Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Recipe: Fresh Summer Berry Syrup

Growing up in western Washington where blackberries grow wild almost everywhere, I was spoiled rotten with one of the most amazing berries ever.  Every August, armed with nothing but sheer determination and an empty coffee can, my brother, sister, mom, grandma, or some other family member and myself would head into the blackberry vines and go wild picking berries.  By the end of the day my fingers (and face) were stained purple by berry juice and my can was full, and the anticipation I had for fresh blackberry pies, blackberry dumplings, and blackberries and cream was almost too much to bear.  Like I said, I was spoiled rotten :)

Berry Syrup made with blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries

Today I decided we'd have breakfast for dinner, and I really wanted blackberry syrup for the waffles.  I've purchased the prepared stuff in bottles but here in Ontario it's outrageously expensive so I decided I'd make my own syrup.  It's been years since I did that, but homemade is always better so homemade it was!  Here's the recipe for a fantastic berry syrup, and you can use almost any kind of berry (blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry or a mixture of any of them).  You can also use either fresh or frozen and it turns out almost exactly the same texture and exactly the same wonderful flavor.

So, without further delay, here's the recipe:

4 cups of pureed berries (I use my Ninja blender and blend them until they look like baby food)
*1.5-2 cups of water
2 cups sugar
**2 tablespoons fruit pectin

Using a whisk, blend all together and bring to a boil in a heavy bottomed pot, stirring whenever you feel like it (like, between text messages, FB and twitter notifications, letting the dog out, letting the cat in, and out, and in again, and answering kid's questions, etc.).  Once boiling begins, watch it carefully so it doesn't boil over (clean up is a mess, trust me on this).  Boil for about 5 minutes then remove from heat.  Skim the foam off the top and either let set at room temp if you plan to use it that day, or pour into sterilized jars and seal with rings & lids.  You can also simply refrigerate if you plan on using it up within a few days.  My kids devour stuff like this so it just goes in the fridge afterwards.

*If you're using fresh berries, use 1.5 cups of water instead of 2 cups since fresh berries tend to be juicier than frozen.

**Pectin is optional.  Without it, the syrup has a thinner texture like store-bought table syrup.  With it, it has a thicker consistency.  Using pectin is entirely optional, and depends on how thick/thin you like your syrup.

Serve over pancakes, waffles or ice cream. It also goes really well as an add-on to a fruit/yogurt smoothie.

Reviews from my family today:

Samuel: motioning with hand gestures: two thumbs up (then he had seconds)
Rachel: "Mom, why do you do these things? This is amazing!"
Jordan: "can we have this every day? Why don't we have this every day?"
Ruth: "is there any left??"
Hubby: "baby, that was awesome"

Your mileage may vary.

Nutritional info:  there is none.  It's berries and sugar and water. *shrugs*

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Giggles Do Come Back

Nineteen years ago today, I became a widow. I was 30 years old.

It's one of those things no one wants to talk about.  No one wants to think about and no one wants to know about, unless they absolutely have to.  Even then, they'd much rather think, talk or know about something else because in all honesty, it's just a terribly difficult, unpleasant subject.

The truth is, saying it outloud "n i n e t e e n years ago" makes it feel like 900 years ago.  Partly because so much has changed since then, but partly because I was such a different person then, living such a different life then.  In some ways it feels like it all happened to someone else, and I was just there.

I remarried a few years later so technically I think I'm supposed to call myself a former widow.

As the years have come and gone since that day, I never really know what's "socially" acceptable to say about the way I feel about it.  Do I talk about it?  Do I go about my day like it's any other day?  If I don't talk about it, where are the voices out there for current widows or other former widows to connect with to find out they really aren't insane, but everything they're feeling is completely normal?  If I do talk about it, will people be all bummed out?

I've discovered the older I get the less and less I care about what is considered socially acceptable or politically correct or any of those other nice phrases we use that essentially mean "don't say what you're thinking because you'll upset the apple cart".  Sometimes, the apple cart needs to be tilted.

So, I write this for me, for you, for your sister, my sister, your grand-daughter, your neighbor, the lady at church, my kids, my mom, your mom, your kids and whoever needs to know someone else has been through it.  We're not alone, I can assure you of that.  In my family alone, in the span of just a few very short years, my grandma, myself, my sister, my step-sister and my mom, all became widows.  No, we are not alone, even though we all have different circumstances.

