Spinach Salad with Chicken

In small town rural Texas people don’t go out much to eat. It’s not like Houston where 20 percent or more of your monthly income goes to restaurants and fancy takeout places.

Navasota has the Classic Rock Café, Mallett Barbecue, several Mexican restaurants, a couple of drive-in places and of course, Dairy Queen.   Oh, and there is a very nice tea room where the Robert Raines chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Navasota Garden Club convene for occasional luncheons.

But mostly, people eat at home.

With summer coming on, I thought I’d share my favorite recipe for a scrumptious, yet amazingly easy meal at home:

Spinach Salad with Chicken

2 cups Spinach

1 cup Chicken (cooked)

1/2 cup Blueberries

1 cup Strawberries (sliced)

1/3 Slivered almonds

Brianna’s Dijon Honey Mustard (to taste)

Mix together the first 5 ingredients. Pour honey mustard dressing in a small bowl and let each person spoon on the amount desired. (You may make your own honey mustard dressing, but I promise everyone—including you—will rave about the Brianna brand.)

You can enjoy this for lunch or dinner and pair it with a nice Texas wine or home brewed iced tea, depending on your mood.

Now a word of warning: some of you will take this recipe and add your own personality to it. Some will substitute almonds with pecans; you might add sliced avocado, boiled and sliced eggs, orange or tangerine segments, raspberries and blackberries instead of strawberries and blueberries, or a good feta cheese instead of chicken. That’s fine. Do it. With a flair. But don’t tell anyone you got the recipe from me unless you follow my directions precisely. Just sayin’.

 

 

I’m baaaack

Joyce beating breast cancer

Joyce beating breast cancer.

Where have I been?

Short answer: Battling breast cancer.

But, of course, there is no short answer when a doctor says the words ‘cancer’ and ‘your name’, twisted together, in present tense.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Both my maternal grandmother and mother were diagnosed and survived. No, I wasn’t surprised, but I was scared. Traumatized. This was not a club in which I wanted membership.

My husband lost his former wife of 30+ years to cancer. She had melanoma and the skin cancer took a year to take her down. He assured me that we would battle this disease together and that we would win, just as my grandmother and mother had won. I did not realize, until the treatments were over, how stunned Ron was by the diagnosis. Only recently has he admitted that he worried God might be so cruel as to tear two wives from him through this illness. He hid his anxiety from me and took over as caretaker, advocate, and saint-in-the-making.

A team of doctors—surgeon, radiologist and oncologist—took over and laid out the treatment plan for me. I did not read up on the disease or ask too many questions. I put on a cheerful veneer, conjured a false bravado, and followed protocol. Diagnosed last summer, I had surgery in August, began several months of chemo, followed by daily radiation for five weeks. It’s been a tiring journey, but the doctor and nurses were gentle and caring and I am on the other side and back into the fullness of life. My hair is even growing out into a sassy Katy Perry spiked pixie.

Unlike Natalie Goldberg, I did not journal my way through this part of my journey. I’d say I’m ashamed, as a writing workshop leader and memoirist, that I did not chronicle my experience. But I’m not. I believe we have to honor our unique ways of facing adversity, or we lose our authenticity and integrity. I chose to go into my cave, pulling my husband inside to hold me in the darkness, and to assure everyone that I was doing well, no worries. Truth is, there were worries, but I pushed them aside and let that strong women inside me whom I call Herself to rise up and take care of business. Now, I can take time to reflect on the seriousness of my disease. And immerse myself in gratitude. Literally wallow in it.

Camping out in the ’50s

When I was growing up, the mother of my classmate Nancy Gay Hall was our scout troop leader, and she worked hard to make sure we had good scouting experiences.  I remember well the time Mrs. Hall  took us to the family’s lake house for my one and only camp out.  Girl Scout Troop 15 (Huntsville, TX) camped outside in sleeping bags under the stars while the adult chaperones retreated to the luxuries of the lake house and comfortable beds.

Before bedtime, however, we learned how to cook our supper in a coffee can.

Yes, that’s right.

Under the adults’ watchful supervision, we built a fire and then Mrs. Hall divvied ingredients. We’d been told to bring an empty coffee can, but I’d forgotten mine. My best friend Margaret Prentice’s mom graciously gave me hers. Margaret was fine with this… until the meals were “done.”

Our cooking pots were filled with of ground hamburger patties, chopped carrots, sliced onions, and chunks of potatoes and sealed with aluminum foil. We placed them directly into the fire, screaming excitedly as girls do, while Mrs. Hall and Mrs. Prentice warned us repeatedly, “Be careful. Don’t get burned.” I imagine we looked like little witches circling the fire and asking every five minutes, “Is it done yet? Can we eat now?” We asked at least nine times, maybe twelve before Mrs. Hall gave the go-ahead along with stern admonishes to avoid scorching our fingers when we peeled back the heated aluminum covering.

