A humorous, optimistic blog about Food, Family, Friends and Faith

The other day, on my Facebook page, I bemoaned my lack of knowledge in contemporary culture, most notably film. It seems that for the past 40 years or so, I’ve missed out on a lot of movies that I should have seen, what with having a career that took me all over the world, and raising a kid, and all that. So I posted the following picture of four movies I had just taken out from the library, along with a request for titles of movies I absolutely must see.

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Holy Smokes! I was not expecting the response. Friends gave me the names of their favorite movies from the past 40 years, as well as some from the Golden Age of Hollywood in the mid-1900s. I collected all the titles in a little spiral notebook. Then some friends asked for a copy of the list. Egads, all that typing!!

So, without further ado, I give you my social life for the next year. I have omitted what I’ve already seen, but if you would like to add to my list, please do! (Also, if I’ve screwed up a name, please let me know so I’m not looking for a movie that doesn’t exist. Thanks!)

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8 Seconds
10
16 Candles
The 40-year-old Virgin
A
The Abyss
The African Queen
American Beauty
An Affair to Remember
As Good As It Gets
B
Bachelor Party
Beaches
A Beautiful Life
A Beautiful Mind
Best in Show
Better Off Dead
Big
The Big Chill
Big Fish
Big Trouble in Little China
The Birdcage
Blaze
The Blind Side
The Bone Collector
Borat
The Book of Eli
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Boyhood
Brave
Braveheart
The Breakfast Club
Bridges of Madison County
Bull Durham
The Burbs
C
Caddyshack
Casablanca
Catch Me If You Can
Chocolat
Clueless
The Count of Monte Cristo
The Cradle Will Rock
Crazy Stupid Love
Crybaby (Johnny Depp)
D
Dead Poets Society
The Devil Wears Prada
Don’t Look Now (we’re being shot at)
Dragonfly
Driving Miss Daisy
The Duff
E
Edward Scissorhands
Elizabeth
Elizabeth I (BBC)
Escape from New York
Event horizon
Ever After
Everything Is Illuminated
F
Fast Times at Ridgemont high
Father of the Bride
A Few Good Men
Field of Dreams
Flight Club
Finding Neverland
Flicka (Tim McGraw)
French Kiss
Friday Night Lights
Fried Green Tomatoes
G
Gandhi
G.I. Jane
The Gift
Goonies
The Great Outdoors
The Green Mile
Grosse Point Blank
H
Hairspray
Harold and Maude
Heart and Soul
Heartburn
High Fidelity
Highlander
The Holiday
Hook
Hope Floats
Howard’s End
The Hunger Games
I
Il Orfanado (Spain)
Indiscreet
Interstellar
Into the West
Invictus
It’s Complicated
J
Jack
Jacobs Ladder
Jerry Maguire
John Q
K
Kung Fury
L
Labor Day
Ladyhawk
Lady Jane
The Lake House
Last Ounce of Courage
The Last Samurai
A League of Their Own
Life Is Beautiful (in Italian)
Like Water for Chocolate
Lonesome Dove
Lord of the Rings
The Lost Boys
Lost in Translation
Love, Actually
Ludwig (Luchino Visconti)
M
Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
The Maltese Falcon
Man on Fire
A Mighty Wind
Million Dollar Baby
The Mirror Has Two Faces
Mona Lisa Smile
Moonrise Kingdom
Moonstruck
Mr. Holland’s Opus
Mrs. Doubtfire
Must Love Dogs
My Sister’s Keeper
Mystic Pizza
N
The Notebook
Notorious
Now Voyager
Now You See Me
O
O Brother, Where Art Thou
On Golden Pond
P
Pan’s Labyrinth
Patch Adams
Pearl Harbor
The Philadelphia Story (Hepburn, grant)
Phoebe in Wonderland
The Piano
Pirates of the Caribbean
Pitch Perfect
Places in the Heart
The Power of One
Predator 1
Predator 2
The Prince of Tides
The Proposal
The Protector
Pursuit of Happyness
Q
R

Rear Window
Rebecca
Red
Red Violin
Remains of the Day
Remember the Titans
The Right Stuff
Road House
S
Saint Elmo’s Fire
Say aAything
Schindler’s List
Scream (all of them)
Secondhand Lions
Se7en
Seven Years in Tibet
Shaun of the Dead
The Shawshank Redemption
Signs
Simon Birch
Sissi (1953)
Six Pack
Sleepless in Seattle
Sleepy Hollow
Slumdog Millionaire
Smokey and the Bandit
Soft Fruit
Something’s Gotta Give
Somewhere in Time
Spaceballs
Steel Magnolias
Suspicion
Sweet Home Alabama
T
Terms of Endearment
Thin Blue Line
The Thing
To Catch a Thief
Trip to Bountiful
The Tudors
U
Uncle Buck
Under the Tuscan Sun
The Usual Suspects
V
The Village
W
A Walk to Remember
The Water Diviner
Wedding Crashers
What about Bob
What Dreams May Come
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
When Harry Met Sally
While You Were Sleeping
White Queen
Willow
The Women
X
Y

