The Psychopath Behind The Mask

Good reading!

Dr. Eric Perry

Written by Dr. Eric Perry
Image Credit: Pixabay


“Sometimes mortals can be more horrible than monsters.”~Rick Riordan

Hiding in plain sight under the guise of normalcy, they patiently wait to pounce on their next target. The psychopath is a dangerous animal because they are camouflaged to look like you and me, but they lack a key ingredient of what makes us human; a conscience. The main characteristic of a psychopath is the lack of a conscience. Unlike most humans, they have no inner voice helping them distinguish right from wrong. Their moral compass is broken and has been replaced by a desire for self-gratification at any cost. They have an insatiable need for psychological and physical control over others and will use charm, intimidation and violence to get what they want.

Most of us can easily point out the imprisoned psychopath who has been caught and convicted for heinous…

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Thanksgiving Day, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving Day! Even if you don’t live in the United States where Thanksgiving is a national holiday, having a specific day on which to take time to stop and be thankful is something you can still add to your own traditions.

I’ve started this blog post 3 times, after trashing my first 2 attempts. In March, I made a decision to take a sabbatical from all ‘official’ holidays in 2021. Which isn’t entirely true, I guess. I took a sabbatical from all of the preparations around those holidays that seem to center around food and/or gifts. I felt like I needed to reconnect with what the meaning of each holiday was, not what tangible things were associated with them.

A few years ago, a social media site friend started something where, from November 1st through Thanksgiving Day, we listed one reason daily for which we were thankful. If you ever watched the movie “Miss Congeniality”, you know that, sooner or later, everyone wanted “world peace”; and when those participating couldn’t think of an answer, they just read the posts of others and borrowed one, changing a couple of words.

As those posts came up in my history, I read my answers, surprising myself that I had some good and probably unique answers among mine! But I’m pretty sure I had some “world peace” answers as well, because we all tend to be grateful for certain things.

I don’t know if I could find 25 different things to say I’m thankful for without becoming passe and boring. But I’m going to try and come up with my top five here.

#1. I am truly thankful for our service men and women have had and who are, giving up being with loved ones on holidays in order to be out in the world maintaining our rights and freedoms. While we should be thanking those people each and every day, this year gave me the opportunity to be more reflective on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Patriots Day and Veterans’ Day and the history behind those holidays. I didn’t need a cook-out with friends; in fact, I enjoyed those holidays much more because I gave reference to their true meaning.

#2. I am always thankful that I know and have a lot of positive people in my life who bring me joy in sharing a part of their lives with me. Some are acquaintances, some are friends, falling in categories from casual friends to good friends. And then, there are those great friends and best friends, people who support me and acknowledge me in good times and bad, and who never judge me for what I think, what I feel, what I do.

#3. Though I’ve recently learned that my landlord is someone who will lie in order to ‘cover his butt’, I am still thankful to have a livable apartment, although, the longer I live here, the more I wish I didn’t.

#4. I’m thankful to have savings I can use to replace my beloved car, even though I don’t like taking a chunk from them. And I’m certainly thankful that I have several months in which to find something I’ll be happy with rather than have to settle for something. No doubt, it will be the last car I ever purchase (unless my car is in an accident and doesn’t survive) and even though I only put between 1500 and 2500 on it a year in miles, I don’t want to drive something I’m not happy with.

#5. I am over-the-moon thankful that I have an amazing brother and that we have the relationship that we have. He (and my bestie) gives me advice whenever I ask and sometimes, even when I don’t specifically ask! When he sees that my thinking might be somewhat skewed, he’s willing to suggest the “what if” questions to help me look at something in a different way. The innate trust we’ve been able to build between us is something I know other people don’t have with siblings, and I try never to take it for granted.

My life, when I look at those things, helps put into perspective how much I do have to be thankful for. And so today, when I make a sort of “compact turkey dinner for one”, I will remind myself that, while I am a long way from having everything I want, I DO have everything I need!

Take some time to reflect on the many things you have for which to be grateful, and carry them in your heart every day.

