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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December's Last Gasp

From Sunday night, through yesterday and into this morning, we lived inside the wind. It thundered down the chimney, grabbed hold of the window frames and shook them, yanked tree limbs and flung them at our roof. It moaned while pounding the shutters at the side of the house. As the pines out back bent toward the house under the weight of the wind, I abandoned my seat under the picture window and moved toward comforting ignorance in the front room.


We were blessed that our power was out for only two hours Sunday night. I will not complain about having to finish half-cooked spaghetti carbonara on the gas grill in the middle of the blizzard. Such a minor inconvenience—and it left me with a story to tell when half our town went without electricity yesterday too, some folks into today.

While we listened to music by candlelight, the ocean flooded low lying areas.  Five miles away, two houses burned as firefighters in survival suits held hoses and waded through waist high water. “Reverse 911” calls invited us to the emergency shelter at an elementary school, but instead, we listened to the reassuring sound of the furnace kicking in as we settled in for another warm night’s sleep.

The sun joined the wind this morning. By mid-day, ice falling from tree limbs exploded like small bombs as it hit frosted windows, but the accumulation of snow is much less than expected. A huge pine lays uprooted in the yard across the street, but did no damage when it fell.

All day long I peeked out to our own, still-standing pines and took deep breaths. My husband though, can always find humor. The storm started Sunday, the day after Christmas. With hundreds of twigs embedded in the snow out back, he announced that we are now caretakers of a reindeer grave yard.


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Monday, December 20, 2010

Time Out



It's time.

It's time to take a breath.  To take a break.  To celebrate this season of joy. To off load some pressure by taking a blog a vacation.  It's hard for me...I worry that if I skip posts on Middle Passages, readers will skip out on me.  But if there is one thing I've learned this year, it is to have faith in myself.  So, I'm letting go for a while...probably until January.  I'll still be reading your posts, lurking if you will, maybe even commenting...some.  In the meantime, please accept my thanks for all your support and know that you have my sincere wishes for wonderful holidays. 

I hope the new year grants you all that you hope for. 
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Count Down

It’s a big year in our family. College applications have been submitted, a couple of acceptances received and we wait for further news. Every week brings an ending…a “last first day of high school,” followed by a “last Homecoming,” and a  "last football game" at which she'll play in the pep band.  My husband and I look at our daughter and say, “I wonder where you will be at this time next year.”


In December 2011, it’s likely she’ll be taking final exams about now—which made it more fun yesterday that we could step out for a shopping expedition to pick up materials for homemade gifts. As always, she teased and or disagreed with me; “Mom, you always stop right in the middle of the aisle,” and “That ribbon is fine, you don’t need to look for more,” but it is all in good fun; we found ourselves giggling more than once. The laughter is what I will miss the most, I think, next year.

And this. We stood side-by-side in the kitchen when we got home, measuring out the ingredients for homemade hot cocoa, chuckling at my bad math. (Heads up, a wet cup is eight ounces; a dry cup, much less. We have a lot of leftovers.) She measured the ingredients; I sifted them into a bowl. Every once in a while, we’d bump hips, jiggle an elbow, spill some sugar or dry milk on the counter. But in the end, the filled jars shined and the plaid ribbons she tied stuck out at jaunty angles. I typed the labels and she attached them in a way that I wouldn’t know how.

We moved the containers to the dining room table, the afternoon having delivered a successful joint effort, a mutual accomplishment; a shared achievement; feelings I’ve been lucky to experience for just about every minute of every day, over the last seventeen years.

Oh, and if I've left you craving hot cocoa,  you can get the recipe for a yummy single-serving version here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chiming in

Even though we’ve been married for ages, each December, when my husband lugs up boxes of Christmas paraphernalia from the basement, I am surprised. He comes by his need to bedeck our home naturally. The first Thanksgiving that I spent at his house when we were dating, I woke up the morning after to his mother decorating a Christmas tree. She had little Santa figurines spread across the mantle and by the end of the day, every common room in the house hosted Christmas décor. This was about as far from anything I was used to, as I could get.

Christmas at my house was a subdued affair. Tree, check…we pulled it down from the attic the week before the holiday, unbent the wire branches and poked them into the holes drilled in the stem. Wreath, check; it hung from our red front door with a spotlight focused on it.

That, as they say, was that, except for a Christmas music box that my aunt sent to my mother when she and my uncle lived in Germany before I was born. That instrument completed the sum and total of our family Christmas decorations. Adorned with a tubby Santa reaching into an actual cloth bag, it hosted tiny gifts, a wooden doll, a trumpet and a petite Christmas tree. Cherub angels sat on the rim of the rotating base playing with the presents that St. Nick has just passed them. Two blond haired angels leaned over as they gazed into Father Christmas’s bag.

Maybe it was the hand painted Christmas trees decorating the red wooden stand or the chiming melody that emanated from the box, but as kid I loved the thing. Mom sat it on a table in the living room and I’d tiptoe in, turn the key as many times as possible and listen as Santa and the angels circled. I wasn’t the only one, and over the years, the piece got some tough use. Puddles of hard glue pooled where one of the angels fell off; a toy soldier tipped at a precarious angle.  The white paint on the base yellowed and cracked. But even so, long after I grew up and moved away, whenever we visited during the holidays and the box was out, I had to give it a play.

Nowadays, our house is decorated inside and out. Lights adorn holly bushes, large wreathes hang in front of the picture windows; another centers on the chimney and I drink in the festive feel my husband’s collection of nutcrackers bestows upon the rooms. Each year, our Frasier fir sheds a few needles as we deck it with gold ribbons and white lights. There is no mistaking Christmas here.

But in spite of our wealth of decorations; all it takes is a vintage music box to get to me. It became mine when my father moved out of his house to an assisted living center a long time ago. Each year, when it comes up the stairs and out of its protective wrapping, I wind the key.

Every single time, the music takes me home.


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What is your favorite holiday decoration?

Friday, December 10, 2010

On Line, All the Time

Before I dared call myself a plain old writer, I was the world’s most prolific letter writer—single-handedly keeping the Post Office in the black for years before it started to tank. Beginning at age 16 until well into my 30’s, I wrote copious, and sad to say, long-winded missives to all my distant (i.e. anyone who lived more than a half-hour from me) friends. I stalked the mail box hoping for return posts, but to tell the truth, no one could (or had the energy to) keep up. Then email came on the scene and as with the rest of civilization, my letter writing habit dwindled. I still communicated, just via a different medium.


