75 years of Regeneration

“Regeneration takes a lot of energy.”My Octopus Teacher 

My mom, to the far left, with two of her relatives, Charles Paul and Jimmy Clarke.

My husband, John, and I were watching a popular documentary entitled, My Octopus Teacher.  While I could see where this movie would not be for everyone, as self-proclaimed nature lovers, John and I enjoyed it.  At one point during the movie, the octopus goes into long term hiding after one of its arms is torn off by a predator. The narrator explains, “Regeneration takes a lot of energy,” and I knew, upon hearing those words, there was a lesson for me.  

Regeneration is a word used in both biology and theology.  In its most basic definition, it means, according to Merriam-Webster, “to become formed again.”  It can also be described as a process of renewal and restoration.  Upon reflection throughout the following week, the concept of regeneration became more nuanced.  In fact, I began to contemplate the way in which I have observed forms of regeneration.

My mom, bottom row, second from left, with her older brothers; Leo, bottom row, second from left; Ralph, top row, third from left, their wives/kids; and her parents, top row, far left.

Mentally shuffling through life’s deck of cards, I began to notice all the ways in which various relations and friends have gone through numerous cycles of “forming again.”  My siblings, my parents, members of John’s family, and even John and I have experienced several crippling and/or painful stages that felt as if a limb were cut away only to witness the miraculous resilience of the human spirit once more begin to help each person renew and restore.

In fact, by the time you read this, Dear Reader, I will have, along with my three siblings and other family members and friends, created ways to help my mother celebrate her 75th birthday on May 7, two days before Mother’s Day.  Mom’s birthday was also her mother’s birthday, and I can’t help but notice, as part of the natural aging process, Mom not only looks similar to Grandmother, but also possesses many of Grandmother’s mannerisms.  

Mom’s mother, my Grandmother. They both shared May 7 as a birthday. Throughout her life, she experienced several life-altering events for which she had to regenerate.

“Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.”–Barbara Kingsolver

Like Grandmother, Mom has had to go through numerous stages of regeneration that I am only now beginning to appreciate in order to achieve 75 years of life.  Like all humans, Mom went through the obvious metamorphosis that is the infant through teen years, then into the young adult years, and the mid-life adult years. Now, she is fully immersed in those golden senior years for which Mom assures me aren’t always so golden!  

As her oldest daughter who entered her life before she began her second decade of life, I have been a partial witness to moments of time when Mom has been forced to restoration phases.  While it would be easy for me to offer commentary on these significant moments, I haven’t lived in Mom’s skin.  Therefore, I cannot pretend to know the level of upheaval or turbulence that certain events must have generated for her.  All I know is that if there is one thing Mom is good at doing, and thus modeling to all of her children, is the power of regeneration.

From left to right, Mom’s parents, Mom, my Dad (her first husband), and his parents. All of these beloved family member has/had to experience multiple times of regeneration.

“A mother is she who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take.”–Cardinal Meymillod

On Mom’s birthday, I did something I had only done one other time this school year (and that was due to John having surgery), I took a day off work to help her celebrate her mid-septuagenarian birthday.  A few weeks prior, Mom invited me to attend her Friday morning Jazzercise class in Ironton, Ohio.  The music playlist of Meghan Trainor, as per Mom’s request, would be choreographed by instructor, Rita Isaac.  

“After all, I only turn 75 once,” my mom said to me with only a hint of heavy-handed inducement.  

To celebrate her milestone, Mom purchased cupcakes for her fellow Jazzercizers!

As I pondered my decision, I considered the past 17 months or so of Mom’s life.  Her husband, Jim, was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, and due to the rapid progression of this disease, Mom was forced to make the painful decision to place him into an assisted living center.  This decision had to be made in the middle of the COVID pandemic/quarantine when patients in these centers were dying by the thousands.  Thus, it was by no means an easy choice.  

This was followed by a succession of deaths, including one fateful funeral in which Mom, and several family members in attendance, contracted COVID.  The virus clung to Mom like a wine stain on a favorite shirt–there was no quick way to wash it away.  Afterwards, came more deaths of loved ones, never-ending quarantining, and a winter that would likewise regenerate in unexpected ways.  

Through it all, I witnessed Mom scratch, claw, and climb her way through each blow that life offered.  Thankfully, she had, and continues to have, a devoted support system of friends and family to lend her a hand and/or an ear.  Additionally, there was, and is, a professional cadre of further support at Marshall Health Senior Adult Care.  Nonetheless, these past months required much internal restoration that only Mom could do for herself, and that Dear Reader, is the lesson to this story.

Several of her Jazzy friends left early, so unfortunately, I wasn’t able to photograph everyone in a group. Mom is center, and to the right of her is the instructor, Rita Isaac, who created and choreographed the Meghan Trainor playlist/workout!

The latest regeneration of Dolores, my mom, is flourishing as I witnessed on May 7 in her Jazzercise class. Once she was able to get vaccinated, and restrictions were lifted, Mom became the proverbial butterfly flitting and floating in the grassy field that is life on the other side.  Watching her dance, bop, and clap her way through her Jazzercise class with smiles for miles, I couldn’t help but admire her renewed exuberance and vibrancy.  Seeing her surrounded once more by friends and acquaintances in her various community and social circles reassures, that indeed, there is a dawn after night, and there is joy after the pains of birth, or in this case, rebirth.

