Monday, March 26, 2012


I made this delicious Vegetarian Paella today from a book my Mom gave me years before I even considered becoming vegan. The cookbook is Fresh From The Vegetarian Slow Cooker by Robin Robertson. This paella, and in fact most of the recipes in the book, are actually vegan. This was  sooooo delicious, and putting it all in the crock pot early for a dinnertime of comings and goings was convenient. Vegans and omnis, alike, enjoyed it. I will definitely be making this again. The cookbook is a treasure.

Today in my grief process, I'm feeling regretful for everything my Mom gave me which I'd not yet taken the time to appreciate.  To this, my sweet daughter answered practically, "Well, Mom, she gave you so much -- you couldn't have possibly used everything," What a wonderful child! She's a treasure too. I sure hope my Mom knows now how much I appreciate all her thoughtful gifts. I am confident that she always knew how much I loved her, which is a comfort.

When we were all still at my Mom's and Dad's house, my Dad offered each of us items that had been my Mom's. He had found a thick paperback Sodoku book on top of a pile of bookmarked magazines in the Master bathroom and offered it to my brother, Britton, who accepted it at first. A little later he pulled me aside and said that he couldn't possibly fit it into his China-bound luggage (he and his wife are both teachers there). He asked if I would take it. I was thrilled. I LOVE Sodoku, and it would be nice to have a book my Mom had also enjoyed. As I accepted it, I said to my brother, "But I want you to have something for remembrance too,"

My brother pointed to an ancient, pewter pitcher above the kitchen cabinet, and said, "The only thing I want is that pitcher. It's horcrux worthy!" Yes, that's what he said! Who's cooler than Brit? He's a treasure.

Back home again and having a down day on Sunday, missing my Mom, I decided to pull out the Sodoku book and soothe my nerves with a puzzle. Look at what I found:

Yes, that's my sweet Mom's handwriting, notes she had made presumably for only herself, since the book was found in her sanctuary, the only place she was ever alone -- her bathroom. Here she has written, "came together beautifully!!" "easy!!" and "delightful!!" My Mom had commented on each puzzle she had done or attempted -- half of the book. Other comments included: "a bear!! I worked it out though!" and "Trouble!" Seeing her words, I can hear the way she would have spoken them. She was so effusive and genuinely enthusiastic. Her joy was infectious. This book is a treasure.

The last puzzle my Mom had worked was not finished. Here it is:

That's my handwriting. Her numbers are in blue, and mine, in black. This puzzle was effortless for me, as if I had help. Puzzling with my Mom was a treasure, one I hope will continue as I do more of them.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Beautiful Things

This lovely, nutritious Primavera is appropriate comfort food for the season. I love preparing food simply based on what's on hand. This was tinkyada brown rice pasta, grape tomatoes, sauteed purple onion and garlic, frozen peas and Italian parsley with olive oil. I didn't cook the tomatoes or peas. I just added them to the warm pasta at the end to keep their flavors bright.

As I try to adjust to a world without my mother, my heart is warmed by beautiful things all around me. My Mom was always the first to notice, and be grateful for the stunning beauty found in nature and also  in man made things. So beauty will always remind me of her.

My amazing friend, Cheryl, sent me this beautiful dried bay leaf wreath. It is so pretty, I was inspired to take down my dusty old window valance and hang the wreath in its place. My sweet husband brought the lilies to cheer me, and even arranged them in the tall, amber-glass vase my Mom had given me. I love how the vertical reach of this vignette feels somewhat holy.

Upon our return home, I received this gigantic bouquet from my husband's employer. It takes up most of the dining room table. My Mom would love this. Incidentally, the morning before I received this, the large sun, still low in the eastern sky when I dropped my daughter at the bus stop, was exactly the coral-papaya color of the rose up front. My Mom would have loved that for sure. In the background of this photo is an oil pastel portrait of me as a teen, drawn by my Mom.

