Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Full Circle

And so, the trip back to the hometown ended where it began, at the idyllic setting known as Abicht's Landing. Surrounded by friends and family while noshing on fabulous food and taking in one last look at the shimmering lake under a crystalline blue sky. Despite a week that was shaded in grief and tearfulness, light can always be found here...in the bright flavors of smoked prime rib with some requested curry dip (many thanks, M.K.), flavorful grilled vegetables and bread;

...in the gales of laughter and deep hugs with loved ones...

 and from Nature itself, proudly displaying God's bounty in the rolling hills, whispering trees and playful wildlife that abounds at Abicht's Landing.

Thank you, Kaki and JB....while you had much on your own plate, you always made sure mine was filled to overflowing with the hospitality you are ever known for.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Mama Bird's Memories

I've written much about my recent hometown visit and of course, the primary reason for every visit is to see my beloved Mom. My Mom's name is Alberta, but truth be told, I don't think she was ever very content with that name. Her older brother was Albert; the brother she just lost, and as much as she loved Albert, to her, the name just seemed like an afterthought. The name she truly adored was the nickname her siblings gave her: "Bird" or "Birdy".  This name was, thankfully, adopted by her nieces and nephews as they frequently call her "Aunt Birdy" to this day. In fact, when not calling her Mom, I often call her Birdy or "Mama Bird"...I'm actually going to start referring to her as such in future posts. Mom has also long relished having full bird-feeders at the ready, in order to watch birds of all colors flit about her window and I'm not sure if this is coincidence or an actual by-product of this lifelong nickname. 

There are many blessedly familiar aspects to the most recent visits with Mama Bird...that brilliant silvery mane of hers is as vibrant as ever; her head still throws back with laughter and that beautiful, inherited laugh can go on for days; with utter abandon...that these details are intact is like tonic to my soul. Mama Bird's mind continues to fail her, but not quite at the unforgiving rate one would expect of a woman diagnosed with Alzheimer's and I am grateful for that as well, largely because she still knows who I am. That said, her short-term memory is mostly gone and this is particularly difficult in times of loss. In three years, she has lost Dad and all of her surviving siblings, and each loss seems to take with it another chunk of her memories. With the recent tragic loss of her brother Albert and his son Al Jr., I spent a fair portion of the week reminding Mom of their passing and re-telling her how they passed away. I didn't mind doing it for her sake, but its wrenching to have to repeatedly place that stricken, shocked look on her face. Some questioned why I even bothered repeating it to her so much and why I wouldn't just let such painful news fade from her mind. I would answer that its because she needs to know and that she would go on to question why she hadn't heard from Albert in so long otherwise. Albert actually called Mom the day before he died, but she already had forgotten that. When a glimmer of realization hit her that she kept forgetting that Albert died, Mama Bird asked me if I could write it down for her. I did so; writing about when Albert and his son died, when we attended the funeral, who I was and when I was there.

On the last visit of my week, I asked her if she remembered the notes I wrote her and Mom replied that she had and thanked me. I opened her ice cream for her and reminded her that it was there and she needed to eat it before it melted, as it often does, according to the nurses. I ended our visit as I do every visit before I leave.......ever in fear that it will either be the last time I see her or that she will forget who I am.....by telling her she was the best Mom in the world and that I learned so much from her and Dad and that if I could be half the human being they were, then I had succeeded in life and that if I indeed was a success, then it was all due to them. And when I leave on that final day, I always pray to God as I'm walking to the parking lot that if nothing else is retained by her fading memories, please let my words to her linger for as long as possible.

And then I crumble, in tears, in my car. Every time. And then I leave. Again.

I love you, Mama Bird.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Shadow's Smile

There was a time that I was unsure if a dog was truly smiling or if that was just what it looked like when their mouths were open due to the shape of said mouths. That mild quandary was solved after I had met Shadow Pup, the ebony wonder-dog that belonged to my friends Kak and JB. Shadow had a smile that was unmistakable and wielded it often. 

