We Are Not Defeated

“The sea is not less beautiful in our eyes because we know that sometimes ships are wrecked by it.”  Simone Weil

I enjoy walking barefoot on the seashore. There is something soothing, peaceful about the rhythm of the ocean’s waves. The seagulls and sandpipers dance above and in front of me. I look out over the great expanse of the ocean and marvel at this beautiful, awesome planet I live on. I see the beauty of it. I don’t snap photos with my iPhone. The photos will never do justice to the emotions I feel as I enjoy the scene. I know, at the same time, this peaceful place can turn its back on me and swamp me with high, crashing waves. I’ve seen the videos of the destruction and damage it can cause when its power is unleashed. We have not yet learned how to tame the oceans. It laughs at our puny efforts. All we can do is wait out the fury, knowing it will once again return to its peaceful place. And we can once again walk on its shores enjoying its beauty.

We have not yet learned how to tame the oceans. It laughs at our puny efforts. All we can do is wait out the fury, knowing it will once again return to its peaceful place. And we can once again walk on its shores enjoying its beauty.

It’s the same way with life. We find ourselves in a peaceful space and want to remain in that place for the rest of our lives. It doesn’t work that way. Life’s storms thrash us and knock us down. We are not defeated nor are we destroyed by life’s storms. We know the storms will end and we once again will find our peaceful space.

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Ray’s Recipe for One: The Dark Secrets of the Salmon Slider

A tabloid headline. Dark secrets. Maybe they’ll publish my blog at the grocery checkout next to the other tabloids. Did you hear broccoli is splitting with red kale? Broccoli has now taken up with asparagus. Go figure. My prediction it won’t last. Besides, asparagus is too good for him (switch the gender thing around if you prefer). It doesn’t matter, it’s not a dream match.

Enough of the tabloid news. I don’t want the paparazzi hanging around my front door. The HOA has strict rules against that kind of behavior.  Then again, my HOA has strict rules against everything.

Pop quiz: What’s the key ingredient for a salmon slider?

Did I hear you say salmon? You did your homework last night. Go to the front of the class. I use salmon with an attitude. That’s right, salmon needs an attitude. How do you pick salmon with an attitude?  It’s free spirited salmon. It’s wild salmon. I like wild salmon from Alaska. When I get my wild, Alaskan salmon, I can almost hear it say, “I’m going to give you a healthy heart. That’s my job.”

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If you’re wondering what the yellow stuff is on the plate with the salmon, it’s EVOO. I put my salmon filet in EVOO and make it double, not make that triple healthy. My heart is doing backflips and I feel like hitting the balance beam after I do my floor exercises. Score me a perfect 10, por favor.

I live in San Antonio. Guacamole goes with everything. I even rub it under my arms when I go out. Only kidding, I don’t want the Guac Squad knocking at the door. How hard is it to make Guac (Guac is guacamole’s nickname). It’s not. The hardest thing is picking the right avocado, that’s a crap shoot. Pick firm, but not too firm (lot of help, right? NOT). Mash up the avocado, add a bit of lemon juice. I add crushed red pepper and it’s ready. Be creative.

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Here’s the deal with a salmon slider. First, onions, a poblano, toss in a jalapeno and a bit of rosemary all in my already heated on high pan. The EVOO is sizzling, BAM, the mix starts sizzling right away. I keep an eye on it. Make that two eyes on it. I have Spotify playing in the background. George Strait is trying to make it to Amarillo by morning.

When the veggies are about ninety percent done, I turn the heat down to medium and add the salmon. I put the cover on the pan, check Twitter, post a photo to Instagram, and check my text messages. Time to flip the salmon, cover the done side with the veggies. Five minutes later, it’s ready for plating.

Man oh man, it doesn’t get any better. You’re going to love it. Your heart will too.

It’s All Good

“You sanctify whatever you are grateful for.” Anthony DeMello

It’s easy to be grateful when the sun is shining, I’m feeling good, everything is going my way, and each card I turn up is a winner. Why shouldn’t I feel grateful, I deserve it? Or, so I think.

Then life happens. I’m walking across a personal desert. The sun, which I once praised, is now threatening me with its scorching heat. My strength ebbs. I can’t turn a winning card. Grateful? Grateful for what? Or, so I think.

Sorrow and suffering taught me important lessons. I learned to be grateful for all that was. I am grateful for all that is. I will be grateful for all that comes my way. Each morning and evening I recall events with a grateful heart.

A good cup of coffee. Safe shelter. Friends. Neighbors. Daughters. A beautiful sunrise or sunset. A good workout. A chance to pray. The birds that visit the feeder. The ripe cherry tomatoes. The red roses, rosemary, and basil that grow in my garden. The warm sun, or rain. A text, email, or call from family or friends. The list goes on.

