J. E. Pinto's Blog: Looking on the Bright Side

July 10, 2020

Loose Change

My daughter wants a new laptop. She's finally outgrowing the old family fossil, which is understandable. If it wasn't around before she was born, it came along soon after she did.

Anyway, meeting her goal involves rolling hundreds of dollars worth of coins she's been saving up throughout her school years. Bank of the West doesn't sort change for free anymore, and my kid isn't willing to give up ten percent of her money to CoinStar® or one of the other automatic sorters found in grocery stores and such places. Smart girl!

So she and I have been spending some time each day counting and rolling coins. It's a daunting task if you look at the big picture. But sorting change can spark some very creative conversations.

First, my kid imagined that the coins were prisoners marching off to jail. Since there were so many pennies and they were worth so little individually, in her mind they represented hungry tresspassers, arrested for sneaking into the yards of rich people to steal food left over after their high-class parties and barbecues.

"We just want to eat!" the pennies pleaded. "The food will be wasted if we don't take it!"

"Go away!" the quarters yelled. "It's our food to waste if we want to!"

The nickels were common thieves and street thugs.

"Off to prison, you maggots!" my little girl snarled.

"Where did you hear that?" I tried not to sound as shocked as I felt.

"In a movie Daddy was watching once," she replied with the innocence of a kitten.

The dimes had gotten themselves arrested for trying to sell products to the pennies, knowing full well the pennies couldn't afford them.

"And what did the quarters do?" I asked, not sure I wanted to know.

"They bought the elections," my daughter said in a matter-of-fact tone. "You and Daddy always say the people who have the money buy the elections."

Wow! Little pitchers do have big ears.

That was yesterday. This afternoon, my kid started looking closely at quarters. First she was intrigued by the dates on the coins and the way some were worn almost smooth. We imagined the adventures those coins must have had, sliding in and out of coat pockets and cash registers, plummeting onto hard parking lots and landing in dark bank vaults, sweltering in the sweaty fists of kids eager for candy, and ending up in the bedroom of a Colorado twelve-year-old dreaming of a laptop in 2020.

Then the pictures on the state quarters caught her eye. We began talking about what had prompted individual states to place the chosen pictures on their quarters. We discussed Pearl Harbor, Mount Rushmore, the Everglades, wild mustangs in the West, the Battle of Gettysburg,, the Statue of Liberty--history from one end of the United States to the other.

Kids are hungry for knowledge. Feed them every chance you get.
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July 3, 2020

Nellie

I had a vivid dream last night about an incident that hasn't crossed my mind for over thirty years. In fact, the happening was so insignificant I was surprised my brain had recorded any memory of it at all. Yet there it was, preserved in every detail, as fresh in voice and nuance as if it had occurred yesterday.

I was working as a counselor at a camp for people of all ages with a variety of disabilities. On the evening in my dream, a bunch of us sat around a fire on a clear July night. I recall the mountain breeze, the sweet scent of wood smoke, the relaxed feeling that could have gone on forever. The camp nurse--we'll call her Nellie, in case she's still alive to be ashamed of herself--had a guitar and a sweet singing voice, and she led us in song after song.

Then someone complained of a headache. Nellie told her to move back from the fire. The smoke was probably bothering her. The music went on.

The girl with the headache came and sat next to me. She started feeling worse, so I let her lean on my shoulder. I rubbed her back and hummed softly, rocking a little. When that didn't help, I stopped humming and stroked her hair.

Finally, I said to the nurse, "Hey, Nellie. I think we need some Tylenol® over here."

"She's fine!" Nellie snapped. "Can't I enjoy a peaceful evening for once? What do you think I am, a vending machine, here to pop out pills every second of the day?"

I was too shocked to come up with an answer for that. Nellie had a medical bag next to the bench she was sitting on. It would have taken no effort at all for her to dispense the pills. Granted, her job as a nurse at a camp where there were people with endless medical needs at all hours was quite demanding, but still ... just wow! These days, I probably would have made a scene. But I was eighteen; I only wrapped my arms around the girl with the headache and went on stroking her hair.

