changing fifty

Journey to 50 and Climbing to the Very Top

As I continue my quest to fifty, I must tell you; I have been so busy being a mom that I have put myself on hold for quite some time now.  Vacations with my husband have been obsolete over the years because of funds and time.  I have poured myself into raising this family, supporting my husband, and fighting for the rights of an autistic child (the last being a true fight).  I feel like I have climbed mountains, swum with the sharks, and even gotten bitten a few times along the way.  It is the most difficult thing I have ever had to do in my life.  But actually if you look at it, I had my Karlie when I was 25, how much living had I really done?  It has actually been the last 25 years that have impacted my life and made me who I am today.  I am a strong independent woman who has not only raised this amazing young woman, but I have remained true to my marriage, supported my husband in every move (and his demanding job), raised two typical children who have not wanted for anything, and tried to be a good sister, daughter and friend along the way to all of those I love. Needless to say, I am exhausted.

In February,  Ed and I celebrated out 25th wedding anniversary.  We decided it was time to take a well deserved vacation.  Choosing the spot was difficult, but we settled on a resort in Arizona.  It was a fabulous week, but it took me so long just to let go.  Let go my fear of flying across the country; let go of the fact my autistic daughter might need me; let go of the fact that it had been so long since I had been on vacation  with just Ed I really didn’t know how to behave.  I must let go and just live! I began to prepare. I began to run the stairs at work so on some off chance I might actually climb a mountain…”hill”… I bought the appropriate clothing. I set up all the contacts for Karlie in case she needed some support. And I kissed the dog….. Ed and I set off on our vacation… 25 years in the making.  It was February so my journey to 50 was in full swing by then. When we got to AZ we jumped into our rented Mustang convertible (reminding us of the one we had before kids) and off we rode.  Winding through the mountains and flying down the road leaving all our cares in the dust!

Our resort was nice, but it was not the place we stayed that made the vacation memorable.  It was the food.  Our dining experiences and long nights spent fireside were amazing.  The views, the waiters, the wine and the exquisite food made the whole trip amazing!  It was the wine tastings and star gazing, laughing and hunting for the perfect vortex.  All with the man I have spent the last 25 years married to.  I love this man.

On the last day, Ed wanted to take one last hike.  As we started up the  mountain (hummmm mountain? Hill?), we really figured we would go about half way and run back down to catch our flight.  But as we continued up, I was determined to make it to the top.  I was turning 50 this year…I decided that I must make the journey count.  So we continued.  Every step I took, every rock I climbed made me think of my journey.  I was leaving the past and the hardships behind and I was pushing myself to a new me.  Ed wasn’t pushing me. was pushing me.  I was beginning to see that this life could actually be mine and I was not about to let Ed talk me out of making it to the top.  He was ready, but he was worried I was getting too tired.  NO WAY!  My journey had just begun….When we got to the top there was a small trail leading to another part of the mountain.  It looked like it was not traveled much.  I was curious.   We took it and I was amazed at how much farther it took us…to the very top!

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Small Wisdoms from Raising my Kids

When I went to work today, I told a family that I would be 50 in September and that I was writing a blog to get me through the mere shock of the event (and to get my body, mind and soul into the right place).  They thought it was an amazing idea, and we sat and talked about my life for quite some time.  The baby I was photographing was their first child, and they picked my brain forever on child rearing ideas.  Of course, I am loaded with them seeing that my kids are grown and I have had so many fun experiences with them.  We have lived in five states, both with and without expended family around.  Therefore, I must tell you my kids are best friends. I would love to take credit in that but I can’t.  It was all on them.  They played hard and fought hard.  When we moved they only had each other to lean on.  They are amazing and I love everything about them.

When they began to date, and began bringing their dates around the house, I had to think of clever ways to make the situation bearable for us all.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved all the kids that came around the house.  We were definitely the “kool-aid” house.  Everyone wanted to be there. But when it was a date, it was sometimes awkward the first couple times.  Of course, Ed and I had to make it even more awkward just because that is who we are. Our brothers did it to us so we do it to them.   We were in charge, and making the kids squirm was always the fun part.    So, I bought these conversation cards.  Every time they had a new date come to dinner I would reach behind me in the china cabinet and pull them out.  Then it would begin.  The questions were easy, they were fun, but most of all they helped us get to know the friends our kids hung out with.  That one person they thought was special enough to meet us.  Yes, they would grumble at the thought of the cards coming out, but secretly I know they loved knowing their parents cared enough to want to know their friends.