You’ve Got Mail
Z

Series/Miniseries
Ashes to Ashes
Blue Blood
Breaking Bad
Gettysburg
House of Cards
Law and Order
Life on Mars
Monarch of the Glen (Netflix)
North and South
Power Watch
Roots

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The cavernous white interior of St. Therese’s church was glowing in the late afternoon sun. He lay at the feet of Jesus in a humble pecan casket lined in white, dressed simply in a long sleeved shirt and black pants. The rosary beads we found at his bedside were in his hands, the Miraculous Medal and wedding ring he had carefully removed before they brought him to the hospital were back on him where they belonged. He will be buried with all three.

When we first stepped into the church, my breath caught in my throat. The only vivid color in the church was the blood red stripes of the American flag draping his casket. The funeral director had waited for us to arrive before carefully folding it back and opening the lid. That was the only moment today that tears filled my eyes, because I was suddenly so proud of him and so proud to be his daughter.

Dad was an Air Force veteran, serving in post-World War 2 Germany as a radio mechanic. Achieving the rank of Staff Sargeant, he received three medals during the course of his service, although we have been unable to find them. He didn’t talk too much about his military service, preferring to downplay his contribution, but he was a proud and responsible American. He voted in every election and was actively involved in the election process. He raised the flag in front of our house every morning, and lowered it every evening. He taught us how to respect it, fold it, store it, and dispose of it. He took us to Washington DC so we knew the capitol was a real place. We had reproduction copies of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence in our house and he made sure we knew who the Founding Fathers were.

Dad would have been proud to know that, on his final trip to the church he loved so much, he would be lying under the flag of a country he loved so much.

Joy in Pain

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“Well, we all like things to be predictable, don’t we? We expect things to be safe and to keep on happening just the way they always have. We expect the sun to rise in the morning. We expect to get up, survive the day and finish up back in bed at the end of it, ready to start all over again the next day. But maybe that’s just a trick we play on ourselves, our way of making life seem ordinary. Because the truth is, life is so extraordinary that for most of the time we can’t bring ourselves to look at it. It’s too bright and it hurts our eyes. The fact of the matter is that nothing is ever certain. But most people never find that out until the ground suddenly disappears from beneath their feet.”
― Steve Voake, The Dreamwalker’s Child

Sunday night I called my Dad from the road. I had stopped for a break somewhere in Missouri, and just wanted to hear his voice. He sounded good. He was still in the hospital, but was fully hydrated, thanks to an IV line. His speech, which had been horribly slurred and difficult to understand, was clear. You could hear in his voice that he was tickled I was almost there, and would be there the next day. We exchanged “I love you”s and hung up.

I was stoked that he was sounding so good, and started imagining all the things we were going to do – playing cards, maybe making a puzzle, sitting and talking about Life, drinking a sip of port or scotch or beer. A sip is about all he could handle – he hadn’t eaten in over a week due to the tumors pressing on his stomach.

Climbing into my car at 3 am, exhausted after the previous day’s 1000 mile drive, I was determined to make the final push to Albuquerque and get Dad out of the hospital and back into his house. I had to pull over and close my eyes a few hours later, but I kept on going.

Then my sister called.

“Bad news…” uh oh

Dad had died in his sleep peacefully around 8:00 am.

I pulled off the highway – well, that’s sort of wrong. I didn’t gracefully put on my blinker and ease to a stop. I slammed on the brakes and swerved to the shoulder, winding up directly under the Exit 40 sign (Elk City, OK, if you’re curious). I put my head on the steering wheel and sobbed big, heaving sobs. Then I texted the only person I could think of, and he called me back immediately and listened to me blubber. I have no idea what I said…

After we hung up, I pushed back the tears, texted a few friends and family to let them know what was happening, and looked at the road. I took a deep breath, sat up straight, blew my nose and wiped my eyes, and pulled back onto the road. I still had 7 hours to go and, damn it all, I was going to get there.

As I drove, I thought about impermanence. I thought about how none of us really knows from minute to minute what lies ahead, and the only thing we can do is be flexible and roll with life, grabbing it by the horns and living it. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, said,

“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”

As that floated through my head, it occurred to me that my suffering was because of MY expectations about the coming weeks, and MY loss and how it affected MY life. I shifted my perspective to think about what his own death meant to Dad.