When it rains, it pours

Those of you who have been around the earth for a while might well remember that the statement I used as the title for this post is a tag line for a very popular product. Do you remember? Let me give you a hint:

Tag line and logo for Morton Salt

When I was thinking about this title, I actually decided that using the tag line for this particular product could be misleading. I suspect most of us keep a few dried pieces of rice in our salt shakers because dampness will make it clump together and the rice absorbs any dampness. Plus, any time we add salt to any broth, etc. while making a meal, the salt literally dissolves in the liquid. So I’m prone to question why rain wouldn’t make the salt either clump up or dissolve, in each case making it unable to pour?

But that’s not the point of this blog post and just an off-sides perception.

When we use the phrase, “When it rains, it pours”, we are not talking about salt at all. For most of us, it’s a way to say that bunches of things keep happening in a quick manner and we find it difficult to catch our breath as we deal with one then another and then yet another. And boy, oh boy, it’s been pouring in my life over the past few weeks!

My car is sick. I adore my car, my PT Cruiser. She’s a 2006 model which I bought used in 2010 and we have had many happy years together. She had just over 40,000 miles on her when I bought her, and I’ve only added another 40,000 miles in the almost 12 years she’s been mine. She was my transportation for all of my annual visits to Florida in the winter, from 2010 through 2015. She was my transportation for all of my trips to the area in which I now live when I would come up to visit this area and spend weekends with my bestie and family. She’s what makes my 2-hour drive each way to see my brother comfortable. She’s never cost me any money other than normal wear-and-tear. Until now… I haven’t confirmed it with a diagnostic test yet, but my mechanic thinks what is probably wrong (something he can’t repair) is going to cost somewhere between $600 and $1000. Here’s the kicker – she’s old enough now that the high end of her blue book value is only $1900, and as fond of her as I am, that doesn’t seem like a wise investment. So, while I can still use her right now, she won’t pass the inspection that’s due in May, 2022, so it’s time to start looking so that I don’t feel rushed into making a decision.

So that’s #1. I recently got a phone call from the landlord for this building to inform me that there is a rent rate increase. I was a bit terse when I reminded him when I spoke with him in January that he was saddling the tenants with the trash bill, something the previous landlord did not do (to the tune of $230 per year) that he assured me that he’d never raise our rates, but that meant that he couldn’t also be paying for everything. We’ve always paid the water/sewer bill.

But here’s the kicker on this… He informed me that he was raising everyone’s rent by $25 per month, from $775 to $800. Hold the phone! I’ve been paying $795 a month since I moved in here, so he’s gotten an extra $20 a month from me for the entire time they’ve owned the property! That really got under my skin – I’ve overpaid $680 to date, and he still wants me to pay a total of $800 per month. So I had to write him a letter and explain that it would take me 136 months, or 11.66 years, to use up the entire credit I should have been given for overpayment of rent, and assured him that if I were still living and living here in 11.66 years, I would increase my rent payment accordingly.

So that’s #2, and while it isn’t going to cost me more money at this juncture, added to the issue with my car, it weighs heavily on me.

I am happy to tell everyone that, after months and months and months of you hearing me complain about not having the kind of service I expected in my doctor’s office, I was ready to make a move when my Medicare kicked in effective July 1st of this year. (Surely, if you follow my blog, you remember what kind of fiasco I had getting a Medicare plan in place!). The front office staff at the doctor’s office suggested I try the newest addition to their staff, and because making a change requires starting over and getting medical records to a new office, I agreed. Well, Ronna is everything that Keith wasn’t! She’s on top of everything I mention to her. Instead of typing everything into the computer as she goes, she makes herself handwritten notes and then apparently does that on her own time. She’s sending me for a large amount of blood tests before I see her again in January. She also wants me to have a vascular screening test done. The good new is that it can be done in the facility across from the doctor’s office. The bad news is that it’s not a test covered by insurance. The total cost of the test is less than $100, and I do understand the reasons that she’d like to have it done, but with a newer car purchase on the horizon, I’m trying to pinch every penny possible.

Because that’s going to cost me money, I’m counting it as #3.

Now, in case that isn’t enough… the project I’m working on with my brother is going to require an official outlay of some moneys paid. I’ve known that since we first talked about taking on the project but… Just minutes after hanging up the phone from talking with my landlord, my brother called me and told me what the requirement for money would be upfront, and I was not prepared to have to come up with that much initially.

