This and That

Musings on Being a Writer and My Life

Baking for Fun and Frustration?

  • May 30, 2017 3:13 am

 

Every now and then I decide to amaze visitors to my home with my baking skills. My Book Club members were the latest witnesses to my baking “skills.”

Now, before I relate this story, I should preface it by saying that I have been cooking since I was a little kid—around the age of 7. I remember lighting our gas stove  when I was in second grade and making eggs for my sister and me. One of my specialties back then was eggs that had “crispy” edges (read slightly burned).  To this day, my sister likes her eggs cooked really well, for which I would like to take credit.

Well, many years have passed, and I’m happy to say that I can cook eggs really well now—I make great omelets and poached eggs among other delectable dishes.

But, I have to admit that baking has never been my forte.

So—my Book Club was coming to my house for the first time recently—and I wanted to make it special. I decide that I wanted to serve artisanal cheeses, fruit and mini-quiche. Yummy!

I scoured the supermarket for those tasty frozen mini-quiches that you just pop in the oven and voila—serve your guests as they o-h-h and a-h-h. They were nowhere to be found.  Then I spied packages of fluted (fluted!!) phyllo dough mini-quiche shells. Wow! I was delighted!

I took them home and then searched for quiche recipes. (I’ve made quiche many times before—but I was looking for the “easy” version.)

The night of the meeting, I was busy mixing and stirring and filling the fluted mini shells with what I hoped would be a delectable quiche mixture.

Soon after placing them in the oven, I realized that something was wrong. When I checked their progress, I noticed that the quiche shells were flattening out and the filling was running out of them onto the pan.  Oh, I forgot to mention that I used my favorite pan—a round pizza pan with holes in it which usually produces perfect cookies. Not only was the filling running out of the previously fluted phyllo shells, it was dripping through the perforations in the pan. My hope and dreams of presenting beautiful little quiches to my new Book Club were dashed! I removed the pan from the oven, and attempted to salvage at least a few of the darling little things—only to realize that they were completely tasteless—apparently I didn’t season them enough.  Most of them were flat circles with the remnants of a bland eggy mixture.

The next day, my friend Susan called me and said that she woke up in the middle of the night and realized what I had done wrong. It seems that the adorable fluted mini-quiche shells should be baked in a mini-muffin pan—not on a flat surfaced pizza pan!

I may never be able to test that theory.

Mini-quiche and I are parting ways. It’s an amicable breakup—we just realize that we can never be friends.

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The few almost edible mini-quiche

 

 

A Solo Traveler

  • May 13, 2017 11:57 pm

sunset-Hawaii

As I get older, I am very aware of how time is limited and the fact that tomorrow—or even five minutes from now—isn’t guaranteed. This realization led me to do something I never thought I’d do—travel outside of familiar places alone. Sure, I fly back and forth to Buffalo and Oregon to visit family and friends by myself all the time. I take pride in my ability to not only plan those trips, but to complete them by myself. But the trip I was contemplating was more complicated.

I wanted to travel to Hawai’i and see Maui again. The only other time I’d been to Maui, I was on a cruise and I got the usual highlights tours of the island. This time, I had a list of things I wanted to do, some for the first time, and others were repeats of things I had enjoyed before.

After working out the logistics of the trip (with a few false starts), I asked various friends and my daughter if they would accompany me on this “Bucket List” trip. I was a little amazed when no one was able and /or interested in going! Their reasons varied from “I’m not interested,” to “I have to work.”

Finally, after thinking about my options, it was obvious that there was only one choice—go by myself. For months, I waffled about whether or not I wanted to travel alone to Hawai’i—which is 2500 miles away from the nearest land mass and where I knew absolutely no one—or if I should just postpone the whole trip until someone could join me.

Finally, I decided to go—and take a chance on staying healthy, finding my way around, and being safe. One of my major concerns was being lonely. The thought of eating all of my meals without a companion was depressing. And to whom would I point out a particularly stunning or exciting sight?

I did my homework, as the saying goes, and prepared for the trip by carefully researching the hotel I chose and booking tours to accomplish my goals.