As much as I relished my recent hometown trip, the week was tinged with sadness as well. Aside from the family funeral we attended, I also knew coming in that there would be another troublesome situation: Shadow Pup was ill.  I was staying with Kak and JB for the week and despite having just driven over 13 hours; I arrived with palpable dread of this situation, fearing that Shadow would appear frail and sickly. Imagine my delight and surprise when he came bounding out the front door to greet me, just like always. He had Kak and JB by his side, watching him carefully, and he was favoring his bad leg, but he was as joyful and excited as I'd ever seen him.

That greeting is classic Shadow Pup. Shadow is a dog that I would describe as pure joy. He was happy and playful and had a fierce love for his "people".  He ran and danced excitedly when any car would pull up the driveway and would always run out to greet them. No one, but no one, though, would get as enthusiastic a greeting as would Shadow's beloved "Grampa", Maw Reckard.  It was not hard to figure out why: Maw would always provide treats, then get down on the floor and just love all over him. Shadow loved his Grampa. 

Shadow also loved his beef. Grilling havens that Abicht's Landing and The Greenhouse were, steaks was frequently on the menu and Shadow was in Red Meat Nirvana every time. Oh sure, Shadow had his bowl of traditional dog food, but you think he was going to settle for dry nuggets when those enticing aromas were rising form the grill?  And let's face it, we were all soft touches where Shadow was involved: one look at that cocked jaw and grin and those searching eyes and we were all handing him morsels under the table. In the end, he ate better than most of us did.

We all watched Shadow warily during the week I was in. He struggled with the diseased leg, but while it slowed him down, it rarely stopped him altogether. He limped his way to all of his favorite spots in the house and in the yard. He lingered under the weeping cherry tree, relishing the branches that swayed around him.  He seemed to enjoy it so much, that I crawled under the tree and hung out with him for a bit. I got what the allure was; it was a peaceful little place in busy surroundings...Shadow's secret hideout.

On Saturday night of Alumni weekend, I typically would be helping out the Greenhouse Gang with whatever event they were hosting. This time, I volunteered to hang with Shadow as he was not left alone during these challenging days. We sat outside and I watched him intently. He settled into the grass, but frequently moved around the yard. He moved until he got the best view of everything including The Greenhouse. Shadow would raise his jaw and close his eyes a bit as breezes would blow across him. We watched two ninja rabbits leap over each other and square off like it was some sort of tournament. We watched deer run across the hillside.  Shadow peered at birds as they flitted above his head. Shadow seemed to just want to take it all in.  It was a couple of hours of quiet wonder for both of us and I treasured it. 

Nothing, but nothing eases the agony of losing our fur babies, does it? It is a singular pain like no other. That pain is the price that is paid for every one of them we choose to love, and I have struggled with this personally as I'm not sure I can bear up to that cost; at least as far as being a dog owner. It is clear to me from my dog-loving friends though, that the cost is more than worth it, as the friendship from Man's Best Friend is one so pure and loving, that it is impossible to deny. Look at the friendship Shadow Pup provided to so many. I will miss him greatly.

So as I told Kak on the phone when she called to break the news...I just keep the image of That Ever-Growing Celebration in The Sky so clear and pristine at this point, that it is my shield against the sadness.  Almost instantaneously upon hearing the news of Shadow's passing, I held the image of Shadow and his "sister" Sophie...who was lost to us first some time ago...running and playing in a field. Its an image still crystalline to me at this moment and one I will think of for some time. 

That image also includes that smile...Shadow's unmistakable smile as he runs, without a care in the world, with Sophie.  And now I'm smiling. Run on, Shadow Pup.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Thriving in Marietta

A new eatery opened up in hometown hang Marietta, Ohio, but it was going to have to be something unique to get me to take a break from our beloved Cham's in Parkersburg and its stellar Lebanese cuisine.  I don't get in town as often as I would like, and yes I know, there are many options out there in the Parkersburg/Marietta area and have blogged about many of them; both classic and newer.  But when time is limited, I go with what I know I'll dig, unless I hear about something new and reportedly awesome...as was the case with Thrive Cafe. One look at the online menu and I was sold: Thrive Café was a must-try.

