A Taste of Home

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Have you ever had a yearning for a particular something to eat only to have your hopes dashed because it wasn’t available? That happened to me and husband Mike last week. He’d visited one of his doctors and underwent a multitude of lab tests that required him to fast. He received positive news from his doctor regarding his progress in regaining his health, so we decided to celebrate by getting an omelet at The Union Kitchen on Bellaire Blvd., a favorite place to meet up with good friends for Sunday brunch. We were almost salivating as we contemplated the yumminess that was in store, and happily we got a nice table on the patio right away. The weather was quite lovely and it felt as though we were experiencing one of those picture perfect days in Houston, something for which we longed after being somewhat homebound for the past three months, not to mention having witnessed the horrors of hurricane Harvey. When we opened the menu and it became apparent that there was not an omelet to be found. A quick inquiry with the waiter revealed that breakfast items are part of the weekend brunch offerings but not the weekday fare. Mike’s disappointment was palatable.

I was willing to compromise by trying something else but Mike had his heart set on an omelet since he had missed having breakfast earlier in the day. Besides we had chosen this particular restaurant for a very specific reason. We had intended it to be yet another medical test on that day.  You see, from taking Plavix as a blood thinner after his stroke Mike had lost all sense of taste. His description of the sensation was that his tongue felt as though is was wrapped in plastic. Everything that he ate had the flavor of water crackers, blandness that had taken away all the joy of eating. He was able to discern textures but no flavors. Eating had become an exercise in getting proper nutrients but little more. When he reported this side effect to his neurologist the medication regimen was changed, but it had nonetheless taken quite a while for his tastebuds to become active again. Only days before had he begun to slowly enjoy the essences of food. Eating the omelet at The Union Kitchen was intended as a treat on many different levels because he had found that delicacy so enjoyable in the past when we had been there with very dear friends.

I suggested that we just leave since we had not yet ordered. I doubted that anyone would even notice our departure, but in that regard I was wrong. Mike was polite enough to inform the hostess that we had changed our minds and would not be staying. We had no sooner walked out the door than the manager, Rob Thomas, and the owner of the restaurant rushed outside to determine what might have happened to cause us to want to depart so suddenly. When I explained the situation they requested that we return to our table and insisted that it would be no problem whatsoever to prepare any kind of omelet that we desired. We smiled and sat down feeling rather special. We decided on a vegetarian omelet and waited with pleasant anticipation.

Mr. Thomas brought our food to us personally. He had included extras on the plate like freshly sliced avocado and roasted potatoes and peppers. The presentation of the meal was a work of art with a delightful color palate and an aroma that made us even more eager to eat. As expected the omelet was exceptional with the perfect pairing of onions, peppers, mushrooms, eggs and Swiss cheese. Best of all Mike was able to savor every lovely flavor because his tastebuds were as active as they had ever been. We relished the moment and marveled at the extraordinary service that Rob Thomas had insisted on providing us.

While we ate we watched Mr. Thomas visiting with the diners at every table, making unique orders become reality over and over again. Eventually he came to see if we had been satisfied with our meal, and we were able to tell him the entire story of Mike’s stroke and the journey that we had made in the ensuing weeks. We were no doubt a bit long winded and there were so many customers, but Mr. Thomas never once acted impatient to leave. He listened with great interest and sympathy even joking that as a restauranteur he would rather go blind than not be able to taste food. He also told us that because the Union Kitchen is a scratch kitchen he can alter most recipes and fulfill special requests with little or no problem. He noted that with several grocery stores in the area he would not be reluctant to run out to get whatever he needed in an emergency. Then he gave us his business card with his personal phone number, urging us to call him ahead of time if we wanted something unusual on one of our future visits. He even revealed that he has special pans in the kitchen marked with the names of customers with severe allergies. He uses them whenever they come so that the dishes he prepares for them will not be cross contaminated.