The trip was fabulous! I found out that going alone isn’t a bad option as long as you are somewhat resilient and make sound plans. Eating dinner at busy restaurants alleviated my loneliness. I enjoyed the people watching and felt like I was part of a community, albeit a temporary one.  Booking group tours meant that I had companions to share my experiences with and diminished any risks involved. Because I am naturally out-going and friendly, I found it easy to strike up a conversation with my tour companions. The down hours I spent with my trusty Tablet, playing games, posting pictures on Face Book, and reading. I also “checked in” every day with some close friends and family via text and phone calls.

There were benefits I didn’t expect. Driving myself to my hotel on a stunningly scenic road on Maui made me feel empowered. After all, this wasn’t a familiar route in my hometown, nor was I being chauffeured by my daughter.  I found my way (thanks to Google) and didn’t make a bunch of wrong turns. (I’m not too adept at using navigation systems.)

Making my way around a strange town and seeing what I came to see was liberating. I didn’t have to accommodate anyone but myself. I chose what I wanted to do—and did it on my own schedule.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. I would hesitate if I went to a non-English speaking country of course, because that would present different kinds of challenges. But somehow, the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted was life-affirming for me.

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay

 

 

 

I Think I’ll Write a Book

  • March 11, 2017 12:28 am

books

 

“I think I’ll write a book someday,” said the young woman. “It will be poetry, verses about love and longing and the angst of being twenty.” That Christmas she received a suede-covered volume from her beau inscribed ‘Kate’s Scribbles.’  After he left her, she filled the parchment pages with poems and stories of love and heartbreak which were splattered with her tears. When she graduated from college, she clutched her teaching degree to her heart. Her mother’s advice echoed in her ears.

“Teaching is a good profession for a woman. You’ll be home when your children are—and you can always write in the summers when you’re off,” her mother advised.

The suede -covered book stayed on a shelf and the parchment pages remained blank.                                                                                               ***

 

“I think I’ll write a book,” said the woman.

Her husband laughed. “When will you have time for that?” he asked archly. “We have a child to raise. We can’t take chances like that, not with a mortgage and bills and obligations. Maybe someday—but not now.”

The woman nodded.

Yes, maybe someday she would take a pen in hand and write. She’d tell the story of a young couple, only in their thirties, with a child, finding their way in a sometimes hostile world.

The suede-covered book stayed on a shelf and the parchment pages remained blank.

                                                                           ***

“I think I’ll write a book someday,” said the forty–something matron. Life’s lessons had etched fine lines around her mouth and eyes, and added streaks of gray to her dark hair. Children were her main concern—her own child who was struggling to find her way and the ones she taught every day. Her marriage was in tatters from the battering of life’s realities: finances, personal problems and dreams that might never be realized. The woman could not remember the last time she had written anything other than a grocery list or a note to a parent. Sometimes, she would pick up a pen and hold it in her hand, hoping that words would flow onto paper. Once in a while they did, but the words spoke of anger and frustration and mostly of lost opportunity. So she hid those words from herself.

Her mother, now dead, had advised her well. Teaching was, after all, a steady, predictable job with an income she could rely on.

The suede -covered book stayed on a shelf and the parchment pages remained blank.

 

                                                                                      ***

“I think I’ll write a book someday,” the woman said to her friends as they toasted her fiftieth birthday. She thought back to the earlier years, when the desire to write flamed in her heart. Searching everywhere, she finally found the suede bound book with poems so full of young love and loss and promise. Taking it reverently from its shelf, she blew the dust away. That night, she sat and read until her eyes grew heavy and a single tear traced its way down her cheek. And she felt like a part of her was dead.

***

“I think I’ll write a book,” said the widow, now in her sixties with hair that was more silver than black.  Sadness was her daily companion. “I’ll write about loss and loneliness, and trying to make my life new.”

Her career as a teacher was a memory—one that over time had become more distant.

The woman’s child, now grown, lived in the great northwest forest with her beloved. Days were empty and the woman wanted—no—needed to tell her stories.

So, she picked up a pen, and began to write. Words flowed like water breeching a dam. And the woman wrote a book, and another book and another book. The pages were filled with the story of her life: of the things she had put aside, the sacrifices she had made, and the joys and dreams that had been realized. She wrote of the sorrow and the searing pain of loss. As she wrote tears and sometimes even laughter were her companions.