In spite of this evolution, there remained one area in which I refused to give up on pen and ink until a few years ago. Starting the day after Thanksgiving, I’d generate a Christmas card list, sit at the dining room table and write each recipient a detailed note, going at it each evening after work until my elbow ached. It seemed important to reach out to those I care for but rarely see—perhaps these personal letters would remind the receivers of how much they mean to me, in spite of the years and lifestyles distancing us.

Then, somewhere in the mid-2000’s, time took a 100-yard dash away from me. That year, I agonized for a while, but finally wrote a first ever “blanket letter” that I sent with apologies to everyone on my Christmas card list.  The kicker is, no one seemed to mind. By then, those who remained in the card-sending-world (and I acknowledge my dinosaur status in this regard) had embraced the one-letter-fits-all short-cut; the few folks who even commented on my defection to the dark side cheered me on.

Nevertheless, it still doesn’t feel right, and after purchasing Christmas cards today (note, a full two weeks after Thanksgiving), I gazed into the dining room.  For a moment, I thought about replicating the diligence of those earlier decades, but naaa. The inventory for LCSPrints resides on the table in there, leaving no room to write 50 (!) something cards. Off I went to the computer to craft a year-end update.

Before getting started though, a quick check of email revealed a first-of-the-season online Christmas card.

That figures.  Here I am worried about sending a generic letter, when as usual; I’m miles behind the times.  Electronic everything it seems. Yes, I know, send it online, save a tree, but since when can you hold an E-card your hand?

Besides, there’s the guilt. After all, it was likely the reduction in volume resulting from my switch to email in the 90’s that dragged the Post Office down in the first place and I won’t kick a guy once he’s face-planted on the dirt.  Therefore, I refuse to contemplate how much a Christmas E-communication would save me on the cost of stamps.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Insomnia

In the middle of the night, I sure can tell a story. Lately, the bewitching hour so to speak, seems to be somewhere between 3:30 and 4:00, when I wake up, not nearly rested enough. It would, of course, be better to go back to sleep, but since I have no control over that, I daydream, well, night dream— oh, you know what I mean.

For some reason, in spite of the desperate exhaustion inherent in those foggy, half-eye-open moments, that time happens to be the most conducive to good ideas—my favorite blog posts and writing projects have been born during those quiet hours. Perhaps I’m still attached to my subconscious, maybe dreams still resonate— I don’t know. But whatever the cause, sentences slip in like spilled baby oil, smooth and clear. If I could somehow pour them directly onto the page, we’d be in fat city, but those rivers of words never make it to print.

Before you ask, yes, I have a pad of paper beside my bed. Sure, when these thoughts erupt; I jot down notes, but it’s in the dark, without my glasses—when I can find the pen. So while the concepts make it, the liquid free flow that seeps up like ground water in the spring doesn’t. I can never convince myself to get up and fully record the detail. To tell the truth, it’s unlikely the pen could keep up for one, and besides our Yankee skin-flint mentality dictates that the heat goes off in our house at 9:00 p.m. It’s New England y’all. It’s just too darn cold. So the ideas that I ultimately find scribbled on a piece of paper tend to look like this.


Hours later I stare at the scrawl and pull at the lingering threads of memory that remain, knowing that the easy writing, that genius composition that arrived during a sleep deprived half-life has faded away— as happens with all the most comforting dreams.

Now I have to dig for it.



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Monday, December 6, 2010

Another "Stars Hollow"* Moment

Early each December our town throws “Christmas on the Common” in which the churches ringing that swath of public space hold a holiday festival. I read the list of activities from the paper the other day to our visiting Australian niece, and she commented: “That sounds like fun…”


It is fun, but before we departed, I clarified to the 25-year-old that the event was “pretty rinky-dink.” She replied in her soft Aussie twang, “I don’t know what rinky-dink means Lize.” Rinky-Dink: small town, simple, unsophisticated, basic—in other words, low key for someone who just completed a trip that included stops in England, Germany, The Netherlands and Italy. Assuring us that the town she grew up in is smaller then ours, niece, daughter and I departed.

A cold wind whipped our faces as we made our way to our first stop, the Unitarian church on the common. Inside, the town-wide band made up of former high school players, ranging in age from recent graduates to senior citizens—all volunteers, mind you— performed a Christmas Concert. Eighteen years ago when we moved to town, this rag-tag group of rusty musicians played with more heart than talent, but after a decade or so under the tutelage of one of the school music teachers, they tackle complex pieces seamlessly. At the end, we were asked to join the band in singing a selection of carols. Gazing down from the choir loft to a tuba player with a stuffed Grinch hanging from his instrument, at a granddaughter in a red jumper sitting on Grandma’s lap and an elderly couple belting out "Joy to the World"—oh heck, I don’t know–this performance always chokes me up.

The band still played as we tiptoed out to walk across to the Congregational church, where a bake sale/craft sale/cheese sale was in full swing. Ignoring the announcement that we had only five minutes left to purchase our tickets for the meat raffle, we threaded through the crowd with a single purpose—to acquire three steaming bowls of clam chowder sold with plastic baggies of Saltine crackers at the back. With our servings slopping over onto a blue plastic tray, we scored a table in the side room and dug in.

My husband doesn’t love chowder, so my daughter and I have made partaking in this particular delight our annual tradition. Once, about five years ago, for some reason the church volunteers changed the recipe, offering up a weak broth filled with sandy clams. In subsequent visits, my daughter and I have taken a deep breath before spooning into our brew, sighing in relief when we realize the error has not been repeated—the soup we slurped up Saturday was salty, thick but not too thick, milk-based, not cream, with a pleasing ratio of chopped clams mixed with sweet onions and tender potatoes. Our niece agreed that it was perfect snack for a cold December afternoon. The piece of achingly sweet baklava that the three of us shared for dessert topped off the meal.

Next, we climbed the steep hill to the Episcopal Church, where all three of us enriched our personal libraries at a used book sale. We skipped the jumble sale in the parish house in favor of the holiday festival at the organic farm a few streets away. There, crafters offered handmade jewelry, wool scarves and tasty jams but, after the director informed us that the “fields” were still producing, we headed into the barn for fresh veggies. Producing yes, but since they were mostly sold out for the day, we headed home.

There we discovered one more festival—while we were out, my husband strung Christmas lights on the bushes and unpacked and displayed our collection of 30 something nutcrackers. With carols blaring, he was still arranging holiday décor as we stepped inside, rubbing our hands in the warmth.