They are not in high school any more, and the dates they bring to the house are more serious than that time, but, believe me, I still whip out the cards.  Last summer my son’s girlfriend came for a week to visit while my son was away.  We got her alone for a whole week!  I can’t believe he allowed that knowing the kind of things we might put her through.  The first night, with a glass of wine, we pulled out the cards.  It’s been and year and she is coming back next month.  I guess we didn’t scare her off.

Tonight, my daughter Katie is bringing her boyfriend to dinner.  I have met him a few times, but this will be our first sit down.  I have planned our Buffalo favorite Chaivetta’s Chicken and Giada’s Pita and Grilled Vegetable Panzanella from Feel Good Food  page 112.  I know Katie will love sharing one of her favorite chicken dishes with Mike and I will love sharing my conversation cards!

For the Love of My Dogs

Today, I’m taking a break from the blog and spending the day out with my husband. So, I’ve asked my daughter Katie to fill in while I’m out. She’s been such a lovely help, teaching me all the ways of social media and shooting many of the beautiful photos that you see on Changing Fifty. I really don’t think I could have gotten this far without her, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with for today’s post! I hope you enjoy!

 

This morning, I woke up pretty late. I’m 22, and yesterday was the 4th of July…can you blame me? In fact, as I write this, I’m still hanging on the porch in my PJ’s, enjoying the day home alone. When I finally made my way downstairs, Mom and Dad were watching some reno show on HGTV — no surprise there. The hosts of the show were taking an old headboard, fixing it up, and distressing it. The style had my mom written all over it. As we watched, she observed that everything in her life was new-used. New to her, and that’s how she liked it. She’s big into fixing pieces up and making everything in this home her own.

Furniture isn’t the only new-used thing around here, though. We adore second-hand clothing stores, and so much of the glassware on her wine bar is antique. My very favorite new-used things that we have, though, go by the names of Annabelle and Eloise — as in, “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allen Poe and Eloise by Kay Thompson. We love literature. These aren’t antique or used books, though. They’re — you guessed it — dogs. The title didn’t give it away, did it?

Okay, so what do I mean by “new-used dogs”? Well, I think it all started back in 2011 when Karlie and Mom together decided that my sister needed a companion. They began their search for the perfect pooch for Sis, someone calm and consistent; someone who would be there to cuddle and aid Karlie on the tough days and to shower her with love on the good ones. After a long search, they found Ellie at a local Humane Society satellite shelter, cowering in the back corner of a floor crate in the main room of the shelter. I’m here to tell you today that she was certainly, 100%, not that dog.

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Ellie was already halfway through her life, and it was clear that there had never been love in anyone’s heart for this pooch. When they took her home, she was shaved naked because the vet couldn’t get rid of all of her mats and fleas. She was dangerously underweight, and she could do nothing but cower under tables and in shadows, looking like she was standing in the middle of an earthquake. Walking too close to her was risky, unless you didn’t mind missing a toe or two. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but she certainly was a fighter and a biter. It was Ellie against the world; everyone was certain that nothing would ever break this dog.

Then, Karlie entered her life. My sister didn’t have an easy childhood, but what Autistic child did? From her experiences, she learned patience and compassion; she learned how to truly appreciate those who love her, and how to be genuine in the love that she gives. My sister is the most endearing and simply lovely person I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. She’s refreshing, delightful, and just downright special. What really sets Karlie apart, though, is her dedication to those who mean the most to her. She is unfalteringly loyal, and she would never, ever have given up on her dog.

So, goes the story of how my precious sister came to teach a dog to love. Once upon a time, Ellie would obsess over her toys, most especially her bones. She wouldn’t eat her food, but guard it instead, scared that there would be none later if she didn’t ration it and protect it. A sock in her possession was a treasure, and someone would get hurt before she was willing to sacrifice it. Can you imagine being so deprived that something so simple as a sock would be worth fighting for? I know I can’t, blessed as I am.

It wasn’t an easy road for Karlie. Ellie fostered the same wary discontent for my sister as she did for everyone in her life. But, when anyone else would have given up and sent Ellie out, Karlie was determined. She would do nothing but sit for hours on end by Ellie’s bedside, reading books to the dog like she was a child. Sis wasn’t frugal with the treats, especially since the poor thing was so underweight. She had Ellie enrolled in good citizen classes, and bought her an obstacle course to help with the arthritis in her hind legs. I have never in my life seen anyone so patient, gentle, and forgiving with another being. The year that Karlie saved Eloise taught my entire family so many lessons about dedication and about grace.