More beautiful things in my springtime yard:

Even Winter's leftovers are still pretty:

Today's Jeanine story:

When my father used to do business overseas, we sometimes were lucky enough to tag along. One summer, after my freshman year of college, two weeks in Greece turned into a couple of months because of the TWA hijacking that occurred the day after our arrival. All U.S. airlines suspended service to Athens. Eventually, with summer winding down, we opted to board a freighter ship to Ancona, Italy, for a bonus vacay in Rome, and then a flight home. The tragic circumstances of the hijacking aside, we had a lovely summer. At our second hotel, on the outskirts of Athens, My Mom decided to go parasailing. To my immature, 20-year-old sensibilities, my Mom was way too old for such shenanigans. Now, as I do the math, I realize she was the very age I am today -- 46! She was fit and beautiful and very brave. You won't catch me doing most of what she did!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Shift Back to Reality

We're back home now, and the landing was rough, I'm not gonna lie.  I'm as emotionally depleted as I was a week ago (though the many expressions of sympathy we've received have been a balm) but am without the loving cocoon of folks going through what I am going through. Also, the issues we were dealing with before my Mom's death are still here waiting to be dealt with, and there is more dirty laundry and mail to go through, and less fresh food, and more rotten food in the fridge from our sudden departure. I didn't have much of an appetite, but I did pack my own food for the 11 hour drive each way. Highway food is not vegan, or macrobiotic, or good. I missed my juicer. So, today I treated myself to this cucumber, broccoli stem, orange, ginger and romaine juice. I had a bonus dose for the afternoon too.

Being surrounded by my loving family of origin and by marriage, including my dad, brother, sister-in-law, niece, nephew, Grandma [my mom's mom, age 95], Uncles, Aunt, cousins [first and second], my parents-in-law, my husband's brother and his family, and so many dear friends in the face of the loss of my Mom was such a necessary way to knock the first, sharp hours of grief off the process. My best friends from college even came to pay tribute to my sweet Mom. They had travelled to Florida with me for Spring Break, oh so many moons ago, when my parents used to live there.

From left, they are: Andrea Brazil, Melinda Miller, Cindy Clark, Lynn Dommel, moi and the lovely Cheryl Lage. Nobody had changed a bit, each personality just as I'd last experienced it. What a blessing to have these wonderful friends with me! I snagged this photo from Facebook, courtesy of Melinda.

My family pulled together a loving, respectful tribute to my Mom, replete with both sorrow and humor. I did the whole thing with a painful pit in my gut, but I needed to do whatever I could to honor the amazing lady. From my perspective, on that day, I was three years old again, and I missed my Mommy. So I shared a beautiful vignette from that time. My Dad did an excellent job enumerating all the honorable work my mother has accomplished helping people find out what had happened to their loved ones during WWII, but he also shared the quaint story of all the workers at Giant (a grocery store), all of whom my Mom knew by first name, and their tearful reactions upon learning of her death. My brother told about how my Mom used to be able to walk eight steps in the backyard . . . on her hands! My big handsome uncle, a marine and my Mom's younger brother, stood at the podium as tears rolled down his cheeks, telling about how my Mom and Aunt Gayle used to decorate him in pretty scarves before they would take him outside. He lightened the mood when he said he had recently given up wearing the scarves. My tearful husband, after a very fitting tribute along a more serious vein, finished by lamenting no more "Grandma Tattoos" (the red lip prints she regularly administered to our cheeks which were impossible to remove). I think my Mom would have been so touched and humbled by the outpouring of love for her. My former faith (which I'm hoping is only on hiatus) would have put her there with us in spirit, laughing right along.

The good news is, my writers' block is gone (I've been not-writing the same book for ten years now). I am journalling the grief process which is therapeutic. So many happy stories about my Mom have been flying through my mind though, especially since she's been gone. I'm compelled to share -- maybe in an effort to keep her memory alive. Here's one:

When my parents' families both lived in Norfolk, Virginia, their backyards were adjacent. My Mom used to watch my Dad walk back and forth along his fence, his pet rooster strutting along behind him on the top rail. She was smitten with the curly-headed boy, and decided to see what "this kissing business" was all about. She hatched a plan. The kids in the neighborhood walked to and from school, so my five-year-old Mom hid behind a tree along the route, waiting for my Dad. Her idea was to lure him behind the tree under the premise of showing him something interesting she had found. When she saw him approaching, she called him over, pointing to a random spot behind the tree. Brow furrowed, swinging his Hopalong Cassidy lunchbox, he tentatively approached. When he got close enough, my Mom wrapped her arms around him, pulled him behind the tree and kissed him right on his six-year-old mouth. My Dad dropped his lunchbox and ran home, crying. Later, sitting sheepishly at the dinner table, my Mom decided she couldn't eat because there were germs on her mouth.

That's a true story.