*If you are a past "Gilmore Girls" viewer, you'll understand the reference.  If not, substitute the words "Small Town" and you'll get the gist.
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Friday, December 3, 2010

Checking it Off

Our traveling Australian niece  has returned to the U.S. from her jaunt around Europe. Yesterday, she and I planned to meet in the city for a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum,  which she had never heard of and I have always wanted to explore. If you ever come this area and get a chance, take the time to view this magnificent but approachable collection, developed by a unique woman with a passion for culture.


The story goes something like this: Isabella Gardner and her husband amassed a wealth of cultural and art objects, and after Isabella inherited her father’s fortune they decided to create a museum. Her husband died before they could achieve their goal, but she persevered. Purchasing land in a (then) little used section of Boston, she built an extraordinary building that houses amazing artifacts spanning thirty centuries.

According to the museum website, Isabella said: "Years ago I decided that the greatest need in our Country was Art… We were a very young country and had very few opportunities of seeing beautiful things, works of art… So, I determined to make it my life's work if I could." Her fascinations included Venice as well as horticulture, so the building was designed as a 15th century Venetian dwelling surrounding a four story courtyard, featuring stunning plantings arranged around raked stone paths. Depending on the time of year, the gardens reflect the season; yesterday, lush green plantings were offset by mounds of brilliant red poinsettias and crimson amaryllis.

Slowly we toured the tiled and creaky wooden floored building, fascinating by the groupings of relics that were arranged to the specifications of the museum creator, who dictated in her will that no arrangement be changed. Her request has been honored, with the exception of a bold and unsolved robbery in 1990,  in which two robbers, dressed as policemen knocked on the door in the middle of the night. Thirteen priceless paintings were stolen, including works by Degas, Manet and Rembrandt. As we walked through the museum, we came upon empty frames and I realized the enormity of the crime…in removing the art the perpetrators not only stole from a collection, but also from you and me…

At the end of our tour, we rested a velvet cushioned bench for several minutes, gazing at the courtyard, where filtered light brightened stone fountains and untouched pathways cut beside marble statues. The trickle of water soothed, arched windows peered down at succulent greenery, and everyone, visitors and workers alike, spoke in hushed voices embellished with smiles; in awe at the this gift of beauty a generous benefactor left for a city.

Plan your visit on your birthday and receive free admission. Oh, and by the way, if your name is Isabella, consider yourself in a world of lucky. You can visit the museum anytime. For free.


Happy Friday all!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Just Keep Swimming

I am strugglingforcing myself actuallyto get through Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oats, which is killing me, because I expected to love it. But no.  It’s been sitting face down where I left it on my bureau several days ago. When our daughter departed for her stage manager duties for the upcoming school production this evening, and my husband was late coming home, I sighed and picked it up again. Inspiration is the last thing I expected from a book that has been sucking me as dry as a raisin.  But then, early on in today's effort, the perfect words appeared. Something good and writing related happened this afternoona teensy victory I’m afraid I’ll jinx  if I share too soon. Keep that in mind though, as you read the following quote:
"What advice can an older writer presume to offer to a younger? Only what he or she might wish to have been told years ago. Don’t be discouraged! Don’t cast sidelong glances and compare yourself to others among your peers! (Writing is not a race. No one really “wins.” The satisfaction is in the effort and rarely in the consequent rewards, if there are any. ) And again, write your heart out."   Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oats
Nothwithstanding that in my case, we need to swap out the words "older" and "younger" with "experienced" and  "inexperienced," here I am folks. Writing my heart out.

Today I received an inkling that, inch by tortoise-loving inch, it might be getting me somewhere.

Whose words inspire you?

Monday, November 29, 2010

M.P. = M.E.

I owe so much to Middle Passages. This thought surfaced on a Sunday morning, when I hadn’t posted in several days, during a month that has found me struggling to ensure something new shows up here three days a week.

Most times, this blog lurks at the edge of my consciousness, usually with anticipation. As a rule, I’m excited to create a new post. Sometimes though, when life is at its busiest, there’s an “Oh gosh it’s time to do my homework feeling” that surfaces, coupled with a hard to shake, slightly irrational idea that I have to keep writing here. Like knocking on wood three times or making sure not to step on a crack, crafting these online pieces has become some kind of talisman. It was the thing that first held me up when life dealt an unexpected blow—and it has carried me through many months since. Could I plummet to the core of the earth if Middle Passages wasn’t around to stop me? Would I keep writing without it?

The thought reminds me of Nomar Garciaparra, a powerhouse hitter and shortstop for the Boston Red Sox for ten years. Baseball is full of players with quirks. “Nomie’s” however, were a bit extreme. Each time he was up to bat, he performed an intricate ritual of pats and tugs to his gloves, lasting for perhaps a half a minute before he stepped into the batter’s box—always the same gestures in the same order. He simply could not swing without his little ceremony. Has Middle Passages become my compulsive good luck custom?

Every so often, when the responsibility of posting in this blog pulls me from other things—writing I should focus on and chase to its ultimate conclusion, the idea of letting Middle Passages go flits through like a butterfly circling a fading summer garden, but I shrug it away—not only fearful, but sad. The thing of it is that Middle Passages is not just a safety net; it has also become my friend.

This blog, as well as its readers, listens to me, regardless of how much I babble, offering handholding and support. As a result, I’ve stepped out, tested and challenge myself, and now, am stronger and more confident. At its most fundamental level, Middle Passages has forced me to demonstrate that I can write; that I’m not a “one shot wonder." I have the commitment and resourcefulness to create entertaining posts, and to stick to a regular writing schedule for long periods of time. I’m doing things that before starting this blog, I would have never thought possible. 

Back then, I sighed and drummed my fingers as I slipped across the surface of life. Then, circumstances dictated that one day I click “Create a Blog,” fashion a post and push "Publish." The rest, as they say, is history. Holding myself accountable to post, listening to the comments of my readers, reading so many of you who have taught me so much--all this has produced a direct kind of “living in the minute” lifestyle that I’m not sure I would have accomplished without the prodding of Middle Passages—which come to think of it, is a funny thing to write.

Just as I wrote that sentence, I realized this. No matter how addicted he was to his rituals, in the end, when he stepped up to the plate, Nomar Garciaparra was the one who hit the ball.

Perhaps it’s time to recognize that no matter how much gratitude I feel toward Middle Passages, it is not a separate entity.  Those fingers tapping my shoulder reminding me to get writing? Well, the arm that they are attached to, happens to belong to me.

