Jazzing it up

jazz

“I live on an island and listen to jazz all day long. The sun is always shining, but you can still see the stars. The breeze sings astonishingly like Ella and the wind rumbles in a Louis way. My friends and I dance under magic skies.”
―  Author Unknown

Listening to some Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong or Miles Davis while sipping a glass of crisp, dry white wine and gazing out at the ocean is – for me – pure summer magic. One of the reasons I love summertime is because I associate it with the sound of jazz.  In most cities and towns, musicians gather together and jam outdoors –  usually at local cafés, bistros and bars. Whether it’s a lone sax player, a jazz quartet, or a singer belting out some husky vocals – I just drink it all in.  It feeds something in my soul. I can’t explain it and probably shouldn’t even try.

Across the globe (in the northern hemisphere), it is the high season for jazz festivals, where you can listen to jazz in the afternoon or under the summer evening stars. Below is a list of some of the poopular festivals. It is by no means an exhaustive list, so please check your local newspapers (or online) for jazz events in your area.

Enjoy the jazz experience.

JAZZ FESTIVALS

CANADA

EUROPE

USA

Image via online-jazz.net.

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A Good Summer Read

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“One benefit of Summer was that each day we had more light to read by.”
― Jeannette WallsThe Glass Castle

Whether you’re en route to some exotic travel destination for the summer or simply sitting in your back yard, sipping a refreshing glass of your favorite libation… you’ll probably want to enjoy some good summer reading.  Here’s a list of ten books (novels, non-fiction and debut releases by new authors) that you may want to try out.

Happy reading!

Not in any particular order:

Fiction:

  1. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  2. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  3. South of Broad by Pat Conroy
  4. A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
  5. Rockaway by Tara Ison

Non-fiction:

  1. Thinking In Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math by Daniel Tammet
  2. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

First Releases (Fiction) by New Authors:

  1. No One Could Have Guessed the Weather by Anne-Marie Casey

First Releases (Non-fiction) by New Authors:

  1. Along the Shore: Rediscovering Toronto’s Waterfront Heritage by M. Jane Fairburn
  2. Casualties of the (Recession) Depression by Heather Joan Marinos

“Come with me,’ Mom says.
To the library.
Books and summertime
go together.”
 

― Lisa SchroederI Heart You, You Haunt Me

Photo via holidayrentals.com.

How to Resist the Lure of Summer Distractions

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Summer is a temptress. She dazzles us with bright colors and hot sun. Every year, we impatiently await her arrival.  For many, she is a welcome respite after a long, cold winter.  She exudes a sense of lightness and freedom and her flamboyance and playfulness is infectious.  School is out and children suddenly find themselves with loads of time… to play!  And they don’t waste a minute.  With the rigor of school schedules and extracurricular activities set  aside, parents reconnect with their children.  Men and women start to loosen up a bit and their busy lives begin to take a back seat to weekend barbecues, picnics and summertime activities.  That glorious smell of barbecue grilling wafts from house to house.

Yes, summer is a temptress.  But, as a writer who is working on multiple book projects while trying to promote her newly published book, it is difficult to resist the lure of summertime distractions.   Am I up for the challenge?  Can I muster enough will and discipline? 

I’ll let you know at the end of the summer.

In the meantime, I am going to try out some of these tips.  Maybe they can help you, as well.

1. Channel your inner Gumby

gumbyThe key is flexibility.  Summer schedules need to be flexible, not rigid.  Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up to fail.  “Fail” is perhaps too strong a word, but I’m sure you understand my meaning.

2. Move like an inchworm

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Take it one steady, small step at a time. Break up your day into increments of time – time to research, time to write, time to relax and time for eating and sleeping. Set smaller, more frequent goals and milestones for yourself and this will encourage you to keep moving forward and ultimately fill you with a sense of accomplishment. On the other hand, if you flit like a butterfly – from task to task – nothing will ever get completed.

3. Set your boundaries

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Let your family and friends know when you’re in the writing zone, so that they can respect your space and privacy for the time that you’ve allocated. Afterwards, they can have your full attention.