#4, as that phone call was, pushed me over the edge and I broke down. I hadn’t mentioned to my brother about my issues with the car and paying for another one, so he didn’t really understand why I was falling apart. I ended up telling him that I couldn’t finish the call right now because I needed time to process what was required (and because I was sobbing at this point and that made it difficult to even talk). I had myself a really good cry, and then I got myself together and wrote dear brother an email explaining everything else that was going on around me of which he was unaware. Once he learned that, he could understand why I was feeling overwhelmed, and we’ve moved on from there.

I used to be the “crier” in our family. If any of you remember back to those sappy Hallmark greeting card commercials, let me just say that 99% of them made me tear up. My parents were always telling me to ‘suck it up’ and ‘quit crying’ and never really understood that my emotional side was always near the surface. And then, many years later, it seems I’d finally mastered crying “at the drop of a hat”. There have been several times over the past years when I was hurting for some reason and knew that if I just had a good cry, I’d feel better. Thinking back to a few really painful times in my life might bring a tear or two to my eyes, but there was no great sobbing release to be found.

And so, the blessing in all of this difficulty is that I had a great sobbing, cleansing cry and felt the release that accompanied it.

Good thing I got that all out of my system, because I found out this week that a friend from New Jersey I haven’t seen since December, 2019 (crappy pandemic) and have only kept in contact because of the Internet passed away at the young age of 35. I haven’t cried about that, though I am very sad. I think I’m still in a state of shock…

We’ll count that as #5 and hope that’s the limit….

Post Script: I kept this in my draft folder overnight with the intent to publish it today. I happened to go back and read my somewhat recent post on “Pain and Suffering” and it reminded me that it was time, once again, to pull up my big girl panties and keep moving forward… Sometimes I do have a moment or two of intelligent advice!

The Little Black Box

I have a little black box. It’s nothing special. In fact, it is nothing more than one of those portable file folder carrying boxes made of black plastic, with a latch on one side and a handle on top. It is a ‘leftover’ from my days of being a sales director for three different hotel properties, all owned by the same owners, and it served me well when traveling from location to location, keeping pertinent information handy for each property.

Since I’m a large activist for re-use, re-purpose, recycle, I decided that this box was just the right size in which I could keep important papers (like my certificate of birth, school diplomas, divorce decrees and other legal documents, etc.) and also some important treasures in the form of cards or letters that I didn’t want to discard. I keep it in an easy-to-reach location just in case I would need to retrieve it quickly and escape my dwelling.

Over the years, I’ve added a meaningful card or letter to it, but merely popping open the latch and dropping it in. It’s been eons since I’ve actually looked at what was inside the box.

Recently, my brother asked me if I had saved a copy of a letter that was sent to each of us, identical in nature and addressed to both of us in the heading. I didn’t think I had kept it, but knew that, if I had, it would be in that black box for safekeeping. So I opened the black box in search.

I did not find the letter. I honestly didn’t expect to, but if there was even the slimmest chance, having it could make a big difference in a project we’re working on together. However, in order to look for the letter, I had to withdraw each item from inside the box, and I was surprised to find things in there I didn’t know I had saved!

I knew I would find obituaries from the newspapers of loved ones; along with any programs or other printed information regarding their passing. I knew I’d find a letter I’d received just a few short years ago from my friend, Marnette (aka Prin), and different birthday cards which contained emotional messages or which made me laugh out loud when I read them.

What I didn’t know I’d find, and which I had told myself must have gotten lost in my last move, was a notebook full of page-protector sheets for each of the poems I had written back in my 20s and 30s. I truly believed that those words were forever lost, and I can tell you that I was extremely happy and excited to open the notebook and see what was inside!

What I also found, and didn’t remember I had chosen to keep, was a personal journal I had written in (almost) daily between August of 1992 and April of 1993 to put into words what and how I was feeling over an unexpected and instant death of my significant other. I added one additional entry in January of 2014, in which I’d written where I’d found the journal and where I was going to keep it. It was exactly where I’d said I was going to put it, but I honestly don’t remember making that decision. I started looking through the first couple of pages and realized I wasn’t in a place at the time to go back through and read it, so it’s tucked away again in case that time ever comes.

There is a VHS tape tucked in the black box from my visit to Niagara Falls with my then boyfriend, Randy. He took video of many sites and sounds during that trip, and it’s the one and only time I’ve ever been to the falls. To be honest, I’d watch it again right now if I had the means!

