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Figs make a great snack, but only in moderation. Especially when dried, they are high in fiber. But whether you like them dried or fresh, they also contain B6, copper, potassium, manganese, and pantothenic acid. The bad news is that dried figs are high in calories, but it need not become a crisis if you eat them in moderation.

Did you know that fig leaves (not unlike banana leaves and corn husks) can be used as a vessel for steaming? In this case, the fig leaf not only protects the European sea bass known as Branzino in this summery dish from the heat, but also adds an herbal flavor that may remind you of grape leaves, cabbage, collard or chard. Of course, any of these leaves may be substituted and any kind of bass will also do.

Without a bamboo steamer, there’s also an alternative method, but a bamboo steamer would most definitely be a great addition to your kitchen gadget collection.

This silky dish also offers pecans, a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which helps brain function, such as preventing depression, as well as aiding in the ability to think clearly.

They also contain magnesium, the fourth most abundant element in the brain, so necessary that a lack of it can throw brain function off and create confusion, anxiety and depression. A one-ounce serving of pecans provides between 9 percent - 11 percent of the day’s recommended intake for magnesium.

You’ll need:

  • 6 to 8 small fig leaves, or other leaves, washed well

For the Fig Butter:

  • ½ pound fresh figs (preferably the Brown Turkey variety), stems removed and halved
  • ¼ cup pecan or grapeseed oil
  • ½ pound of butter (2 sticks), softened
  • Kosher salt

For the toasted pecans:

  • ½ cup pecan pieces (preferably the Elliot variety)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Pinch of Kosher salt
  • Pinch of sugar

For the Branzino:

  • 4 (3-ounce) branzino fillets, with skin intact
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 fresh bay leaf

To blanch fig leaves: Bring a 4-quart pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, create an ice bath by combining 2 cups ice and 2 cups cold water in a large bowl. When the water boils, drop a few fig leaves in and blanch for about 1 minute, then remove with a spider or strainer and immediately plunge into the ice water bath to retain the green color. Repeat with remaining leaves. Drain the leaves on a towel. (The blanched leaves can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for a few hours before using.)

To make the fig butter: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. On a baking sheet, toss the figs with oil and roast for 20 minutes, until completely softened. (Reduce the oven to 350 degrees F for toasting the pecans in the next step.) Let the figs cool, then puree in a blender or a food processor until smooth. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the softened butter and half of the fig puree. On low speed, mix until combined and smooth, then add the remaining fig puree and mix on low to incorporate. Season with salt to taste. Transfer to a container, cover and refrigerate. (The fig butter can be made up to 3 days in advance; leftovers are delicious on almost anything, but especially toast.)

To toast the pecans: Place on a baking sheet and bake in the 350 degree F oven for 5 minutes. Immediately toss the hot pecans with the butter, salt and sugar using a spatula. Return to the oven and bake for 5 minutes longer, until fragrant. Let cool, then transfer to a bowl or an airtight container and store at room temperature until needed, up to a few days. (Toasted pecans like these are great in a salad as well.)

To make the branzino: Season each portion of branzino with salt and pepper and top with 1 tablespoon of the fig butter. Carefully wrap each portion of fish by placing a blanched fig leaf on the counter, top with a fillet, and fold the leaf around the fish like an envelope. You may need to use another left on top to cover; if so, tuck the ends underneath. The fish should be enclosed completely to retain the moisture, but it does not need to be tightly wrapped.

Set up a saucepan with a bamboo steamer and fill the pan halfway with water. Cut 4 slices from the lemon. Add the lemon slices, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf to the water in the pan. Place the wrapped fish in the bamboo steamer, cover, and steam for 5 to 7 minutes. To test for doneness simply peek into a packet to see that the fish is no longer translucent and is firm to touch. (If you do not have a steamer you can wrap your fish in the leaves, then in parchment, and finish with aluminum foil. Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 8 to 10 minutes.)

Serve each packet of fish immediately, placing the leaf directly on the plate and trying to reserve the natural juices as well as the fig butter. Partially unwrap the leaf and top with a squeeze of lemon and some toasted pecans as a garnish.

