Friday, February 14, 2020

Love Like Valentine

This post was originally published on Valentine's Day in 2014

I learned the following about the origin of Valentine’s Day from This Day in History:

Under the rule of Claudius the Cruel, Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families.

To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.
When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, on or about the year 270. 


I find it a bit incredulous that what vicious emperor tried to eradicate, what one man was willing to die for, we surrender and abdicate of our own free will every day.  All around the world, husbands and wives alike get sacrificed along with their children on altars of endless work, mindless entertainment and even  noble-sounding Christian service.

The cruel ruler understood what we so easily overlook – that a man with deep affection and ties to his one wife, to his baby girl and a teenage boy will think twice before he gambles it all away in a senseless war.

Apparently young men of Rome grasped and even fought for something some of us might need to learn or relearn, not just on Valentine’s but also every other ordinary day of the year.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives. Ephesians 5:25

…Encourage them to love their husbands, to love their children. Titus 2:4

He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Malachi 4:6

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Cake that Crumbled the Berlin Wall

Some events have deep and lasting impact on our memory. The day might have started as just an ordinary, humdrum kind of day, no inkling of what is to come, no premonition. But then something happens, and it is forever seared in the storage rooms of our mind - where you were, what run-of-the-mill thing you were doing that day, that hour when everything changed. 

Most of us have stories of 9/11, that answer, What did you do when the Twin Towers fell? It’s our way of processing and integrating our small, seemingly insignificant personal histories as they intersect with the larger narrative of times and places.

I go back to November of 1989, in the similar way. Back then, while the whole world was transfixed watching the beginning of the fall of Berlin Wall, I was, anticlimactically, spending an extended Thanksgiving holiday break in Tuscaloosa, Alabama enjoying gracious hospitality of my typically Southern hosts.

What has stuck with me through the passage of time from that day was a thought,

In thirty years, when my children ask me, ‘Mom, where were you when the Berlin wall fell?’, I will have to respond, with tinge of despair, ‘In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, watching the whole darn thing on an old analog TV with the rest.’

Some may say that my special superpower is always being at the right time but at the 'wrong' place. The crumbling of the world as I’d always known it that November is not my only example.  
Of course, with 30 year perspective on the tearing down of the Iron Curtain and life in general, it’s rather obvious that the historic event and its subsequent domino effect has solved some problems and created others.

But, my puny existence is too small to speak into such lofty matters.


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Competing with Horses

If you can't carry the weight of emptiness, 
how are you going to carry the weight of fullness?

If you are not able to descend into failure,
how are you going to be able to ascend into success?

If you cave in under the pressure of loneliness,
how are you going to hold up under the pressures of publicity.

I found these words as I flipped through my old journals this morning.  I hesitate to write them here, as they seem to be too profound to come out of my pen. I realize though, that there is wisdom in us beyond our comprehension at the time it was given. But only the long and arduous climb up to the pinnacles and down into despairs of life itself can chisel those words into the depth of our reality. 

We so easily forget that words, through their deceptive and frivolous use have lost their original power and are not reality anymore. But every once in a while something fresh comes our way, something piercingly true and it is because of this that I write them here, as a reminder to myself, most of all.  And who knows, perhaps someone else may find the humbling blessing and sobering encouragement they carry.

If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, Then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan? Jeremiah 12:5

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Perfect Storm

Being the hurricane survivor veterans of 15 years and counting, we thought we had it figured out.  From Charlie, Jeanne, Frances, Irma, Michael – each uninvited guest coming our way taught us something new. Over time, we’ve developed a routine that encompasses a variety of preparations we tweak each hurricane season as fresh, tested-in-real-life data becomes available to us under the category of ‘Experience’.