What about you.  How do you feel about your blog?  Do you assign it any rituals or quirks?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Early Thanks

I love this week. Really I do. We’ve been putting on Thanksgiving for so long that we know how to manage it—even when we goof and realize that the head count of 29 is really 30. We know what to prep ahead of time, how to spread four—no, make that five tables through the dining room and living room—oops, six if you count the little table we put up for the two youngest boys. We know that people will bring extra and that there will be more than enough food, even for teenagers who go back for plates piled with seconds. We know that  though the bar has to be set up in the garage, adults will gather on the old rug we spread on the cement floor in front of the table and ignore the tools and shovels lining the walls—while the teens will find a haven in the basement. We know at meal time, as the hosts, my husband and I will have to situate ourselves on the kitchen-side of the table because otherwise, we’d never get out.


I love prepping good food for our family; apple pies, pecan pies, mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans. I love that now that we must have two turkeys, I can try new stuffing recipes, knowing that Mom-in-law will bring her family favorite so I’m not even messing up tradition. I love that our brother-in-law will bring squash and sweet potatoes and creamed onions and that his quiet assurance will keep me calm during that critical and crazy half-hour before we get the food on the table (well, on the counter—with 30 people, we HAVE to serve buffet style.)

Most of all, I love the tickle of anticipation, today, tomorrow, on Wednesday and especially those quiet few minutes— just before everyone arrives; when the house is dusted and vacuumed, the pictures and mirrors shine, the tables are set, the do-ahead things are resting on the counter and the three of us look at each other—excited for the festivities to begin, knowing that not only will we be celebrating with a huge family—on Thanksgiving we'll be surrounded by our friends.

Wishing you a joyful, happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Battle Stations

I confess. My mind is not on this blog post. My mind is on this weekend and next week as follows:

Sunday: Our daughter is one of two girls to be honored in a ceremony celebrating the achievement of her Girl Scout Gold Award, (similar to a Boy Scout Eagle). Through her efforts, donations were received that allowed our fire department to purchase an extra Automated External Defibrillator and train town employees. Town officials, our state representative and state senator will be present awards. A letter for the President of the United States will be forthcoming…although we are not sure it will arrive in time for the ceremony. I need to plan my outfit for the day carefully, because I can feel my chest swelling already.  By Sunday, buttons may fly...

Monday: Work an eight hour shift at the cheese shop which I enjoy immensely but which is so physically demanding I crawl home useless.

Tuesday: Prep everything I can for Thursday

Wednesday: Work...eight hours again.  For the first time in fifteen years, I won’t be home getting organized the day before Thanksgiving…instead I’ll be at the shop filling orders for customers' Thanksgivings.

Thursday: Get up early, early, early. Peel potatoes, bake pies. Figure out how long to cook the turkey (that should say “a” turkey. My mother-in-law will cook another). Thanksgiving also means our daughter will play her flute in the pep band for the high school football game. Since she is a senior, this is our last chance to see her do so. Cross your fingers that the bird doesn’t burn, but we ARE going to the game. Return home and put on Thanksgiving for 29. Don’t worry. Everyone brings food…but still…

I'm sorry about that lousy posts lately.  I am nothing if not distracted...but oh. So. Very. Thankful.

Happy Friday all!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stuck and Out of Time

I sit on the couch, poised over the laptop, hoping something resembling words will come, but they lurk elsewhere today; outside, across the street, through the woods, too far away to grab.  Other writing work I should be doing niggles at me, but I wait instead, knowing that in an hour there’s an appointment and then it’s off to the food shop for the day. Not enough time to get entrenched, right? I pick up The Faith of a Writer, by Joyce Carol Oats from the table in front of me, unbend the page where I left off, thinking perhaps inspiration is to be found in the next paragraphs. Inspiration? Maybe. A blog post topic, not.

So, I click over to FaceBook, comment, and head to Blogger dashboard where I read a few blogs. Comment. Toy with including a picture on today’s post at the direction of a photo blog I just found. It said to publish the (unedited) fifth picture in the first folder of photos I ever saved. Pause. I only started saving pictures to the laptop within the last year. Fifth picture? Fat kitty, making herself comfortable on the bed. Now the desktop, that’s another story. Move to the desk, fire up the antique computer sitting there and the fifth photo in the first folder there contains a photo of my then 11-year-old burying herself in the drifts left by the blower during a storm that still pelted full force.

I remember that day. Snow slanted sideways and stuck to the windows. My husband muscled waist-high drifts with the blower, our daughter and her cousin built a fort at the corner of the driveway where the piles were deepest. Although I can’t remember this for sure, afterward I’ll bet you there was hot cocoa, a fire in the fireplace, and puddles on the floor, where for the millionth time, we learned the lesson we seem forget from year to year about what a bad idea it is to walk around on stormy days in socks.


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Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Snapshot

I knew I was in trouble when I got up at 5:45 and still had nothing planned for Middle Passages today.  Sometimes that's just how it goes.   Anywhooo, I scrolled through saved photos and found this picture that I took of the pond down the street in September.  I was going for the mirror effect, but that darn fisherman kept paddling his canoe. The colors put me in mind of a box of postcards my grandmother saved over the years.  Does anyone sent them anymore?  Her collection, long gone now,  had aged some, yellowed some, looked dated and unreal--like this picture, though it is only about six weeks old.  Pulling this up reminded me of a post I wrote last year after capturing a photo of the pond during a "sea smoke" morning.  If you'd like a November view and my favorite of this rock, click here:
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Friday, November 12, 2010

Late Bloom

There we were, after three-days of wind driven rain, an hour north of home in a town where we expected to see autumn themed window boxes filled with leaf-litter from the storm.


Then we rounded a walkway to a protected brick sidewalk and found this--a blossoming rhododendron.  For those of you unfamiliar with our New England climate, check out the naked trees behind the bush.  November is a time of bare limbs, greys, bronzes and golds...never pink.  This variety of rhodie, a PJM, I believe, typically blooms in late April.  There we were though, on November 11, 2010, Vetrans' Day...and this guy was bursting with buds and soft petaled flowers.

It's a reminder, I think, to keep our eyes open.  Unexpected gifts and second blooms could be around any corner.