Source is Summerland - Recipes for Celebrating with Southern Hospitality
By Anne Stiles Quatrano from Bacchanalia


Published in Brookhaven Blog
Sunday, 30 August 2015 00:00

Healthy Risk

I’ve taken some risks in my lifetime that I probably shouldn’t have. Well, I know I shouldn’t have done the things that risked my safety or my health to varying degrees. Riding at 100 mph on the back of a motorcycle with my friend Gino at age 16 was definitely ignorant. Jumping off the cliffs into the river in Nashville and tearing the earrings out of my ears was less dangerous but still foolish.

As much of a risk taker as I feel I used to be, it’s funny that now, being a Mom and being older, I am terrified of risks. After suffering from depression and anxiety since my brother’s suicide and my divorce, risk is threatening to me and I crave safety and security. I’ll never swim in the ocean again after seeing frequent videos on Facebook of sharks off the beaches of my hometown. I sold my motorcycle. I won’t ride extreme rollercoasters anymore no matter what safety systems are in place! I don’t even like scary movies now.

But there is another kind of risk that scares me just as much and that is healthy risk. Having had unhealthy relationships in the past, the risk of new relationships frightens me. I find myself wanting to isolate but at the same time, not wanting to be alone. As we break out of old patterns, healthy risk is necessary. Once we use our skills to determine that something is in fact healthy for us, trying that new thing and being out of our comfort zone can be scary. But knowing that happiness is attainable, we can start small, one little risk at a time.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Saturday, 29 August 2015 00:00

5 Ways to Recharge Your Battery

It is a fact of life that we all experience dips in our enthusiasm from time to time. It’s unavoidable as we all get hungry, tired, over-worked, stressed and frustrated. Some of us deal with depression, bipolar, PTSD, phobias, thoughts of suicide, substance abuse, prescription addiction, alcoholism, mood disorders and other challenges that keep us entrenched in anxiety, fear and self-loathing. Maybe you have none of those and still feel thwarted for one reason or another and need to recharge your battery.

For the most part, I’m a positive person who gets excited about things, even small things that might seem insignificant or too ordinary to get excited about, like creating a piece of art or experimenting with a few of my favorite ingredients. Yet, too often I find myself in dark, desperate, dismal moments when my positive outlook abandons me. Sometimes it’s because I’m hungry or dehydrated or feel worried about something I can’t control.

The funny thing about me is that I can say to myself, Nothing really matters because we’re all going to die someday. Why do anything? Then five minutes later, the same epiphany results in the opposite reaction: Oh no! I’m going to die someday. There are so many things I want to do while I’m alive!

And that’s what gets me here, thinking about what I can do to self-soothe for longer than five minutes when I could possibly revert back to the negative, lazy approach to the realization of my mortality. Here are some ideas I’ve come up with that actually work.

  1. Solve a problem.

    (Huh? A problem? Which problem? There are so many. The economy? Racism? The National debt?)

    While there are plenty of identifiable problems like these, I know I can’t solve any of them. And unless you’re a politician of some sort, you probably can’t either. I’m talking about a problem you are actually responsible for fixing, something you actually have real control of that would make a difference in your daily life if you could remove it from the “problem” category.

    What’s hanging over your head? Maybe there’s something or someone you’ve been avoiding, a relationship that needs fixing or ending. Check!

    Could it be a phone call you’ve been forgetting to make? Maybe you need a new piece of technology that would improve your productivity. I’ve got my new iphone6.

    Maybe you need to clean up your workspace. Whatever it is, identify it and conquer it. Start by making a list of grievances no matter how small or insignificant they might appear to an outsider.

  2. Change your scenery. Go outside.

    Really? I have so much work to do and none of it can be completed outside! If you had told me to do that last week before I quit my landscaping job things would be different. But now…?

    Seriously, not too many people spend all that much time outside during the week. If you’re cooped up and wonder if anyone would notice if you crawled in a hole for the rest of the day, it’s probably because you need fresh air to clear your head. Chances are they won’t notice if you do that either. Even if you spend 15 minutes walking around outside, it’ll make a difference for the Vitamin D, oxygen and break you give yourself from doing whatever you’re doing inside that mildly resembles suffocation. If it’s possible, open the windows for some fresh air while you’re working.

    If you happen to be a landscaper, take an indoor break. The idea is to shift your focus.