There was a small jewelry box and a blue folder I didn’t recognize. The blue folder is actually the appraised value in 2011 of the item of jewelry that is in the small jewelry box. This was another thing I had completely forgotten I’d even had, though I suspect I’d tucked it away to become part of my estate when my time on earth was over. I’m considering having it re-appraised, to see if it’s gone up or down significantly in the past almost 11 years. If it has gone up in value, and there is no fruit borne from the project my brother and I are working on, I may end up selling it. But I’m not in any hurry right now.

I admit that it was a bit of a shock to realize that this little black plastic box contained items that were not only near and dear to me emotionally, but that also had some financial value! I have pulled the notebook containing my poetry out, and am considering sharing some of that time in my life in this blog through its words. Since I haven’t written here for a while because my plate in life has been heaped to overflowing recently, this will allow me to add some posts!

I am going to look through all of the miscellaneous cards and letters, not only to enjoy the memories but to see if there is still an emotional attachment to them. I suspect that all of them will be returned to the box.

It still makes me shake my head in disbelief that such an inexpensive small plastic box holds a world of irreplaceable treasure!

If you’ve got a little black box of your own somewhere, I encourage you to find it and go through it. You never know what kind of treasures await you there!

P.S. To my brother: Since it has been deemed that I will leave this earth before you, keep this little black box in mind as one of the things you’ll want to find and sort through first to make your work as my executor a little bit easier!

Sodom and Gomorrah

This is a must-read!

rachelmankowitz

This year I was asked to teach a few extra classes in the synagogue school, on Saturday mornings, focusing on the week’s Torah portion (the chapter of the Hebrew Bible that is read by Jews around the world at the same time). I was nervous and excited about the opportunity, because it was new to me, but also because I’ve never really had the chance to teach the stories from the first and second books of the Hebrew bible. I usually teach the book of Leviticus, which is full of laws and holiness, but not many plotlines or characters or dramatic scenes. And then I found out which Torah portion I’d be teaching the kids, and I thought, when it rains it pours, because I would be teaching the Torah portion that contains Sodom and Gomorrah, The banishing of Ishmael, and The Binding (and almost sacrificing) of Isaac. You…

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Pain and Suffering

I was reading another blog writer whose posts I follow, and I found this little gem of a thought that, for me, requires some additional thought and introspection. The words are credited to the religion of Buddhism:

“Pain exists but suffering is optional.”

According to the dictionary, pain is defined as the actual discomfort of something, be it mental or physical, and suffering is the mental perception we use to define the depth of our pain.

This idea that suffering is optional really hit me hard. I have a friend who lost her dad about 7 or 8 months ago and is still feeling the loss very strongly, apparently unable or unwilling to begin a healing process. Knowing from experience that we all grieve at our own pace, I’ve simply listened as, time after time, she mutters about how very much she misses him and how empty her life feels without him. And I wondered if this idea about pain and suffering might apply to her, that, while the pain is indeed beginning to heal, she chooses to continue to suffer its consequences for whatever reason she needs to do so.

I recently overdid it physically to the point that I was hurting on a scale of 7 to 8 out of 10 constantly in my neck, shoulders and arms. My neck is a serious spot, as my chiropractor always had to ‘reset’ it during my adjustments. My right shoulder, at least, still has an occasional twinge from having dislocated it over a year ago. When I got home, all I could do was drop my purse inside the door, kick off my shoes, turn the air conditioner down to 69 because I was drenched with sweat from the activity and plop into the recliner. It hurt badly enough that I could have cried, but not quite badly enough that I couldn’t keep myself from crying. And, as happens whenever I hurt that much, my mind says, “I want my mommy.” In real life, that would have done me no good, because my mom was not the nurturing type in many ways, but I did want the kind of mommy like June Cleaver who would soothe and comfort me even if she couldn’t make the pain go away. The pain did exist, as did the suffering. It required conscious choice and focus not to just continue to feel sorry for myself as I continued to heal, but to force myself to work through some of the pain by moving and using my arms and back. It was slow going, but I didn’t stay in “suffering” longer than I had to.

Nonetheless, I think all of us at one time or another (and some of us multiple times!) have suffered longer than we truly needed to. For me, I prolonged it simply because I wanted the attention and nurturing from anyone who saw me suffering. Deeper, than that, I probably just wanted for someone to show me that they cared for me, not just say the words.