4. Don’t bite off more than you can chew

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It’s summertime. Focus on the most important  and enjoyable projects, then make a plan to tackle the rest in the Autumn months.

5. Bring it outside

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You don’t have write behind closed doors on a beautiful summer’s day.  Take your laptop or notepad, a pot of tea or coffee, and do your writing (and thinking) outside.  If you live in an apartment and don’t have a yard, pack yourself some refreshments and go to your nearest park.  If you live near water, sit on the beach or by the lake. Maybe the sights and sounds all around you will bring you some interesting perspective or inspiration.

Enjoy your summer and happy writing!

Images via anordinarywomn.net, gumbyworld.com, piedmontwildlifecenter.org, writingforward.com,  dorrys.com and cloudsandchecks.com.

Life is a Bowl of Cherries

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“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” 
― Henry James

A South Florida summer can be very, very hot and humid. Stepping out of an air conditioned home, a wave of heat will hit you like a ton of bricks and, if you wear eyeglasses, you’re momentarily blinded as the steam fogs up your lenses. But, if you’re lucky enough to have a yard full of trees, you can actually enjoy a summer afternoon outside, despite the humidity.

What a difference a tree makes!

Sitting under my grove of bamboo trees, I close my eyes to feel the warm, gentle breeze as it makes contact with my skin. Hanging on a nearby tree branch, the Woodstock chimes harmonize with the rustle of leaves ― the only music I need to hear.  I breathe in the smell of freshly cut grass. The lawn feels soft against my bare feet. The wispy, yet majestic, royal ponciana trees form a canopy over the entire house, dropping vibrant red flowers over the garden. I begin to crave something, but what? Cherries. That’s it. Cherries always remind me of summertime. I bought some from the market just the other day. As if reading my mind, my husband  (who has been watching me from the kitchen window, enjoying the sight of my serenity) brings out a bowl of cherries for me to taste. He sits in the chair beside me and together we savor the ripe fruit and silently enjoy the sound of quiet.

And here, in the northern hemisphere, summer has just begun.

“Then followed that beautiful season… Summer….
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Our royal ponciana trees (with the red flowers)

Top photo (cherries) via dacha.com.

Bottom photo (royal ponciana tree) by Heather Joan Marinos © 2013 – All Rights Reserved.

Debunking the Crazy Cat Lady Stereotype

This is the sequel to my June 14th blog post, Catmania

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“A catless writer is almost inconceivable. It’s a perverse taste, really, since it would be easier to write with a herd of buffalo in the room than even one cat; they make nests in the notes and bite the end of the pen and walk on the typewriter keys.”

Barbara Holland

The tale of catmania continues.  The stray cat siblings – two month-old “Fric” (male) and “Frac” (female), born to the beautiful and fiercely protective “Foo”, fathered by – not one,  but two – tomcats “Crazy Cat” (looks crazy, but is a doting father and “husband”) and “Smokey”  (Foo’s wild and passionate “bit on the side”)  – continue to grow and flourish in my garden.  By day, they alternatively frolic and sleep (Foo lounges and tomcats go hunting) in the lush tropical flora of my back yard.  Every evening they make their way to the side yard, in anticipation of dinnertime.  They hide, and wait. Their patience is rewarded when they hear the sound of my front door opening.  They recognize the voice of the human who says (every time, without fail) in a sing-song voice: “It’s dinnertime!”   The neighbors (within earshot) shake their heads and roll their eyes.  The crazy cat lady places down three plates of food and refills all the water bowls with cold, fresh filtered water.  Then she leaves.  All five cats come out of hiding and the crazy cat lady watches and smiles from behind her window.

By late night, the cat family gather together on the side deck.  Whilst the mum and one of the dads  lounge and watch indulgently (the restless casanova Smokey spends an awful lot of time prowling about elsewhere), Fric and Frac wreak havoc.

Each morning, the crazy cat lady goes out to refresh the water bowls and remove the empty food plates.  She also straightens up all the fallen plant pots, picks up the patio seat cushions that somehow found their way into the jasmine bushes, and covers the tears on the car cover (to avoid the wrath of her husband who, incidentally, is not inclined to catmania).

