Giving Thanks – Day 7

I’m thankful for cornmeal mush. There. I said it. It’s there. I love cornmeal mush. I even ordered it at Bob Evan’s one time. It was great!

Never heard of it? Oh, you don’t know what you’re missing. Cornmeal is available at the grocery store, usually in the baking aisle. It’s most often used for cornbread and as a coating for frying. Hushpuppies are made with cornmeal. Delicious!

We had fried cornmeal mush in our home as long as I can remember. I’m sure it was a hangover from my paternal grandmother.

There is a trick to making good cornmeal. It’s not like oatmeal where the cereal is added directly to a pan of boiling water. If you try that with cornmeal, which I remember doing at least once or twice, you’ll end up with big clumps. No. To make cornmeal boil three cups of water. Combine one cup cornmeal, one teaspoon salt, and one cup COLD water in a small bowl or pan. Slowly pour the mixture into the boiling water while stirring constantly. Allow the cornmeal to return to a boil again while stirring. Remove from heat and eat! (That is if you want to have a bowl of hot cornmeal with sugar or maple syrup. Oh my!)

Pour the extra cornmeal into a covered container and put it in the refrigerator. Allow it to chill overnight.

When I made a batch this week. I added a little too much water so the chilled cornmeal was a little softer than I prefer.

Slice the chilled cornmeal and place in a hot frying pan with butter or cooking spray on low to medium heat. I’ve never tried deep frying it but I’ll bet that would be good too. Allow the cornmeal to fry thoroughly on both sides.

When the cornmeal mush has a nice golden crisp on each side, it’s ready. Put it on a plate with some maple syrup and you are in for an amazing treat!

I think the best fried cornmeal mush I ever had was prepared by my Aunt Olive on the family farm. We were there for deer hunting and very early in the morning she greeted us in the kitchen with fried cornmeal mush and sausage. I’m writing about it fifty years later. That’s how good it was!

Giving Thanks – Day 6

I’m thankful for cozy places. I have always loved being cozy. Cozy is warm and comfortable. Cozy is protected and safe. Cozy is a perfect mixture of temperature, color, aroma, sounds, texture, taste, sight, and feelings. Cozy is personal. Cozy to one person might be annoying to someone else. That’s their problem.

A great example of cozy is Zehnder’s Family Restaurant in Frankenmuth, Michigan. No, this photo is not Zehnder’s. A perfectly cozy spot is a table near a wall, or a booth, a beautifully decorated Christmas tree a few feet away, a lighted candle on the table, a steaming cup of coffee, Christmas music softly playing, anticipation of a delicious meal, and no reason to hurry.

Cozy can be a work space. A small cubical with a desk containing favored items that make you smile. Items pinned to the short walls that remind you of special places and people. There is a photo of your dog or cat sleeping on your lap. A small lamp. Four-foot florescent bulbs cannot be cozy! Your lamp has a 60 watt soft-white bulb. Your storage area is just above your head and offers just enough cover to let you feel protected. Best of all, there is soft music playing. It’s just loud enough to fold around you without disturbing the workers in the surrounding work spaces.

You can find cozy in a store. I do it all the time. The Pineberry Shoppe is cozy. Everything in the store says, “Get a cup of coffee and sit right here.”

Cottage Outfitters in Caseville is another place where cozy lives. You can tell when cozy is starting to set in when you want to stay in that spot.

When I was a kid I made a cozy spot at breakfast by standing the cereal boxes in front of my bowl while I ate my Cheerios, or Rice Krispies, or Cornflakes. Never Cocoa Puffs, or Frosted Flakes, or Sugar Crisp like I have now

Cozy is beside a Christmas tree giving the only light to the room.

Cozy is all around. Be sure to find it.

Giving Thanks – Day 5

I’m thankful for outboard motors. I love the smell of outboard motor exhaust. There is nothing like stepping off a wooden dock into a row boat with a twenty-five horse Johnson outboard motor. I sit down in front of the motor, set the choke, and pull the rope. I pull the rope again. I close the choke and pull the rope again. The engine sputters then finally starts. I turn the handle slowly and the motor responds as lovely blue smoke swirls around it.

