Personal Best Chili Mac
I think I may have actually yelped for joy when I read the text. Not that Tom interpreted it that way. “What? What’s wrong? Did somebody die?” Tom’s default for a loud exclamation is to assume some form of death and destruction. But no, this time it was some pretty good news.
A former employee of ours had traveled down to Milwaukee with an Army recruiter the day before to go through the Military Entrance Processing Station in the hopes of enlisting. When Justin left TCR a few years ago we were a mixture of sad and proud. We would miss the aggravating little bugger, but good for him to have the ambition to seek out something with a better paycheck. And we were proud of him again when he applied to be a volunteer firefighter -- that didn’t pan out for him, but we respected his desire to do something of more impact than factory work.
When he surprised us both by mentioning that he had an interest in joining the Army we were discreetly supportive. Okay, so I went online and gave a recruiter all his contact information. But it was his idea! And it was his initiative to go ahead and sit for the EMT exam that he had trained for but never taken, to better position himself for being accepted to train as a military medic. I was prepared for his disappointment there, mostly because he was so certain that it would be easy. It is not that I have ever doubted his intelligence. It’s just that young males sometimes have an estimation of their ability that gets ahead of their current achievement. I snickered to myself when I considered that the Army probably has effective means for dealing with that. But he achieved his certification, and we were proud of him again. The next challenge would be MEPS, where he had been told that he should apply for an easier to achieve position than medic and that he would probably wash out in his first attempt, anyway.
Watching Justin’s progress reminded me of something that is easy to forget: We should always have a vision of our best self and never give up on being that person. The particulars of that best self will constantly change and it may be a challenge to keep our vision realistic and humane, but we can’t give up on attending to what it is that we have to offer this world.
I remember my feelings of bemusement over my 94 year old mother reading and then reading again a book entitled “The Road to Character.” She was the most decent, self-disciplined, outward-facing person I knew. When considering people who could benefit from some character development I do have a list and she was never on it. But her instincts were good -- in advanced old age there wasn’t much she could offer in terms of material goods or physical labor, but she wasn’t going to give up on making an effort where she could.
I’ve been slowly learning over the last few years to have a vision of my best self that is, of all things, a novelist. I’m learning that taking a hard run at the thing you’re most suited for is an interesting combination of the most fun you’ve ever had and the hardest work you’ve ever done. It’s feeling uncommonly privileged to get up at 4 a.m. to get some writing in, to spend glorious sunny days hunched over my keyboard, to accept the necessity of destroying hours of work in the editing process and stand in the wreckage without a clue as to what comes next. It’s doing what you do because you’re the one that can do it.
When I get weary I can look back at that text Justin sent us from MEPS: “I’m officially SPC ---, combat medic with the United States Army.” And I can think of my mother polishing her character. And I will remember that I don’t get to quit.
One Pot Chili Mac
Apparently “Chili Mac” is the most popular of the military’s MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). Here’s a highprotein, low-fat version good for young fellows getting ready to ship out for Basic.
Cook in a large pot over medium heat:
1.5 lbs. lean ground turkey 1 packet taco seasoning
2-3 cups chunky mild salsa 1 lb. whole wheat macaroni, cooked 2 cans chili beans Bring to a simmer, adding a little bit of water if necessary and stir in: 8 oz. reduced fat cream cheese, cubed 8 oz. reduced fat shredded cheese Stir until melted
Sally Rasmussen lives in rural Taylor County with her husband, Tom.