Granted, I am a crazy cat lady ― but not in a truly insane way, like the character of Dr. Eleanor Abernathy (from the television show, The Simpsons).

And recently, I learned that I am not alone.

Throughout the neighborhood, there are women (on every street) who take it upon themselves to feed the stray cats that inhabit their yards.  These women are young, middle-aged and old.  They are students, business professionals, artisans, writers, and homemakers.

They are not insane.  They are simply nurturers. 

“Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reasons.”

Robertson Davies 

Cats are smart.  Although they are natural-born hunters, they will gravitate to places where they may find a hassle-free meal.  It just so happens that women tend to be the nourishers and caretakers. That being said, there are also just as many crazy cat gentlemen. Two streets down from me, there is a fellow who always has a row of water and food bowls set up beside his front porch.  I saw a litter of kittens curled up together near one of his jasmine bushes.  What is it with cats and jasmine?

I digress.

Some men enjoy cats because they are more self-sufficient, more low-maintenance  than dogs.  Ernest Hemingway  and Sir Winston Churchill would probably concur.  They were serious cat lovers.

As for my being a cat lady, I don’t mind the title.  I use it tongue-in-cheek. I will keep feeding this family of strays until they decide that it’s time to wander on, as strays inevitably do.

Will I be sad when that day comes?  Hell, yes!   

I enjoy watching them interact with each other,  and I am discovering a lot about animal behavior.  We humans could learn a lesson or two from them.  

“And how do you know that you’re mad? “To begin with,” said the Cat, “a dog’s not mad. You grant that?” I suppose so, said Alice. “Well then,” the Cat went on, “you see a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags it’s tale when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.” 
― Lewis CarrollAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

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Images via petmd.com and dennysfunnyquotes.blogspot.com.

That Gut Feeling

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“The truth about life and lie about life is not measured by others, but by your intuition, which never lies.”

Santosh Kalwar

Following from my May 16th post, Maximize Your Five Senses, today is the last of a series of blogs on each of the five senses (plus one).  In each post, I shared some of the wisdom that my mother imparted to me – which, to those who were wondering, is why she is mentioned in every one of the blogs.  This series was written in memory of her.

Today, I will talk a bit about the sixth senseintuition, or what I call gut feeling.  This is not a sense that one should readily dismiss.  It is very real and we all have it, to some degree.  All too often, we choose to ignore it, usually to our detriment. 

Now, I want to be clear.  When I use the word “intuition,”  I am not referring to psychic ability.  That is another thing altogether – a more advanced level of intuition.

My mother was most definitely not a psychic, but she was very, very intuitive (as was her mother before her, and as am I).  She called it both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing, because when she listened to her sixth sense, she was able to circumvent potential problems or challenges, as they cropped up.  A curse, because she intuitively guessed what people were thinking or how they were going to act (again, not in an ESP-type of way), and sometimes she would have preferred to be wrong.  The following real-life scenarios illustrate her point.

Blessing

The year was 1966. One morning, my mother was getting us all ready for school (I was in Grade 2; my brother and sister were in high school) but as she was moving about the kitchen, she seemed very out of sorts.  A sensitive little girl, I asked her what was wrong and she looked at me strangely and said “I really don’t know.”  I offered to stay home from school (not because it would have been a good excuse to miss class, but because I was truly alarmed by her demeanor), but she insisted that we all had to go so that we wouldn’t miss our respective school buses.  Mid-afternoon, my father received a call at his office.  It was my mother. She told him that he needed to come home right away, because she was dying (her exact words were “Come home now. I’m dying.”).  Now, although the women in my family have always had a flair for the dramatic, my father instantly realized this was not one of those moments.  He immediately called an ambulance, and rushed home (his office, thankfully, was nearby).  Her blood pressure was almost fatally low, due to internal hemorrhaging. She received an emergency blood transfusion. The doctor said that had my mother waited five minutes longer to make that phone call, she would indeed have been dead.  