Surveying the shelf crowded now with the suede-covered volume and many others like it, she smiled.

With words as soft as a prayer, she whispered, “Finally, I wrote my book.”

 

First Date

  • January 30, 2017 2:07 am

woman hand

 

There’s a picture of Dave and me on the refrigerator. I’m tucked under his arm and he’s smiling. We’re a couple in that picture.

Now it’s just me.

The widow.

The years since he died have slipped by—the pain is just below the surface now, like an underwater current that suddenly grabs a swimmer and takes her out to sea.

Cindy noticed the picture when she stopped in for coffee one morning.

“When was this taken?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess at least six years ago, before the ‘big C’ entered our lives.”

“Are you keeping it there as a constant reminder that you’re alone?”

“You don’t get it, Cindy. Your husband is still alive, you see him every day.” I stirred creamer into my coffee. “Pictures and memories are all I have left.”

She nodded her head. “You’re right. I do get to see my husband everyday—napping on the sofa, or in the recliner, or at the kitchen table over the newspaper.” She smiled. “Don’t you want to get out again, Beth?  Or are you going to be alone forever?”

“Where am I going to meet someone to go out with?” I bite into my bagel. “I think I’m a little too old to start hanging out in bars.”

“You could try an online dating site. My sister’s friend did and she met some nice guys.”

“I’m not that interested.  I get out. I’ve got friends. I don’t see the need.”

“Seriously, don’t you want some male companionship? Just someone to spend time with…Don’t you miss—you know, sex?”

“I’m fine.”

“Okay,” Cindy said, as she set her cup down.  “Look, I don’t mean to interfere. Well, no more than I usually do.  But think about the dating site—it might be worth a try.”

She kissed me on the cheek. “The web site is called ‘Single No More.’ Here, I’ll write it down for you. Think about it, okay?”

“Sure. Right after I lose twenty pounds and have a face lift.”

“Beth!”

“I’m just kidding.”

Loneliness swept over me like a tidal wave. Tears slid down my cheeks and I wiped them away with the back of my hand.

A few nights later, I was in need of a diversion so I fired up the computer and typed “Lonely No More” into the browser. Up popped a glitzy web site full of testimonials from the no-longer-lonely; the lucky ones who found their soul mates through the web site. They gushed their eternal thanks to the “awesome” people who started this “amazing website.”

I clicked on the free trial button and began to scrutinize the men who were as desperate as I was at that moment.

I read a few bios, when I came across a picture of a man with thinning hair and a nice smile.

“Hi, my name is Drew. Are you tired of being alone?”  I nodded my head, and on impulse, I sent him a note, introducing myself.

A few days later, he emailed me an invitation to meet him at the local coffee shop.

***

That’s how I ended up here waiting for my “date” to appear.  I gazed out the window, wondering if Drew had driven up, seen me, and decided it wasn’t his day.

Smiling, I remembered my first date with Dave. We sat in a gray vinyl booth at the diner and talked all night. That was when I fell in love with him.

Tears stung my eyes. Gathering my purse, I started to leave.

The door jingled and a man entered.  It was Drew. He approached me, smiling. “Hi, are you Beth?”

I shook my head.

“You look so much like her picture.”

“I have no idea of what you’re talking about,” I said.  I pushed past him and left.

I slid into my car and caught my breath.

Memories of Dave washed over me as I drove away. Sitting at a red light I thought, What if I had turned Dave down the first time he asked me out? Would my life have been as happy?

The cacophony of car horns beeping startled me out of my reverie.

I made a right turn and headed back to the coffee shop.

The door jingled as I entered. I walked up to where Drew was sitting.

“Hi. I’m Beth. You look a lot like a picture of a man I was supposed to meet her today.”

He smiled.

I sat down across from him.

 

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

  • December 22, 2016 3:39 am

 

Decorating a Christmas tree is a tradition I have always loved. When I was a kid, everyone in the family helped hang the many ornaments, some home-made and others store-bought, on the real pine tree that had a place of honor in the living room. Back in those days, people embellished their trees with strands of tinsel, Christmas tree 2013which my mother insisted had to be placed individually on our tree. No throwing handfuls of tinsel at the tree and hoping it would magically spread out for us!