  3. Make plans to have fun.

    Fun? What’s that? It sounds vaguely familiar. Is that what I was doing in the ‘80s? Whatever it is, I probably have no time for it now.

    OK, so maybe it’s Wednesday (it is for me!) and the weekend feels too far away. That’s OK. Text a friend and make at least one date to do that thing that gives you goosebumps, makes you laugh or gives you breathing room like nothing else. What would do it for me? A trip to the comedy club. A little laughter goes a long way. A lot of laughter is the gift that keeps on giving if you can remember the jokes.

  4. Buy yourself some music.

    Since this recommendation rarely elicits any back-talk, all we need to discuss is the fact that you may need something new to help you recharge. Music is like laughter in its medicinal properties and one can never have too much good music to listen to, especially in dismal times. It can change your mood in an instant, which you have experienced over and over again. Case closed.

  5. Complete a task that’s been on your to-do list for too long.

    But the reason it’s on my list and won’t go away is because I can’t do it until someone else does something first. Then pick another one. I’m sure there’s more than one. There are always one or two annoying little things I’m not looking forward to---like calling my accountant about my taxes or making a doctor’s appointment that involves a bit too much probing for my liking. Whatever it is, stop avoiding the inevitable and do it! Jump ahead and imagine the moment after it’s done and how you’ll feel. If it’s particularly gruesome, try using number 4 to get you through. And remember, music is medicine!

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Friday, 28 August 2015 00:00

Defeating an Emotional Terrorist

In light of the upcoming holidays and the current global political unrest, the government of the United States has raised the threat level significantly for all holiday celebrations. The government has conceded that there are credible threats to safety and advised heightened awareness of suspicious activities, as political tensions remain strained. While global and domestic terrorists are very real, encountering one is, in reality, not nearly as probable as you might think. It is more likely that you already an emotional terrorist. In fact, one may already be part of your family and they are more dangerous to you than any foreign terror threats.

In a relationship, an emotional terrorist is someone who is constantly harassing you, hurting you, humiliating you, demeaning you, pressuring you, or taking pleasure in your pain. These relationships can be at home, work, or school and can be between you and your boss, family, lover, friends, or life partner. Relationships with emotional terrorists are exhausting and draining. They reduce your self-esteem and make you question your worth. They can lead to anxiety, severe depression, and even substance abuse. If you are in a relationship with an emotional terrorist and you choose to stay in that relationship you are validating and feeding that destructive behavior at the cost of your own mental health.

Many people are capable of recognizing a destructive relationship and leaving it behind. Others who have experienced an emotional trauma, an emotional breakage, or even just lack self-esteem may remain in these relationships because they do not recognize abusive behavior. They may feel that they do not deserve better treatment. These people may not realize that they are worthy of healthy love and respect. They are stuck because the irrational energy of the dysfunctional relationship matches the low level of their own self-esteem. They refuse to believe in themselves so they remain, trapped by their own doubt. They do not recognize that the outside world is mirroring what is going on inside them. If you project low self-esteem, the world will reciprocate with a lack of respect.

You do not have to stay trapped, though. There is a way out. If you are in a relationship where your partner doesn’t love you, the first thing to examine is your relationship with yourself. If you love yourself, it is impossible to remain with an unloving partner. A long-term relationship with an emotional terrorist is a testimonial to how bad your relationship with your self really is. If you are ready to disarm your emotional terrorist, you are at the right place. I can provide you with the outline of a plan if you are ready to act.

First, examine your relationship with yourself and others. Any and all low quality relationships should be abandoned. If you are in immediate danger, leave now to protect your self. Seek out a safe shelter and ask for help. There are organizations willing to help ensure your safety. You just have to be willing to ask for help. If you are not in danger and you truly feel that the relationship is worth saving, then you need to understand that an emotional terrorist lives on the energy they drain for you. They are like a parasite feeding on your blood. Stop feeding them. They are sick in their own way and if you truly care for them, suggest gently that they may need to seek assistance.

If your instincts are continually warning you away from someone, you probably need to reexamine your relationship with them. Where there is fear, trust and love cannot exist. Take your feeling seriously. Fear is very seldom unfounded. It is an instinctual signal that something is wrong. Know that emotional terrorists are persistent and reluctant to let their victims go but you do not have to stay in that relationship. You have the power to leave . . . even if you need help to accomplish that task. Nobody deserves to stay in a relationship with an emotional terrorist.