Fortunately for her, a man with more grit and wisdom than I had--he turned out to be my future husband--stepped in.

"I can see the pain in that kid's eyes," he said quietly. "Give her the damn Tylenol®."

Everyone around the fire had gone silent. I don't often regret my blindness, but I would have liked to see the quick showdown of facial expressions that happened between Nellie and her challenger. After a moment, the nurse dug out some Tylenol® from her bag and, without a word, handed the girl next to me two pills and a bottle of water.

"You'll feel better soon," I told her.

Over my morning coffee, I started thinking about why I might have had that dream. I don't believe it just popped randomly into my sleeping brain.

During the last three decades, I've become well acquainted with the medical system. I've met dozens, maybe hundreds, of techs, nurses, and doctors who plied their trades with skill and compassion. But I've also seen the darker side of the bureaucracy, the side that allowed me to receive alcohol injections behind my eyeballs with no pain medication because anesthesia wasn't covered for Medicaid patients, the side that let a doctor once believe it was okay to swab off my arm and inject a shot into my bloodstream without informing me of what she was doing, much less what the needle contained, then have the nerve to slap a consent form in front of me so I could sign off on the shot.

Now, in the days of Covid-19, we've started to hear rumors of triage and even rationing as cases mount and ventilators get scarce. One man in Texas has already died after being denied care for the Coronavirus because a doctor decided his quality of life was too low. His arms and legs were paralyzed, and he had a brain injury. But he was still actively involved in the lives of his wife and five children, who visited him often at the nursing home where he lived, albeit from behind glass. Several states have put triage orders in place that move people with various disabilities down on the priority list, although those orders are due to be challenged in the courts.

It's a fearsome thing to be disabled now that Corona has taken the throne. For me, all that apprehension has crystallized into Nellie. Sweet, snappy Nellie, stressed out by her job and feeling she has the right to decide when enough is enough.

And the rest of us. Will we sit watching, like the people around the campfire? Will we comfort those who are ill, maybe intervene a little like I did, but not take that last strong step? Or will we speak out firmly for justice, wherever and whenever the situation demands our raised voices?
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Published on July 03, 2020 14:40 Tags: care, comfort, covid-19, disability, dream, justice, rationing, triage

June 17, 2020

If You're Feeling Kind of Weepy

If you're feeling kind of weepy lately, for a thousand big picture reasons that roil in your guts and ache in your heart and keep you awake at night, but that you can't quite put into coherent words ...

Then you shrug off the organic spinach salad, light on dressing, you ate for lunch and fix yourself a waffle, even if it's only the toaster kind. After all, you reason, it's been three months since you got to have a waffle at a restaurant, where someone brought you silverware and hot coffee and took the dirty dishes away afterward. Drat the Coronavirus anyway!

But your hand shakes as you pour the maple syrup, and the blasted bottle drops to the floor. Before you manage to find the bottle, which somehow never lands where it sounds like it has, a warm, sticky flood has made its way across your reasonably clean kitchen floorboards. It's June, after all, and syrup flows like molten lava in the heat.

So you wipe up most of the mess with a wet paper towel, mumbling a few words under your breath that might make Mrs. Butterworth® giggle,, and then drag out the steam mop because you had ants last summer and you'd rather not invite them back. You unplug the toaster, plug in the mop, and wait. And wait and wait and wait.

Finally, wondering if the steam mop is the latest victim to fall ill in your house--there seems to be something going around among the appliances; first it was the food processor, then it was the refrigerator--you interrupt your twelve-year-old daughter's screen time, God forbid, and ask for a well check. Barely attempting to smother her derisive giggles, your sweet child informs you that the mop is missing its cloth cleaning head. She saunters back to the family laptop, still snickering, and you sheepishly find the head and fasten it to the steam mop. Okay, so you should have checked; but the cloth head is almost always on the mop except when it gets laundered. That was a blind chick fumble, plain and simple.