(Of course, we all did “cheated” as soon as Mom wasn’t looking.)

When Dan and I established ourselves as a family, we continued this tradition that was cherished by both of our families. Again, decorating the tree was a family endeavor.  How I loved our Christmas trees! I would play the song   “O Christmas Tree” in its honor while I admired the ornaments and the twinkling lights.  Christmas without a tree was unthinkable!

Then my husband died four months before Christmas in 2012. Celebrating Christmas became a chore, and decorating a tree lost its allure.  My daughter came one year and put the tree and other decorations up—and I did appreciate having the holiday cheer around. But I never felt like dragging all of the boxes out of the garage and going through the effort doing the job by myself. I settled for a two foot tree that I could decorate with a few small ornaments. It wasn’t the same—but at least it was a tree.

About a week ago, I decided to put up the tree and decorate it like we used to.

Removing each ornament from its storage box brought back many memories. Seeing ornaments that were gifts from students, or that I made reminded me of when and where I acquired it. Some of them date back many years. For instance, I have two decorations that I bought when I went to Toronto many, many years ago with a good friend.  There are ornaments I made, including a stuffed Santa and several ceramic pieces.  A strawberry that a dear friend made for me twenty years ago has a place of honor on the tree as does a heart shaped ornament inscribed with ‘Happy Birthday’ that I received from my Aunt Noel and Uncle Jack when I turned forty. Another beloved aunt, Virginia, gave me one of the original “Elf on a Shelf” figures back in the 1970’s—and it, too, occupies a space on the tree. Needless to say, a few of the decorations were made by my now-adult daughter when she was in preschool. Hanging those ornaments on the tree brings back memories of the delightful, curly haired child she was.  I love the idea of Santa, so quite a few of my decorations are Santa-themed.

It seemed that each ornament held some memory that reminded me of someone I love—many of whom are no longer with us. Two very special ornaments were made by my Mom many years ago. She csanta-ornamentut ovals out of red velveteen fabric and then she embroidered our names on them. Originally they were embellished with paper bells which disappeared long ago. Whenever I touch these ornaments, I feel closer to my Mom.

When I was finished with the tree, I was delighted! Not only was it beautiful, but it reminded me of all of the people and happy times who were part of my life.

 

 

 

Pen Lust

  • November 30, 2016 2:54 am

pen

 

I suffer from pen lust—an overwhelming desire to acquire pens. When I go into an office supply store, I gravitate to the writing implements aisle like a junkie to a fix. Admiring pens is an art form for me:  what about the size of the barrels (because size DOES matter!), the thickness of the writing tip, the color of the barrel. Is the ink the same color as the pen I wonder? How does the pen feel in my hand—like it has a home there—or is it too think or thick—or does it nestle like a baby  to its mother’s breast?

If there is a little pad of paper to try the pen out—well, then I’m in heaven! I write my name, my maiden name and my initials either printing them or using cursive—or even a sort of calligraphy! Oh, what joy!

And it’s not just buying pens that entrances me.

When I get the tab in a restaurant, I feel a tingle of excitement as I open the folder the bill comes in. What kind of pen will be hidden inside? Will I immediately WANT that pen? Or will it be a cheap BIC stick pen? Sometimes I hold the pen just a moment too long—and ask the server where they got such a terrific pen, hoping that somehow, it will be given to me as a perk for being such a delightful customer.  I have never stolen a one from a restaurant—although I am sorely tempted on occasion. (Ok, full disclosure, I did take a pen once, but there were dozens of them—and it looked like an advertising gimmick.)

One time, at a doctor’s office, I admired the pen I was given to fill out a form. Imagine my joy when the receptionists said. “You can have it—we get them free all the time!”  I walked out of that office with a spring in my step and joy in my heart.

My late husband and I shared this obsession with pens. I had to carefully monitor my favorites to make sure they wouldn’t fall into his covetous hands! And, I must admit, I was not above tucking his pens into my purse when he left them around.

At any given time, I have at least three pens in my purse. I have pens everywhere—all different types. And it can take me a few minutes to decide which pen I want to use to write a check or sign my name. Often, when I’m given what I consider to be a substandard pen (the aforementioned BIC), I retrieve my own pen and use that. And I am delighted if someone needs to borrow one, because I can offer a selection of pens to that person. Needless to say, I always get mine back and I take my favorite one first.