Second, decide whom to trust. Either trust yourself or find a positive influence to trust. If you are unsure, reach out to an impartial third party such as a counselor, support group, or a church member. It is okay to need emotional support while you learn to trust yourself again. It is okay to work with a professional to rediscover how wonder you are.

Finally, make a commitment to never be in a relationship with an emotional terrorist again. It is not your responsibility to feed them or to cure them. Focus on building up yourself and hold others to YOUR standards. You were meant to be loved. Never forget that and never compromise that ultimate truth. You are valuable. While the world situation can be volatile, you can protect yourself at home from dysfunctional relationships by demanding respect from those around you.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Thursday, 27 August 2015 00:00

Blueberry Almond Breakfast Quinoa Smoothie Bowl


For the quinoa:

  • 1 Cup Quinoa, uncooked
  • 2 Cups Vanilla Almond milk

For the smoothie:

  • 2 Cups Vanilla Almond milk
  • 4 Cups Frozen blueberries

For topping:

  • 1/4 Cup Honey
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp Vanilla Almond milk
  • 1/2 Cup sliced almonds, toasted*


  1. Combine the quinoa and almond milk in a large pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Once boiling, reduce to low heat and cover.
  3. Cook until the almond milk is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
  4. Fluff with a fork and let the quinoa stand until it comes to room temperature.
  5. Place the 4 cups of almond milk into a blender.
  6. Add in the fresh blueberries and blend until smooth and creamy.
  7. In a small bowl, whisk the honey and remaining almond milk until smooth and well combined.
  8. It should be the consistency of a glaze.
  9. Divide the blueberry smoothie between bowls and top with the quinoa.
  10. Drizzle each bowl with the honey glaze, top with toasted almonds and enjoy.


To toast almonds, place them on a small baking sheet in a 400 degree oven until lightly golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Serves: 4-5 bowls

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Wednesday, 26 August 2015 00:00

Anxiety is Real

The recent fireworks have tormented one of my dogs. She cowers beneath the dining room table and refuses to come out until long after the last shell explodes. I wonder what she must think. She has never been exposed to gunfire or any other extreme source of noise. But the anxiety she exhibits is real.

There are things I’m afraid of that had no precursory event, like spiders. I don’t remember a spider ever harassing me in my youth, but to this day I get a chill when I see one. The fear may not be founded, but it’s real.

Anxiety is closely related to fear and it does not always have a specific cause, but I guarantee to the person experiencing it, it feels overwhelming, even paralyzing. There are times I have suffered a panic attack when I could not identify one specific cause. There may have been several worries on my mind that escalated into the general feeling of a loss of control. People who don’t suffer from anxiety have a hard time understanding it because they may not see an obvious trigger.

When Jenna comes out from under the table she looks embarrassed, if that’s possible for a dog. She’ll lower her head and come curl up on my lap. I comfort her for a while and tell her it’s okay. There is no shame in how someone feels. It’s how you manage the feeling that makes a difference for your mental health.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Monday, 24 August 2015 00:00

Happiness Happens

The child learning to accept disappointment as a way of life still lives within me. The feeling of disappointment about not having my way existed with the simultaneous sensation of growth. You might wonder how a child of 8 or even 11 might grasp that disappointment would be a life-long experience. Somehow, I just knew.

I also knew that the sooner I accepted that fact and made peace with it, the happier I would be. What I came to realize is that with each disappointment came a consolation prize of some sort. In other words, there was always a reason to be happy. If not this, something else.

For instance, we were visiting my aunt who had a pool in her apartment complex. I couldn’t wait to go swimming. I put on my bathing suit with tingly anticipation. But before we could get outside, the sky turned dark and opened up. As the rain came down so did my uncontrollable tears. It might as well have been the end of the world as I was living for this moment. All the adults around me couldn’t stand my sadness and said everything they could to console me. But nothing mattered. I wanted to swim! So you can imagine my joy when just as quickly as the sky had gone dark, it brightened up again and we were able to go. It taught me that things can change quickly and instead of fretting, to have faith and figure out how to enjoy life no matter what happens. Happiness is a choice.