Happy Friday to all.  Enjoy your weekend.
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Food in my Soul

You may recall that food inspires me; enough so that on more than one occasion I’ve been moved to write about it.  Not only do specific foods trigger my earliest memories—in addition, following and enhancing recipes that result in something delicious is a way to nurture those whom I love. Like writing, working with food is creative, hence my enjoyment with my new-ish part-time job—which features food as its, err, main ingredient.
 
I stumbled upon the position by accident, having parked in front of the establishment which is part retail store, part take-out restaurant.  I entered the shop that day and swallowed hard at the beautiful dried sausages laid out on a glass board, the shelves of ripe cheeses, the clear case filled with colorful ceramic dishes holding prepared foods made with the freshest ingredients.  Toss in a delightful chat with one of the owners, and the words “Are you hiring?” slipped out before I knew I was going to say them. In the end, I accepted a position because the idea of working at a place like this has lived in me for ages—even though I was clueless about how physically hard it would be to stand on my feet, lifting heavy dishes and cuts of meat over eight-hour stretches. After two months, I still come home more tired from one day-long shift then after a full 40-hour week at my old office job.

But with this gig, so unlike all others I’ve had, I perform my work with a connection to the product that makes selling it second nature. The chef was trained at the Culinary Institute of America. He worked for many years opening restaurants for a celebrity in the epicurean world whose name, if you know anything about the restaurant industry in the United States, you’d recognize. On occasion, I witness him, eyes staring off in space as he concentrates on developing a dish, seeking the perfect ingredient the same way sometimes I search the air for just the right word. Bottom line, as I discovered with Brussels sprouts recently, this man can cook the you-know-what out of anything.

However, that's not it by a long shot.  His wife is an eager partner who imparts her knowledge and passion about the cheeses she sells with a focus on quality and customer service that compels people to purchase. As a result, in the short time I’ve worked there, I’ve come to recognize regular customers who return, always smiling, always eager, thrilled at the experience and choices that are offered in the little shop.  This may sound simplistic, but while working there, serving up this luscious food amidst such an upbeat environment, I can actually feel myself helping to make people happy. 

All this is a long-winded way of saying that in spite of the ache in my hands and the bones that throb after every shift, I am positive about this new venture in my life and have learned to listen to the suggestions of the owners.

So, when the chef recommended that I read food writer, Ruth Reichl, I went right out and purchased Tender at the Bone, one of four auto-biographical books she's written. If you've never heard of Reichl, according to this bio that I lifted from her blog:
“...she was the restaurant critic of the The New York Times, (1993-1999), and both the restaurant critic and food editor of the Los Angeles Times (1984-1993). As co-owner and cook of the collective restaurant The Swallow from 1974 to 1977, she played a part in the culinary revolution that took place in Berkeley, California.” 
I had  no idea about all that. I recognized her name as the former editor of Gourmet Magazine.

Sadly, other than an occasional dentist office visit, I was never a reader of Gourmet, which met its demise in 2009.  Since my own cooking revolves around comfort, the name of that publication intimidated me. Now I have an idea of what I missed. All I can say is that if you want to read a well-written, humorous and sometimes gutsy memoir by one of the country’s most respected food writers, get this book. Reichl won numerous James Beard awards (something like an Oscar in the food world) for food writing. After reading Tender to the Bone I know why. She writes in a wry, self-deprecating manner while painting word pictures that capture the essence of her experiences. Take this:
“We went down a few steps and found antipasti winking and glistening on a table in the front, as beautiful as jewelry. There were eggplants the color of amethysts and plates of sliced salami and bresaola that looked like stacks of rose petals left to dry. Roasted tomatoes burst invitingly apart and red peppers were plump and slicked with oil. Great gnarled porcini sat next to tiny stewed artichokes and a whole prosciutto was on a stand, the black hoof and white fur still clinging to the leg.”
No word of a lie, I was hungry after I read that.

Then there was this, which she wrote about her first experiences in the restaurant:
“When I was in the restaurant I felt grounded, fully there. While my muscles ached from the hard physical labor, my mind strained to anticipate problems. When my shift was over I was often so tired I could not walk the six blocks home.”
Ding, ding, ding.  Sound familiar?  Skip back a paragraph or two.  But here’s what really got me. Toward the end of the book she writes:
“That fall I decided to become a caterer. Fate intervened. When I got back to Berkeley, I was offered a new job.

One of the Swallow’s steady customers had become an editor at a San Francisco magazine. He called me and asked, ‘Can you write as well as you can cook?’ I said, I wasn’t sure, but that I had always liked writing. ‘Fine,’ he said. ‘how would you like to try out as a restaurant critic.'”
Imagine that. She's one of the best known food writers in the country, and if you take her at her word, she didn't plan on writing as a career. She fell into that job, almost the same way I've stumbled into mine.

Hmmm. Granted, she started a lot earlier,  but maybe there is hope for me yet.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Blog Post Called as a result of ...

...technical difficulties.


That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Happy Monday.
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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Yup. This too.

I love where I live. I don’t know if that is due to my zodiac sign (Cancer/water lover) or the fact that I grew up spending summers swimming on a lake in our home town. Whatever the reason, the sea massages my spirit and makes me feel whole. Though I’ve lived within a 10-minute driving distance to the ocean for my entire married life, it never gets old and I can’t stay away for long.

Prior to 2009, though, it wasn’t in the picture, ahem, that I would have so much time to spend walking and absorbing the ebb and flow, breathing in the rush of the tides and the rippling marsh grasses around me. As most of you know though, things changed early that year and I found myself with lots of free time, a yearning to write my brains out, and the need to walk and walk and walk to clear my muddled head.

Then, I started bringing the camera on those trips, photographing what I intended to write about later, and including the best of the images on Middle Passages. On tough writing days, the photos even became a way to post when the right words floated beyond my brain. That didn’t matter though, because you liked the pictures and asked to see more.

As a result, at the encouragement of so many of you, (special thanks here goes to Tabitha Bird, Through My Eyes ) I’ve created LCS Prints. Through this outlet, several of my favorite photos are now offered for sale, mounted on 5”x7” blank greeting cards. Click on the link for more info.

So here I am. I’ve got a PayPal account, a Facebook Fanpage, and a new blog. That’s in addition to LCS Writes  and my part-time job at the cheese shop. Our dining room table is covered with boxes containing an inventory of scenic seaside and coastal New England pictures. Sometimes I look at that table and wonder how I’m going to manage it all.