I let the motor warm a little, untie the boat from the dock, turn the handle to “reverse” and slowly back out of the slip as the mirror calm water moves aside. I carefully turn the handle to “forward” and watch the magical swirl of water as the motor begins pushing my boat out into the lake where the fish are waiting.

The gentle chugging of the motor serenades me as my boat moves slowly across the water. The line from my fishing pole trails behind the boat, daring fish large and small to take a bite. Some do. I turn the handle to “neutral” and let the motor idle while I retrieve my lure. I feel the tug of a fish resisting my invitation to join me in the boat. I win.

I learned how to water ski behind an outboard motor. Actually, several outboard motors. The largest was 75 horse power, also a Johnson. The motor seemed huge. Water skiing was the closest I ever came to walking on water. It’s like standing on water, except the two boards I was standing on were skimming across the water as I hung on to the rope.

Sometimes I see rowboats with small outboard motors on them sitting forgotten behind houses. I wonder if they still run. I wonder if others know the magic of pulling the rope and hearing the motor come to life. I imagine that they do, and they love stepping into the boat beside a wooden dock.

Giving Thanks – Day 4

I’m thankful for smelt dipping. If you don’t know what smelt dipping is, I can promise you it’s a real thing. It’s not like snipe hunting. Although, if you’ve been skunked at smelt dipping, you might think smelt are also fictitious. I haven’t been smelt dipping in almost twenty years. For the uninformed, smelt are small fish, almost like big minnows, that swim into rivers and streams from the lakes to spawn in the spring. I always thought they were only in the Great Lakes, but I learned they are also in inland lakes. In the middle of the night, folks head to the rivers in April and May with long-handled dipping nets. Now see, I know what you’re thinking, and “in the middle of the night” is the tipoff. For some reason, smelt “runs” happen most often in the middle of the night. I don’t know why. No, I’m not making this up. Smelt dipping is real.

Anyway, a bunch of people go out with their nets, build a fire on the shore, and wearing chest waders go out into the stream and sweep their nets through the water, hoping to catch the little fish. I’ve never seen this myself, but stories abound of people filling their nets with one dip. What fun is that? One dip and you nearly fill a five-gallon bucket. Swoop, you’re done. Time to go home. I prefer catching five or six with each dip, dropping them in the bucket, watching them swim around, then dipping again.

I remember my dad going smelt dipping and bringing home a huge wash tub full of smelt. It was our job to clean them. Smelt are small enough that the bones are soft. We snipped off the heads and cleaned out the insides. They were deep-fried, and the only part we didn’t eat was the tail. Great!

I loved going smelt dipping with our kids. We went to a harbor with a breakwall of huge rocks. Our boys spent more time climbing around on the rocks than dipping. And, of course, the best part of the trip was the snacks! Peanut M&Ms, snack mix, Gummy Bears, coffee, and pop.

I never really hit it big smelt dipping. Even catching a few was still exciting.

Giving Thanks – Day 1

While I was a therapist at a local community mental health center, I often encountered clients who were very depressed. I sometimes encouraged the use of journaling as a way for individuals to go back and see what their thought processes were and how their moods changed over time.

I asked folks to make a list of all the things for which they were thankful. I was often met with a stare and, “I can’t think of anything.” I gave them the assignment of making a list of twenty-five things and to bring the list with them the next time we met.

To get started, I gave them a piece of paper and a pencil and we worked on it together.

  1. Breath
  2. Hands
  3. Arms
  4. Skin
  5. Nose
  6. Eyes
  7. Ears
  8. Hair
  9. Air
  10. Walls
  11. Roof
  12. Fingernails
  13. Elbows
  14. Knees
  15. Sun
  16. Wind
  17. Stars
  18. Leaves
  19. Streets
  20. Water
  21. Clothes
  22. Tongue
  23. Teeth
  24. Walking
  25. Sitting

I stressed that the ease with which we made a list of twenty-five things to illustrate their ability to find something to be thankful for did not lessen the seriousness of their feelings. Depression is real, and can be very serious. But sometimes taking a decision to find something, anything, to be thankful for can help.

I’m thankful for sunlight.