Many years later, in 1998, the Secret Society of Happy People declared August 8 as Admit You're Happy Day, which eventually became Happiness Happens Day celebrated each August. The Society asked the governors in all 50 states for a proclamation and 19 of them agreed. Pamela Gail Johnson, the Society’s founder, is also the author of The Secret Society of Happy People’s Thirty-One Types of Happiness Guide and Don’t Even Think of Raining on My Parade: Adventures of the Secret Society of Happy People. When I visited the Secret Society’s Facebook page, which offers a 31-day happiness challenge, I was happy to discover that I automatically do many of the suggested activities, like holding the door for people, singing out loud, watching the sunset, taking daily walks, donating to local thrift stores and watching comedies. That might explain why I am happy.

I don’t wait around for good things to happen. Instead, I make them happen.

It sounds easy. So then why can’t people with chronic depression just decide to be happy? The sad fact, according to, is that more than 80 percent of those with symptoms of clinical depression aren’t receiving specific treatment. Each year, the numbers increase by 20 percent. Crisis situations, like unemployment and divorce, contribute to the statistics, which also states that depression is most prevalent among people ages 45 to 64.

Traditional counseling sometimes isn’t enough. Women in need of treatment can turn to Brookhaven Retreat, an individualized mental health program exclusively for women in Tennessee. They offer an individualized treatment plan with a team approach and many different kinds of therapy all with the goal of creating a life worth living. Brookhaven Retreat is a place where happiness happens.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Saturday, 22 August 2015 00:00

Paleo Pad Thai

When a dish is particularly delicious, it can result in cravings powerful enough to haunt my sleep. Pad Thai is one of those dishes. In the past, if I’ve made it and had leftovers, I’d swear I heard it calling me from the refrigerator.

But what’s more frightening is the job the usual combination of some questionable ingredients can do on my body. As I’ve become more health-conscious and less interested in eating to feed my taste buds at the expense of my internal organs, Pad Thai is a dish that has been kicked to the curb for its rice noodles, soy sauce, peanuts and sugar. What’s left? It almost completely lacks in nutrition, which is a shame.

A few years ago this might have been the onset of a severe food-related depression. Now, I’ve come to realize that for just about every scrumptious, addictive dish there is a healthy alternative that won’t make you run screaming from the bathroom scale after one serving. I say, if you’re going to feed your flavor addictions, let them be the kinds that nourish you. While this Pad Thai alternative may not be an undetectable food swap, it’s sure satisfying enough to drown out your anxiety when you answer its call from the kitchen. This dish has several components, but it’s worth it.

If you’re new to the Paleo diet, it’s a fairly simple concept based on eating the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, including meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, but not dairy, grain products or anything processed.

Ingredients for Grilled Chicken Thighs:

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Course (granulated) garlic powder
  • Paprika

Directions for Grilled Chicken Thighs:

  1. Preheat a gas grill with all burners on high and the lid closed about 10 minutes. Place the chicken on a large platter or baking sheet in a single layer, smooth side facing up. Sprinkle generously with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, then add just enough paprika for a little kick. Flip the chicken and season the other side.
  2. Place the chicken smooth side down on the heated grill and close the lid. Cook 4 to 5 minutes, then flip and cook an additional 4 minutes with the lid closed. The chicken is cooked when the juices run clear, and it has turned toasty brown on both sides.
  3. If you don’t have a grill, preheat the oven to 400 F. Following seasoning instructions for grilling then place the chicken in a single layer, smooth side up, in a large baking dish. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until juices run clear and the tops are well browned.

Ingredients for Roasted Spaghetti Squash:

  • 1 large spaghetti squash
  • 1 tablespoon water

Directions for Roasted Spaghetti Squash:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. The easiest way to do this is, surprisingly, with a small knife. Use a sharp paring knife to carefully create a shallow slit along the top of the squash, lengthwise. Now, using a large knife, place the blade in the slit and bang the squash carefully with some force on the cutting board. It should crack along the fault line created by the small knife. Scoop out the seeds and pulp with a large spoon.
  2. Place squash cut side down on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the water onto the paper around the squash. Roast until the squash is tender, but not mushy, 30 to 40 minutes. Place the baking sheet on a cooling rack, and using a hot mitt, turn the squash cut side up to cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, scrape the inside with a fork to shred the squash into gorgeous spaghetti strands.