It’s all gift. When I receive a gift from someone, I send a thank you note. In like manner, I give thanks to my loving God for all. It’s all good.

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Wrestling With 2 A.M. Thoughts

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.” ~ Mark Twain

Have you ever gone to bed, fallen quickly to sleep, only to awaken a few hours later with your mind running a hundred miles an hour? I have and it’s not fun. I have gremlins running on the treadmills of my mind. I’ll turn this way and that way. When that doesn’t work, I go for a sure-fire solution, I’ll flip my pillow over to get the cold side. Twenty minutes later, there is no cold side. I’m tempted to stick my pillow in the freezer for ten minutes. If the gremlins could eat, I’d get up and make them an omelet. I’d serve it with toast and coffee. I know it’s only wishful thinking. The gremlins must think they’re at a firing range because they’re shooting one thought after another at me in rapid succession. I wish I could follow Mark Twain’s advice. I’d toss a rope around the gremlins and drag them out and leave them homeless at the curb.

It’s not that easy. I wish it were. Here’s a mind trick I use and it often works. Perhaps it will work for you. It’s worth a try when the gremlins decide to fiesta at two a.m. Here’s what I do, I no longer wrestle with the gremlins. They didn’t RSVP. They didn’t reserve a room. They came uninvited. I have no idea when they’ll leave. I literally tell them (please don’t think I’m losing it), “I see you’re back. There’s food in the fridge. Use Netflix or Amazon, keep it down, please. And, oh, by the way, don’t let the door hit you in the butt when you leave.” I turn on my side (I’m a side sleeper) and let the gremlins have at it. I let the thoughts go where they want to go, I don’t engage with them. Then sleep happens. I usually go into a deep sleep. During my sleep, my visitors quietly leave and didn’t let the door hit them in the butt.

 

Thoughts are thoughts are thoughts. We all have them. I’ll give them a break, perhaps my subconscious is dumping them out of my mind and I’ll be in a healthier space in morning.

Sometimes it doesn’t work for me. In those nights I quietly say and visualize Psalm 23. I’m not one to memorize lots of things, but this Psalm is worth the effort.

Here’s hoping you have a great night’s sleep.

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd;

there is nothing I lack.

2 In green pastures he makes me lie down;

to still waters he leads me;

3 He restores my soul.

He guides me along right paths

for the sake of his name.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,c

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;

your rod and your staff comfort me.

5 You set a table before me

in front of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

6 Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me

all the days of my life;

I will dwell in the house of the LORD

 

 

for endless days.

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The Way of Love

I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Camelot, Camelot
That’s how conditions are.
The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there’s simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot. ~ Words from the song Camelot

IIf life matched the lyrics from the song Camelot,  a frown would never appear on my face. My heart would always sing a love song. My eyes would always sparkle and see only the happy faces of lovers and carefree children. Pain and suffering would no longer be words. I would be in love and loved each moment of the day. My feet would never quite touch the ground, I’d be in Camelot.

At times, I’ve known Camelot. The minutes I spent with Babe. The laughs we shared. We had a dance, a beautiful dance. If there was pain and I’m sure there was, I don’t remember. It’s that way in Camelot. Camelot erases the nonsense and leaves only love.

I can’t go back to Camelot. I can go on. If you share a similar journey with me. We have to go on. We have no choice. It is the only way through. Who knows, one day, we may wake up and pull open the blinds and marvel, for we are again in Camelot. It’s the way of love. Love has its own mysterious ways of healing, renewing and recreating.

Love is waiting.

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Ray’s Recipe for one: Mom’s Secret Bean Soup

I grew up in an Italian family surrounded by other Italian families, it wasn’t Italy. It wasn’t near Italy. If garlic is a spring fragrance, it was always spring.  No one ever complained about bad breath – because we all had bad breath if you think garlic breath is offensive.

Every meal my mom cooked began with a base of garlic and onions sautéed in EVOO. It was the base for sauce, stuffing for the Thanksgiving turkey, and of course the family staple, meatballs.

My mom was not one to share recipes. She guarded her recipes like the government guards Fort Knox. Why am I sharing this segment of my life story with you? God only knows. Maybe I ate one too many pistachios at lunch. Hey, it’s my weird sense of humor.I’m going to show you how to make my mom’s healthy Pasta

Enough of my digressing. I’m going to show you how to make my mom’s healthy Pasta Fagoli, AKA Italian bean soup. Well, sort of, because she never shared the recipe. I am going on memory. She never wrote it down, it was a little of this, a little of that, a pinch here and a pinch there until it tasted the way she wanted it to taste. Once here taste buds sent the signal that it was perfect, we could sneak spoonfuls of soup from the big pot. I may not get her recipe right but the bean soup I make is awesome. My statement is based on reviews, don’t believe me? Check out Google or Yelp. Please don’t. I admit I’m the reviewer. But, I liked it so much I ate four bowls.