That same year, my childhood dog passed away from cancer. She was twelve years old, and went down fighting; she never sacrificed her spunk, even in the last days of her life. While still mourning her loss, my mom and sister one day visited the Humane Society, the same place where they had gotten Ellie, just to say “Hello.” No one was ready for a new dog quite yet. My poochie was still missed too terribly. While they were playing with some of the dogs that day, though, my mom noticed something funny on a small dog’s crate. The dog was named Lilly, exactly the same as ours who had just passed away. My mom’s heart both sank and leaped simultaneously. She asked to play with the puppy, and fell immediately — don’t think I’m exaggerating — in love.

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Mom brought the little rat home and renamed her Annabelle…we couldn’t bare having another Lilly around. She was meant to help my mom heal from the loss of our beautiful Lilly dog. She was meant to be a companion to my mother, whose children were all growing up and out and whose husband was still working. She was meant to be someone that my mom could play with in our big backyard, and someone to accompany her to the nearby lake. And guess what? That puppy was none of these things.

Annabelle had been bred perfectly, exactly half poodle and half maltese, and was meant to train and grow into an award winning show dog. The only problem with wanting an award winning show dog, though, is that you have to want a dog in the first place. I don’t think Annabelle’s original owners were aware of this fact. Our shelter was not an intake shelter; that is, they did not take in dogs directly, but instead got them from kill-shelters. So, when Annabelle was brought in by her owners, the Humane Society tried to turn her away. The moment that they were told she would alternatively be left on the street outside, however, they changed their hearts.

So, we came to find this dog. I’m not going to say lovely, because she wasn’t. She was meant for my mom, but would have nothing to do with the woman. Whenever any woman would so much as go near the poor puppy, she would run. She was just as terrified of women as Ellie was of starvation. Whomever Annabelle’s first owner was, she was clearly never taught what it meant to respect another of God’s creatures. Soon after we got her, we found scars on her head from the abuse. This dog broke my mother’s heart. She was naughty as a dog could get, too, and entirely unremorseful. If you were to reprimand her for failing to do her business outside, she would find away to get back at you instead of learning her lesson and going outside the next time like a normal dog. She’s the smartest dog we’ve ever had, and the problem is that she knows it. She pushes her limits, getting away with everything that she can manage, much to our occasional frustration.

Still, my mom followed in her daughter’s footsteps, and showered her pup with all of the love and affection that any dog could want. We gave her baskets full of toys and cuddled her at every opportunity. She was like a little teddy bear, just the perfect size and softer than any dog I’ve ever met before. We would even share our wine with her — if only because she’s such a wino that she would find a way onto the table to steal an entire glass for herself if she weren’t given a sip or two. It took much time and affection, but she eventually came around. She’s still spoiled rotten to the core, but we love her that way! And I have never seen anyone obsess over something the way that Annabelle obsesses over my mother. She can’t stand when Mom leaves for work, and won’t even go for a walk without her. Most of her days are spent waiting by the door, awaiting Mom’s return…which is exactly where she is as I write these words.

Now, our dogs aren’t perfect. They still have their quirks, and they are still healing from the lives that they lived before entering this home. Just the other day, we caught Ellie roaming the house with four (yes, four!) bones in her mouth — all Annabelle’s. The poor little dog just had to watch helplessly while all of her bones were taken away from her. Later, though, when Ellie was taken outside, Annabelle got her revenge. She let Ellie keep all of the stolen treasures, but got away with the one bone that she knew was Ellie’s favorite. Then, to add insult to injury, she didn’t eat it. She just carried it around for an entire day, playing with it and showing it off like a prize. If we’re not careful, they’ll eat one another’s food…and sit back watching one another do it, too! They bicker like siblings, but at the end of the day, it’s those two who are cuddled up on top of one another on the couch.

So, as beautiful as this home is, and as much work as my mother has put into it, it’s secondhand charm has nothing on our dogs. They’re clever and feisty and we love everything about them. They both transformed in the years that we’ve had them from scared, unloved creatures into the beautiful family members that we all cherish. I can’t imagine living here without them…and all because the beautiful ladies in my life have hearts filled with abounding love.

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Recipes and Memories from a Happy Independence Day!