We laughed and joked and mentioned that we felt as though we were a bit like Jack Nicholson in the diner scene of Five Easy Pieces ordering dry toast. When we explained that classic bit of Hollywood brilliance he laughed and said that he was going to use it at his next meeting with the waiters. Then he began to wonder if Mike would also be able to taste something sweet and insisted that we choose from among the restaurant’s desserts for a treat that he was going to give us without cost. We’re suckers for bread pudding and the creme brûlée variety sounded particularly tempting, so we decided to forget the diet for a few minutes in the interest of experimenting. We were not disappointed in the least. Not only was Mike able to distinguish its delicate blend of sugars and spices, but it was also one of the best versions that we have ever eaten.

We left The Union Kitchen so full that we only ate raisin bran for dinner later that night. Most of our satisfaction though came from the superb customer service that Rob Thomas had provided. He had made us feel quite special on a day that was particularly important to us. We both agreed that we would make The Union Kitchen a regular outing. We still eschew salt and sugar and carbs at home, but even Mike’s doctor has told him that he doesn’t have to be a repentant monk all of the time. It really is okay to enjoy some remarkable tastiness now and again, and I can’t think of any place that I would rather go than The Union Kitchen, a place with wonderful food and even better friendliness. I’m so glad that Rob Thomas came after us. He managed to provide us with a brunch that we will probably never forget. He gave us a taste home and old fashioned service that is all too often missing in today’s hurried world. It was a five star experience. You should try it yourself sometimes. Just tell Rob that they guy who couldn’t taste sent you.

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How To Be a Great Partner

our weddingOn this day forty nine years ago at 7:00 in the evening I kneeled at the altar of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Houston, Texas to pledge my love and commitment to my husband Mike. I find myself looking back over our many years together and remembering all of the times that we have shared. Not once has it ever crossed my mind to consider that my leap of faith in joining hands with Mike might have been anything but the most wonderful and important decision that I have ever made. On Mike’s seventieth birthday which occurred only a few days ago our eldest daughter compiled a list of reasons why each his children, grandchildren and I love him as much as much as we do. I find that those praises for him that came from each of us encapsulate the essence of how being married to him for forty nine years has been a glorious adventure that I pray with all of my heart will continue for many more years. They also serve as a guideline for anyone wishing to create a loving and exciting partnership with another human being. If someone were to follow Mike’s example even partially I suspect that he/she would find the kind of great happiness that I have enjoyed day after day for all of those forty nine years. So here are some of the descriptors of my loving spouse that are offered as a gift to all of my readers on this day when I feel as though I won the lottery of a lifetime. Enjoy learning how to provide unconditional love from my Mike who is a master of such things.

Mike is always supportive of anything we want to do and he is always ready to help when we need it. He wears crazy hats and is so hilarious that even when times are hard he is still super funny and cracks funny jokes. He gave us an appreciation of good music that endures to this day. He is a fitting patriarch for the family, moral and loving. He always makes us feel welcome. He has a calm presence. He appreciates history and perspective. He would always give smart, logical and sound advice whenever we came to him. He well known for giving great hugs. He is temperate. His conversations are always filled with wit and information. He let two fine young men date and marry his daughters. He is hardworking and loves his family unconditionally, seeing only the best in every member. He is tech savvy and knowledgable, kind and intellectual. He doesn’t always let it shine through, but he has a soft side like a teddy bear. His wise comments mean a lot to all of us and demonstrate how caring he is. In fact, he is kind hearted and sweet to everyone in his family and it makes us feel special. He is a history buff who demonstrates a desire to go deep into an interesting topic. He is the number one Women’s Lib advocate for his wife, daughters and granddaughter.  He makes us feel safe and secure and cheers us on in anything that we do and comes to all of our special events. He is generous and showed us how fun and amazing camping can be. He took his eldest daughter on a special journey to Chaco Canyon that the two of them will never forget. He understands that football is special and he tells really good jokes. He demonstrates subtle simple shows of affection, like wearing a brand new TAMU polo to a grandson’s graduation party. He often sacrifices his own needs for the rest of us. He is guileless and what you see in him is real. He maintains a calm and confident demeanor in difficult situations, even when he is in the midst of having a stroke. He’s grateful for what he has and generous to others. He can fix almost anything and enjoys doing it. He gives those around him unwavering trust and loyalty. He taught us all everything we know about interior illumination. He has a chill vibe. He brings unique perspectives and culture to the family and keeps things spiced up. He loves to play the guitar. He is reasonable whenever something is going on or if we have a conflict. He shares personal interests with us such as trains, models and history. He’s willing to do anything for our enjoyment. He warmly welcomed two young men as his sons-in-law. He too many talents to number. He is a kind man. He has filled our lives with beautiful moments and memories. His is known for just always being there. He loves his family.