First things first – use garlic at your own peril – I’m still working off my garlic overload from childhood.

Essential tools: Slow cooker, slow cooker liner, can of kidney beans, red wine, and a box of crushed tomatoes.

I buy the low sodium kidney beans, don’t panic. If you prefer high blood pressure, pour in the salt to taste. The first task, line the slow cooker. I’m not lazy, I just don’t like cleaning a slow cooker after dinner. I open the can of beans. I use an electric can opener. I save my energy for the gym. I pour the can of beans into the slow cooker, sans top. What can be more fun than that? Don’t answer. I empty the box of crushed tomatoes on top of the beans – let’s party. Is it Cinco de Mayo yet? We need some liquid – I put two cups of low sodium chicken broth in the cooker.

I empty the box of crushed tomatoes on top of the beans – let’s party. Is it Cinco de Mayo yet? We need some liquid – I put two cups of low sodium chicken broth in the cooker.  Notice the low sodium theme? Time for vino – No, we’re not going to go to a wine tasting event. I take out the cork of my inexpensive, yet tasty Merlot, tilt the bottle and make the tomatoes, beans, and broth happy. How much wine you ask? I don’t measure, so I’ll say a good splash. I sprinkle crushed red pepper on the mix, and a shake or two of Italian seasonings. I turn the cooker on and set it for 8 hours. I’m going to leave it alone for tour hour. Before I take off, I scoot to the herb garden and harvest rosemary and basil. The plant to the left is basil. The plant to the right is rosemary.

I’m going to leave it alone for four hours. Time flies when you’re having fun. The four hours are up. It’s time to kick it up a notch. I cut up a poblano and jalapeno (mom would approve – I live in San Antonio – When in San Antonio, do as the San Antonians do). Add onion, a red pepper, yellow pepper and put the top on. One hour before I eat, I’ll add a bit of chopped kale and a third cup of pasta (it’s not bean soup without pasta). IMG_6502.jpg

A half hour before the soup is done, it’s fragrance is making my stomach scream for a taste – I give in to quiet it down. Oh man, it is good. Time to grate the Parmigiano Reggiano.

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Thanks Mom. I love this soup.

Drenched in Love

Where is the door to God?

In the sound of a barking dog,

In the ring of a hammer,

In a drop of rain,

In the face of

Everyone

I see. ~ Hafiz

Those who grieve know grieving is not easy. It’s more like drowning and knowing you have to learn to breathe underwater if you are to survive.

It’s been nine months since Babe died. I am blessed. Each day God’s love drenches me, soaks me through and through. I receive it from the people I exercise with at the Y. I receive it from the checkout clerks at the market. I receive it from the barista at the coffee shops.I receive it from the people I worship with.I receive it from the people I follow on Twitter. I see it in the mockingbirds who sing to me each morning, and the cardinals who sing to me in the evening. It is everywhere, I can’t escape it, nor do I want to escape it. I am no longer sad. Gratitude fills my heart for the life Babe and I shared. It was all grace and gift at the same time. God’s love has taught me how to breathe underwater and I am happy.

I walk into today with arms wide open to receive and share the love heading my way.

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Life Grabs Hold Of Me

“Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.” ~ Lin Yutang

Life has a way of grabbing hold of me, tossing me in the air, and daring me to land on my feet. I get out of bed, filled with great intentions and goals for the day, then boom, life literally knocks at the door. A neighbor stops by and asks to borrow lawn chairs. I didn’t have time to save my work on the computer, I silently pray there will be no power surge or my Mac decides to freeze. I help my neighbor carry the chairs to his garage. I get back on task, the cell rings.  I see by the caller ID I need to take the call. I hit command s, save my work. I take the call. A friend says, “Can we have coffee in an hour, I need some advice? I push my morning workout to the afternoon. Coffee with my friend takes an hour and a half. I get home in time to make a light lunch. I want my workout. I offer a silent prayer, “Please God, no more interruptions.” Sometimes, I think the angels must laugh and laugh at me. A daughter calls and wants to FaceTime. What’s a dad to do? I happily FaceTime. After our call, I check the time, I can squeeze in a workout. I hurry to Y. Do I hear the angels laughing again? I hit three school zones with the orange lights flashing. I get to the Y.  I hit it hard. On the way out, Jerry, an eighty-something-year-old man calls me over and starts talking. I’ve heard these stories before. I see he needs to talk. I listen as if they are the first time I’ve heard them. This is becoming my typical day.

In the early evening, I sit on the patio and gaze into the sacred space Babe and I created. It is time to pray. I quiet my mind. In a moment of grace, I realize I accomplished none of what I wanted to accomplish, but everything I had to accomplish. Sometimes, you have to let the wind fill your sails and take you where it wants to take you.

I helped a neighbor.

I had coffee with and listened to a friend.