But here’s the thing. At the end of that first-ever Middle Passages blog post, my hands still trembled with aftershocks a mere eighteen hours after my employment of 23 years imploded.  In spite of (or maybe because of?) of my state of distress, the first piece had poured off my fingers. Slightly in awe of myself, I wrote: “I can do this.”

This time I’ve had a little more time to plan.

Introducing LCS Prints. I can do this, too.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Blogfest Savior

 

How lucky am I?  I didn't think I'd get a post in today, and then I found Summer's  Writing Space Blogfest, aka her "blogfest for the lazy"...(which I'm Okay if she re-nicknames "blogfest for the busy!")
Nonetheless, here is my space...and as you can clearly see, today I am not in it.
Happy Monday everyone!  Good luck to all who are participating in NaNo! 

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Taking a Breath(er)


Hey all. You may have noticed that I'm late (again) today.  I've been struggling over the last few weeks to keep up with Middle Passages and with my blog reading.  A new concept is pulling at me (those of you with astute powers of observation might figure out what it is) and blogger is misbehaving.   In addition, there is a lot more back-of-the house work then I expected, so let's just say; I'm a tad distracted.  Aside from that, it happens to be a busy time in our house (college applications, don't you know, early action deadline, 11/15) and, gosh darn it, on top of that, I managed to score myself a paying writing project. 

So here's the deal.  I'm going to do my best to keep up with these blog posts, but I'm pretty sure I'll miss a few.  If that happens, thanks in advance for your patience and I'll be back as soon as I can.

Have a wonderful weekend and a happy Halloween.  Eat lots of candy!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Seventeen Again

As our senior in high school reaches the proverbial home stretch, we are focusing (no pun intended) on yearbook photos. Of the 90 pictures taken by a friend last month, she needs to make her final choice and send it in, along with a baby picture, a list of her high school activities and an inspirational quote. She goes to a small school with an ever-tightening budget, so we (Mom and Dad) have been extorted to pay for a color ad at the back of the yearbook with another childhood photo of our girl, coupled with a tribute or sage advice.


Now, coming up with a thoughtful accolade for our daughter on demand, one that points to all the ways in which she is exceptional, fits a quarter of a page slot, and doesn’t horrify her, well, that was just plain hard. I spent most of yesterday rifling through stacks of old photo albums and Googling inspirational sayings. Franklin Roosevelt's “There is nothing to fear but fear itself,” came up a million times as did Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” More years ago then I care to acknowledge, during Glee Club back back in junior high (that term itself dates me, I'm well aware), we put that poem to music. Then we sang the thing to death.  All these years later I shudder when reading the poem because without fail, that tune seeps up and embeds itself on a continual loop in my brain for the next several hours.  Pass on old RF.

Finally, after reading many overused, trite maxims, it occurred to me that there might be a snippet of wisdom to be discovered via pop culture. Within minutes, I’d come up with this:

“It is our choices…that show what we really are, far more than our abilities” spoken by Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Nice to know that a fictional wizard can offer such insight.

When it was our daughter’s turn to find her quote, she Googled too. She’s narrowed it down to three:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” Eleanor Roosevelt

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” Eleanor Roosevelt

and this:

“Hang the code, and hang the rules. They are more like guidelines anyway.” Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean.

If you were seventeen again, which one would you choose?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Back on Track



It took a long time for train service, discontinued in 1959, to come back through our town. If you want some nostalgia and the story of why the train disappeared, you can read here, but without going into detail today, the old train right-of-way cut down the middle of towns, through backyards and across main streets. Suffice to say, it took years of fighting by those for and against, until the line was re-activated three years ago.

So a train gliding about a mile down the road from me, albeit an echo to memory, is still new, and I watch in awe when I catch one of the monster engines that trundle through at regular intervals. My ears perk up at the moan-and-toot combo of the occasional whistle that breaks our quiet zone, and no matter how long the delay, I inhale when the bells clang, the lights blink and gates drop in front of my car. When I sit at a cherry table at the library one day a week, I crane my neck to look out the window as a rumbling vibration telegraphs the arrival of an out bound express passing fifty yards away, and a half-hour later on its return to the city.

For the longest time, it seemed that my fascination was all about steel and power and muscle, and for sure that plays into it. But it is also something more—something mystic and intriguing about this mode of transportation. The cut where yellow and beige trees line the tracks is a seam sewed into the city—a bloodline. Like a capillary, our little branch bleeds into a major network of veins— steel rails that slip people like so many neurons and electrons, to the next town over, and the next—to a metropolis of art, culture, activity, education. It offers a certain freedom to know that all I have to do climb the steps to an inbound shuttle and settle on a leather seat, to take a ride beyond my ordinary place, outside my regular parameters, to the pumping heart of things, and then perhaps, beyond.

The train offers so much more than simple commuter convenience. When I’m stopped at a crossing and gaze down the rails it becomes clear that along with the burnished gold of passing autumn foliage, imagination lines those new tracks too.



Friday, October 22, 2010

Pumpkin Patch



One of my favorite small town offerings rolls around annually. Farmers truck in pumpkins and dump them onto a neighborhood field as a fund raiser for a service project put on by our local churches. Proceeds from thousands of these orange, and now apparently designer-colored, globes go toward a summer trip to help families in need. Though I can’t for the life of me figure out how, one intrepid town member maps out an aerial design and lays out the pumpkins in a Halloween motif each October. Since most of us don’t own planes, we wait for a picture in the local paper to see this year’s design.

The lack of my own airborne photo notwithstanding, I enjoy the view from ground level.

Happy Friday folks. 





Designer pumpkins, anyone?
 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Congratulations Alex!!!

We interupt our regularly
scheduled broadcasting for this special presentation:


Today is release day for CassaStar a science fiction/adventure, authored by by fellow blogger; Alex J. Cavanaugh.  Congratulations Alex!

Like many new authors, Alex has patiently awaited this day.  Recently he's been traveling around the blogosphere promoting his book via virtual tours. Alex has been a loyal reader to Middle Passages, but moreover, he's out there on the web supporting other bloggers and writers. Now it's his turn and I'm happy to add to the buzz.

Here is a synopsis of Alex's book: 

To pilot the fleet’s finest ship…

Few options remain for Byron. A talented but stubborn young man with a troubled past and rebellious attitude, his cockpit skills are his only hope. Slated to train as a Cosbolt fighter pilot, Byron is determined to prove his worth and begin a new life as he sets off for the moon base of Guaard.