The other side of that coin is that, when I’m suffering the most, I tend to completely withdraw from anyone who might give me comfort. I’ve always had a difficult time asking for help with anything, and I always feel that if I ask for help, I am encroaching on someone else’s time and energy. Behind all of that is the fear that, if I share my pain with another and they are unable or unwilling to support me through it, that means that my pain is insignificant enough not to be dealt with.

I don’t know if I’m going to change my ways (being an old dog and all), but I am going to keep the idea in my head that suffering is optional and use that idea to help me determine if I want to continue to suffer or try to find ways out of the pain. And I hope sharing that philosophy here might help someone else at last recognize his/her own patterns of suffering.

If I’m Not of Service, then…

I was reading through a blog post of another blog I readily follow, and I had an epiphany of sorts that has let me to understand that I need to do more introspective work.

The writer was talking about being ‘friends’ with those of whom she provides some kind of service. The service could be as insignificant as going to the mall with them whenever they wanted, or as significant as always being available, at the drop of a hat, to babysit or run an errand they can’t get out to do. The writer went on to say what it’s like to start making friends who like her for her, and not what she can give/do for them.

I nodded my head, having gone down that same path over the past handful of years. I have consciously erased some people I would have called “friends” at the time they were in my life, understanding that I was, in a way, being taken advantage of. Being the “giver” that I am, I’m often first in line to offer help to someone who could use it. Add “empath” to the mix, and I’m the first in line offering help to someone even when there has been no conscious show that they need help.

I could write many paragraphs about those people and the stories behind my decision. One had gotten so bad that it became part of the list of reasons to move from Lancaster to where I am now, because that was the only way I knew I could escape it. And yes, I realize I also allowed it get as bad as it was.

At times, I look at the few very close friends I have an ask myself, “Why do these people want to be my friend?” I had realized that part of me had always rushed in to help and be of service to people was because, in a weird way, I was trying to buy added value into having a friendship with me.

For so many years, I had to fight against my parents to try and get them to like me for who I am, not for my accomplishments. I know I never fully succeeded, but I also know I did break some of the boards of the fence. Why then, is it so difficult for me to accept that people will like me for me, not what I do for them?

I turned my tables on myself while I’ve been writing and began asking myself, “Well, why do I like the friends I like?” I was surprised that I couldn’t come up with specific reasons. My friends are non-judgmental (at least outwardly), always friendly, always willing to listen, often inspiring and just comfortable to be around without pretense. I know I have quirks and times I’m being difficult, but they just accept that as part of who I am. I also realize that I can choose to be my authentic self with them without recourse. I have never chosen to be friends with someone other than recognizing that they bring something priceless to the friendship – themselves.

I bring many of those same things to those friendships. I try to be non-judgmental and am learning to preface my judgement with the words, “If I were you – and I’m not – I would….” as a way of indicating that I’m merely giving a different option to something that they may not be seeing on their own. I actually recently asked my bestie about something I was struggling with, and prefaced my question, “If you were me – which you’re not – how would you handle such and such?” and she really gave me great insight and advice. I took her advice and used it, and I’m still thanking her for the benefits of my choice to handle the situation in the way that she suggested! To my friends, I bring laughter, silliness, sarcasm, honesty, a shoulder to lean on, and someone who will always offer an opinion. Apparently, those things are enough!

I have whittled down the need to do/give with these people, and while I like making my friends feel special and let them know I’m thinking about them, I can do that in small ways because it makes me feel good to do so. I honestly know that the small circle of true friends I have haven’t asked me to be of service to them in any way. I will just need to stop and think before doing anything – even small – is 100% for my own joy and 0% to give them reason to keep me as a friend.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks????

The Five Senses

Except through a birth defect of some kind, we humans are all born with the five basic senses – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. I’ve recently been thinking about which one would be most difficult to lose. I’m a little bit afraid of the dark, so losing my sight and being constantly in ‘the dark’ would be scary for me. Because music has always been an important part of my life and has, often, the ability to link directly into my emotions, I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to never hear music again, much less other sounds of daily life. Honestly, I give great kudos to those who are paralyzed and unable to feel touch, since touch, more than anything else, connects us to another person. I have always thought that, if I had to choose to give up one sense, it would either be smelling or tasting.