It meant that he went to see Mom on her birthday (yes, he died on my mom’s birthday).
It meant that she most likely greeted him with huge platters of homemade food and exotic cheeses and fruit and fresh, crusty loaves of bread – a feast to celebrate his arrival. I bet she even made a cheesecake.
It meant that he got to hold my sister Maureen in his arms again for the first time in 40 years. I can only imagine the emotion in that hug.
It meant that he could breathe freely and laugh again.
It meant that he could have a tall, cold German beer.
It meant that he could sit and talk with his mother and father. He never really knew his father, who died when he was only three.
It meant that his pain was gone.

When I started thinking about his death from that perspective, taking myself out of the equation, I became joyful. I cried again, but they were happy tears over the fabulous day he must be having. There were so many good things happening all at once for a man who sacrificed so much of himself here for so many people. How could I be sad?

So, despite my loss, I choose to rejoice over the fact that I had this lion of a man in my life for 51 years. I rejoice that he was my father, and taught me through his actions about honesty, integrity, morality, compassion, and love. I rejoice that I was privileged enough to witness his passionate focus, his sacrifices for his family, his determination, and his ability to overcome heartbreak. I rejoice to know he is walking somewhere, fingers intertwined with my mother’s, whistling as he goes.

Sleep well, Dad. See you in about 40 years…

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back.” – Paul Coehlo

dadster

When I made the decision to spend time with Dad as he transitions from this life to the next, I was not prepared for the speed at which his illness would progress. News of his diagnosis came this past Tuesday, and I felt that getting there on April 13th would be soon enough. That gave me time to put my belongings in storage and get to Albuquerque. After talking to his parish priest on Thursday, who told me how weak Dad was, I moved up my departure to Sunday (Easter). This morning I got a text from the deacon who checks on him every day. Yesterday he was hospitalized because he was unable to get out of bed. Depending on who you talk to, he was either unconscious or sleeping when the deacon arrived. So he was brought to hospital next door where he refused medication of any kind.

Stubborn Irishman…

He is on IV fluids, and will not be released until Hospice care has been arranged and there is someone in the house with him all the time. He is frustrated that he is not home, and I am frustrated that I am not there yet.

This morning I went to the bank to let them know that I was relocating temporarily to New Mexico until Dad’s illness had concluded. Silly me forgot that one of the assistant managers is a former student and Facebook friend of mine. She came out and said everything would be taken care of and I just had to let her know when I got back. Then she hugged me and told me to take care. It was all I could do not to burst into tears right there in the bank. I choked out, “It’ll be alright, right?” and she responded quietly, “Yes.”

There has been such an outpouring of support for my sister and I over the past week. My heart is full of the love and compassion that have been directed toward us. I know that, as difficult as the coming weeks may be, I am not alone; there are hundreds of hands holding me up when I feel like falling. It is in those moments, when I am at my most raw and unprotected, I know that I am catching a rare glimpse of the divine in my friends and family. Each smile, each kind word, each hug, and each look of concern are windows to the Sacred and give me untold courage and strength.

Thank you. Just thank you.

The Decision

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” – Pema Chödrön

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My dad has cancer. There, I said it. He doesn’t just have some small, localized, fixable cancer. He has the kind that spread all over his internal organs, insidiously invading his whole body. There are tumors hanging on his insides like ripe fruit on a tree, but this fruit can’t be picked. There’s no way to operate and remove his cancer. It dangles, tauntingly, putrefying on the branch, destroying everything it touches.

So we have begun a waiting game. He, waiting for the inevitable reunion with my mother, my sister Maureen and his next adventure in a place unknown to us. Me and my sister Kat, waiting for the inevitability of losing a man whose presence has always been steady and unfailing.

The writer Jane Green, in her book The Beach House, said, “Nothing in this world happens without a reason. That we are all exactly where we are supposed to be, and then the pieces of the puzzle have a tendency to come together when you least expect it.”

There is truth here. Decisions made by a family member living close to my father, the breakdown of my marriage, the independence of my daughter, a contractual obligation that I move out of my apartment by the end of June, are all pieces of my puzzle that, when completed, reveal a perfectly clear picture of what I need to do in response to my father’s diagnosis. I will be moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the duration of his illness, which according to the doctors is expected to be between three weeks and three months. I will be vacating my apartment, putting my belongings in storage, and hitting the road with only the desire to make my father’s last weeks on this earth joy filled and loving.

This was a remarkably easy decision to make. There is, despite my poor skills at keeping in touch, nothing more important to me than my family and friends. I routinely forget to send birthday cards, frequently forget to update my family on changes in my life, and don’t have the best track record for staying in touch. However, that just means I’m a poor communicator, not that I love any of them with any less than my full heart.