Thrive Café opened in its cozy downtown locale just recently and the raves going up about it rang all the way to me out here in KC. I loved everything I was reading not only from the various thumbs up but what I was reading from their website itself...the downtown charm of Thrive's location, the culinary background of their owners/creators and their dedication to organic, locally sourced food and of course, the description of the menu items themselves. I could not wait to check it out, and upon this last visit, visit it we did.

I took my sister down to meet friends Kristy and Joe and upon entering, was instantly taken by the stylish and colorful décor. The walls were decorated by what I would consider my favorite restaurant décor: works by local artists. The place was bustling and after a bit of time perusing the menu we ordered at the front counter. The wait was not long as my cohorts and I had much to catch up on and it helped that the stylish mix of college students and locals made for great people watching. I sipped on a Thrive tea while waiting and as I am not typically a tea fiend, I wasn't sure if I'd dig it, but indeed, the mix of Chai and green tea was very satisfying. Our food soon arrived, and soon those raves I'd heard previously were all echoing around our table. My sister thoroughly enjoyed her Thrive Harvest Salad with baby greens and artichoke hearts, goat cheese, strawberries, and toasted cashews and had a particular fondness for the roasted strawberry balsamic vinaigrette that accompanied it.  Joe dug his roasted turkey and Swiss sandwich and Kristy loved her salmon BLT with Alaskan keta seared salmon fillet with turkey bacon and herbed yogurt.

I have been a serious quinoa convert of late and I absolutely relished Thrive's quinoa bowl: hearty quinoa with black beans, roasted red peppers, caramelized onion, poblano peppers, cilantro and citrus. So, so good especially with some of that Alaskan keta salmon added to the mix.  We were a table of very happy and content customers after this meal.

Thrive is a thriving catering operation as well as café and also do box lunches to go. They also work with customers with special dietary needs in regards to gluten-free and/or food allergies. Freshness is clearly their goal and it shows in the careful preparation of their food.  How refreshing is that?  Check them out!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Baking Your Day Indeed

I finally got to check out my friend Tim's awesome bakery in Baking Your Day is a new favorite place of mine. My only disappointment was not having enough time to try everything.my hometown of St. Marys, WV and its safe to say that its a new favorite hometown hang.  If only I'd had more time to taste more of those goodies.

I took my sister to lunch there while I was home and there was a young artist painting a logo on the wall at the time. We perused the bake-case laden with sugary and doughy goodness while deciding what to have for lunch. After Tim made some suggestions from the posted lunch menu, I went for the tomato, mozzarella and pesto sandwich on croissant and sis Shirley went for the chicken salad croissant. We both loved the sandwiches; the tomato, mozzarella and pesto is packed with flavor on that flaky croissant and the chicken salad was exactly how I like it: tasty and no-frills. In fact, I came to discover Tim and I are of like mind when it comes to chicken salad: leave it alone; no nuts and/or fruit invited, thank you very much. Baking Your Day runs daily lunch specials including Taco Salads and Philly Cheesesteaks and has a delicious-looking menu of lunch offerings, including soups and salads. I hear the lobster bisque they've featured is way good.

It is one seriously difficult endeavor trying to select which baked good to try out after lunch. I went with one of Tim's personal favorites; the apple fritter. It was sweet, sugary, citrusy goodness and pretty much to die for. Next time I might go for the dark chocolate doughnut or the pecan roll. Alumni weekend was a banner weekend for Baking your Day as they took advantage of the large crowds and showcased some of their highlights. I, unfortunately, didn't make it back in, but Tim told me they were making their version of (red-hot in the baked-good scene) cronuts as well as a very decadent-sounding Apple Fritter French Toast. Either of which you could get a la mode with a scoop of ice cream or caramel or chocolate sauce. Mouth-watering photo of the French toast courtesy of Baking Your Day's Facebook page.....