Ingredients for Sunshine Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon coconut aminos
  • ¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
  • ½ teaspoon rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup sunflower seed butter (no sugar added)
  • Dash ground cayenne pepper (optional)
  • ¼ cup coconut milk

Directions for Sunshine Sauce:

  1. Place all ingredients except coconut milk in the bowl of a food processor and whirl until well blended.
  2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber scraper, then add the coconut milk. Process until it’s blended and smooth. Store covered in the fridge.

Ingredients for Paleo Pad Thai:

  • 1 batch Sunshine Sauce
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons coconut aminos
  • 2 teaspoons plus 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • ½ medium onion, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)
  • 1 cup snap peas, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 2 cups Roasted Spaghetti Squash
  • 6-8 ounces Grilled Chicken Thighs, diced

Optional garnishes:

  • Chopped toasted cashews or almonds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sliced scallions
  • Minced cilantro
  • A squeeze of lime juice

Directions for Paleo Pad Thai:

  1. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and use a fork to scramble them with the coconut aminos. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons coconut oil to the skillet, and when it’s melted, pour in the eggs and let them spread like a pancake. Reduce the heat to medium and cover with a lid, letting the eggs cook until they’re set and beginning to brown on the bottom, about 3-4 minutes. Flip and lightly brown the other side. Remove the eggs from the pan and cut into strips with a sharp knife.
  2. Using the same pan, increase heat to medium-high and add 1 teaspoon coconut oil to the pan. Sauté the onion and snap peas, stirring with a wooden spoon, until they’re crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add the spaghetti squash, chicken, and cooked egg to the pan and, stirring with a wooden spoon, cook until heated through, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the Sunshine Sauce to the pan and stir-fry until everything is well-blended and hot. Divide among two plates, sprinkle with garnishes, and dig in.

Source: Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat by Melissa Jowls

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Saturday, 22 August 2015 00:00

The Freelancer and the Retiree

A long time ago, I read in Woman’s Day magazine that a true go-getter changes jobs every three years to avoid stagnation, which meant I was overdue by seven years.

After 10 years of writing for a daily newspaper, I had had enough of the corporate scene. The most enjoyable aspect of it was that my mother was also on staff and we’d often have lunch together. But I had learned everything I wanted to learn there and ached for freedom.

When I was offered a temporary position that would mean a pay increase and the opportunity to become a freelance writer when the job ended after the 18-month period, I jumped on it. That was 16 years ago.

Just recently, my husband achieved his own freedom of retirement. In 1994, he had already been working at a pharmaceutical company for too long. He was 33 and had been there since he was 18.

His father, also an employee there, had gotten in the door the same way, as a janitor. In fact, he followed in his father’s footsteps the whole way through. First, he became a chemical operator. Though he enjoyed mixing chemicals to be used in making certain drugs, he worried about the dangers of chemical exposure. At first, I assumed that was the only downside.

Then I discovered the politics of shiftwork, which changed each week. I was only happy when he worked 9 to 5 like I did. When we moved in together I especially dreaded the 4 to 12 shift, which meant I had to get up, get ready for work and get out the door, all while he was still in bed. Getting out of bed was never my forte anyway, but in a brand new relationship? Terrible!

Then, I’d get home first and have a lot of free time on my hands, which wasn’t so bad. But if I wanted to see him at all that day, I’d have to stay up past midnight. When he worked the midnight shift, I had the bed to myself. But like everything else, I got used to it. What I couldn’t warm up to was the situational mood disorder it created in him when he didn’t get proper rest.

Eventually, the company sent him back to school for three years to become an instrumentation technician, which meant an initial $30,000 pay cut, with the promise of having a completely stable well-paying and slightly less dangerous job on the dayshift. But he would still be exposed to some of the chemicals and situations that turned too many of his co-workers into diabetes and advanced-stage cancer patients, and worse, corpses way before their time.

It was bad enough that he got hurt so often, though they were mostly manageable non-life-threatening injuries like burns, cuts and bruises, except for the skin cancer he had removed from his face. But I worried for his safety every day I was able to kiss him goodbye before leaving. It still amazes me that he didn’t turn to alcoholism like some of his co-workers, or substance abuse or develop some kind of prescription addiction to manage his anxiety.