So then you attempt to clean up the mess again, and you forget where the sticky puddle was. You traipse right through the syrup with your slippers and stick to the floor. Insert more unladylike words for Mrs. Butterworth's® entertainment.

You trudge to your room, grumbling. Only then, as you grab your other pair of slippers, something stops you in your tracks ...

You have a second pair of slippers to put on.

You have a steam mop to scrub the floor with. Your mind flashes back to your grandma, that tiny fireball of a woman with the bun of dark hair on the top of her head, scrubbing her kitchen floor on her hands and knees.

You have a functional kitchen, a comfortable house, and meaningful work. You've learned to navigate a disability that is both a nuisance and a growth opportunity, but not a closed door.

You have toaster waffles and maple syrup, and a fridge and freezer packed with food.

You have a thriving little girl who, insensitive though she may be once in a while, loves you to the moon and back.

You and your family have tightened your belts, but you'll make it through this pandemic thing. There have been some tense health moments with your loved ones, but everybody's okay. For now, at least, and now's all anyone has.

You are truly and deeply blessed.


If you enjoyed this post, please see more at https://www.brightsideauthor.com.
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April 17, 2020

The Best Laid Lesson Plans

It was hardly a lesson plan at all, to tell the truth. My kid and I were making smoothies together, nothing more. But on a sunny Friday afternoon when it had snowed all week, that was good enough for both of us. Besides, I squeezed in a few details about how the protein in the Muscle Milk® would help my twelve-year-old daughter grow and how the potassium in the banana would ease the leg cramps she’s had in her calves lately. (Please, sweet child, don’t upp-size right now. New pants and shirts really aren’t in the budget this summer, okay?) Anyway, I told her how the strawberry yogurt we added had live cultures in it that were good for her digestion. That didn’t impress her much.

Then came the part where the best laid plan went awry. Let’s just say, usually having your cup run over is a blessing. When making smoothies, not so much. I’m new to smoothie-mixing, so I learned that filling the food processor too full will cause seepage in many directions at once. We got that mess under control and ended up with two beautiful drinks.

I told my daughter there was just enough canned whipped cream left from Easter dinner to garnish the smoothies with the fancy swoops and curls they make at Starbucks®. Unfortunately, the propellant ran out when we tried to decorate the drinks, leaving the whipped cream trapped in the can.

“Oh well,” I said cheerfully. “The smoothies will be refreshing anyway.”

My child has always been fiercely determined. Nothing stands between her and what she wants, ever. When she was just over a year old, she learned to escape from her crib. She would place both hands on the top rail, walk her feet up the slats till her body got high enough off the mattress for her weight to tip the balance, and let gravity do the rest. She didn’t particularly like landing headfirst on the floor, and she cried briefly every time. But she obviously considered freedom worth the price of the fall, since once she learned the trick, keeping her in the crib was absolutely hopeless.

“Mom, I’m getting that whipped cream out.” My daughter surveyed her dad’s workbench and picked up a small hammer. “I’ll start with this.

“There’s probably not much in there, and it won’t be fluffy. Carbon dioxide is the gas that fluffs it up, you know, the same stuff that gives Coke it’s fizz.”

“I don’t care. I’m on a mission.”

True to her word and heedless of my misgivings, my kid pried the cap part off the can with the claw tool on the hammer. A bit of slightly fluffy whipped cream oozed out into her waiting bowl.

“Muahahahahaha!” she cackled.

The can bled too slowly for my metal dissector, though. She put the hammer away and plugged in an electric drill instead. After washing a fairly large bit, she drilled two holes in the can so the cream would leak out more quickly.

When my kid had gotten enough whipped cream out of the can to top both smoothies, she was finally satisfied. The drinks didn’t look fine and fancy like they would have if we’d gotten them at Starbucks®, but they had their frothy white caps nonetheless.