When she woke up that morning, she knew that something was very wrong but could not pinpoint what it was.  She felt no pain…  just very uneasy.  This had never happened to her before, so she did not have a frame of reference.   She listened to her gut instinct and, as a result, she lived on for another forty-two years.  A blessing – for her, and for our entire family.

Curse

If you ever wanted a character assessment of a friend, lover, fiancé (fiancée), or husband (wife) – my mother was the go-to gal.  The problem was that her “gut feelings” were not always what one wanted to hear.  She was always right – no exception.  She instinctively knew whether someone was a betrayer, an opportunist or just simply bad news.  Family, friends and friends of friends would all flock to my mother for her “opinion” and she would inevitably warn them with “You may not like what I have to say.”   She was more than willing to dispense her wisdom, because she fervently believed that it was “better to be safe, than sorry.”

One day (circa 1970), a young woman (friend of a friend) bumped into my mother at the shopping center.  They chatted for awhile and the woman, “Pat” (not her real name), went on and on about this new man she was seeing.  She said he was perfect.  He was nine years older than her (she was twenty) and treated her like a princess (he took her to nice places, and bought her jewelry).  In her eyes, he was Mr. Right.  Then, Pat’s brow furrowed.  She told my mother that she was confused about one thing.  He was very reserved about his family life.  He preferred to keep conversations light and easy, at all times.  At this point, my mother tilted her head and looked at Pat carefully, then asked her How serious are you (about the man)?”  “I want to marry him,” was the response, and then I would like your opinion of him.”  My mother said, “Let’s arrange a random meeting here at the shopping center. Bring him with you.  I’d like to meet him.”

The next day, they “accidentally” ran into each other.   After the standard pleasantries, my 4’11” mother looked up at the 6’1″ man.   “John” (not his real name) was indeed very handsome and he spoke smoothly.  My mother always looked a person in the eye.  This man’s eyes kept shifting away from her gaze, as they spoke.  She ended their chat and they said their goodbyes.  That evening, Pat phoned my mother – to hear what she had to say.  My mother said only two words:  “He’s married.”   Pat shrieked NO, HE IS NOT!”  and hung up the phone.  She called back a second later and said, in a subdued voice, “How can I know for sure, without asking him directly?”  The answer she received was Well, if you ask him directly, he’ll probably lie to your face.  You could always hire a private detective or… you could tell him that you love him and that you want to marry him.  Then, see how he reacts.”  Of course, my mother knew exactly how he would react. 

A week later, my mother received a call from Pat, who said she felt that her world had come crashing down on her.  When Pat told John that she loved him and wanted them to get married, he recoiled and then told her that he was married and had two small children.  She never heard from him again.   Pat said that she wished she had never asked my mother to meet the man.  My mother informed her that she knew what he was, before she even met him. She also told Pat that she was a naïve, young woman who needed to do some growing up and that, one day, she’ll find the right man. 

Years later, “Pat” married a lovely fellow and they live happily with their three kids and two dogs. 

Odds are, however, that “John” is no longer married.

My mother did not enjoy being the bearer of bad news, the curse of her strong intuition.  Yet sometimes, even curses can transform into blessings.

It’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose.

In the past, whenever I’ve ignored my gut instinct, I’ve lived to regret it.  And, since I strive to have as few regrets has possible, I always listen to my inner voice.  It never lets me down.

My mother was right.

Image via omtimes.com.

Anatomy of Taste

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“Everyone eats and drinks, but few appreciate taste.”
Confucius (551-479 BC)

The sense of taste is one of the most pleasurable of the five senses.  Taste (the scientific term is gustatory perception) is the sensation that occurs when the mouth reacts chemically with the receptors located in our taste buds.  We have approximately 10,000 taste buds ― on the tongue, on the sides and the roof of the mouth.  Traditionally, our taste buds recognize four basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter and sour.  According to the conventional (now, much disputed) “tongue map,” different regions of the tongue are sensitive to each of these tastes.  The sour taste buds line the sides of the tongue and the bitter taste buds can be found at the back of the tongue. The salty/sweet taste buds are located at the front of the tongue (sweet at the tip and salty on each side of the tip).  I call them the Yin and Yang tastes because so often we crave both, one after the other ― like the overwhelming desire to have a scoop of ice cream right after eating a meal of seasoned burgers and fries.