Today is the 4th of July! When I was growing up, it was always a big celebration. We would spend the whole day at the pool, then watch the fireworks at night. My mother, I’ve already told you, is an amazing cook. So, our table was always full of wonderful summer salads, meats, and (of course) Texas sheet cake. It wasn’t the 4th of July until my daddy started churning the ice cream. My mom always made peach ice cream, and my daddy would crank it by hand in a White Mountain ice cream maker. My nephews would fight over who was going to sit on top of the maker to hold it in place as the ice cream hardened. As I grew up, they entertained many people every year by the pool in our backyard. It has always been one of my favorite holidays, and I look forward to spending the time with my family every year.

This year, I’m keeping it small, sticking with my husband and two daughters here at home. My daughter, Katie, is a fabulous photographer, and stole the camera while she was napping on the porch and watching the clouds with Ed. My son is in Knoxville this holiday, marching in the parade with Congressman Duncan, one of the many great perks of his internship. I had to work this morning; I got to photograph two adorable babies, which was a great kickstart to the day for me! When I got home, I made an array of food. I felt like my mother. I prepared the potato salad differently this year. I’m so used to making it the “traditional” way, but since I’m on a health kick, I changed it up. The new recipe is just to die for!

I also decided that today, I am going to eat whatever I want. I decided on Sahlen’s hot dogs (all the way from Western New York). What would summer be without them? My husband goes to Buffalo every year to visit his family, and takes an empty cooler with him to fill with all of our Buffalo staples. His first stop is Johnny’s Meats on Hertel Avenue. It is the #1 butcher shop in Western New York, and their homemade Italian sausage is second to none. Ed fills the cooler with pounds of sausage and hot dogs.

Since my husband and I are from two different parts of the country, and we grew up celebrating holidays differently, we have had to learn to mesh our traditions together. So, Buffalo dogs and Oklahoma sweet corn and potato salad. I love living in our nation’s capital during the 4th of July. It makes me feel so patriotic! Below are the recipes for some of the delicious foods that we had in our celebration today. How did you spend the holiday?

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Potato Salad
8 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 in. pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 cup chopped kale
1 zucchini
1 carrot
1 bulb of fennel
1/2 cup light mayo
1 tbsp horseradish mustard (I use Weber’s from Buffalo)
1 tsp garlic, chopped
1/4 cup relish
1/2 tsp dill
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper

Cook the potatoes in water over the stove until almost soft. While potatoes are cooking, chop kale, onions, and fennel. With a box grater, grate your zucchini and carrot (using the thickest grate). Mix vegetables in a medium-sized bowl. In a small bowl, mix the mayo and next 6 ingredients. Once your potatoes have cooked, drain and let cool. Mix into vegetables, then pour the mayo dressing over the mixture. Fold together until well mixed. Chill for 4 hours or overnight.

Corn on the Cob
4 ears of corn
1/2 stick butter
fresh basil
rosemary
thyme
oregano

Melt the butter in a small bowl. Chop the herbs and stir into the butter. Spread over the corn so that each ear is evenly covered. Wrap in foil, and grill for 15 minutes.

Red, White, and Blue Cobbler
4 peaches
1 pint blueberries
3 apricots
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tbsp flour
1 box yellow cake mix
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 stick butter

Pre-heat oven to 350. Peel and cut your peaches and apricots. Mix in a medium bowl with the blueberries. Sprinkle sugar and next 4 ingredients over the fruit. Mix well. Pour into a greased 9×9 pan. In another medium bowl, mix 1 stick melted butter and the cake mix with the hazelnuts until well blended. Spread over the top of the fruit. Cook in pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or until fruit is bubbling over the cake mix. Let cool and enjoy (with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream…Perry’s is the best)!

Making Salmon on a Light-Eating Day

It’s dinnertime, and time to pull out Giada’s Feel Good Food. I have chosen to make grilled salmon and pineapple with avocado dressing (pg. 169) and quinoa pilaf (pg. 116). I didn’t want to go with a rice, potato, or starch because, for me, today is all about clean eating. So, quinoa it is!

I had to hit the grocer for the salmon. Pre-cut, skinless filets the same price as the family-sized, skin-on whole fish. So, I decided to take it home and cut it myself. I had to skin the fish, but I was able to make nine filets, which saved me a total of $27. I rinsed the remaining filets in cold water, dried them with paper towels, and put them in the freezer for another night of delicious Giada salmon. Now, I think it’s really important, albeit a bit more expensive, to purchase fish from the US. I myself buy my salmon from the Atlantic coast or from Alaska; I’m not a fan of farm-raised fish. I firmly believe in buying anything and everything American made (when at all possible), and I especially love to have my meat as fresh and local as I can find.

