Stefanie Dell'Aringa

Freelance Writer

Category: Life

Four Little Words

I had a horrible dream last night, the usual culmination of the day’s thoughts translated into vivid imagery that morphed into the last terrifying moments of my life. I found myself in New York. The date was September 12. The World Trade Center was on fire, the result of yet another terrorist attack. “They’re doing it one day later than the last one!” I screamed. I saw all of this from a bridge inside of a car that I think was being driven by my husband. I noticed that my daughters and one of their friends were also in the car. The next thing we knew, as dreams often change abruptly and without reason, half of the bridge was missing, and we all went over in the car. The car then disappeared and I saw all of our bodies plunging down to our deaths. I had those few seconds to ponder my life and decide what I wanted my last words to be. I found myself saying out loud, “I love you, Lord.” And then I woke up right before I hit the water.

Who knows why we dream what we dream? I only know that I had been thinking about 9/11 all day. Earlier, I had posted on FB about a flag ceremony I had attended. I also had read an excerpt from a church sermon on terrorism. Topics surrounded by fear and frustration, and moments I can’t control generally push themselves into my slumber uninvited, and go to war with me. Why should this night be any different?

But what I learned from this particular dream is that my mind, even though it was in a dream state, decided on those four words after fully believing they’d be my last. And because that’s the case and since I’m still alive, I should probably concentrate on those words a little more.

What am I doing every day to say, “I love you, Lord?” Am I helping others? Am I speaking truth? Am I seeing other people as God sees them? Am I telling God with my actions, not just my words, that I love him?

I’m sure I fail miserably, being the mess that I am. We’re all sinners falling short of the glory of God. But the main thing is to consider the four words, to contemplate them not just daily, but hourly, even bringing them to mind each minute with each task I’m doing. It is my goal today and every day moving forward to truly live out the words, “I love you, Lord.”

10 Reasons Why Crock Pots Rock

slowcooker-71mvruT5elL._SL1500_Yesterday, I bought some boneless ribs at Aldi and wondered what I could do with them. Aha! I’ll put them in the crock pot and dump a bottle of BBQ sauce on top. Simple. Two steps. Put meat in. Pour on sauce. Three hours later, the meat was fork tender and tasty. I had some leftover potatoes and carrots that I mixed in near the end and marveled at the easy and delicious dinner I made with such little effort. That’s when I decided to write a top ten list of reasons why I love my crock pot, as nerdy as that may be.

  1. You can put practically any cut of meat into a crock pot and it will become tender and juicy. I’ve tossed in the toughest of roast beast, slathered in some kind of savory sauce. It always seems to fall off the bone, melt in your mouth and generally make everyone a little happier.
  2. You can leave the house while your meal is cooking and not worry that you’re going to burn the house down. Come home from wherever you were and you’ll find the house is not on fire, nobody in it is on fire, and your dinner is ready. That’s a good thing.
  3. You get to come home from work and have something hot and ready to eat. Who wants to cook after working all day? Sometimes you’re just too tired to even think, let alone gear up for some culinary craftiness.
  4. The smell. On one super busy day, I totally forgot that I had dumped meat, veggies, seasonings and chicken broth into the crock pot that morning. I was immediately reminded about it five hours later when I opened the front door and whiffed that welcoming aroma. What is that wonderful smell? Oh yeah. That’s the dinner I prepared ahead of time and now I get to eat!
  5. The whole meal is contained in one pot, so the clean up is super easy. I usually just soak my pot overnight and then wash it out in the morning. Whatever happened to be stuck on the sides or bottom comes off easily. No biggie.
  6. If you’re lazy or just plain tired because your body is using all of its energy to digest that delicious crock pot goodness, you don’t have to dig for Tupperware to refrigerate the leftovers. Just take the crock pot and put it in the fridge. Easy peasy.
  7. Lasagna. Best. Lasagna. Ever. I never thought it could be made in the crock pot until I tried it a couple of months ago. I saw it here:
  8. In the summertime, you can make a hot meal without heating  up the entire kitchen. There’s nothing worse than cooking on a 90 degree day when the air-conditioning is working at its maximum and you make its job even harder by turning on the oven to cook. Soon, the kitchen is 20 degrees hotter than the rest of the house and you’re sweaty and exhausted. With the crock pot, nothing’s heating up except your food.
  9. The crock pot holds A LOT. I have teenagers coming and going all the time in my home, and a lot of them are not mine. I’m worried I might not have enough food to feed them, especially if I don’t know they’re coming for dinner. With the crock pot, you can fill it with several servings of just about anything – chili, stew, casserole, chicken a la king – and you’ll have enough for your family and those unexpected guests. Yeah, you know who you are.
  10. You can be as creative as you want. I’ve thrown in soup, ketchup, salad dressing, shredded cheese, spinach, croutons, frozen peas, and whatever is left in my pantry. It seems that as long as you follow some kind of recipe – loosely, of course – and your ratios of liquid are correct, you can create just about anything in a crock pot. Some of my favorite crock pot recipes are ones I invented using dumped in leftovers.

The day my husband bought me my crock pot, he said, “You’re going to appreciate having this.” Instead, I was worried about how much he had spent on it, and wondered where I’d find room to store it. Big and bulky as this bad boy may be, it’s totally worth giving it prime real estate in the pantry.

The Swing, Then and Now

Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of moving to West Dundee. We had a horse nearby and I was friends with the stable owner’s daughter who lived right smack in the center of downtown, facing Grafelman Park. I remember hot summers at the playground there, back when it was called Tower Park. I recall a slide, a water tower, and dragging my feet through gravel to stop the swing. That swing just felt like home.