So there you are, descriptions of the man that I love from those who know him best. How could our union not have worked? He took all of his vows so seriously and mostly showed all of us how to love. It has been a marvelous journey walking by his side and feeling that love that he is always so eager to share.

Old Faithful

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I see people still living in public shelters weeks after the floods of hurricane Harvey have gone, and it saddens me that they have no place else to go. I honestly believe that I have a number of individuals upon whom I would be able to depend given similar circumstances. There is no doubt that my father-in-law or one of my two daughters would open their homes and their hearts to me if I found myself suddenly homeless. I’m fairly certain that my two brothers and their wives would take me in as well. I even suspect that I have multiple cousins and friends who would come to my aid, so it’s very difficult to imagine circumstances that might force me to depend on the kindness of strangers for a roof over my head. Sadly, there are people who find themselves with nowhere to turn for any number of reasons.

One of my daughters and I have discussed the names of people upon whom we have total confidence. These are the individuals whether through blood or friendship who always seem to be sharing both our good times and our bad. We almost assume that they will have our backs because they always have. Then there are those who surprise us with their attentiveness to our needs. When times get tough only the most loyal of the people that we know will stand beside us, but it is amazing how many of them there are. Over time we learn just who those individuals are, but for some reason we don’t always let them know how much we appreciate their efforts. Sometimes we even run out time to express our gratitude and that lack becomes a regret.

When I first began to teach my young daughters became latchkey kids. I worked far from home and rarely made it to the house before dinner time. My mother-in-law filled in that gap by traveling from her own job to be with the girls each afternoon. She sometimes cooked dinner for all of us while she waited for me to arrive. On days when one of the children was sick she became the sitter while I went to my job. I not only took this tremendous gift for granted, but I sometimes even immaturely got peeved when she did little house keeping tasks to help me. Somehow I interpreted her actions as being judgmental of my own abilities. It was silliness on my part, but even more problematic was the fact that I never really thanked her for the sacrifice of time that she made for so many years. I truly would like to kick myself for taking so long to become wise enough to realize what a great gift she was giving me and my family. To her credit she never appeared to feel any animosity due to my neglect of basic manners. She was a far better person than I was.

My mother used to come to my home bearing bags of groceries. It was her way of helping me with my budget and it was a lovely gesture, but I was sometimes silly in thinking that it was her way of telling me that she did not think that I was capable of taking care of myself. How ridiculous I was back then. I should have embraced her generosity and thanked her profusely for thinking of me with those loaves of french bread, cartons of eggs or fruits and vegetables. She had grown up during the Great Depression and food was an offering like manna from heaven. It was her way of showing how much she loved me and my family. Sadly I probably did more eye rolling than showing appreciation.

There is a tradition at KIPP Houston High School where I once worked that takes place when seniors are about to graduate. They have an evening when each student has the opportunity of remembering and appreciating the people who have helped him/her to reach that momentous occasion. It is a moving ceremony filled with laughter and happy tears as each person speaks of very personal thanksgiving for parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, teachers and fellow classmates. Everyone feels so good upon acknowledging and being acknowledged. Each time I witnessed this lovely practice I found myself thinking of so many people to whom I had never revealed my feelings.

The times that I actually did express my gratitude were wonderful. They helped me to feel as though I had closed the circle of giving. I once sent a long letter to a college professor whose influence had been profound. I never saw him again until many years later when he had become a white haired bent old man. He recognized me before I knew who he was. His face lit up with pure delight as he recalled the letter that I had sent him. He revealed that he had referred to it again and again over the years because it told him that he had indeed done something quite right in his career. I would never have guessed that my simple gesture of saying thank you would be so powerful, but after working for decades myself I now understand how meaningful such things truly are. I have a collection of notes that I cherish so much that I made certain they were safely upstairs during the recent floods, lest my home fill with water and I lose them.

