Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy usually don't come with a side order of deep thoughts. So, Jeneene Brengelman brings her own.
As she marvels over the pool of rich gravy floating on her plate - ''There's enough here to go swimming!'' - the Westwood woman tells how she lives the good life.
''Everything I'm interested in converges on one point: Lovin' life.''
Lowering her voice, she confesses: ''I'm an atypical west-sider.''
She casts furtive glances around the room to make sure no one heard her. You can never be too careful. Especially when you're dining in Westwood at the Window Garden, a favorite gathering spot for the faithful west-side tribes.
Sensing no one heard her, Jeneene dives into the meatloaf.
So begins another Lunch with Cliff. That's where the midday meal is on me in exchange for people telling me what's up.
Coming up for air, Jeneene explains why her ''lovin' life'' philosophy sets her apart from other west-side natives. People who populate the city's western hills are typecast as conservative, stick-in-the muds who hate showoffs and avoid public displays of good humor.
That lifestyle doesn't square with this 51-year-old single mother of two grown sons. ''They're 29 and 25 and long gone from the nest. Thank God.''
Jeneene laughs often and in public. She takes an annual summer trip to England to attend a festival celebrating the words and deeds of her favorite author, Charles Dickens. A member of the Charter Party, she's active in city politics. Her car's rear bumper wears campaign stickers for Bobbie Sterne and Roxanne Qualls.
Her other vehicle is sticker-free and apolitical. But it turns heads in Westwood as it would in every other neighborhood on Earth. Jeneene calls it ''Big Red.'' That's for the size and color of her 1968 ambulance, whose emergency lights protrude from its roof like plastic gargoyles.
The ambulance is parked in front of Jeneene's home. You can't miss her place. A mandolin-strumming angel painted on the front gable gives visitors this greeting (in French no less): ''Go forward without fear.''
Jeneene has two businesses in her home. Using drill presses, jigsaws, sanders and a lathe, she makes wooden Christmas ornaments in a basement whose walls and floor are covered with enough sawdust to pass for Santa's workshop.
Upstairs, she runs a marketing consulting firm from the dining room table she built at school.
''I took a woodworking class at Hughes High School when my boys were little. I had to get out of the house, learn something different.''
She loves working with wood. Cutting and sanding little pieces of white pine is a joy. Turning them into miniature fireplaces and painting stockings hanging from each mantel is, to her, an act of magic. Making ornaments gives her a sense of accomplishment that she gets from no other endeavor.
''In a very short time you can take a piece of wood that looks like nothing and turn it into something.
''Once it's finished,'' she adds, ''it stays done. It's not like a child. Nothing you do with children ever stays done.''
In her spare time, Jeneene works on her passion: Helping people stop smoking.
Three weekends a year she uses her training as a hypnotherapist at SmokeFree for Life, a non-profit, stop-smoking retreat she developed 11 years ago.
Looking me straight in the eye, she says she does this in memory of two men in her life: her dad and her favorite uncle.
Smoking killed them.
Their deaths convinced Jeneene that ''cigarettes kill the best people.'' and made her determined ''to keep that from happening again.''
So, this woman who's always ''lovin' life'' formed SmokeFree for Life.
''At the seminar, we teach people that smoking is a waste of time and money,'' she says. ''But most of all, it's a terrible waste of life.''
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.