It is my hope that this blog will afford me an outlet. It is a chance to chronicle my father’s journey as well as my own journey toward becoming a more whole, compassionate human being. I would like to talk about the lessons I learn, the things my father teaches me, and small moments of each day. I would like to share the joyful and loving moments, and the moments of heartbreak as well. I will share his humor, his stories, and reveal the lion among men that he is. My father has lived an extraordinary life, one that is part of a lineage that has its roots in Ireland’s County Roscommon. I am honored to have the opportunity to share the end of his life with him.

This is going to be a fairly raw journey, to pretend otherwise would be to lie. I have to remember, however, that there is still much joy to be had in my father’s life. There is still much living to be done, and so I will help his failing body accomplish what his strong soul still reaches for… And Life goes on.

“Before us great Death stands
Our fate held close within his quiet hands.
When with proud joy we lift Life’s red wine
To drink deep of the mystic shining cup
And ecstasy through all our being leaps—
Death bows his head and weeps.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Love

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“As if you were on fire from within. The moon lives in the lining of your skin.” ― Pablo Neruda

I love you. Three small words that are misunderstood and misused. I say them frequently to friends and family, but I know they are received through a filter, so I wanted to clarify what those three words mean to me.

  • I love you means I accept you for the person you are, as you are, where you are. I expect nothing from you except authenticity.
  • I love you means that I respect your hopes, dreams, and ambition, and will help you achieve what you want to achieve.
  • I love you means that, while I may disagree with your political or religious views, I will go to the mat for your right to hold and express them.
  • I love you means your secrets are safe with me. All of them.
  • I love you means I hope you know I will always be a safe place to land.
  • I love you means I will stop what I am doing to listen to you, because this may be the last opportunity I have to do so.
  • I love you means when you ache, I ache. When you weep, I weep. When you laugh, I laugh.
  • I love you means I embrace your flawed soul and am humbled to witness your goodness, as it inspires me to be better.
  • I love you means I will be your strength when you are weak, your sight when you are blind, and your voice when yours has fled.
  • I love you means that I honor you for bringing joy to my life, for opening my eyes to Life’s mysteries, for showing me how to be fully alive.
  • I love… You!

Namaste. Happy New Year 2015.

 

“Savannah is amazing with the town squares and the hanging moss and the French Colonial houses. It’s brutally romantic.” – David Morrissey

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River Street, Savannah, GA

Last summer, I went on vacation to visit friends and family up and down the east coast. My southernmost stop was Savannah, GA, a city that was totally new to me. I fell completely and totally in love with this city, from her oppressively humid nights redolent with the smells of salt marsh and flowers to her gracious inhabitants. I also fell in love with southern food.

A friend called me up one morning at 7:00 and asked me to meet him for breakfast. He was just getting off his shift at the firehouse and wanted to eat before he headed home. So we met at a restaurant on River Street (pictured above) and sat at the worn wooden bar. He ordered a Bloody Mary and we got two plates of shrimp and grits. It was the one dish that I had on my “must try” list, and if breakfast was a good time to have it, I was game. When I put the first forkful of warm, creamy, cheesy grits into my mouth, I thought I might swoon. It was the ultimate comfort food, and exceeded all my expectations. I couldn’t get enough! I remember giving him some of my shrimp, because the meal became all about the grits for me.

Since returning home, I’ve tried recreating that unbelievable plate of grits. I’m not there yet (I suspect they used some shrimp stock in theirs), but this is a passable version. There are a lot of recipes that call for using milk instead of water, but I don’t love it that way – it’s too creamy. If you want to go that route, start with half milk (unsweetened almond milk) and half stock and adjust to taste from there. I’ve added chopped spinach, which is completely optional. Let the grits cool in a mold for slicing and sauteing or add a little extra water for a softer version.

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Cheesy Spinach Grits

serves 4 as a side dish

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tsp. Better than Bouillon vegetable bouillon paste
  • 1/2 cup white grits, not instant
  • 1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 3/4 – 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (use Daiya if going vegan)
  • a palmful of parmesan or vegan parmesan cheese
  1. In a medium sized saucepan, bring water and bouillon paste to a boil over high heat. Whisk in grits, reduce heat to low, and cover.
  2. Cook 12 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent lumps. Uncover and add cheeses and spinach, stirring to incorporate well.
  3. Taste for seasoning, adding salt if desired (I found the salt in the bouillon was adequate). Pour into molds and chill or eat right away.
  4. To reheat, cut cakes out of the molded cold grits. Melt Earth Balance or butter in a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add a teaspoon or so of oil. Add grit cakes and fry until golden brown and warm.

These are good any time of day or night.

As always, comments are welcome!

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