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.  

Wednesday, July 31, 2019


At the beginning of June we set off. 

First a flight to Miami, then to Heathrow. From there we rented a car, took the Chunnel and drove to Bruges, Belguim.  From Bruges we drove to Flanders Field, then headed to  Falaise, France. While in Normandy we visited Omaha Beach, Mont Saint Michele, Paris then drove back to London, this time by ferry via Dover, cliffs and all.  We disembarked in Dover, drove to London and after a day and a half parted ways at Heathrow. Some of us were flying back to the U.S., others continuing on to Zurich, then Belgrade then Vienna then London again, eventually taking a direct flight from Gatwick back to Orlando. 

Upon return we left again, this time to Satellite Beach then back to Orlando, in order to get ready for our road trip to Fort Collins, Colorado via the shortest Google Maps route - about 1900 miles - which we devoured in three days. That's how long it took us to drive back to Orlando, except we stopped to see friends in Allen, Texas that added another 100 miles, totaling the return to a 2000 miles. Today we are back in Orlando (at least our bodies are) and all I can think is,

We were ALL OVER THE MAP! Literally. 

I am exhausted just writing out our itinerary, not to mention everything else. The activities, events, people, relationships,... It would take me months to narrate the rest and I still couldn't even begin to capture the fullness of emotion, the sights, the afterglow...

There is a feature in our GPS I frequently used while travelling, to find where exactly I am on the map. I can wander off any distance in any direction, but when I touch the RE-CENTER, it automatically zooms me back to where I am, with the path to the chosen destination highlighted right before my feet, so to speak..

Sometimes life takes us way outside our natural borders – geographic, personal, emotional, relational. We are all over the map and the end result of the process can be supremely exhausting and paralyzing. I found myself in that state this morning; I don't know what to do, and it's not for the lack of things needing to be done, mind you! Plenty to do, but where to start?

RE-CENTER seemed to be just the right word for the worn out, overwhelmed, don't-know-which-way-to-turn-anymore moment. It zoomed in to the place where our life starts.  Back to the center. Back to the core. Back to the heart.  

Pay attention to the welfare of your innermost being, for all of life springs from there. Proverbs 4:23

Friday, July 12, 2019


We've bumped into Emmet (Emmet, like Emmet Brickowski from LEGO Movie, but I was too scared to clarify) on our morning walk. Ever-cheery, bursting at the seams with health and energy he was loading up the van, when I made a mistake and did a Floridian thing, making small talk by complaining about the weather, already sweltery and it wasn't even 8 AM.

This is NOT hot! Emmet roared.

It isn't?!?!! I was shocked both by the roar and the meaning of it. What is YOUR standard of heat?

He pointed at the van, This doesn't have an A/C and the other day I measured the temperature and it was 114. And guess what, I drank a lot of water and I was just fine.  I am 75 and don't even take an aspirin!  

You look great, 
I couldn't dispute.

And you would, too, if you do these three things.  Before I knew whether I should be offended, he lifted one finger in the air as if to indicate number one:

Stay active -  as you are .... 

It serves me well to be served an unsolicited sermon of sagely advice for my whining, I kick myself on the spiritual shin, even though I know that kicking is wrong unless you play soccer.

It requires higher reasoning powers inaccessible to my brain so early in the morning to argue with him that my commendable physical activity has left me with less than desirable  health track record. That is, unless one aspires to become a survivor, cancer survivor. 

I don’t have to wait for numero dos long because he has already added another finger to the one already raised. 

Number two - never be in a hurry.

Even though I know he is right (at least in theory) I feel my body temperature raising beyond the already complain-worthy point. More often than not my ‘fast’ has been infinitely slower than other people’s ‘slow’, and yet, such pace didn’t make me an embodiment of health and vitality.

Lastly, he raises the third finger, Never worry about anything! And YOU, women, are particularly susceptible to that!

Having delivered, Emmet feels great for being so helpful, and I feel crappy for being so doomed. Funny thing is, I actually had pretty good morning, as mornings go, before we ran into him.

I am almost to our front door, when it crosses my mind. There is only one more thing Emmet lacks if he wants to be as perfect as he believes himself to be. As he drives by with his windows rolled down, I wave back at him, noticing four fingers lifted,

And number four, Never give an unsolicited advice. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Linus and Lucy

We came to Satellite Beach to take care of Linus and Lucy our friends’ Dave and Lisa’s dogs. (No, no Charlie Brown or Snoopy, for right now). 

Linus the Daschund and Lucy the Schnoodle represent the unashamed embodiment of the ‘it’s a dog’s life’ expression, but not in it’s original 16th century meaning.  They live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, on the second floor of a new condo building right on the beach. The dogs are surrounded by incredible creature comforts, afforded to them solely by the virtue of belonging to the T family.   

Everywhere around us, there is a perfect marriage of tradition and technology, nature and nurture. The view is stunning - the azul above and the blue below separated by a extra-fine horizon line where the two kiss each other. Alexa is playing Vivaldi on a loop. iRobot Roomba is vacuuming the floors. The beds are comfy, the climate controlled interior is tastefully decorated by exceptionally talented, genuine artist with classy flair. The dog’s food bowl is never empty, the water bowl never dry.  Five times a day, we take them out to the fire hydrant where they do their doggie business, returning home wagging their little tails.

I scratch my head, wondering what have these dogs done to deserve such fortune? I don't have to think hard to find people I know and love who can only dream about such luxury. 

Life doesn't seem to be fair. 

If you were here with me, however, along with all the magnificence, you would notice that there is more to these dogs’ life story than meets the eye.  You would see Linus hobbling along, barely able to walk, really preferring to be carried around or just left alone to nap most of the day. None of these glories around him matter, as long as the old dog can rest in peace.

This is where Lucy comes in, an adoptee from previously abusive situation.  The way Lucy works out her fears and trauma is by barking at what she perceives as danger, which is almost everything which really is all nothing at all. This disrupts Linus’ peace and makes him bark and growl, their little dog heaven shattered by the residual suffering of Lucy’s old life.

Linus may think that his life would have been perfect if he wasn’t for getting old and weak, and if it wasn’t for Lucy…

Lucy may think that her life would have been perfect if she didn’t have to drag around her past like a chain around her neck, yanking her to awakened flashbacks with every accidentally dropped utensil, every stranger ringing the doorbell to do human things she doesn’t understand, like spraying for bugs, or fixing the A/C.  So she goes into fits of barking – bark, BARK, BARK!, until Linus joins in.

Despite her behavior, in fact, quite counter-intuitive to it, I noticed that talking to Lucy in a calm, reassuring voice, in the midst of her ‘misbehaving’, telling her things like,

You are a good girl, Luci. It’s O.K. The rattling is just the A/C coming on, you don't need to be startled. You don’t understand what’s going on, but everything is just fine… You are such a good dog, Luci…

Lucy LOVES this kind of talk. She perks her ears, tilts her little head and looks at me, her eyes glowing, begging for more. I know she trusts my assessment of the A/C situation, so she can rolls back to sleep.

Linus doesn't say anything but opens one eye, grateful for his peace restored so he can go back prancing around young and healthy, inside his doggie dreamland.