At a recent funeral a classmate from high school urged us to take a bit of time each day to do something special for someone who has been faithful to us. Perhaps we might make a phone call or send a note or funny card. He challenged us to make each day a bit brighter for someone who has been kind. He warned that the opportunities to do so fade away far too soon, something of which I am already keenly aware. He noted that practically every single day of the year is national something or another, so we should look to see what is on the agenda each day. Maybe we might mark the day by taking ice cream to someone we know. Perhaps we can acknowledge that daughter or cousin. It’s actually quite easy to make every day of the year a way of thanking the faithful in our lives for all that they have done. We really do need to make a point of letting them know that we have noticed their kindnesses.

If there is one thing that I have learned the hard way it is to never again take anyone for granted. I have lost far too many of the people who did very special things for me thinking that I would one day have more time to shower them with praise. So many of them never got to hear my words, and that is such a shame. It’s really easy to take a few minutes to remember and appreciate. Like Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park we need to make it a daily ritual. Only then will those who would shelter us even after a storm know how much we truly love them.

A Birthday Gift To Us All

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I have to pinch myself when I look at my husband, Mike. I still can’t believe how lucky I have been to have him as my husband. I tend not to notice that he is no longer the young lion that I met so long ago nor that his hair has grown white and thinner than it once was. I marvel that he is still with me after so many years, as loving and faithful as ever. I rejoice that we will celebrate another of his birthday’s together today, and I can’t quite believe that this will be his seventieth. As I look back over time I have so many wonderful memories of our life together, but mostly I marvel at the person that he has always been.

I have learned that he is the amalgam of lessons learned from his grandmother, his mother, his father and his education at St. Thomas High School. He was taught through example how to be a truly great man. His mother was a remarkable woman who was far ahead of her time with her independent spirit. If she had run for President of the United States I feel certain that she would have won. She always insisted that Mike treat women with great respect and who better to learn from than his father who has always been the consummate gentleman? In high school Mike was shown the importance of faith, loyalty and good character. He learned his lessons well but in many ways it was his grandmother who showed him the value of unconditional love. All of these factors produced a man who has always been kind and generous and guileless, but never naive. He is a strong protector but also an equal and supportive partner.

Mike has a brilliant mind that allows him to digest and synthesize information readily. Conversations with him are beyond interesting because he draws his comments from a library of information that he has somehow managed to catalog in his brain and pull up at a moment’s notice. He is one of those lifelong learners who reads and watches continuously. He has made our life together so much more exciting because of his encyclopedic knowledge on so many topics. In many ways he is a true renaissance man with his abilities to do and discuss almost anything. He is as good at wiring a house as discussing history or business. He is a truly delightful person to be with and I have had the honor of walking at his side for almost fifty years, never once growing bored with our companionship.

Mike often tells people that he was thunderstruck when he met me, but I don’t mention enough that the feeling was quite mutual. I remember telling my friends at the time that I thought I had just met the man with whom I was going to spend the rest of my life. I had no idea then just how exciting our journey together would be. When people see me today they are encountering a woman who was much different when I first met Mike. He has been my mentor, my muse, and the one person who encouraged me to take risks to become who I am today. No matter what I have wanted to accomplish, he has been my cheerleader, telling me that I have the power to accomplish anything. I suspect that I would not have been nearly as happy or successful in life had it not been for our chance meeting so long ago. I thank God for him every single day.

This particular birthday for Mike is of especial importance to me because of my understanding that I might very well have lost him this summer when he had a stroke. In true Mike fashion he has been the rock who has helped me to deal with our new reality. He has prepared me for any eventuality and insisted that I will do well with whatever situation arises. That is the kind of person that he is, always thinking of me and our family. He loves with a passion that is immeasurable and he has always been willing to sacrifice for the well being of me and our girls.