One big item we learned early on became house cleaning. I know it sounds counter intuitive to bother with cleaning the house before the hurricane, but short of a complete disaster and losing your house or at least a roof, this strange ritual of housecleaning makes a huge difference in the days preceding and days that follow the storm.  Sometimes we lose power, and sometimes even water supplies can be limited, so having empty laundry basket keeps us from experiencing a different kind of emergency, like no clean underwear. After being surprised by Charlie, our first real hurricane, this became a must for our family, right along removing or securing projectiles around our house.

This year, with monster hurricane Dorian’s path threatening central Florida, we raised our housecleaning to an unprecedented level by cleaning out our garage.  It seemed crazy keeping all our worthless junk safe under the roof while leaving our only vehicle outside exposed to the mercy (or mercilessness) of Cat 5. 

With the car in, we could sigh a big sigh of relief. We did everything we could, the rest is in God’s hands. There was a huge sense of satisfaction knowing,


I even remembered how with the disruption of the routine, and easy access to the stockpiles of convenient (read ‘junk’) food,  the biggest hurricane battle tends to be the one with the bulge. 

“Not this time!”  I was determined and stock piled on peaches, pears, apples and bananas, carrots, celery and home-made hummus.

Then, we waited. And waited. And watched and waited. And started nibbling on our healthy foods while binge-watching weather channel.  The storm was intensifying, getting more threatening, bigger and bigger, and slower and SLOWER, until it stalled over the poor Bahamas battering it heartlessly with Cat 5 squalls.

It was supposed to arrive on Sunday here, and it’s Tuesday and it STILL isn’t here.

We actually polished off our healthy hurricane stash while the hurricane was still hundreds of miles away!! Yesterday we made a quick Walmart run to restock but while we were getting peaches, grapes and milk, I noticed that their Bakery Department must have over-baked and had all these amazing goods on clearance – pumpkin and apple pies, apple fritters, plain donuts and Persian cinnamon rolls... for pennies!!! Who can resist that???

As they say, "The road to hell is paved by good intentions"...

We came home loaded, promising ourselves self-control, then making powerful excuses justified by ‘all the stress that hurricane caused us’… and ‘we were doing so well until…”

And the storm is still over three hundred miles away…

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Rosy Cheek Cheese Pie

I asked my mom for a recipe for rolled filo dough cheese pie, taking notes while on the phone with her. After  we finished the conversation I looked over the recipe and realized what I’d written didn’t look at all like a recipe my mom would give.

To my credit, I noted all the ingredients correctly – eggs and cheese, oil and yogurt, but their quantities meandered from cups to grams to coffee cups (which are not the same as U.S. measuring cups), sprinkled with, ‘the way you like it’, which eventually merged into the final word of precision wisdom, “you know, not too thick and not too runny’.

Mom, I don’t know. And you sure have more faith in my culinary abilities than I do. I thought to myself and before I hung up, I promised I would let her know how the pie turned out.

I followed the general directions that surprisingly enough gave rather promising results, but just as I was about to slip the pie into the oven, I realized I don’t know either the temperature of the oven or the length of baking time.

I glanced at the Celsius/Fahrenheit chart that's attached with a magnet to the side of our refrigerator, noting that 200 degrees Celsius is approximately 400 degrees Fahrenheit, before I called 'mom-to-the-rescue' hot line again.

Mom, what temperature is the oven supposed to be at?

It was a simple question for which my head allowed only two possible answers – numerical answer one and numerical answer two - representing the same value expressed in either Celsius, or Fahrenheit. What I got wasn't even in the ballpark.

What do you mean 'what temperature'? It’s the same temperature as when you bake a cake…

A cake??? When I bake a cake, which is like never, I set the temperature at what the box…. I stopped before I could make fool of myself any further, and decided to showcase my limited baking knowledge.

So, it’s not super-hot like when you bake bread?

No, no! That’s too hot. You don't want to turn it into charcoal. I told you, just like when you bake a cake…

Alright, I got it, I said, making a mental note to check with Betty Crocker on the cake baking temp

For how long?  The time is measured in minutes, hours, days and weeks on both side of the ocean so I thought I was safe.