Monday, August 11, 2014

She Was Only Six

My world has kind of been rocked over the last week and I have a million thoughts about it so I figured this is probably the best place to put them.

I'm a bit of a true crime enthusiast (although that sounds sort of morbid, it's really not) so from time to time I frequent a discussion forum for people just like me to discuss recent crime cases.  It's a really well run and well moderated forum for people to just sort of put their heads together to try and figure out the how, why, when, who, etc.  Well, I was there the other day reading up on a few cases and when I hit refresh to get the latest posts, a notice came up of a brand new case.

That case was of Jenise Wright, a missing 6 year old girl from Bremerton.  I read the city name, then I read it again, then I think I read it at least a couple more times before I clicked on it to read the details of her disappearance.  For those that don't know, Bremerton is my hometown, so that's why it struck me the way it did.

Once I clicked, that was pretty much it for my attention span, working, social networking activity the next week. Something in my heart just said I had to stay up on this case, and so I did.  If you haven't followed any news on it or even heard about it, just click here and you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about this precious little girl and what happened to her. But before you do, look at her picture again and let that great big smile and those sparkling brown eyes burn itself on your memory.

What I quickly learned is that Jenise lived in a mobile home park that I'm very familiar with. It's a park I used to work in when I owned my mobile home cleaning service, and a park my uncle used to live in.  It's a nice place, primarily occupied by young families, retired, current and former military, etc.  Pretty much the same kind of neighborhood you'd find anywhere, but it's all contained in one little community with about 100 homes.

The timeline of her disappearance was basically this: dad saw her in bed around 10 pm last Saturday night, but she wasn't there when they got up Sunday.  By Sunday night the police were at the park and before the investigation was over, over 300 law enforcement agents were called in from local Bremerton PD, Kitsap County Sheriff's office, WA state patrol, Search and Rescue, the FBI and who knows what other departments. They threw every available resource at finding Jenise, and once they did (no, sadly, they did not find her alive) they were just as diligent at finding who killed her (and yes, they did).  The law enforcement agencies as well as the community at large (and not just those in the mobile home park, but all over Bremerton and Kitsap county) stopped what they were doing and dedicated whatever time/talent/skills/prayers/boots on the ground they had to offer to bring this baby girl home.  Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff's office, during one of the many press conferences held during the week called her a "daughter of Bremerton" and as such, everyone involved was dedicated to helping to get her back.

Just watching the search unfold over social media and seeing word spread like wildfire, I don't think I've ever been more proud to say "I'm from Bremerton Washington" as I have been this week. Despite what some may say about SmallTown America, that showed the heart of Bremerton right there.

As I did what I could being 2500 miles away, via social media and my research skills, I came across a lot of information that hadn't been released to the public yet. And by a lot I mean a TON of information I started keeping in a file all it's own in my favorites. All pieces to a puzzle.  I couldn't post about it at the forum because unless or until a person is named as a suspect, you can't spread rumor or hearsay there and you definitely can't post about minors (unless they're the victim, or also named as a suspect by law enforcement) so my hands were kind of tied.  See, little Jenise lived in a very small community with a bunch of kids and they all just sort of hung out together.  It's just the way it works in those kinds of communities.  But because many of them were teenagers and many (far too many, to be precise) teenagers leave their social networking sites fully public, it was actually pretty easy to find out who was talking about what, to whom.

While I'm certainly not a professional at this at all, I developed a profile of who took her away. I shared this with my husband and then shared it at the discussion forum:

He lives at the park.
He is a teenager known to her.
He is a teenager she trusts.
He is a teenager that knows she trusts him.
He lured her away, with some lie about a puppy or chocolate or something he knew she loved.
He took her into the woods, did what he did, left her there and hoped no one would ever suspect him.

Not so surprisingly, a lot of other arm-chair detectives like myself had already come up with almost the exact same profile.