After that, my daughter asked me for permission to take the can out in the driveway and smash it with a sledgehammer, just to see how much cream was left in it. I knew she could handle a sledge, since her dad had taught her how when they tore down a fence in the yard last summer. So why not?

I think smashing that can was a good release for her. There’s nothing like whaling on something to get rid of your frustrations. I may or may not have laughed when the last of the whipped cream exploded out and spurted all over her face and hair as she bent over, pounding away on that can.

And hey, as I think it over, it was a pretty good lesson plan. Home economics, science, shop class, maybe even a little engineering—and most of it was student-led. Plus some great nutrition and some good clean, albeit sticky, fun. Not bad for a Friday afternoon.


If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more, please visit my Web site at http://www.brightsideauthor.com.
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April 4, 2020

Weathering this Storm

I'm honored to share this guest post, written by a dear friend and colleague from my local critique group. The piece offers a beautiful glimpse into the graceful way one person is navigating a moment in time that will surely go down in history as a world-changing event.


Weathering this Storm
by Elena Guerrero Townsend

An insidious virus emerged on our blue planet, killing thousands in its wake. To our horror, it made its way across invisible borders. It struck terror into our hearts. Under advisement, we hunkered down in our homes to protect ourselves as well as others. Quarantine was the new word of the day. Isolation, for some, is heavenly. For others, cabin fever is an annoying state of mind that can occasionally lead to madness.

At home, ailing from a mild case of cabin fever, I sat on the edge of my bed, looking out the window. I felt a little tug like the one my grandbabies use to get my attention. Suddenly, I found myself traveling through a labyrinth of memories. Memories old enough to join AARP inched their way up from under layers of dust. I grabbed them, placed them in a snow globe, and shook them.

As the flakes began to settle, I found myself back in 1961. After my parents' divorce, my mother took us away from the excitement and amenities of Los Angeles. We moved to the dusty dying town of Sugar City, Colorado, a city named after its sugar-manufacturing center.

Across from my grandparents' one-bedroom adobe home sat a ballpark. It wasn't much of a ballpark. A pitcher's mound slumped in a bare field void of grass. Devil's claws and thorns silently waited to persecute the outfielders by attacking and sticking to their cleats. Those ballplayers would walk a little funny or try scraping the stickers off in the dirt. Now and then the wind would whip up dust devils that skipped gracefully across the field. They'd vanish as quickly as they appeared.

One day I woke up, and my grandpo, uncles, and fellow citizens were erecting a backstop behind home plate. They had the cool of the morning, one post digger, and a roll of chicken wire to do the job. I imagine the backstop was needed to protect my grandparents’ little adobe house from getting pelted with missed baseballs. Before each game, the Sugar City sheriff would drag the field with an old railroad tie to smooth it out. When the sun began to set, you'd hear cars and trucks starting their motors. Fans and players would strategically park around the field, ready to switch on their headlights. Teamwork--Sugar City had plenty of that.

This small patch of dirt with a pitchers mound was the hub of Sugar City. It seemed like the whole town, and other nearby cities too showed up for the games. I soon discovered my mom's family had a severe case of baseball fever. My uncles, male and female cousins, and two brothers all played as if God had anointed them. They played with so much zest and zeal; their love of the game was contagious. I saw white faces, brown faces, and red hot faces playing under the searing sun.

I was five when I first heard the crowd explode like thunder from across the street. I didn't know a lick about baseball, but it didn't take long to figure out what captivated the crowd. As I looked up at the throng of faces, I saw their eyes fat with excitement.

Hearing the crack of the bat as the baseball slammed into it was music to the crowd's ears. Watching the ball fly over the outfielders' heads with their gloves raised to the heavens drew cheers from the spectators. That burst of energy rattled my five-year-old bones. The cheering, the heat, the scoring, the dust, the thrill, the devotion, the shining faces all in one afternoon was thoroughly intoxicating.