How long???? As long as it takes! You need to keep checking it while it's in the oven until it gets nice and rosy, like rosy cheeks.

I stand there, the phone in my hand, realizing that between my multitasking English and Serbian,  Celsius, Fahrenheit and timer, I’ve lost something important, and not just in my culinary skills.

I am so grateful I still have my mom, who, without even realizing, not only taught me how to bake a pie, but recovered the precious lost and gave it back to me.

Thursday, August 15, 2019


Used with permission ©Örs Lévay2019

I came across the following post in one of my watercolor on-line groups:

Scrolling through my Amsterdam sketches I found this unfinished and partially smeared pen sketch. Instead of tearing it out of my sketchbook I revitalized it with some watercolor. In real time it took 5 minutes.

Attached to it was a 30 second video showing the process and the result, which, needless to say, was absolutely fabulous.

What caught my attention were the words like 


partially smeared, 

tearing out and, not surprising, 


I love the way artists express life truths through their work.

When I scroll back through my life ‘sketchbook’, I am more inclined to rip the pages out than allow the great Artist to revitalize the old work and turn it into something beautiful.  Thankfully, there are artists like Örs who remind us that there could be a better way…

Perhaps, it may take a bit more than 5 minutes but whatever it takes it's well worth it. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Teriyaki Paprikas

I’ll blame it on Buckee’s.   It was in this mega gas station on steroids we came across during our trip that I got inspired to make our own beef jerky. Who wouldn’t after seeing the massive displays of packaged and by-the-pound ‘ mountains of the irresistible deliciousness.

I’ve never made beef jerky before, so it took two half-tries to perfect the product. I thought that was pretty good for a novice. As a result of my second half-try, I had a rather large quantity of home made teriyaki sauce (it was teriyaki flavored beef jerky that I made) left over.  It just so happened that at the time I had some fresh boneless skinless chicken breast that needed a marinade, so I did the obvious, threw the chicken into the marinade, anticipating a making of a chicken teriyaki dish in our near future.

But, today, a need presented itself when I noticed that my potatoes are starting to go bad. Not being of the wasteful kind, I thought,

I need to use these potatoes – I’d better make paprikas.

Being a good Serbian cook, paprikas making ingredients are a staple in our house.  I always have everything I need on hand….everything, I thought, except… I remembered with a shudder, the teriyaki flavored chicken.

Teriyaki paprikas?!!!??? No way! I can hear my mother’s horrified voice of a bona fide culinary purist pronouncing a swift judgment on such unholy union. You can’t put teriyaki flavored chicken into a pot of paprikas!!

I deliberated my options.  I did all the mental gyrations trying to accommodate available ingredients and the time-honored recipes, until I made myself dizzy. The dinner hour was approaching and I had nothing half-edible to put on the table (jerky already long gone).

In a moment of inspired desperation, I closed my eyes and I did the unthinkable. I put teriyaki chicken into a pot of paprikas!

The act of liberation was followed by a rush of excitement and curiosity… Now that the pot is being stirred, what’s going to happen? Will one flavor overpower the other, will they blend together in a fresh culinary symphony…. Or will they end down the garbage disposal along with the carrot and potato peels?

As they say, The proof is in the pudding, so I was keenly observing my favorite food critics, as they were spooning the stew into the bowls.

How is it?, I finally dared to ask. With the mouths full, all I could get were enthusiastic thumbs up.

My big sigh of relief was followed by,

What did you do to it? It taste different – it’s good but definitely different. I grinned, a culinary rebel with a mission accomplished. 

You didn’t put that teriyaki chicken in it, did you? I grinned even more, the ends of my mouth touching the ears.

YOU DID NOT!!! You committed A CULINARY SACRILEGE!!! How could you put teriyaki chicken in paprikas?!!?!! Baba would be mortified.

She doesn’t need to know, does she? I winked,  fishing the extra potatoes into my bowl.