. Luckily, for my parents’ sake, that meant we were seldom partners in crime so they never worried what kind of mischief we were into when we were together. Because of this, they never questioned the time we spent together that Saturday morning.

It was an ordinary Saturday. Although I don’t remember the exact date, I do remember it was warm enough for us to ride in the back of my dad’s “Sanford and Son-esque” pickup truck. The neighbor boys, who were in their mid-teens, helped dad load an air compressor in the truck to take to my uncle. The thing was so heavy that they barely had it in the truck bed. Dad had a hard time closing the gate.  Karen and I jumped into the back for the short ride to my uncle’s house.  My uncle lived back a road. To get to the house, you had to drive through a creek bed. That didn’t present a problem unless it had been raining. And it had been raining… Had dad not had the air compressor in the back, we would have just parked the truck and walked around the hill to get to the house but since the whole purpose in going was to deliver the compressor, we were going to drive across the creek.

My dad rarely saw obstacles as deterrents. That whole square peg/round hole thing was a challenge to be overcome. So, when the truck wheels stuck in the creek bed, the test began. Karen was sitting in the front corner behind dad and I was in the other front corner behind the passenger side of the truck. As I recall, it was kind of exciting. Dad would put the truck in reverse, give it gas, then slam it into drive. The mud and rock would fly but the truck wouldn’t budge. At this point and in defense of my dad I must say, he would never, ever knowingly place us in any type of dangerous situation. He may have been fearless where he was concerned but never with us. With that disclaimer being made, I continue… We were at a very slight downhill angle and I guess all the rocking with the truck caused the air compressor to slide. With his “never give up” attitude, he didn’t notice it moving and neither did I until it completely slid directly over Karen—pinning her in the truck bed.

I think between the impact behind him and me screaming, Dad knew something had happened. He jumped out of the truck and looked down to see Karen bleeding. I don’t know if you’ve ever read about adrenaline and how a rush of it can give you the strength to do something that otherwise would be impossible. Well, it’s true. I witnessed such a thing that day. I saw my dad reach over and move an air compressor off my sister that not even 15 minutes earlier had taken three people to lift. Thankfully, my uncle, who had heard the commotion of the struck truck, was on his way with his truck to pull us out. Dad had Karen in his arms and they immediately took off in his vehicle to our little local hospital. I went back to the house so my aunt could take me home and take my mom to the hospital.

My uncle was flying over country roads, while my dad was pressing his shirt against the side of Karen’s head, trying to stop the bleeding. The nozzle of the air compressor hit her head upon impact. I don’t know if it was the hit to the head, or the shock of what happened, but she was laying lifeless in his arms. At some point during the short drive, my dad reached down and grabbed Karen’s hand. At that point he said to my uncle, “Jimmy, you can slow down. It’s too late. Her fingernails are blue” but my uncle kept up the pace. Grandma Yelton was a housekeeper at the hospital and it just so happened that she was working that day. She said Dad and Uncle Jim were a mess when they arrived. There was blood everywhere and dad was crying and telling the doctor Karen was gone, that her nails were blue. The doctor took her back to the small ER while dad waited for mom to arrive so he could break the news.

But see, there’s part of this story that Dad didn’t know at the time. Karen’s nails were just not blue, they were Cornflower Blue. I had just painted them that morning with the brand-new polish I had purchased the weekend before!!! In just a few minutes, the doctor came out and said Karen would be fine but she needed stitches and that her fingernails were blue because of nail polish and not from losing blood. Karen had a complete recovery with no lasting ill-effects but boy, she milked those stitches for all they were worth! Of course, I don’t blame her. What five-year-old wouldn’t?

So, now that you know the story behind the color, you may be wondering what were the miracles that day? The air compressor nozzle missed my sister’s temple by less than a quarter inch. The doctor told my parents that had it hit her temple, it would have killed her instantly. My dad moved that air compressor off her by himself. Adrenaline rush or miracle? I saw it and think it was miraculous. And finally, the bottle of Cornflower Blue nail polish disappeared as if by magic, never to be seen again.

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A Born Entertainer

Way before I ever was a twinkle in someone’s eye, my Great Grandma Dunn saved money selling eggs. With this money, she purchased furniture and little knick knacks from traveling salesmen. One of her purchases was a little folk art bentwood log cabin smoking stand. It was about 30 inches tall and the neatest feature is that the roof lifted off of the log cabin. She never used it as a smoking stand. I imagine she bought it because it was whimsical and caught her fancy. I cannot imagine that she ever dreamed how much of a financial drain that stand would become for my uncles.

I know this might come as a bit of a shock to some people but I was a born entertainer. I don’t know how my family discovered this trait. Perhaps it was my proclivity to mimic like a myna? Or my propensity to make myself the center of attention? Whatever the reason, Grandma and Grandpa Yelton’s house was the perfect place to display my talents as there was usually a captive audience to be found around the kitchen table. When I began to speak clearly, which according to my mom was about at the age of one year, my great uncles started “rehearsing” me. In the early 1960’s, Tide released a commercial where they used the phrase “Intensified Tide.” Since I was born in 1964, that commercial was still running. My uncles coached me so that when I came through the door, I would shout out, “Intensified Tide!”

You can only get so far with one one-liner. I needed to expand my repertoire. They taught me more little songs, limericks, jokes, commercial tag-lines but in order to keep my attention, they began to bribe me with money. I don’t know exactly when they began putting the money under the lift-off roof of the smoking stand but it didn’t take me long to catch on. I would run into the house, sing or recite a joke or commercial, and then run to lift the roof off the stand to see what coins would be there. Mostly, there would be a couple of pennies or a nickel but on the rare occasion, there would be a quarter! I know a lot of people wouldn’t even stoop to pick up a quarter nowadays but in the late 60’s, a quarter would buy a heck of a lot of candy!

Sometimes they would forget to put money in the log cabin. Grandma told me that after my “performance” when I went to collect my pay, if the cabin was empty, the next time I came to the house, I wouldn’t open my mouth until I checked to see if my “fee” was under that roof. I must have been fairly entertaining because I cannot recall there ever not being some kind of change under there for me.

I briefly tried a side gig. My Uncle Buck was the Virtuoso of the Veg-O-Matic. With his calloused fingertip, he would pluck the blades of that thing and make them “ping.” I guess I figured that if I added an instrument to my act, my pay would increase. After begging and pleading with him, Uncle Buck began teaching me the nuances of the Veg-O-Matic. You had to carefully flick your finger at the appropriate angle to get a “ping” out of the blade otherwise, you might slice and dice your fingertip. After a bit of coaching, I was ready to make Ron Popeil and Uncle Buck proud. As the story goes, I began to play… “Ping!” “Ping!” “Ping!” “Ouch!” The tears flowed and sadly, my Veg-O-Matic playing days were over.

Grandma Yelton gave me the smoking stand years ago when I got married. Even now, I occasionally lift the roof. I don’t know what I’m looking for since I no longer give command performances but old habits die hard. But what fun it would be to run through that kitchen door just one more time to see their faces and hear them laugh. I might even try to revive the lost art of Veg-O-Matic playing!

This is the little bentwood smoking stand that honed my performance skills.0204171401-1