But now, since those two senses are so affected by the COVID-19 virus and I’ve heard some people who have experienced that lose talk about the affect, I am taking a second look at these senses as being more important than I previously thought them to be.

We are attracted to any given food item by three basic things – its appearance, its taste and its texture. For example, there are foods you could put on my plate that might have a really good taste and a nice texture, but if it is visually unappealing, I’m pretty apt not to try it to find out. I remember reading a study many years ago now where the study group was divided in two, and half of the group was blindfolded. A plate of food was served to all of them that included mashed potatoes, cooked rice and cheese hunks. But….the foods were all dyed or decorated to make them visually unappealing. The potatoes were dyed green, the rice was dyed red, and the cheese, before it was cut into hunks, was ‘decorated’ with food coloring to make it look like there were mold spots. Obviously, the group who were blindfolded had no issue eating any of the foods, but those who would see the food in front of them either refused to take a taste, or did so with the preconceived notion that, because of how it looked, it wasn’t going to taste good, and those who did try it were 98% certain that it didn’t taste “right” in some way. That certainly gives credence to how powerful the appearance of our food is to our desire to eat it.

I know this to be true by this example: I love rice. I can eat cooked rice by itself with butter and salt, flavored rice dishes, rice mixed in with hamburger, etc. I can, with some difficulty, eat rice in a soup. But if you put a bowl of rice pudding in front of me, there is no way I’m going to even try it. I hope I don’t ruin anyone’s enjoyment of rice pudding by saying this, but rice pudding looks to me like maggots in slime, and I just can’t get away from the visual enough to put it into my mouth!

Taste is, of course, highly subjective to each individual. Texture can also be subjective to each individual, though not as decisive as taste.

I finally acknowledged in this past year that I tend to eat to satisfy my taste buds. I don’t have to feel hungry in any way, but suddenly, there is a desire for a specific taste that comes into my mind and is very difficult to get rid of without indulging. Texture can also play a part in that desire. In fact, I think texture would still play a part in what I choose to eat even if I couldn’t taste it. Having struggled with my weight all of my life, I picture myself eating all of the healthy things that I don’t like by taste because taste wouldn’t matter. Trust me, I’ve played with the idea of being hypnotized to suddenly crave things like salad and raw vegetables and suddenly dislike the taste of salt. But being hypnotized wouldn’t take away my taste buds. Nonetheless, I think that’s the sense I’ve most be willing to lose.

But, what is the good of letting a small piece of dark chocolate melt on your tongue if you can’t taste it? I don’t eat a lot of chocolate (except for my recent addiction to Whoppers) and usually can enjoy just one taste; I’ve even turned down the offer of a piece of chocolate because I didn’t really want it. Imagine chewing on a perfectly prepared bite of steak and having it taste like nothing? What would become the real point of eating if you can’t taste anything?

Okay, maybe losing my sense of smell would be better. Other than inhaling the scent of lilacs or hyacinths, I can’t say I’d greatly miss being able to smell flowers. Although, I really do like the smell of freshly mown grass. But I’d also lose being able to smell more obnoxious and unpleasant smells. It would make me the perfect person to change a messy diaper, after all! I’m okay with never smelling a dead skunk again. I can sometimes smell a rain storm in the air before it starts, and that’s a pleasant smell to me as well. But, over all, I think the sense of smell offers the most equal list of good and bad smells, which makes it the easiest to lose.

I can’t imagine losing the other three remaining senses. When babies are born deaf and/or blind, they never realize that they’ve lost something because they’ve never really had it. But to have been given those senses and then having one taken away, how does one ever get past that loss? I know that it happens regularly – I have a friend who lost her hearing – first in one ear and then the other – and has never heard most of her grandchildren speak. I admit that I’m quite fond of quiet, but choosing quietness versus having noise taken away from me are different things. Much like the pandemic, I don’t go out to more places than I did during it (except for the occasional thrift store and lunch out with my bestie), but there is a big difference between choosing not to go out and being told I can’t go out.

I think of Christopher Reeves whenever I think about losing the sense of touch. Touch is the best way we can feel connected to one another – from the lightest touch of laying a sympathetic hand on someone to the deepest intimate touch that comes with love-making. Like music, touch can say the things we are unable to say with words. My brother gives a really great hug. It is all encompassing and once we’ve got our arms around each other, both of us just stand still and breathe. I can’t imagine how it would feel for my brother to give me a hug and not be able to feel it.