Happy Birthday, Mom!  May you continue to find ways to renew and restore, and may your story remind others that regeneration of the human spirit is indeed possible! 

Chocolate Cake Mix Cookie Birthday Bars

“When there is cake, there is hope.  And there is always cake.”–Dean Koontz

“My idea of baking is buying a ready made cake mix and throwing in an egg.”–Cilla Black

By the time you read this, Dear Reader, I will be celebrating another year of life.  Honestly, the way 2020 is going, I am almost afraid to celebrate, but I am throwing caution to the wind.  By golly, in spite of everything that is upside down in this world, I am going to celebrate another year of life.  I am going to smile, eat a ridiculously calorie laden meal or two, drink a bit of good wine, and dang it, I am eating cake!  Of course, it has to be gluten-free due to my celiac disease, but I will eat cake–chocolate cake to be precise because chocolate is my favorite!

Sure, 2020 has been a train-wreck of a year in many ways, but fall is in the air.  Even though winter is around the corner, there is something about autumn weather that makes me feel hopeful–hopeful for better days ahead.  Call me crazy, but I gotta believe that life has to take a turn for the better . . .at least that is my birthday wish.

In addition to feeling hopeful, I feel grateful–grateful for my health, my family, my friends and loved ones, my home–flaws and all–and my job.  I wake up every day in a warm bed, and as I step out of it, I am able to turn on hot water for a shower.  Food is stored in both my refrigerator and cabinets–not to mention the fact our water is drinkable.  My job, with all of its challenges, is still providing a paycheck that allows me to celebrate my birthday in the manner in which previously I described.  Therefore, in spite of all the negatives 2020 has to offer, there are still numerous things for which to be grateful this year.

To add to my list of items for which I am grateful, I would have to include an unexpected email that I received from registered dietitian nutritionist, Stephanie Ferrari, with Fresh Communications.  Thanks to Stephanie, and the kind (or should I say, sweet) people at Swerve, I was thrown a “swerve” ball during the summer months when the Swerve team sent a care package of products to my house.  Thanks to their generosity, I have been blessed with the opportunity to play and create with a few of their products including their chocolate cake mix, which is featured in this month’s recipe.  

As previously mentioned, I do have celiac disease, so I cannot eat products containing wheat, rye, or barley.  Furthermore, birthday celebration aside, I do try to eat in a fairly healthy manner that works best for me.  Due to an incredibly sensitive stomach/digestive system, it’s taken me years to figure out how to best eat for my body. However, I also recognize that what works for me may not work for others.  Thus, when I create recipes, I try to create choices in order to adapt to a variety of tastes/needs/preferences.  Personally, I prefer to eat plant-based, forgoing dairy, eggs, and meat products most of the time.  Therefore, you will see that reflected in this recipe, but I also list other options if that’s not your cup of tea, or slice of cake, as the case may be.  

I based this recipe upon one I found on the Swerve website.  This is because since it wasn’t my official birthday, I wanted to keep the recipe fairly “clean,” and save the calorie-laden splurge for the actual big day.  This is where Swerve products check all the boxes for me.  Therefore, the recipe is not only gluten and grain free, but it is also a fairly low carb treat.  In fact, there isn’t one ingredient that leads me to feel guilty or over-indulgent.  The leftovers store well, and it is my experience that they tend to become more moist and chewy after being stored in an airtight container for a day or two.  Therefore, I can have my cake and eat it too–for several days in a row if I want–rather than saving cake for a once per year special eating occasion!

Whether you’re looking for a way to brighten a bad day, wanting to indulge without completely blowing your calories, or simply in the mood for chocolate, give this recipe a try. Within less than an hour, your house will be redolent with the aroma of chocolate cake baking, and your taste buds will be dancing with the delightful taste of warm, gooey chocolate.  Think of it as a small manifestation of making lemonade, or in this case, cake, out of the lemon of a year.

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade treats.

Chocolate Cake Mix Cookie Birthday Bars

Ingredients:

1 box chocolate cake mix (I use Swerve brand.  Also, feel free to use Vanilla cake mix if preferred.)

½ cup applesauce or melted butter at room temperature (I use applesauce to keep it plant-based.)

1 large egg, or “flegg”, at room temperature (Recipe for flegg is below.)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or powder

½ cup oats or your favorite chopped nuts (I use Nature’s Path organic gluten-free oats.)

½ cup chocolate chips or other candy bits, i.e. peanut butter, white chocolate, and so forth (I use Enjoy Life allergy-free brand.)

Optional: White sparkling sugar

Directions:

Set out egg to come to room temperature, or if replacing egg, make your “flegg” before beginning any other steps. (Recipe below)

Likewise, if using melted butter instead of applesauce, melt first and allow it to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Prepare a square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, coconut oil, or line with parchment paper.

In large bowl, add cake mix and using fork gently break up any clumps

Stir in applesauce (or butter), egg (or flegg), and vanilla extract until well combined.

Gently fold in oats and chocolate chips until well combined.

Press mixture into pan.

If desired, sprinkle with white sparkling sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the edges are golden, and the top is puffy.

Allow to cool before cutting into 16 squares.

Store any uneaten bars in an airtight container.

Leftover bars are especially tasty when warmed slightly in the microwave topped off with a dollop of whipped topping, if desired.

*“Flegg” egg replacement recipe:

1 tablespoons flaxseed (Chia seed works too.) 

3 tablespoons of water. 

Mix well and allow to sit for 20 minutes before mixing batter.