......Sweet Lord have mercy.  And did I mention Alumni weekend was also the kickoff for their gourmet pizzas which has also been earning raves?  And that they are also serving hand-packed ice cream with flavors like butter pecan and banana split? A one-week visit was just not enough to take in all of their temptations. 

Go see Tim and Co. at Baking Your Day today.  Then go post what you got on your...or their...Facebook page and make me pea-green with envy.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Reception Reminiscing

One of the Alumni happenings I attended was the Alumnus of the Year reception for Mike Webb.  Mike was vice-principal when I was in school and his two kids Joe and Sara are former classmates and longtime friends of mine. Post-crowded parade, it made for a relaxing afternoon shared with many faces and personalities that I hadn't seen in quite some time. 

Kristy accompanied me down and just driving out the Grape Island roadway had the memories hazily humming in my head. There was a fair crowd already when we arrived.  The picnic tables were laden with food and the aromas of smoky meat were wafting from around the corner where Joe was grilling up a storm. I reconnected with many old friends like Dianna and Todd and Don and Julie and then soon realized I had inadvertently ignored some of my former teachers when I walked past them after congratulating Mike.  It was great fun catching up with my former homeroom teacher Mae Lewis and freshman English teacher Janis Yoho. Both of them looked and seemed great and both of them complimented my blog....there is some high praise indeed, my friends. In fact, the reception was certainly an opportunity to enjoy the company of many great ladies, including getting another "prom photo" with the Divine Ms. Dotte White.

The food was seriously yummy and it was a kick to sample some homemade wares from the Webb siblings. Joe smoked some killer wings and some spicy sausage wrapped in pancetta. Sara made some flavorful barbecue beans to accompany the meats and the I loved the hint of apple cider vinegar that came out in them. Sara also whipped up two amazing homemade pies: blackberry and rhubarb and both won raves from everyone. What the what, Webbs...Joe's not only one of my favorite writers with a Blog O' Awesomeness all his own found here but apparently a whiz with the smoker as well and Sara essentially aced both running AND cooking this weekend.  Dang...

  This familiar setting had me thinking about Joe and Sara's Mom Judy, who sadly is no longer with us. When I later got the opportunity to steal a couple of looks in their childhood home where I had plenty of my own memories, the images of those long-ago days just flooded my mind and I could hear Judy's voice in my head so clearly:

...a M*A*S*H finale party where I had to bury my face in a pillow so no one knew what I was doing...

Judy's voice: You sure fooled us with that pillow, Greg.

....a party when we were watching scary movies and our friend Sarah Jane got spooked outside and ran for the patio door only to find it closed....face-first.  I laughed so hard I think I pulled a rib out of place....

Judy's voice: Well, thank goodness Sarah Jane didn't get a concussion, you all really would have thought that hilarious.

...Judy putting out the usual vast and plentiful spread of delicious food and as I was putting a herculean effort into contemplating whether to try something new...rye and/or pumpernickel bread....
Judy's voice: Greg. Just try it. Live a little.

Yes indeed, Judy's voice.  Echoing through my head as I walked around the property. A fantastic wit that woman wielded and it was always backed up by her huge heart. I will never forget when I cajoled my parents into letting me go skiing with my 4-H group, but the trip itself was all we could afford and I didn't own ski clothes, so Judy without being asked, made sure I took Joe's ski suit. Judy was one of those Moms...and there were several...that looked out for all of us whether we were their kids or not. 

Watching Joe and Sara play excellent hosts for their Dad's reception and continue to just be excellent people in general, particularly here in the childhood home that evokes so many memories for all of us, was a gratifying thing indeed. I kept thinking of  Judy watching over them and how she has to be so completely proud of what amazing human beings they have become and from the looks of it, what amazing kids they are raising as well.

And just so you know....rye bread is my favorite bread.