As a child, I was a chocoholic.  I had to have a chocolate fix each day and my mother indulged me, with the caveat that one day, I would probably not eat as much of the stuff. I remember looking at her incredulously, because it was beyond the scope of my childish comprehension that there would ever be a life without chocolate. If that same little girl could have looked through a crystal ball and see herself as the grown woman she is today, that little girl would be shocked, disbelieving and horrified. I rarely eat chocolate any more. I still enjoy it, but I don’t crave it as much.  So, a nibble − every so often − is enough to satisfy me. 

My mother was right.

I now prefer savory foods. 

In the beginning of the twentieth century, Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda determined that there was a fifth taste, Umami (Japanese for a delicious, savory taste).  According to Professor Ikeda, savory taste was very distinct from salty taste.

Umami reigns supreme in my gustatory system, which is why I love savory Mediterranean, Middle-eastern and Indian foods. They are spicy, savory and quite simply a gustatory delight.

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My favorite Greek food − Chicken Souvlaki with rice, potatoes, and horiatiki salad

Our sense of taste evolves as we grow older. What often repelled us as children, delight us as adults. Take wine, for example. As a little girl, I sniffed my mother’s glass of wine and recoiled in disgust.  I declared that there was no way that I would ever – ever – drink that horrible libation.  My mother just threw her head back and laughed. Her sisters (my aunts), who were visiting at the time, also laughed – tears streaming down their faces.  My mother said, “My little darling, you will love wine one day. All the women in our family do, and have done so …  for generations. It’s simply in our genes.”  At the time, I  was unconvinced.

My mother was right.

I am now somewhat of an oenologist, a serious wine aficionado. I suppose I couldn’t escape my fate.  It’s in my genes. And I am happy that I have many memories of my mother and I (as an adult) spending many evenings together, sipping wine and sharing stories.

I raise a glass of crisp Chablis (her favorite), in memory of my mother.  She was quite a dame.

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Images via livescience.com, phenu.com and yourwineiq.com.

The Sound of Quiet

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“That innate love of melody, which she had inherited from her ballad-singing mother, gave the simplest music a power which could well-nigh drag her heart out of her bosom at times.” 
― Thomas HardyTess of the d’Urbervilles

A wise woman once told me that sometimes people have selective hearing – they hear only what they want to hear, perhaps because they  don’t want or don’t care to know.  This same woman told me that it was important that I learn not only to hear, but also to listen – because when we focus, our sense is heightened, enabling us to notice all the subtleties and nuances that we would have missed, had we not made the effort.   Her frame of reference was music.  As she spoke, her voice was quiet, soft and melodic.  She whistled as good as any nightingale.  She only whistled when she was sad.  It lifted her spirits up.  She sang when she was happy.  When she sang, she would close her eyes, her lids fluttering slightly. Her singing was perfectly tuned and simply lovely.  I have never forgotten her voice, nor the sound of her whistling. 

She gave me one more piece of sage advice, almost as an afterthought – but now, I realize that it was what she most wanted me to remember. 

“Each day, you must take the time to listen to the sound of quiet.  Just do it.  You will understand why, when you do.”

So, if I were asked to narrow down my most favorite sounds to five, they would be:

5.  The haunting rumbling of a distant train. (it appeals to my sense of wanderlust)

4.  The discordant sounds that an orchestra makes, in the minutes before the  concert hall is silent – before the performance commences.  (it fills me with anticipation, excitement and joy)

3.  The steady, low roar of ocean waves, as the tide rolls in – especially at dawn and dusk. (I am awed and humbled by its sheer magnificence)

2.  The gentle rustling of bamboo leaves, as the trees sway in the wind. (this, for me, is the sound of peace)

1.  The sound of quiet.  (when everything is silent, I am in complete harmony with myself,  and with God)

 

Image via businesssuccesshub.com.