Years later, I’d cover board meetings as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Every Monday night for four years, I’d drive to the old West Dundee village hall building with its creaky wooden stairs and listen to how the people in this small town ran it. No vehicle stickers? No garbage fees? Protecting open space? I loved it all the more.

Sometimes, I’d get to the meeting early, and drive around looking at the historic houses. The neighborhood that appealed to me most was Old Town. Every Monday night, I’d drive home from the meeting but I’d get this odd feeling that I was going the opposite direction of home. That all made sense when I moved here thirteen and a half years ago. I now live in Old Town.

I have an old house on a quiet, dead-end street near a gorgeous park with a gazebo. From my second story porch, I have a view of families canoeing and small fishing boats motoring by. Every morning I can watch the sun reach its rays over 100-year-old trees and reflect off the Fox River’s peaceful flow. But what makes this house special is the family who lives (or lived) next door to me, a family that just moved away yesterday.

The Ottingers made it clear they were going to take care of us even before we met them. We arrived in late November. I remember trudging through leaves to get to the front door. I made a mental note to sweep once I got some cleaning done, but when I went out to do that, Nancy Ottinger had already taken care of it.

Over the years, Jack Ottinger has fixed countless things for us20160626_124310, helped us install a screen door, loaned us tools, gave us advice, and filled our bike tires with air in the springtime. We’ve enjoyed wine coolers on their deck where they have a wooden swing. I mentioned that I loved the swing, and from then on, I had “swinging rights.” Whenever they were away on vacation, I’d take advantage of that.

Nancy was a combination of night watchman and mother hen. She’d call us to let us know that we left our garage door open, alert us about a nearby skunk, or any other potential harm on our street. She’d give us eggs, lettuce, butter, whatever you needed in a pinch. She mowed our lawn three times when my husband had shoulder surgery.

When they started packing, I was the recipient of many items because the Ottingers are givers. We have some of their furniture, vases, food and firewood. They won’t take money for things and I’ve learned to stop offering because they find it offensive.

Yesterday, a young couple moved into a house that was loved and cared for by the Ottingers for over 30 years. It was odd to see these strangers in their house, but change as we know is constant, just like the flow of the Fox River. It is no longer the Ottingers’ house, but as I looked over, I saw Nancy on the deck. She was, no doubt, giving instructions about the house to the new occupants. I didn’t want to interrupt their conversation, but I offered a final wave from my driveway and thought, “That’s just like Nancy to take care of the new owners.”

I’ll miss summer evenings listening to stories about Jack and Nancy when they were in high school, fun times with their friends, old cars, and pranks. As I’d listen, I’d swing on that beautiful wooden swing Jack made. We took a picture of the four of us – Jack, Nancy, my husband Tom and I – in front of the swing the day we said our goodbyes. Something about that swing just felt like home.





The Nocturne Played On

I dropped off my daughter at work this morning, and on my way back found myself wandering into an estate sale. I’m a sucker for these things because you get to enter into a home and discover something about the person and his or her life. It is unknown what you’ll find there. You could stumble upon antique china or a priceless piece of art, carnival glass, or something precious. Even if I don’t see anything I like, sometimes I purchase something in honor of the person who just died. It’s a way of keeping that person alive.

So I entered the home on an exceptionally cold day for spring. Some kind of  icky mix of rain/sleet was coming down, but the moment I stepped in, I felt a warm, inviting peace about the place. This was where an old woman had lived, evidenced by the 1940s wedding gown gently spread out on a living room couch and on sale for $25. Nearby, I spied a music box in the shape of a grand piano with a tiny matching bench. I could not help but wind it up to see what song it would play. It was one of my favorites – Chopin’s Nocturne op. 9 no. 2 – and as it played the tune I thought about whether she was a music lover and who might have given this gift to her. Maybe she bought it for herself.

I stepped into her bedroom, feeling guilty for being in such a private space, one reserved for her sleeping and waking, her husband’s sleeping and waking. Her clothes hung lifeless in the closet, her mattress was stripped of its warmth and forced to wear a cheap price tag. Dressers found themselves with the same fate. And the carpeting, once graced by bare gentle footprints, was now covered with paper for wet shoes to trample on. I was an invader.

I moved through other rooms and looked at other things. A set of dishes spoke of beautifully cooked meals in a dining room now cluttered with every kitchenware item robbed from the cupboards rendered jobless. The couches and lift chairs, a matching his and her set in the family room, had no one to seat. One sofa, however, became the proud holder of an assortment of carefully embroidered dresser scarves, the kind I imagined that small, wrinkled fingers painstakingly sewed for hours. They were two bucks each. What was this woman’s name? What was her life like?

After visiting all of the rooms, I felt that odd compulsion to buy something before leaving. After all, I had touched so many of this woman’s personal belongings. I needed to pay tribute to the memory of this stranger, so I selected a 50 cent garlic press, decades old. It’s the kind that’s made of metal and will never break, even if you tried.

As I made my way toward the cashier and completed the transaction, another customer came in the door. He was about to discover a bit about this woman too. I exited through a creaky screen door which no doubt had opened and closed for many visitors over the years – children, grandchildren, great grandchildren – and now it opened for strangers. I walked down the driveway, squinting from the sleet, pondering life and death, and hearing in the distance the tiny music box as the nocturne played on.

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