Pen lust—alas, there is no cure!

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay

 

 

 

The Waiting Game

  • October 11, 2016 1:02 am

 

Living in Central Florida we sometimes have a visitor who barges in on short notice.

Like any visitor, this one requires preparation. But instead of tidying the house and making coffee, those of us who live here find ourselves filling the gas tank ( just in case) withdrawing money from the bank, stockpiling batteries and gallons of water and foods that can be eaten directly from the package. We also fill the bathtub and have several buckets handy, brimming over with water (to flush the toilet.)

Because this visitor is not a guest, and is not welcome. If he or she decides not to stop by, we all feel relieved.

By now you realize that I’m describing preparing for a hurricane.

Until I moved to Florida in the late 90’s, I had never been through a hurricane. Then we had a trio of them visit us in rapid succession in 2004. And I got to experience firsthand the sheer enormity and terror of these storms. Fortunately, our house sustained almost no damage the year of Charley, Frances and Jeanne. (Weirdly, hurricanes are named, as if they are desirable visitors to an area.)

Last week, we had another hurricane stalking us along the east coast of Florida—Matthew—a ferocious storm, described as a category 4 or 5. For days, we listened to the weather forecast, trying to decide how much hurricane-2preparation was needed. As the hurricane came closer, it appeared that we were in for it—a full blown major hurricane that was capable of seriously altering our lives. After spending what seemed like a fortune, I felt ready to face the onslaught from Mathew. Luckily, my dog and I were able to go to my friend’s home to ride the storm out together.

One of the bonuses of living in Central Florida means that I reside where people evacuate to. And our homes are built to post Hurricane Andrew standards, so they are secure enough to weather most storms. But, I didn’t relish the idea of facing the hurricane alone.

Even though there was almost no hope of avoiding the wrath of Matthew,at the last moment he “wobbled” to the east  just enough to spare us! (That’s another strange part of hurricane culture—meteorologists use words like wobble to describe its motion.) Of course, other areas were not as lucky, and they received a full blast from this enormous storm and sustained a lot of damage.

I think I’d prefer a good old snow storm. I understand snowstorms, and now that I’m retired, I don’t have to drive to work every day. The aftermath of a snowstorm can be a beautiful blanket of fresh, clean snow and ice that glazes the trees and makes the world seem mystical.

Unlike a hurricane which leaves downed trees, damaged roofs and homes, ruined beaches, destroyed roads, and sometimes lost lives in its wake. (Of course, I have experienced killer blizzards that have held a city in its frigid grip for weeks at a time and resulted in deaths.)

Hurricane season is starting to wind down—although I learned a few years ago that hurricanes can form at any time of year. Summer and Fall are just the most likely times for them to do so. Needless to say, I hope I never have to go through the anxiety of preparing for a hurricane again—although I think there is little hope of that.

 

Image from Pixababy

 

 

Driving as a Contact Sport

  • September 21, 2016 1:53 am
woman-in-car

Buffalo

  • August 15, 2016 2:19 am

new buffalo skylineDear readers,

I just returned from one of two visits to my hometown of Buffalo, New York this summer—the first to attend my brother-in-law’s funeral and the second, to celebrate a family reunion. I reworked this blog post from four years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Buffalo, my home town. Name by French trappers, according to legend, after the river that flows through it. The Queen City of the Great Lakes, famous for snow storms, chicken wings and the Buffalo Bills and the Sabres Hockey team.

Buffalo is becoming an “It” city–with a newly revived waterfront that includes busy Canalside ( a terminus point for the Erie Canal), and the Inner Harbor. The lakefront is crowded all the time, as is Larkin Square, another historic area that is jammed with concert-goers, food truck aficionados and people enjoying the lovely summer evenings Buffalo offers. Travel through the Elmwood Village and admire the wonderful gardens that are lovingly tended, making Buffalo’s Garden Walk in July a highlight of the summer for garden enthusiasts from all over.

Buffalo is the place where I was born, attended grade school, learned about the world, came of age and earned two college degrees. The place where I made my first communion and was confirmed. The place where I fell in love, married and raised a child. The place I spent my happiest days and some of my saddest days. It is where my parents and one of my brothers are buried, and where two of my seven siblings live now.