The Power of Touch

Young and Elderly hands

“This is what it means to be loved… when someone wants to touch you, to be tender…” 
― Banana YoshimotoThe Lake

I was living 2,864  miles away from the place that I was born and raised, when I received a call that my mother was in the hospital and that her condition was serious.  Immediately, I flew to Montréal and went straight to her bedside.  Despite her illness, she lit up like a Christmas tree when she saw me.  I gathered her in my arms and held her tight.  The words that she uttered not only made me weep, but also gave me great pause.  She said  “Ahhhh, I had forgotten how wonderful it feels to be embraced, to be touched, to be held!”  She closed her eyes, as if to capture the moment and store it in memory. 

She passed away eight years ago today.

The sense of touch is often considered the least important of the five senses.

I would argue to the contrary.

 

Image via ameri-care.net.

Scent and Memory, an Inseparable Duo

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“Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.” 
― Vladimir Nabokov

In a very interesting article written by Natalie Angier (of the New York Times), The Nose, An Emotional Time Machine,”  Ms. Angier cites some research findings  (presented at the International Symposium on Olfaction and Taste) which explain how and why our sense of smell has the power to immediately take us back to a place, a person and a moment in time – making the memory as vivid and poignant as if it occurred in the present day.  For example, whenever I smell carnations, I am instantly brought back to the family celebration held after my First Communion (I was seven years old), when my favorite aunt gave me my first bouquet of flowers ― a bunch of pink and white carnations. For me, carnations will always remind me of that sacred (and sweet) rite of passage.

In his novel,  À la recherche du temps perdu (In search of lost time), French writer Marcel Proust describes a character vividly recalling long-forgotten memories from his childhood, after smelling a tea-soaked madeleine biscuit.  Henceforth, the theory of the inseparable relationship between smell and involuntary memory has been dubbed the “Proustian phenomenon.”  

The scientific explanation is pretty straightforward:  the olfactory bulb (located just above the nasal cavities, it is a structure of the vertebrate forebrain involved in olfaction, the perception of odors) is part of the of the brain’s limbic system. The limbic system, sometimes referred to as the “emotional brain,” is the area that is closely associated with memory and feeling.  The olfactory bulb accesses the amygdala (which processes emotion) and the hippocampus (responsible for associative learning).  Despite all these biological components, it is our conditioned responses which actually cause smells to trigger memories in our minds.  When we smell something for the very first time, we automatically link it to a moment in time, a person, a thing, an event (sometimes all four).  So, when smells trigger a memory from childhood, it is most likely because we experience some of our first smells when we are children.

Whenever I smell a good pipe tobacco or a fine cigar, I think of bookshelves bending with the weight of books.  I am brought back to a time when I was just a little tyke, sitting on my father’s lap while he puffed on his pipe and read to me snippets (whether I wanted to listen or not) from a current issue of the Foreign Affairs journal.  He was trying to teach me, to open my mind to the world around me.  Many decades later, I have a cigar lounge in my home – filled with bookshelves bending from the weight of books. Whenever I am in that room, I remember those serene days of my childhood.

Another vibrant memory is evoked by the smell of spaghetti Bolognese.  My favorite childhood meal.  Sadly, I have never been able to recreate my mother’s special sauce.  A few years back, I walked by a neighbor’s home and stopped in my tracks.  From her open kitchen window, I heard the sound of onions sautéing and the smell of onions and tomatoes wafted towards me.  It almost brought me to my knees.  Suddenly, I was a little girl again and my mother was lovingly stirring the sauce, smiling at my exaggerated, comical facial expressions (I was trying to convey to her how much I loved the smell and how impatient I was to eat my spaghetti). 

I stood on the sidewalk for a while longer, just so that I could enjoy the whiff of sauce and the memories that it evoked.  The next day, I knocked on my neighbor’s door and asked her for the recipe.  She quite happily gave it to me.  Strangely enough, I still can’t recreate it – quite exactly.  

Then again, my mother was one of a kind. 

 

Image via top7news.gr.