I paired the salmon and quinoa with a tomato, basil, and balsamic salad because I wanted something raw on the plate. I would have added onions, but my daughter, Katie, is adverse to the taste of raw onions. Had she not been here tonight, there would have been onions all over that delicious salad! Nonetheless, it’s going to be a lovely addition to a wonderful meal!

My vegetarian daughter, Karlie, isn’t going to be having the salmon, so we’re grilling her up a veggy burger instead. I have found that it is nearly impossible to find gluten free veggy burgers, so I always make them myself from scratch. However, to our surprise, we finally had success in our quest for pre-made burgers for nights like this. Trader Joe’s, we learned, carries the best frozen veggy burgers in town, Dr. Praeger’s. They, in our opinion, taste so much like falafel, which we love! Definitely worth a try. I’m sure they’ll go very well with the rest of the meal. I can’t wait until it’s time to eat!

Great Dessert from Giada’s Feel Good Food

Here at home, I have my very own recipe for eggplant lasagna that my family simply drools over. It’s a great dish because it caters to the needs of both my daughter’s vegetarian diet and my gluten intolerance. Everyone here at home is looking forward to the dinner tonight! Since I’m making my own dinner, I had to find the perfect dessert to pair with it! Flipping through Giada’s Feel Good Foods, I found chocolate blueberry brownies on page 246, a recipe inspired after Giada had a visit at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. It was actually my daughter who pointed them out and requested that I bake them for tonight! She is quite the blueberry fiend.

As any baker knows, baking can be quite labor intensive. Giada always says that perfect baking comes from perfect measuring. So, be sure to follow the recipe (exactly)! Perhaps that’s why Rachel Ray doesn’t enjoy baking; I know she’s quite like me and just adds a pinch of this and a dash of that, which isn’t a good baking strategy at all! 

For years, I have been making my own vanilla for my baked goods. It’s as easy as filling up a mason jar! I purchase my dried split vanilla beans at either World Market or The Spice and Tea Exchange (which is my go-to shop for any herbs and spices that I can’t grow here at home). I then let them soak in vodka or bourbon for about six to eight weeks. The vanilla is fresh, preservative free, and just as good as anything that comes from the store! I love it! 

The brownies are in the oven right now, and already beginning to smell delish! My daughter, Katie, and just tasted the batter…quite a treat! It’s definitely as brownie as you can get, and the blueberries and agave add just the right amount of sweetness. I am eager to try one of them out…but first I’m gonna have my favorite lasagna.

A Few Thoughts on Cool Summer Nights and Warm BBQ Chicken

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Tonight I changed a few things from Giada’s cookbook.  Sorry Giada and sorry Giada’s editors.  The recipe that I had chosen to create for this evening was sliced grilled tenderloin and citrus slaw from page 192 in Feel Good Food.  However, I decided to BBQ some chicken instead of the pork tender.  It’s not that I don’t love the juicy succulence of a pork tender; as a matter of fact, it is one of my favorite things! But, I was checking Facebook today and stumbled across Ree Drummond’s BBQ chicken.

Well, it got my mouth watering and my mind wondering.  Ree is from Oklahoma; I am from Oklahoma.  Ree is the wife of a rancher in Oklahoma who happens to be a relative of a good friend of mine.  Isn’t that how it always works?  We all know someone who knows someone.  I call these connections your red threads.  Anyway, Ree got me thinking of my daddy.  He was a farm boy during the depression in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.  He grew up threw the war and went to college, then to med school at The University of Oklahoma.  He became one of Oklahoma City’s finest doctors.  Well, I like to brag and say he is one our countries best doctors, but he would tell me, “Now Molly Sue, you’ve gone too far.”

Not only was he a great doctor, but my daddy makes the best BBQ chicken this side of anywhere. As a matter of fact, the last time he went to visit my sister, she made him make it right there in Spring, Texas! Ree should have a taste of that deliciousness.  She would probably have him on her show! So, with my daddy in mind, I decided that I just had to make that for dinner. Still, I did stick in Giada’s slaw, and it was amazing.  As we took a bite of the chicken we scooped the slaw on the fork and the combination of flavors was a symphony in my mouth.  Giada hit this slaw out of the park. It will now become my go to summer slaw, especially when I hit the grill to BBQ the way my daddy taught me.