It is also a city of uncommon beauty—wide boulevards lined with mature trees that are crimson and gold in fall, elegant public buildings—some designed by the most famous of American architects. Situated on Lake Erie—one of a chain of inland seas—cooled by breezes from Canada, it is circled by a necklace of Olmstead parks—green oases for the working class. Populated by the children of immigrants who came here to find the Promised Land and by the descendants of slaves who found refuge at the last stop on the Underground Railway.

I ran away from its harsh winters fifteen years ago looking for endless summer which I found here in Florida.

And now I wonder if I am called back to that place I never stopped loving.

I see a city rich with opportunity, full of the promise of intellectual and spiritual growth. A city where I can attend theater, concerts, and visit art galleries easily. (There is a saying in Buffalo that everything in the city is twenty minutes away…and it’s true.)

I can sit in bistros and watch the bustle of the world go by—and eat wonderful food and not have to mortgage the house to do so. I can drive through neighborhoods and admire Arts and Crafts style homes next to Frank Lloyd Wright houses.

I can be soothed by the rhythm of waves rolling into the marina, enjoy a sandy beach or drive to the undulating hills south of the city.

And I can be among those I share a history with—who have known me all of my life—who love me for who I was and am now. People whose memories I share, who loved the same people I loved. I can be among the next generation in our family, and revel in their beauty, intelligence and goodness. I can see our family’s heritage and the future in their eager faces.

Buffalo is aptly named. It’s is an earthy name—unpretentious, it isn’t a beautiful sounding word, rather one that jars a little. The same way we are jarred by the real thing—by reality. It is a genuine place filled with people who feel authentic.

The moment I arrive in this city—my city—I feel the joy of arriving home, like returning to the warmth of a mother’s embrace.

 

 

Image of Buffalo skyline at night courtesy of city-data.com

 

 

 

 

 

No Title

  • July 17, 2016 11:21 pm

It happened again—I had a great topic (I thought) for a blog post—and there was another national tragedy, the shooting and murder of police officers in Baton Rouge.

May the officers who lost their lives rest in peace, and may their families find comfort. I pray that the wounded will heal fully.

But, as I said the last time, maybe we need a distraction—or a reassurance that life, indeed, does go on and yes, we will survive.  

With those thoughts in mind,  I offer this blog post.

 

TV in Restaurants

I enjoy TV. I like watching favorite shows, and DVR many of them so I can enjoy them at my leisure.

But—and this is a big but, I hate TVs in restaurants (another thing I enjoy!)restaurant-1343327_960_720

First of all, I am highly visual, and I find TVs perched high on a restaurant’s walls to be terribly distracting. When I go out to eat, it’s not only because I don’t want to cook, but because I like the sociability of eating out. Conversations with friends, enjoying the restaurant’s ambience, and eating tasty food should be part of the experience. But, for me, those pleasures are diluted by the ever-present TV show that plays just above my companion’s heads. And because I am so visual, I find myself quite distracted by the TV.  I assume that other people feel the same way.

I wonder who thought that folks who are eating out needed the stimulation of TV.  I can understand it in a Sports Bar, where people go to cheer their favorite team, but  are they necessary in a restaurant that doesn’t necessarily cater to a sports crowd? And having a TV in the bar section of a restaurant might be a good idea—but placing TVs in the room dedicated to dining makes no sense.

There’s another problem with TVs in dining areas. In my most frequented local restaurant, the choice of programs can be questionable. First of all, I resent being forced to watch Fox News, but more than that, I hate to gaze at a dining companion, and catch sight of a gory “criminal procedural” program. What is less appetizing than pictures of the wounds someone sustained when being murdered? Or the reenactment of an autopsy? Why should I, as a patron, have to get the attention of a server and request that the station be changed?

I am not the only one who finds TVs distracting. Friends have been diverted from conversational topics by whatever is on the nearest TV—sometimes appearing to be more interested in the TV than their dining companions.

Wearing blinders when I am dining in these restaurants seems extreme— so maybe I need to think about eating in more upscale places!

 

Image courtesy of Pixabay