All summer long, the games continued until the days grew shorter, and the school bells began to ring. That kind of excitement, that thrill had to last us all winter. We didn't have a movie theatre, department stores, television or a phone. We sure could have used a library to borrow books.

What we did have was a radio so we could listen to Henry Reyes plays Mexican music on KAPI. Nothing captured my grandparents' attention like Mr. Reyes' voice who gave the news in Spanish. He played all their favorite songs as well as the new and upcoming artists. His deep love for his Mexican culture floated along the airwaves, and they felt it. When Mama came to visit, she'd swing us around the kitchen whenever cumbias came on.

Grandpo had his well-worn cards, and he played checkers with us. We had our vivid imaginations to make up games, tell stories, and tease each other. Our boundless energy kept our aging grandparents rather busy. Luckily for us, two teenagers and three adolescents lived next door to interact with us. Yes, we were hungry for companionship to release the heaviness inside us. We missed our parents. And that wound that tore our hearts when we left the city of Angels never did heal.

One day we had disobeyed Grandma Elena, and she decided to discipline us. We all turned and ran and jumped the fence, believing we had escaped her wrath. Her pale skin and indigenous features grew red with anger and sheer determination. She took off in a sprint, then she lifted up her dress and under slip and jumped over the small fence. We all saw the thick heels of her shoes land and kick up dust like a roadrunner. Four sets of eyes grew large with amazement. We said in unison, "Grandma, you jumped the fence." And we ran for our lives. From that day on, she was a legend in our eyes.

My grandparents faithfully prayed the rosary every night at the same time. Catholic saints, flickering candles, and plastic flowers filled their altar where we all knelt. Grandpo held his worn beaded rosary between his work-gnarled fingers. The shadows of the candles danced on the walls behind us. Each bead held it's own prayer that sounded musical like a chant. Grandpo prayed in Spanish. He started the prayer, and then we'd all join in and finish it with him. The countenance on my grandparents' faces changed as we all prayed in unison. Strength lined their foreheads, and their strong faith softened their faces.

Traveling through my labyrinth of memories made me smile and encouraged me. During this time of self-isolation, I now have a small library in my home; both my husband and I collect books. I can read all day and relax. Like many Americans, I have cable TV with hundreds of movies in multiple languages I can watch. What would my quiet grandparents think about that? I think they'd ignore the TV and be out working in their garden or tending their animals. They'd be communing with God.

During these precarious times, I can draw, paint, sew, or write out on the deck while catching the sun's rays. Hey, and I have a house phone and a cell phone, too! So, am I really isolated? My friends and relatives can call me if they need anything or want to hear a familiar voice. I'd be glad to chat with them or help. And my sweet friends do call me. With face-time or Zoom, I can still make meetings, and my grandson can learn online.

I tell myself this, my family and me, we got this! More importantly, I have faith, that same faith my reserved grandparents had when they were raising me. They led by example, and it took. I ask myself, what is going to get me through this? My answer is, it's my faith in God. My grandparents planted the seed almost sixty years ago, and it took. I’m not isolated from God; I can still feel his presence. I’m blessed.

I will let you in on a secret. That family baseball gene, well, I didn't get it. I'm not athletic, like my sister Gloria or my other relatives. My asthma sure leaves me winded. I'm an L.A. Dodger fan. Not a hardcore one, but I love to attend their games if given a chance, so maybe I did get a little piece of that baseball gene.
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March 23, 2020

I've Trained for This

I've been thinking today while reality slowly comes unraveled around me. Me, thinking again. Dangerous, right?

I've been rather unperturbed while some in my social sphere are melting down. Okay, I twitched a bit when I thought about seniors and disabled people facing the grim realities of hospital triage yesterday. Actually, that almost derailed me. So I'll take great care to put that dark specter out of my mind and deal with it only if I have to.