I FaceTimed with my daughters.

I drove safely through the school zones.

I thank God for the grace of letting my business go and embracing His business.

RSVP for a Joy-Filled Place

This past weekend, one of my daughters and her two girls visited me. Here I am a guy dancing alone, getting into a rhythm of living alone and having my life disrupted. What I eat, when I eat, what I do and when I do it, all disrupted. What a glorious disruption! I wouldn’t trade it.

I played with the girls. We went to the zoo. We went to the pastry counter at HEB’s Central Market. The girls took me out of my game. We all went walking on nature trails. We went out for Tex-Mex. Every moment was joy-filled. I thought often of Babe and how easily she moved out of her game and joined in with whoever was in her presence. I am grateful I followed her example. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!

It’s a good thing to be taken out of my game. I’ve learned the world doesn’t revolve around my game. I’m on this wonderful planet for the ride. I want to make it a joyful and joy-filled ride. Joy is a shared event. Other people need to be involved. It’s a funny thing, we feed each other’s joy when we are invited into their space.

This week, I will extend an open invitation to all who want to enter my space and share my joy with me. I will also readily accept any RSVP to enter a joy-filled space with another. I think I’ll start passing out the smiles, eye sparkles, and hugs.

Three Cheers for Joy

Ray’s Recipe for One: Tofu Tacos

Help, I am being held prisoner by vegans. They’re being nice to me, but I like my Greek yogurt. I like an occasional piece of chicken. I’ll even make a roll-up with Boar’s Head no salt added turkey. The vegans told me it is an intervention for my own good. Oh mercy, mercy. I have to eat broccoli, edema, kale, Brussel sprouts (ugh!), quinoa, and beans. Need I go on. Don’t get me wrong, I like broccoli, kale, quinoa, and beans. But life is more than that.

They promised to let me go if I promised to make tofu tacos. Hey, I live in San Antonio. A tofu taco? I’ll have a taco cartel on my case. And, rightly so. The vegans said it would be healthy, full of protein, and taste great. I’m not one to quibble. I agreed to make the dish and report it on my blog. You should have heard the cheering. They quickly cut the seaweed bonds from my hands, gave me a drink of champagne, or should I say wheat grass (where’s the Listerine, por favor). We had a group hug. They made me promise to take the tofu tacos to one of their vegan potluck dinners.

Here are a couple of tofu tips for carnivores: 1) You won’t find tofu at the meat counter. You won’t find it in the bakery or with the chips, although you may find vegans checking out the chips. I’m not suggesting the chip aisle is a good place to meet vegans. But you never know. Best bet, ask one of the store clerks where they keep it. Honestly, it is really, really hard for a guy to ask directions. We’d rather drive a hundred miles in a wrong direction and claim it’s a shortcut instead of asking for help. I can see Babe now nodding her head in agreement. When I finally set my hubris aside and asked for help, they told me the tofu was in its logical place, right next to the mushrooms, and packaged organic spinach. I don’t want to question the wisdom of the placed, but there must be a better place. 2) Only purchase the extra firm (hard as a brick, I wish) tofu. Tofu is really good for you. According to the BBC, “Tofu is a good source of protein and contains all eight essential amino acids. It is also an excellent source of iron and calcium and the minerals manganese, selenium and phosphorous. In addition, tofu is a good source of magnesium, copper, zinc and vitamin B1.”

I cut the block of tofu in half. I wrap the half I’m going to use in paper towels to dry it out. It’s going to be wet, so I have to use more paper towels. Paper towels are expensive, money doesn’t grow on trees unless its Bounty. My brand of choice. The squares in the 1st picture are not dominoes. They’re, mas o meno, all alike, but like fingerprints, none of my tofu squares are alike. I baste them with a mixture of EVOO, ginger, and turmeric. Ye gads you’re shouting the intervention got to him. Ray has to be deprogrammed. Trust me, it’s going to turn out. The third photo shows the tofu ready for the skillet.

Turn up the sizzle. I have the heat turned way up. I have a splash of EVOO in the pan and it’s popping. I put the tofu in and let it go. I have time to check my email, see who retweeted me on Twitter before I have to flip these babies. Gentle on the flipping, tofu is very sensitive. When the tofu is about 90% done, I add my cut up poblano, red, and green peppers and onion. We’re making tacos right? What’s a taco without that combo? I got this. It’s all under control. I think I’ll have a sip of my iced tea.

I transfer my tofu and veggies to a bowl. I get my tortillas ready. You can see the brand I use – low in calories, high in protein and fiber. If you see the lower left-hand corner of the tortilla package torn, it’s the way a guy opens a package. Why get the scissors when brute force is better. You’re looking at one healthy, good for the heart meal. After I roll and eat my tacos, I’m sending my vegan friends a thank you letter. They did not, however, convert me.