Mike is a humble man except for when it comes to our children and grandchildren. Then he puffs out his chest and fairly glows with pride. He has quietly watched them grow in wisdom and age and grace and it brings him great contentment to see how well they continue to do. His love for them and for all of the members of our extended family is boundless. He is always at the ready to open his home and his heart to any one them who may be in need.,

Perhaps my greatest admiration for Mike is related to the way that he treated my mother. Her bipolar disorder often created very unlikeable symptoms. When she was in the throes of a manic episode she sometimes said horrific things to him. Somehow he always remained steadfast in understanding that it was her disease speaking and not her true heart. He continued to show her kindness even as she insulted him in every possible way. When she came to stay at our home at the end of her life he was welcoming and enjoyed being able to provide her with a touch of security as she slowly became more and more ill. At the very end he sat holding her hand and promising to take care of me and my brothers with all of the powers within him. He and my mom shared a bond of mutual understanding on the day that she died. They expressed their love for one another and it made my mother comfortable to know that he would indeed watch over her family in her absence. Like me, she had witnessed his steadfast strength and love.

I can only hope and pray that there will be many more birthdays with Mike, but I have most recently learned just to appreciate the moments that we have without overthinking and worrying too much about the distant future. He is a most extraordinary man and I celebrate that our world has been lucky enough to have someone of his caliber working day after day to make our little corner of it a better place. It’s funny how on his birthday I am reminded that he has been a gift to all of us who know him. It is so typical of him to be the giver just by his existence even on his birthday.

A Wedding, Two Funerals, and A Hurricane

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This summer has left me forever changed in ways more dramatic than I might ever have imagined. It began innocently enough with a visit to New Orleans with grandson Ian. He saw my favorite city with a new set of eyes that were innocent and inquisitive. It was the history of the place that fascinated him more than even the food and entertainment. He was particularly entranced with the World War II Museum which filled him with wonder and so many questions. I suppose that in many ways the day that we spent reliving the drama and importance of that era when was the beginning of a circle of life that left me profoundly different by the end of my journey through the warm lazy days that have heretofore represented fun and frolic to me, but would no longer be so simple to consider.

After our sojourn in New Orleans we travelled to Cancun for the wedding of two of our favorite friends, Tim and Dickie. We learned just how powerful love can be and that how it cannot be narrowly defined. We also went on a journey back in history to study the Mayan people and their glorious civilization that had been quite advanced in its time. It humbled us to learn of the ingenuity of mankind, but also to understand that the upheavals of life and how we humans react to them have the power to take down or raise up even nations.

We had scheduled so many more amazing travels for July and August when our world was shaken to its very foundation. My husband Mike had a stroke on July 3, and it was as though the earth itself had stood still. Nothing really mattered to me other than Mike’s health and I was thankful that he was still alive and that I would have more time to convey my feelings for him. I suppose that from that exact moment forward I quit taking anything for granted. I became more attuned to the colors and sounds and people all around me. I rejoiced each day when both Mike and I arose. I reveled in even the smallest bits of joy that came our way. Somehow I found myself caring little for things and greatly appreciative of relationships and love.

Mike and I shared a viewing of a partial eclipse of the sun rather than than the total one that we had planned to witness. I suppose that I should have been disappointed that we were not able to travel to Wyoming for the event, but having the pleasure of sitting with Mike in a park watching the little piece of wonder that we were given was more than ample for me. I felt that our day together was truly glorious just because we had the gift of being together. Whenever I thought of what might have been, I felt frightened but mostly grateful for my blessings. Each new day was glorious, but I had little idea that an even greater test of my endurance lay ahead.

As the summer drew to a close my two eldest grandsons readied to go off to college. We celebrated at our favorite Cuban restaurant, El Meson, in the Village area of Houston near Rice University and the Medical Center. It was a beautiful night in which we enjoyed knowing what fine young men our Andrew and Jack had become. It was yet another reason to be thankful and our hearts were filled with joy.