And, I think most of all, I would like to keep my sight. I am a bit clumsy at times – I can miss a stair step when it’s right there in my vision (and have). Much of my time is spent reading (audiobooks are not the same, I’ve tried them) and I would be lost without being able to escape into a good story!

I’ve obviously given this a lot of thought – maybe too much thought? – and probably because extended family-by-heart, double vaccinated, recently caught COVID and it was spread around the household. One person still can taste nothing but spiciness after 3 weeks, still cannot smell, and that brought on this whole barrage of thoughts about losing our senses.

If you choose, I’d love for you to share which sense you would most hate to lose and why….

Hacks from my Happy Place – XXI

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post about all things kitchen and cooking. I cannot believe that I’ve written 20 posts already under this series. I honestly haven’t developed any new recipes to share, though I’ve now got the idea for a couple. Instead, this post will focus on “hacks” to make you look like a decent cook.

On my recent trip to see my brother, we talked about how, by the time he gets home from work, he just wants quick and easy meals with as little clean-up as possible. And I’m going to admit it, for the first time, that when I’m cooking for just me, I use all kinds of cheats and hacks!

Example #1: I don’t like the runny sauce that comes with the boxed macaroni and cheese products. I also don’t want to go through the hassle of making homemade mac and cheese when it’s just for me. So….. I buy the boxed stuff, make it on the stove as directed, and then pour it into a casserole pan of some sort and pop it in the oven at 350 degrees. Open the oven after about 10 minutes and give it a good stir, and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes. Baking it solidifies the cheese sauce so it molds to the shape of the pasta and is no longer runny, and it tastes pretty decent! Plus, there are a variety of add-ins like bacon bits, chicken pieces, even canned tuna, that makes it a meal just by itself!

Example #2: I love chicken parmesan and let’s be honest, unless you are dining in an authentic Italian restaurant or 5-star establishment, the chicken is most likely to be a molded and breaded patty. For upwards of $15, or more, you can get this type of chicken parmesan served to you with a side of pasta. But….. you can make 4 times that many servings with just a little bit of easy prep and easy ingredients. Buy a box of the frozen chicken patties from the freezer section of your store. You will also need some mozzarella cheese – shredded or sliced – and either a jar of inexpensive spaghetti sauce or a can of tomato sauce and some Italian seasoning or oregano (one or both is probably in your pantry). Start boiling the water for whatever pasta you want on the side (or get a good brioche bun and make a sandwich instead). Bake the chicken as directed on the box, but about 3-4 minutes short of the baking time. As it is close to being done, use the microwave to heat up your sauce, for under a minute, just to get it warm. Remove baking sheet from oven and use a spoon to spread the sauce on the patties. Top with the mozzarella cheese. Return to oven and bake until cheese is melty. Congrats, you’ve just mastered some really decent chicken parmesan and saved lots of money doing it!

Example #3: When the weather is cold, a hot roast beef or hot turkey sandwich is hearty and filling comfort food. You can serve it on bread or over a mound of mashed potatoes (instant are okay, you won’t taste them anyhow!). Go to your local deli and ask someone to cut you a slab of turkey or roast beef, about 3/4 of an inch thick. Go to the center aisles and pick up a jar of roast beef or turkey filling. Then, it’s just a matter of heating the gravy on the stove while you warm the meat in the microwave. For me, I don’t want to have to deal with cutting my food once I sit down to eat, so I just cut the meat in bite-sized chunks, skip the microwave, and throw it into the gravy until it’s hot, and voila, just as good as you’d get in the average diner!

Example #4: Beef stew is a hardy meal and although I could use the lunch meat and gravy like I do for a hot meat sandwich, I simply buy the (I think it’s Hormel) beef tips in gravy that’s found in the section near the pre-packaged lunch meat section. A can of diced potatoes and a small can of peas and carrots are the only other ingredients. I heat the beef tips in the microwave as directed and heat the potatoes and veggies together in a sauce pan. When everything is ready, pour the beef and gravy into a serving bowl, drain the potatoes and veggies, add in and stir until everything is combined. It really is that easy!

When you’re cooking for one, these are some easy ways to make yourself something that you won’t find pre-packaged at your store, and while again, it’s not restaurant dining, it at least tastes a bit like ‘homemade’. And mostly, it’s not filled with a bunch of extra preservatives!