Much to Byron’s chagrin, the toughest instructor in the fleet takes notice of the young pilot. Haunted by a past tragedy, Bassa eventually sees through Byron's tough exterior and insolence. When a secret talent is revealed during training, Bassa feels compelled to help Byron achieve his full potential.

As war brews on the edge of space, time is running short. Byron requires a navigator of exceptional quality to survive, and Bassa must make a decision that could well decide the fate of both men. Will their skills be enough as they embark on a mission that may stretch their abilities to the limit?

“…calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars.” - Library Journal

Let's hear it for Alex!  Head on over to
Author, Alex J. Cavanaugh to find out more about CassaStar!

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Story Sprouts Up

Out of the six kids my parents raised, the “must eat two bites of everything on your plate rule” was the least difficult for kid number five (yours truly) and kid number six, my younger sister. We both ate peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, cabbage, any manner of squash— just about every veggie that arrived on our plates.  She and I snacked on sliced carrots, celery, and radishes coated with salt. Though less healthy, together “Number Six” and I even created our own special dish, a peanut butter and dill pickle sandwich topped with confectionery sprinkles, to which we treated ourselves on special occasions.


While we, the two youngest, leaned toward adventure in our eating, the other four kids were slightly more particular. That said, the six of us united on one front. Supper stopped dead when a meal featured Brussels sprouts. A Yankee boil-it-to-death chef, mom cooked those things to mush—they emerged from the pot as lead-ball sinkers, the color of the ocean on a stormy day, and let me assure you, every manner of subterfuge occurred on the nights that she served them. We spread food about the plate to make them look gone, hid the them under our spoons, insisted we’d swallowed a sprout when she wasn’t looking and suffered the Mean Mother Eyeball when we coughed into our napkins. Alas, we had no dog. Though if we did, I’m guessing it would have bolted to the depths of the basement at one whiff of those overcooked cabbages

Even my sister and I, who ate everything else, could not force ourselves to ingest one of those vile vegetables. The last time I remember being served sprouts, Number Six and I ended up sitting at the table all alone, knowing we couldn’t leave until there were two less sprouts on our respective plates. I recall gagging on a bite after what seemed like hours at the table—figuring, I suppose, that I’d either die from the sprout or expire from old age and this way seemed quicker. The story of how our other siblings escaped however, has been absorbed into family lore.

My mother, an avid gardener, used to grow roots from cuttings of various plants to enhance her landscapes. That particular night she had displayed a copper bowl as a centerpiece in which stems of pachysandra, a shiny green ground cover, soaked in water. Let’s just say, the plants received plenty of organic fertilizer that night. It was a clever gambit, except that a few evenings later, the centerpiece began to smell. Mom removed it from the table, lifted out the greens to change the water…and well, the Mean Mommy Eyeball had nothing on her reaction after that.

Whether or not the pachysandra incident was the proverbial last straw, soon after, she stopped feeding us the nasty things, and years later, confessed to hating them too, “I just served them because they were good for you,” she admitted. To my knowledge, no one in my family ate them again until recently.

Then, one night at a family restaurant, because the other choices didn’t thrill me and, to ascertain if they could be anywhere near as awful as I remembered, I selected sprouts when the waitress offered them roasted, as a side dish. Rolling them around with my fork, I mustered up the courage and lifted one to my mouth. Hmm. Mild, crunchy—tossed with garlic and butter, dare I say they were…palatable? Upon arriving home, I called Number Six to brag about my accomplishment and she cheered, suitably impressed. Soon after, I bought a few sprouts and roasted them myself. My husband and daughter abstained, smirking as I forced myself to swallow the veggies, which tasted…fine…and that’s where my opinion remained; squarely on the side of “meh” until this week.

The chef/co-owner of the cheese/gourmet food shop where I work (one of a husband/wife duo), cooks seasonal produce daily to sell to our customers. He and his wife encourage their staff to taste the food he creates in order to better market it to the clientele. Before the lunch rush on Wednesday, he came out of the kitchen bearing a platter of sizzling Brussels sprouts, tossed with roasted apples, sprinkled with shavings of crispy ham. You eat with your eyes, as they say, and to use a cliché this dish looked, “to die for,” though, unlike that childhood night when I wasted away at the table, this time, I mean die in a good way. But still, they were Brussels sprouts. The revulsion born from ancient history percolated up as I stared at the colorful plate.

In the line of duty though, I grabbed a plastic fork, speared a piece of apple, a sprout, a bit of the ham and tasted. Nutty, salty, spicy, sweet; the flavors covered all levels of deliciousness, including a peppery little nip at the back of my pallet. My eyes widened in disbelief and swallowing, I moaned: “Oh my God.”

I don’t know if my Wednesday reaction could actually be attributed to God or just to a darn good chef, but folks, those sprouts were tasty enough to inspire a whole new religion.

For me it was Brussels sprouts.  For my husband and his family, it was turnips.  What was your worst food nightmare?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Getting Rid of Excess Baggage

Since my job elimination in the great headcount chop of 2009, I’ve kept a low profile related to my former employer. Sometimes I speak to a vendor who, over the 23 years of our association, morphed into something resembling a friend. I’ve lunched with my old staff and taken a couple of walks with similarly affected individuals. Besides that though, I cut the ties. Not that the few remaining people I know who still work there don’t matter to me, but seeing folks from that old world threatens to dredge up an uncomfortable  “Why me?” outlook that doesn’t offer any benefit. It’s difficult to move forward if you are still regurgitating the past.

In the same way I relegated those relationships to the closet, I ignored the one remaining box that traveled home from my office on that fateful last day. It’s been sitting in the corner of our guest room for almost a year. Other than consolidating a second box into it and sliding this remaining container from the living room to the guest room before Thanksgiving last year, I haven’t opened it. The surface became a convenient resting place for the camera bag and accessories during occasional house “clean sweeps.” Other than that, it’s been the proverbial “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Basically, all things relating to “That Place” as we jokingly call my former employer at my house these days, remained packed in hidden corners, until the end of August when I accepted my position at the cheese/gourmet food shop. Then, it occurred to me that in my new role, chance meetings with current and former personnel from the old joint were going to be likely. My new job is located in a downtown section of the same small metropolis in which I worked for almost half my life. The store is two miles away from the corporate headquarters that I drove to daily and less than 100 yards from the company’s oldest retail branch.  Still, I kept a lid on thoughts of who I might bump into for as long as I could—which is to say until my first day selling cheese, when a long retired associate of the old place ended up being one of my earliest customers.