Later we had the privilege of having our twin grandsons Ben and Eli at our home while their parents helped their older brother to check into his dorm at Texas A&M. I was charged with helping the two boys to complete a project for their English class and we worked quite hard for an entire Saturday. I woke them up early on Sunday so that we might finish and still have time for some fun before their parents returned. Just as I had hoped we found ourselves with enough free hours that we were able to go bowling at the Main Event. Later that evening we played a rousing game of Scrabble with no holds barred, and Eli literally blew us all away with a remarkable score. We laughed and felt so good that I once again found myself silently saying prayers of thanks for such precious moments.

Then came the threat of hurricane Harvey. It seemed that because the eye of the storm would be so far away we would be in little danger. There were predictions of massive rainfall but somehow that didn’t seem to be much of a problem, and so we decided to stay in our home. On the first day after the hurricane made landfall we spoke of the hysteria of the forecasters because their promises of floods appeared to have been premature. We were much more saddened by images of the devastation in Rockport, Texas, one of our all time favorite camping spots. It was not until the evening that the rains began and kept going and going and going for three solid days leaving forty three inches in our neighborhood alone.

We began to hear dire reports of friends and family members whose homes were taking on water. The television stations showed us live pictures of familiar places that looked like ocean front property. More and more people that we knew were evacuating, sometimes in the middle of the night. Suddenly I became fearful because it was apparent that if my husband had another stroke there would be little that we might do to get the help that he would need. Those three days became a kind of terror for me. I watched the rain and the street in front and the yard in the back, ever vigilant and unable to sleep lest I might need to get Mike to a medical facility. I cared not about any of the things in my home, but only about my husband and his safety. I realized that I was going to do whatever it took to get him through.

When the rain finally stopped and moved away from our city after dumping fifty one inches across a one hundred mile wide area I was emotionally drained and filled with conflicting emotions. I cried for all of the souls whose worlds had been turned upside down. I sobbed for those who had lost their lives and their homes. I felt lucky that Mike had made it through the days and nights in good condition. I laughed that we had stayed home from camping trips and the eclipse lest he be in a situation in which he might not be able to receive immediate medical care, and ironically for three days we had essentially been trapped on a kind of island with so much happening all around us that we were actually quite alone. I had to praise God for caring for us and for giving me the strength and the calm that I had needed to weather the storm.

Last week our city began to attempt a return to normalcy in earnest. Children returned to school. Adults went back to work. There were actually days that felt so much like the glorious beginning of fall that has always made Houston a kind of Chamber of Commerce postcard. Only rides around town reminded us of the horror of what had happened. Still we had to be happy that we were able to meet with great friends for a brunch on Sunday. We were grateful that we got to visit Mike’s father on Monday and see that he was doing well. Then our week was punctuated with the sorrow and celebration of the lives of two incredible women who had died. I think that perhaps more than any other event their funerals impacted me with a realization of what is truly most important as we live out our days.

Both of these beautiful souls had lived through those harrowing events of World War II that we had studied in New Orleans with Ian. One of them had resided in England. She met her soulmate during that conflict, an American GI. The two of them fell in love and he took her back to his home in Texas where they had seven children that they raised in a home filled with love and goodness and faith in God. The other woman had been born in Italy but eventually immigrated to New Orleans where she too met the love of her life. They also wound up in Houston in the same neighborhood where I grew up. They had four children who would become dear friends of mine. Both women were devoted to their families and required very little in the way of possessions or wealth to be happy. They sacrificed for family and felt honored to do so. In the end they were in turn loved and adored by their children and their friends.

When I attended the two funerals I was accompanied by people that I had known since I was quite young. We had each accumulated a lifetime of stories and memories, but somehow we knew that those women had demonstrated to us how to truly get the most out of life. I felt a sense of peace and a feeling of understanding that has all too often eluded me as I have fought to accomplish rather than to relate. I saw that these women had always realized that titles and bank accounts and possessions were not the things that define a life well lived, but rather the moments when we touch hearts. Somehow I understood that in spite of the topsy turvy nature of this summer, it had been magnificent because it had opened my eyes to how I need to embrace each moment that I have. Somehow I am all the better for what I have learned from that wedding, the hurricane and those two funerals.