As it turns out, according to the Notice of Arrest and Probable Cause statement (and please, BE WARNED, it's VERY GRAPHIC) that is almost exactly what happened, and who he is.  I have no idea yet if I have all the details down but I did nail most of them and I cannot express how much I hated to be right.  It was not at all a good feeling, being "right".  This is what I wanted to go to school for so many years ago and for some reason I just can't get this "I have to know who did it, how, why and when" out of my head.  Maybe it's a matter of wanting to see justice in this wicked world.  Maybe it's because I'm the youngest of 3 siblings and being a tattle-tale is just my lot in life.  I don't really know what it is but this crime-fighter thing has been stuck in my head since I was not much older than Jenise Wright, and I doubt it will ever go away any time soon.

So now, my thoughts on all of this.  Random and in no particular order I first need to say that while I believe in the sovereignty of God, and that nothing happens outside of His divine allowance, I will always have a very hard time with crimes committed against children.  There are just some very evil people in this world, or people that even for a flash of a moment in time, give in to those evil urges and God allows it to happen.  That He doesn't allow it to happen MORE often is more mind blowing to me than the fact that He does allow it to happen.

When someone commits a crime like this, there is never just one victim.  While Jenise was the first, after her came her mom and dad, 5 brothers and sisters (one of which was actually friends with the teen who killed her), grandparents, cousins, playmates, teachers at school and neighbors in the park.  Not to mention the law enforcement agents that found her broken little body in the woods.  They can never unsee that.  Then there is the flip-side; the perpetrator's family.  In this case there are his parents, step-parents, a huge extended family, all his friends, his girl friend, every teacher or coach he ever had now wondering "did I ever notice something off about him I should have payed closer attention to?" and the people in the small community that knew him and trusted him.  This ripple effect cannot be pulled back once it's done, and can include hundreds and hundreds of people exposed to the raw, forever-pain of a dead little girl, violated in the most de-humanizing, horrific, personal way you can violate a person.  AND SHE WAS ONLY SIX YEARS OLD.

While I don't know either family personally, through the course of my sleuthing online I came to discover I do actually know people that know the family of Gabe Gaeta (and just to be clear, I will not post his picture here.  He doesn't deserve the space on my blog), the 17 yr old who "allegedly" (legal mumbo jumbo) ripped the life away from little Jenise.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised, really.  When Tori Stafford in my (now) hometown of Woodstock Ontario went missing, I later found out that even though I didn't know her personally, I knew a LOT of people that did.  In small towns, eventually, somewhere, somehow, there's probably a connection.  I wouldn't be surprised to find out I know people who know Jenise Wright's family too.  In any case, my heart goes out to all of them.  I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to have to deal with something like this.

In one of the statements shared in the media, Jenise Wright's dad mentioned he hoped in some way, some how, something good can come of this. While his pain and grief is super-raw right now, that was a good thing to say.  There actually can be good, that comes from tragedy if people pay attention and take it to heart.  While you can never really "know" what someone is capable of (and in this case, the alleged perp Gabriel Gaeta has no criminal history, is well-liked, good in school, etc.) you can do more to make sure your kids are safe.  Set boundaries, know who they're hanging out with, where they are, what they do, where they go, and CHECK THEIR DEVICES ONCE A WEEK.  Yep, all caps, because most parents are convinced this is a violation of their kid's privacy and just don't do it.  And it's just stupid.  Even if you have the best kid on the planet, that doesn't mean they can't get lured off into some sketchy, inappropriate site or social networking app where all kinds of garbage is being shared & discussed.  All of our kids have devices with the condition that they knew ahead of time, we'd have access and check them on a regular basis.  And we do, and yes, we have found stuff that shouldn't be there from time to time and we've talked to them about it, and answered their questions.  I don't even want to think about all the filth they could get caught up in, if we never checked their devices or talked to them, but just let them do "whatever" because we didn't want to be that helicopter parent.

That alone may not prevent your kid from encountering a tragic situation but then again, it might.  As parents we have to do whatever we can to give THEM the tools to grow and make good choices so they can learn the importance of protecting themselves.

I had more to say but, my brain is kind of exhausted now.  I don't even know if anyone will ever read this since it's way over 140 characters but even if 1 person does and it helps them, Jenise Wright's dad's wish that some good comes out of this, will come true. I ask that you join me in praying for the Wright and Gaeta families as they begin this surreal journey and try to figure out how to cope with what's happened.

I didn't know Jenise Wright personally but she and I are both daughters of Bremerton, and her bright smile touched me from 2500 miles away.  Now I just hope for justice for her.