Ever since his last day, which fell on his 34th anniversary, he’s been giggling nonstop. Just for fun, he says, “I have to get up early tomorrow and go to work. No, I don’t!”

Though I may never retire simply because I enjoy my work, we are now on more even ground. And he’s only retiring from his day job. He is still a musician, a wood-worker and all-around creative person. It makes me happy that he is finally out from under the dark cloud he’s been living under for so long. The moral of this story is this: Life is so short. Do what you love to do.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Friday, 21 August 2015 00:00

The Summer Before High School

One day my preschool-aged son and I were playing with Play Doh, happily singing along with the Wiggles, U2 and the Beatles, building train tracks and going down the big slide at the park. His little hand fit so perfectly in mine as we walked together and talked about simple things like worms and clouds.

The very next day we’re standing side-by-side and there’s no need to hold hands anymore, unless of course I get the urge. He stands more than a head taller than I as we talk about what he’s learning about the stock market, and the businesses for sale that he researched online. This 14-year-old with quick wit and a head full of knowledge that at times surpasses mine never fails to astound me at how lightning fast he has grown.

Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. But it sure feels that way. The fact that this is the summer before he begins high school is almost unthinkable to me. What’s worse is I can’t help think of my own experience. I didn’t enjoy mainstream high school and struggled through my freshman year. I pray he doesn’t have the same difficulties.

I had plenty of hobbies. I loved to read, write, act in the local theater group and take several dance classes a week. I even had a pretty cool boyfriend who played guitar. We started a rock band together and had a blast writing music and performing in battles and school dances. Yet, I was prone to depression and confusion about the meaning of life and my place in it. Thoughts of suicide drifted in and out sometimes like a quick breeze, and remained in the back of my mind as an escape if ever I needed it. Like most people, I had my struggles and torments, but nothing out of the ordinary. I always felt like I was different from the other kids. Looking back, I was different. I had the burning desire to create and even with all my outlets, it wasn’t enough. The only time I knew I was understood was in the company of other young musicians or writers.

Knowing what I know, it worries me to think of my beautiful 14-year-old boy, who is equally gentle and fierce, as misunderstood without a sport he loves or a band to play in. I have no way of projecting his future and it’s frustrating. I can only hope he exhibits enough enthusiasm so his teachers don’t mistake him for anything other than the brilliant spirit I know him to be. Still, I wonder how and where he will find his niche.

In my sophomore year of high school, a new program became available. All students were required to try out for one major---Writing/Publishing, Acting or Dance. I could have done any of the three, but I chose Writing/Publishing. Coming from a family of writers, and having written poems and dreaming of writing books someday, writing made the most sense to me. I submitted my poems and song lyrics, then met with the director, who asked me a series of questions designed to determine my commitment level.

I wore my bleached blonde hair spiked on top and a black jacket I preferred not to leave home without. I must have appeared to lack enthusiasm for life at all, and to top it off, my writing had little merit. The director was looking for prose---short stories, essays and even books. But at 14, I had focused mostly on music and hadn’t completed much prose to proudly present. If I was forced to remain on the mainstream track, I’m not sure what would have become of my mental health. My mother knew this when she pleaded with him to accept me. She might have even had to make some sort of threat. But whatever she did, it worked.

It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to enjoy daily contact with other creatives that I had a reason to get up in the morning and getting out of the house felt worthwhile. Being accepted into the Fine and Performing Arts program at Howell High School gave me a goal, a reason to do well in school (because I had to maintain a B average to stay in the program). I have to give credit to my mother, who demanded I be considered even though my grades were sub-par and I appeared to have an attitude.

Both my parents were quite proud when in my final year of the program I was hired to write a couple of stories for daily newspaper. Then I was given a part-time job, then a full-time job. A year or so into it, I was called back by the program director to assist in choosing new candidates to join the program. I was even paid to do it! When the writing teacher decided she wanted to retire, I was asked if I’d like the job. Unfortunately, without a teaching degree, I couldn’t accept it. But the moral of the story is that at some point in life, everyone needs someone who believes in their abilities even if there’s little proof to back it up. I believe it’s called faith, something everyone deserves. I’m grateful my mother had faith in me, the same kind I have in my son.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
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