But why am I so composed? Is it my innate personality? Do I possess some source of natural inner strength others don't have? I don't believe so.

As a blind person, I think I've learned a few key life lessons that have put me in good stead now to weather the COVIC-19 crisis.

First, I figured out at a very early age that life wasn't and never would be fair. Other kids would always run faster than I could, grab more Easter eggs than I did, get to the swings before me, etc, etc. I could be bitter about it or I could learn to deal with it, but I couldn't change it.

Next, it hit me as I got older that, in general, I'm not in control. I've set goals for myself and worked to achieve them. I've graduated from college twice, found employment, and written two books. But in the big picture, life can shake me like a rag doll whenever it takes a notion, and it has taken a notion many times. My first husband fell ill with Lou Gehrig's disease six weeks after we got married. I followed the prescribed plan that was supposed to pay off--excel in high school and college, polish a resume, find a job--only there were no jobs to find because of rampant discrimination in the traditional labor market. I've learned how to retreat and regroup, to persist and prevail.

Then too, I've had to rely on other people. Growing up, I was taught that unrelenting independence was the ultimate goal. Over time, I found interdependence to be much more achievable. In exchange for transportation, I can buy gas. If I need someone to shop or read for me, I can return the favor with baked goods, writing help, or babysitting. I've discovered my strengths and the ability to harness them, but I've also embraced my weaknesses and realized they're not faults.

Knowing that life isn't fair, and that I have the resourcefulness and flexibility to face what comes, I'm not overly worried about the future. Social isolation and hard times don't seem daunting to me. Relying on others is nothing new. Aside from the fears about the health of myself and my loved ones, which none of us are immune to, my disability and its effects on my life have trained me well for the trials that await.

If you enjoyed this post, please visit my Web site at www.brightsideauthor.com.
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March 17, 2020

Fun During Interesting Times

Since school is closed and we had time on our hands, my daughter and I made a chocolate caramel brownie trifle today. I'm eating some of it as we speak. No, that's not drool I just wiped off my keyboard ... I think it's caramel sauce and whipped cream.

We started out by baking a chocolate chip pound cake. Okay, come on, there's a smidge of math in measuring 3/4 cup of butter, a cup of milk, a cup of flour, and so on. Not much, but some is better than none. And there's a little bit of following directions in addition to home economics that goes into making a recipe come out right. I'm stretching here, but we had fun together, which is what really matters.

When the pound cake was finished baking, I took it out of the pan, mostly intact. We couldn't wait for it to get quite cool enough for a perfectly clean extraction. My daughter cut off a thick slice and, while I wrapped the rest of the cake for the refrigerator, she made the slice into small squares. Geometry?

Then she layered the squares in two tall plastic cups with caramel sauce, whipped cream, and raspberries. Visual arts? This has become a cross-curricular activity. Those are big deals in the textbooks I proofread.

Whatever. The trifle tastes heavenly. And we had a great time. My kid will do the online math assignments coming from the school district. Not as cheerfully as she did our baking project, but she'll do them nonetheless. Still, I encourage those of you who are home with your kids to find things you can do with them that will be fun and memorable. Play board games. Get busy in the kitchen or the workshop. Find online museums and virtual field trips you can take together. Be creative, and most of all, talk, laugh, and hang out with each other!
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February 10, 2020

Math Musings

My sixth grader wanted to hang out with me today. So we ordered chicken wings from Blackjack Pizza--barbecue for her, mild buffalo for me--and played an hour-long game of War with Pokemon cards, using the health points of the Pokemon characters to determine their numerical values.

War is the game that goes nowhere. An equal number of the available cards are dealt to each of two players. Then each person plunks a card from the top of his or her stack on the table, and whoever has laid down the highest card gets to keep both cards. If there's a tie, war is declared. Each player puts out a stack of three cards without looking at them, face down, then adds another face up. The one with the highest card face up takes all the cards. The laws of statistics dictate that the game swings back and forth, so players may rise and fall a bit, but they stay pretty even over time. I got a kick out of the fact that my kid spent over sixty minutes working on basic addition and multiplication by figuring out who won each hand and who came out on top in every war, all the while telling me she hated math and I could never make her use it outside of school. We moms can still outsmart our kids now and then.