Margaret remembers how badly her food burned in its can–it was absolutely inedible while my dinner cooked in her mother’s can was “perfectly cooked.” She still recalls how she wanted to claim her mother’s can and its contents. She didn’t, of course, but she was not a happy camper at that point. Thankfully, Margaret was able to fill her hungry tummy with dessert.

The dessert was amazing!

Mrs. Hall laid out graham crackers, marshmallows, and Hershey’s chocolate on the family picnic table, and we broke off chocolate squares to fit our graham crackers. Then, we placed marshmallows on the ends of twisted coat hangers and stuck them in the fire. Mrs. Hall warned us: “Don’t poke out an eye.”

Some of the girls worked hard at getting their marshmallows a perfect golden brown, but most of us let the marshmallows catch fire and burn brightly till the outsides were blackened ash covering a sweet sticky center. (Occasionally, a marshmallow slipped off the hanger and splatted on the ground and we had to start all over.)

We placed the hot marshmallows on our chocolate and smashed down another cracker atop the concoction to make S’mores.  After a couple of gooey cookies, Margaret forgot about the main course, and our friendship survived.

Although I’ve never replicated the coffee can meal, I’ve made S’mores over and over and over again. This may have been the evening I became hopelessly addicted to chocolate.

I recently read there are 2.6 million Girl Scouts today and that in celebration of its 100 years of selling cookies, the organization is introducing new Girl Scout S’mores in select markets during the 2017 campaign. Well, let me say this, they can combine, refine, and tweak all they want, they will never replicate the amazing flavor (and experience) of the S’mores we made on that cookout back in the day.

Re-framing my life story

I attended an amazing LifeLines Retreat last weekend, sponsored by Story Circle Network. We met in the Texas Hill Country in historic Fredericksburg. The retreat was facilitated by Jeanne Guy, an extraordinary woman, who gave the participants permission to dig deeply and become vulnerable because she modeled that openness for us.

Jeanne is a reflective-writing coach who is absolutely masterful at creating a safe place for people to look at the story they’re telling themselves and “re-story” it… that is, reframe the way they see themselves so they can live more authentically. You may think that’s too new age-y for your blood, but I can assure you, it is not.

For me, the weekend was about being honest about the life I want as a creative person. I will admit to you, being honest meant finding the courage to face facts: my roadblocks are built by my own doing. Period. I felt guilty to admit that I put myself last on my list… that I do not take care of myself and as a result, I have some rather serious health issues that are sucking the life from me. It’s humiliating to publicly make such an admission, but the good news is that I can change the direction of this tragic self-sabotaging story.

And I am.

The weekend was life changing. I faced the barriers that throw up roadblocks to my writing.  I met an astounding group of like-minded, courageous women from Ohio, Texas, and states in-between. We shared deeply about the pain of being drained dry, stuck, frustrated, and fearful. We left with renewed energy and the confidence live our creative lives fully… with more joie de vivre and less fear.

Deeply listening with my heart’s ear to other women gave me the willingness to dig deeply into my own story and change its trajectory.  I no longer trapped by my past “bad” choices. I have created a turning point in my story, and I’m headed in a joyful, intentional,  life-affirming direction.

Thank you, Jeanne. And thank you, Marsha, Trish, Linda (both of you), Veronica, Jenn, Laurie, Ann, Hope, Suzanne, Allison… You are truly Wonder(ful) Women.

 

The scent of a mother

My mother had a delicious smell about her. Throughout my childhood, I climbed in her lap and nuzzled my face in her neck, drew back, smiled, and purred. “Mmmmmmm, you smell just like a mommy. Mommy.”

As I grew into the rebellious age of any number ending in teen, I seldom complimented my mother. Every once in a while, though, I’d feel the old pull of childhood.

I remember when I was in high school and the family would be gathered around our black and white television set watching Miss Loretta Young swirl into our living room. She was so lovely. Probably the most beautiful woman most folks saw. But Mother was prettier. Honest to God.

In those days my mother had long, glossy hair curled on the ends, ebony eyes, high cheekbones, and crimson lips. While three children strained the family budget and made it impossible for her to have the glamours wardrobe Miss Young had, Mother wore big gathered skirts, nipped at her tiny waist, and I saw her swirl them for my daddy.

My mother was as beautiful as any movie star and in fact, she could seem as aloof, though I didn’t know that word back then and could not have described that way. I adored her, but sometimes I felt like I lived in the shadow of an exotic beauty queen instead of with a regular everyday mother. Anyway, it was on nights such as thesewatching television, when I’d give in to the urge, snuggle next to her and murmur, “You smell just like a mommy.”

Mother thought it was her face powder that gave her that sweet mommy smell, but years after she stopped going to Foley’s Department Store in downtown Houston for her custom blend of makeup, she still had that distinctive scent. The warm, loving scent of a mommy. There are many days, like today, when I miss her so much. But all I have to do is close my eyes and breathe deeply. Her scent lingers in my heart.