Friday, March 16, 2012


Jeanine McKenzie Allen, my mom, passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday morning. We are all shell shocked and have not yet laid her to rest.  I just need to express how lucky I've been for 46 years to be the daughter of this amazing woman. A better mother and human being I cannot imagine.

When we spoke with her just hours before she passed, she was so positive and full of joy. She and my Dad had spent the afternoon on their deck, in the warm sunshine.  She was hoping to see us soon. In my grief, I am still heartened by her joy, and her effusive, palpable expression of selfless love. Her words were like a warm hug.

My mom was many things. I cannot possibly pay her adequate tribute, but I will try.  She was:
The best stay-at-home mother I've ever met
A talented artist
The most loving grandmother
A seeker of truth
A dedicated daughter and sister
A loving wife
A philanthropist, with her funds, time and intuitive sympathy
An amazing teacher
Lots of fun at parties
A role model
An interested and compassionate ear, even with perfect strangers
The one person who could always look on the bright side
My best friend.

I love you Mama.

A favorite charity of my Mom's was The Wounded Warrior Project. If you are so inclined, please check it out.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Another Pulp Mishap

So, how long have I been juicing? This is what I get for multitasking during my sacred juicing process. What went wrong here? That's right -- No pulp bin! I just shoved the first kale leaf through the juicer and sprayed the pulp all over the counter and the floor:

When I'm working in the kitchen, Ellie is always listening carefully for some sort of utterance from me that would indicate food might be on the floor. She did indeed hear me say . . .  something, and pitched in right away to do her part:

The girl loves her greens!

Emma seemed at first to want no  part in the process:

But then I realized the dried out kale pulp from the juicer would not have much flavor or scent left and so it would be like the ice cubes I have to point out on the floor to the pups. The dogs' vision is great for noticing a squirrel twitch 100 yards away, but up close not so much. They really rely on their sense of smell more than vision at that range. So if something has little or no scent, I have to point right to it for them to find it. Once I did, Emma did her part in the clean up as well.

I just thought you might enjoy another laugh at my expense!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Breaking Up With Paul and Justin

I'm currently right smack in the middle of my assumed week-long, aforementioned sugar detox. Detoxing from anything is much more difficult during a season of stress, which is where I am currently living, so now's my chance to see what I'm made of. I'll need to just break up with Paul and Justin.

Are you familiar with these guys? I let them into my life at a weak moment, when I gave up the afternoon coffee that would ruin my sleep. They've stepped in when I've needed a little coddling or a momentary escape. But the price is just too high, and I don't mean the $10 price tag for Justin (which is actually also too high). The price I'm talking about is the undoing of my carefully crafted dietary healing -- the vegan-dabbling-in-macrobiotics delicacies which give peace, health and balance to my current experience. Whatever benefit is gained from the delicious juices, the greens and grains, the beans and miso, flies right out the window when I let one of these guys back in. I become instantly unhinged -- flighty, confused and jittery. Unable to sleep, I wake up feeling their insidious pull once again.

For those of you unfazed by the havoc wreaked by sugar, please give these vegan treats a try. They are wonderful products, just not for me. You remember Paul (RIP) but maybe I date myself. I remember him -- dreamy. He also did a lot of good in his life and made some amazing organic and vegan food. I'll miss you, Paul. I don't actually know Justin, but I sure know his Chocolate Hazelnut Butter. It's essentially vegan nutella -- dairy-free and without as much sugar. But that's still too much for me. There are lots of other flavors for you sweets-lovers to check out as well.

For the next 3-5 days, boys, as I'm getting you out of my system for good, I've hardened my heart. Don't even think about running through my head the way you do. Save your oozy, melty sweet talk for some other girl.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"Buttered" Beet Tops for Breakfast

This is an example of listening to the body's intuition and lovingly complying. I had let my system get out of whack the last couple of weeks. I've indulged in vegan sugars, which only set up the next sugar craving. Luckily, with wholesome goodness like this, I'm on my way out of this craving cycle, which should only last about a week if I lay off the sweet stuff from now on. I'm reminded of the process of meditating -- when we veer off course, without judgement we just return our focus where it belongs. So it is with diet and lifestyle in general.

With beets at the top of my list for juicing veggies, I had these lovely stalks and greens left over. They were delicious sauteed quickly in plenty of Earth Balance, with brown rice on the side. It was a good breakfast and imparted soothing balanced energy which lasted throughout the day.