After an hour, my daughter was up about eighteen cards. She could have kept going all afternoon, but I was ready for something new.

"The card game is kind of like real war," she said suddenly. "There's a lot of dead people, but countries go back and forth, and nobody really gets anywhere."

Now who's the smart one?

After that, we played a game of Yahtzee--more math for the kid--and then tried to measure the perimeter of our house with a spool of fishing line. Her idea. That didn't work so well. The fishing line kept getting caught on last year's dead raspberry bushes, so we didn't manage to wrap it around the house. But it was a creative thought anyway. I'm not sure my daughter hates math at all. She just despises sitting still and learning math the way it's traditionally taught.
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January 24, 2020

Taking the Plunge

Today was the day. I fought off a migraine in the morning, and, since I was feeling better by afternoon and caught up on work, I decided to take the plunge.

Yeah, I know. In my world, you never can tell what that might mean. This time, the plunge involved cooking.

My friend T'nell gave me a couple of T-bones late last summer when her family bought a side of beef from a local butcher. My mouth has watered for months, every time those thick, fine steaks came to mind.

But I'd never cooked such nice pieces of meat before. In fact, I've hardly ever even eaten such nice pieces of meat, except a few times at restaurants. I tucked the steaks in my freezer. Maybe I'd fix them for a special occasion. The truth was, I was afraid to fix them at all because I didn't want to mess up the job.

Then my friend Daryl posted about preparing some steaks for the first time, and how great they turned out. I couldn't stop thinking about those T-bones in my freezer. I started looking up a few recipes on Google. But I was still nervous. Maybe I'd wait till summer and let my other half do the steaks on the grill.

One day around Christmas, another friend, John, gave me a talking kitchen thermometer he wasn't using anymore. Another piece of the puzzle fell into place.

"Just cook the steaks," Daryl urged me. "You'll surprise yourself."

I don't know what possessed me to march over to the freezer and pull out the butcher paper package this afternoon. My husband had said he would bring home burritos from a street vendor. Dinner plans were made. Maybe I was feeling a little pumped up on migraine medicine. Or maybe it was just time to seize the day.

In any case, I put some bacon grease in a heavy skillet, brought the T-bones to room temperature, and seasoned them with salt and a bit of garlic powder. I seared them for about a minute and a half on each side, then pan-fried them slowly. The steaks were very thick, so it took them a long while to cook through. I served them with baked mashed potato patties and a steamed vegetable medley made up of baby snap peas, asparagus, and green beans.

And, Daryl, I surprised myself. Those steaks were some of the best I ever had. I shared one with my daughter and her dad, so we have the second one left for tomorrow. We don't need a special occasion--just an ordinary weekday in January will do. Thanks for pushing me to trust myself. And T'Nell, thanks for the T-bones. Yum!
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January 10, 2020

Cooking Through Grief

I've always envied people who can cry easily. Most of them seem so calm and refreshed when it's over, like they've just sipped a cup of hot tea. On the rare occasions when I do cry, I feel as wrung out as a limp dishrag afterward, and a little embarrassed besides. Stoicism was very highly valued in the home where I grew up.

My tears usually get stuck somewhere between the place I'm supposed to breathe through my nose and the spot in my throat that makes me swallow. Then they tie themselves in a knot and just sit there. And sit there. And sit there some more, till the reason for their existence passes or the tears give up and decide there must be an easier way to escape from my body.

Which is how I ended up frying bacon and dicing potatoes recently on a quiet winter afternoon, listening to nineties country way up loud while I was alone in the house.