I hope some of you will give some of these easy hacks a try, and then pat yourself on the back for how good they taste! Maybe they’ll inspire you to try other combinations! If so, please share them with us!

The Neighbors Next Door

Next door to my apartment building is a full house (not divided into apartments as many are in this town). In this house lives an elderly couple – and by elderly, I mean they have at least touched the 80 mark. In my over 5 years living here, I have never met them or spoken to them. My kitchen window, however, faces directly into their back yard and the back of their house, so I see things from time to time.

The only time I see Mrs. Elderly is when she’s walking up the back walk to their back door, which is the only door they use. And the only times I see her walking to her door, she is coming back from work at Walmart (the blue vest gives it away). Their back yard is quite long, and Mr. Elderly always backs his vehicle up until it is within a dozen steps to get to the back door. At first, I thought that he was just being courteous to Mrs. Elderly, as she walks with a cane, but I quickly learned that he keeps several tool boxes in the back of his SUV, and he wants quick access to them. You see, Mr. Elderly likes to putter.

You can see his work table set up.

Yes, Mr. Elderly is from that generation where, if something was broken, you fixed it. More recent generations now think that if something is broken, you throw it away and buy a new one. Mr. Elderly has a plastic fold-up work table, although I’ve don’t often seen him use it. But, more days than not, you will see Mr. Elderly outside tinkering with something.

Mr. and Mrs. Elderly have a pine tree in their back yard which is humungous! I kid you not! This tree is taller than their three-story house. It is home to birds and squirrels alike. Because of there being so many birds, Mr. and Mrs. Elderly have two wrought-iron multi-plant holders in the yard. Most of the hangers for plants are, instead, used to hold bird feeders of a various sort. In the mornings, there will be a lot of birds vying for, and sometimes fighting over, a feeding hole. Each plant holder gets one plant in a white pot (probably purchased at Walmart). The flowers are beautiful when they put them up, but they do nothing to care for them, and because of the multiple heat waves we’ve had this summer, they are both already dead.

Look closely and you can see the dead hanging planter center at the top.
Base of the pine tree. It’s obviously quite old!
Gives you an idea of how tall this tree is!

Mr. Elderly has a metal shed in the yard. I am assuming that is where he might store his gas-powered push mower and other such things. Yes, Mr. Elderly mows his own grass!

There is also a boat trailer parked in the back yard. There is no boat, but he often stores long lengths of wood or pipe on it. I’ve never seen him actually build anything with the wood, nor do I know how long it has been there. Quite possibly, he did a renovation in the house at some point and had extra lumber.

Like every building in this area, none have central air conditioning. Mr. and Mrs. Elderly have one installed in what I’m guessing is a dining room window. Upstairs, there is not a single unit installed. Unless there has been renovation of some kind to put a powder room on the first level, there is probably a bathroom only on the second floor. Bedrooms would also be on that floor. Because Mrs. Elderly uses a cane, I feel a bit bad at how many trips she might have to make up and down those steps every day.

I have never seen a car other than theirs parked in the back (there is no street parking on this section of Main Street because the streets are quite narrow). I have never seen anyone other than the couple go in and out of the door.

Meanwhile, for whatever reason or reasons Mr. Elderly parks his car practically up against his back door, there is a massive unused amount of space in the rest of his back yard, except for a small garden where they grow their own tomatoes. For people in apartments who don’t have outdoor space, I’m sure they’d agree with me about being envious of enjoying that space and the fact that it’s been left unused.

Wasted outdoor space.

I’ve never really had the time to watch people as they go about their normal lives. I’ve lived in homes in suburbs or in apartments, and even though I saw my neighbors, it was seeing them coming and going, not just ‘hanging out’ outside. Living in a rural area, on its Main Street no less, means I get to know about more of the goings on around me because we’re not spread out by much area. Mostly, I really enjoy watching the birds feeding at one of his many bird feeders, which he fills and keeps out 365 days a year. I doubt, without it being intentional on my part, I’ll ever meet this couple, but I can tell they are nice people – a little eccentric in my opinion – but that’s just a generational issue. I’m grateful for the time I get to watch out my kitchen window, which definitely perks up the chore of washing and rinsing dishes!

I wish Mr. and Mrs. Elderly many more happy years together in good health!