May 25, 2010  
Chicken soup for the bowl

I was part of the generation that grew up thinking that the man of the house went to work and the wife stayed home and did the cooking, housekeeping and rearing of children. It was the same relationship my Dad had with my Mom and they stayed happily married that way for over fifty years. My wife’s parents had the same kind of relationship so it was the norm for us to behave the same way. So I ask you, why am I doing the laundry, cooking, shopping and housekeeping? It started when I retired thirteen years ago; my wife needed surgery for her back and required assistance with the house work. “This will only be for a short period of time.” She encouraged me to do a little more each day and that’s how the torch was passed to me.

The Alta Kakas men’s club meets every Wednesday at 10:30 for breakfast at a local restaurant. I was surprised when, at one of those breakfasts, my friend Reggie announced that his wife asked if he’d cook a meal for her and his Mom. The women were having physical health challenges and asked him to help out by preparing a meal. When the meal was served they both applauded and congratulated him; they hadn’t known he could be such a good cook. “Mel, you should have seen their faces as they ate, and you should have heard the kind comments they made as they devoured the meal. I really enjoyed cooking and I think I’ll do it as a regular thing. Do you cook, and do you have any recipes you’d like to share?” I could hardly contain myself and I began laughing hysterically. “Reggie, your wife knows the trick; she’ll have you doing laundry and housework soon. Arlene did the same thing to me. I went from being the president of a small corporation to being a chef and housekeeper.

“Seriously Reg,” I said. “I’ll gladly share some of my favorite recipes with you.” “Me too”, exclaimed Howard and then the rest of the guys chimed in with a similar response; within a few minutes we were sharing recipes. We were interrupted when Budd quietly said “2 o’clock” and we turned our heads to view a young beautiful woman walk past our table. I guess we’re interested in more than cooking! The conversation quickly returned to our favorite recipes. I personally enjoy cooking and preparing special meals or desserts for my sweetheart and yes I enjoy seeing her smile and hearing her say, “you cook so well, so much better than me."

Have you heard the story of two cannibals who had just cooked a clown and were eating it when one turned to the other and asked…"Does this taste funny to you?”

Speaking of cooking, I had prepared a vegetable chicken soup in advance because guests were coming to our house for brunch on Sunday. I arose early Sunday morning and headed over to our local Publix supermarket to pick up fresh rolls and salad and watermelon to serve with the soup and beautiful flowers for a centerpiece. We set the table for their arrival at 1 p.m.; everything was perfect, what a wonderful presentation. Our friends called at 1 o’clock and informed us that they had to cancel due to circumstances beyond their control. We handled it really well; we enjoyed what we ate and complemented each other on the presentation. We then called our thirty-eight year old son Lew to tell him there was Matzo ball soup, salad and watermelon ready to be picked up. He was overjoyed and asked if it was Grandma’s recipe and if I would give it to him. “Why?” I asked. He said, “my wife likes my cooking”. Wow, my wife didn’t say that till I was in my late fifties; times they are a changing.

The way I look at work is best said by Dr. Martin Luther King from a speech given in Buffalo N.Y. in 1956.

"We need more people who are competent in all areas and always remember that the important thing is to do a good job. No matter what it is. Whatever you are doing consider it as something having cosmic significance, as it is a part of the uplifting of humanity” Be the best of whatever you are....

Stress Breakers

I’m amazed at how retired people add stress to everyday living even if there is no need to. It may start with something simple like “has the mailman delivered the mail? Did you say no? I’m waiting for something very important. Why is he late today?” I think to myself, what could be important? The guy hasn’t worked in five years; it must be a coupon for a fiber free cereal. I focus on eliminating stress, so I am always a day behind picking up my mail. I’m rarely disappointed cause the mail is never late. After all 60-70 percent is junk mail or an offer for a free lunch from a financial advisor or a funeral home. I ask myself if a little stress is necessary to bring my life into balance. When I was working I used to use a slogan, amongst many, that says “worry works.” If I had the fear of worrying about the future, I’d take action now. Today I have enough challenges and don’t want more to cause me stress, so I try not to worry about things that may not happen.

My loving wife has had health challenges since August and has had her whole neck fused and a third fusion on her back in the last six months. I was determined to be her caretaker and would not allow anyone but me to help her, or touch her. This was putting a great deal of stress on me. Finally last December she insisted that I at least bring someone in to help for twelve hours a week. I hired Sarah; she was born in Romania, spoke some English, and needed to work. We have two Bichon Frises (small white dogs) and when she’d enter the house they’d get excited and run to greet her. She never had a dog and was frightened of them, but they quickly won her heart. The breed likes to lick when they greet a human and she’d yell in a high pitched voice “Look, they like me, they kissing me.” I chuckled to myself; with her accent it sounded humorous. I know that Arlene felt the same way. When I’d ask Sarah a question and she didn’t know the answer she’d use the same high pitched voice and say “I don’t know.” We found her foreign way of expressing herself in English very charming and cute. When she went home I found myself emulating her voice and saying, in my best high pitched female type voice, “they like me, they kissing me” and every so often, when it was least expected I’d say “I don’t know” with the same inflection as she did. Arlene and I would share a good laugh and this became a stress breaker for both of us at a time when our lives were very difficult.

Arlene was in a lot of pain in those days and she only wanted to watch comedy on tv and on rental dvd’s to give her respite from her troubles. We would watch “Dinosaurs” a Jim Henson program from the early 90’s. There was a cute baby dinosaur that would always say “I’m the baby….. gotta love me.” Soon I added that to my silly repertoire, all in the high pitched voice. Arlene would laugh when I would do the voices of Sarah or the dinosaur, so I decided that I would create my own voice character to encourage Arlene to take her pills or eat her dinner, and make her smile. I imitated a little girl and I’d say things like “Gamma, you better be good and listen to Papa and eat everything on your plate. Papa says if you eat that for a hundred years you’ll grow to be an old lady”.

So daily, as the mood would strike me, I found myself using these different voices and my wife laughing no matter how many times I did ( I came up with all sorts of cute responses with the little girl voice). Then one day she informed me that if I do the voices when someone is in the house they’ll think I have flipped out; our sons might even want to have me institutionalized. “They’ll have you put away, they’ll think you’re insane.” I knew she was correct, as always, yet I had a strong desire to keep on doing the voices as I was getting good at it and very entertaining. I began a search for a hand puppet on the internet. I found two that I liked, a French chef and a little girl with pig tails. I call the French chef Marcel and the little girl Esmeralda. When our family visits I use the puppets to speak with them, they think it’s hysterical. My granddaughters want me to buy them hand puppets too. The puppets have taken on personalities. And that’s how I handled my stress, continued to do my “voices,” and went from being on the border of insane to legitimately entertaining. I found I had a talent and a new hobby which was a great stress reliever for my wife and me and that the whole family enjoyed. I guess there’s a fine line between insanity and entertainment!

With the sun shining and Spring in the air, how can one do anything but smile. G-d is good. Eat Kosher and have a wonderful happy month.

Mel (The fat guy)

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