It had been a typical weekday morning. Some trivial stresses, nothing out of the ordinary. Then grief gut-punched me out of nowhere. It happens sometimes when you leasst expect it, as most of us know. I started missing my first husband, Jim, so keenly it was like a hunger in my soul.

I met Jim when I was seventeen. I knew within a few weeks that we would eventually marry. We did, on a sweltering August day the year I turned twenty. Within less than two months of our wedding, Jim fell ill with a rare form of Lou Gehrig's disease. I was his sole caregiver for ten years as his body relentlessly shut down. Then, for personal and financial reasons related to the disease and unrelated to our love, we had to part ways. I don't cry often, but I wept myself to limp dishrag exhaustion the day Jim received the Lou Gehrig's diagnosis. I sobbed my heart out again on the first lonely night I spent in an empty apartment after ten years of marriage. I didn't feel better either time. I didn't cry when his ravaged body finally set him free. He had assured me he was ready, so that day, I rejoiced for him.

In our society, we tend to set fairly structured boundaries around grief. We give people a year, maybe a little longer, if they lose someone "immediate"--a parent, a spouse, a child, or a sibling. After that, we expect them to pick themselves up and move on, mostly for our own comfort. If the loss isn't immediate, we barely deal with it at all. When Jim passed away, I had little support. My ex husband had died. Hardly anyone seemed to think that would matter much to me. Besides, I had a busy life by then with a lot of responsibilities. Time had marched on.

So there I was on a random afternoon almost four and a half years after Jim's passing, with the familiar knot of tears trying to strangle me. Of course, I had friends I could call, but what would I say? They would be kind and supportive, but none of them had known Jim. There would be no common memories, no good times to laugh about or shared sadness to navigate together. And anyway, would I seem unhappy with the life I had now if I mourned for the one that could have been, the one that hadn't happened??

I turned on the radio--okay, I told Alexa to play a nineties country station--and sat listening to the music Jim and I used to enjoy together.

"I have a good life now," I told myself. "I have a family who will want dinner in a little while. I need to get a grip."

As Garth Brooks serenaded me and my parakeet happily chattered along, I sliced some strips of thick bacon into small chunks and dropped them into my large aluminum skillet. Jim and I had often enjoyed hearty mid-morning breakfasts as our main meal of the day.

The smell of frying meat filled the kitchen, along with the sweet harmony of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. As I diced potatoes, I let my mind wander. I remembered the scent of pipe tobacco that had lingered on Jim's shirts and the roughness of his beard against my cheek. I recalled the sound of his laughter as he bantered with the kids in our neighborhood and appreciated the way he always greeted our mail carrier by name.

By the time the potatoes were sizzling in the skillet with the bacon and a big handful of minced onions, memories from the past had begun to soothe my raw spirit. I thought about the afternoon some visiting friends had pulled up at our house to find me, the petite blind woman, sunburned and red-faced, shoveling gravel into a wheelbarrow from the asphalt driveway we were tearing out while Jim, the six-foot, broad-shouldered man in the wheelchair, barbecued steaks on the grill. The role reversal, while not completely unexpected, had made our friends do a double take. I recalled the way Jim and I had tried to put people at ease when they met us by joking that, with my blindness and his mobility challenges, we had one working body between us.

I started cracking eggs into a bowl and humming along to a Brooks and Dunn song. I aded salt, pepper, milk, and a smidge of garlic to the eggs, scrambled them, and poured them carefully into the skillet. When they were cooked, I sprinkled cheese over everything and grabbed a plate.

I served up a sample of the concoction, which Jim had called "breakfast slop" in his bachelor days, and turned the music down. As I savored the first few bites of the familiar dish he and I had so often shared, the knot in my throat began to loosen. The tears had found an easier way to escape from my body.
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Looking on the Bright Side

J. E. Pinto
All of my writing, whether it’s my novel, a short story, a blog post, an advocacy piece, or even a letter to an elected official, flows out of one of my deepest core values as a human being. I believe ...more
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