Since that day, I’ve waited on quite a few former employees from “That Place.” I won’t deny that blood rushed to my face when I greeted a still-employed vice president whose job offer I negotiated in my role as recruitment manager. After bumping into her though, it got easier. As customers I know from that time in my life have appeared, I've just squared my shoulders, lifted my chin and offered them a sample of some yummy food along with my biggest smile, no matter how much quivering was happening inside. Then, I encountered one woman from my former department, who got her walking papers three months after me. She is one of the most positive, upbeat people I know. No word of a lie, the first time she came in; I squealed and clapped my hands.

It turns out this woman works part-time, in a shop a few doors down. She stops in  for a quick bite before work or during a break and always, always, greets me with a big-ass smile. I look forward to her quick visits to the shop, not only because she is a sincere and engaging person, but because meeting her in this new context has allowed me to recognize how her life, as well as mine is moving on.  Talking to her every week, hearing her positive outlook makes me feel more grounded in the  "leaving the past behind" process. Thanks to her optimistic example, the shakes are almost gone.  So much so that the other day, when yet another old acquaintance from “That Place” stopped to purchase cheese on Monday, I greeted her before she noticed me, with a smile that felt honest and real. No angst— it was simply nice to see her.

I kept that in mind yesterday, which made it a breeze to open the flaps and purge the useless papers from that dusty box in the guest room.  I stored the few remaining things I could conceive of ever needing again, downstairs in the basement.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Above the Trees



Happy Columbus Day all. I have to work today, but I'm taking a blog holiday. This photo is from a Saturday climb to the top of a huge granite slab above our harbor.  The plan was to capture some good foliage shots, but Autumn's hints remain subtle right now--unless you check out the red tree behind that scenic house.
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Friday, October 8, 2010

Shoulders Back!

My daughter is celebrating “Spirit Week” at school, and a theme for one day is 1980’s work-out clothes. If you can remember Jennifer Beals and Flashdance with nostalgia, then read on baby, because, I’m about to bring up a topic that might make you laugh.


I was skeptical that we’d find what she was looking for as we shopped around the discount stores, on the hunt for fluorescent leggings, over-sized t-shirts, and leg-warmers. When it took us exactly two places to find everything on her list, I realized that current style is a spin-off from the decade that gave us Dallas and, be-still-my-beating heart, Magnum PI. My husband says that fashions return every thirty years and let me tell you, it’s pretty darn humbling when you realize you’ve been around long enough to anniversary yourself— even if you are minus the big hair.

The sorry part of this is, I recall loving the fashion of that period. At the time, I was convinced I’d never look at a picture taken during the decade and consider the style dated. And, though my wardrobe choices from then do look silly in photographs now, here’s something that wasn’t. The clothes were comfortable—and not just because I was a few (okay, okay, more than a few) pounds lighter. If we weren’t wearing sweats, then the stirrup pants we donned underneath long tunic tops had elastic waists. Why not? No one could see them under shirts that draped to our knees. They could however, see the leather flats with tuxedo-bows we slipped on our white-stockinged feet—as if that would dress up the entire ensemble.

The parachute pants we wore didn’t squeeze us to death; the flowing, floral print skirts were easy to walk in. We emulated Linda Evans on Dynasty and her princess styled dresses, and copied the trends depicted in—I confess I’m hyperventilating a little here—Miami Vice. Not only did I love the um, music from that show, I also adored—okay, here goes—the shoulder pads. Yep. As a bony, round-shouldered young woman, I still shivered in mortification when recalling the back-brace I was required to wear in sixth grade. That pre-teen humiliation dictated that I grow up despising all cardigans, T’s, oxford cloth or form fitting shirts. If it wasn’t bulky enough to hide my posture, or broad enough to make me look like a weightlifter, get rid of it.

But then jackets that fit linebackers became the rage. Forget how “hot”—to use the current vernacular—Don Johnson looked in his colossal outerwear; Sonny Crockett's wardrobe sense saved the day for me too. A blazer or a shoulder-enhanced sweater could fool the world into believing I carried myself like a dancer.

Well into the next decade, I couldn’t let go of big shoulders. For years after that particular fashion retired, I Velcroed shoulder pads to all my tops.  Then one day, the nylon teeth gave on one of those things at work. I spent a cringing day wondering where in the building I’d lost it, until with a gasp of relief I found it in my own desk drawer. After that, my daughter used the old blazers and the muscled-up tops for dress-up. One time her friend came over, yanked on one of my old favorites and said: “Look. I’m a football player.”

Over the ensuing years, I’ve been able to forgive myself for a lot of physical imperfections.  That said, if fashion is really going retro Flashdance, my hair is too short for the teased and sprayed look that was popular back then, and a pair of white socks with black patent leather shoes would cause me to howl at the mirror. Tunic tops, well, yea, they are forgiving after all, but I’m not sure a pair of stirrup pants will ever grace my not-so-girlish figure again.

But here’s the thing. In one of life’s little unfair tricks, no matter how many pounds have attached themselves onto my heretofor petite frame, nary a one has graced my shoulders. Hallelujah and praise the Lord if this 1980’s rerun becomes a total repeat. That bag of mismatched shoulder pads hiding at the back of my closet may receive a promotion to the front of the shelf.

It's Friday.  Let's have some fun.  Care to confess your fashion faux  pas?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I Choose

Last week I attended a lecture by Michael Tougias, an author of 19 non-fiction books that range from nature humor, There’s a Porcupine in my Outhouse, to several books documenting horrific sea disasters, Ten Hours before Dawn... The author attended the same small college I did— our time overlapped briefly. Though we have never been introduced, I’ve been aware of, and intrigued by, his own story for years. He’s a former businessman, turned full-time author and speaker. But it wasn’t until last week that I took one of his books, Fatal Forecast… out of the library.  Coincidentally, at the check out desk, a flier advertised that he was scheduled to speak locally the next day, and I decided to attend.

I arrived at the meeting room Thursday night to a large video screen pulled down at the front. Rather than a traditional reading, the author's talk included a slide show with several images that drove home the desperate plight experienced by the true-life players in his newest book, Overboard. Images of 30 foot waves cresting over unfortunate vessels elicited more than a few gasps from the audience, but it was a remark during his presentation that pulled me in deeper then the seas off of George's Bank.

Tougias explained that while interviewing the survivors of the many nautical disasters he's written about, a reoccurring theme arose. Each person he talked to remarked that, no matter how many years go by,  they continue to carry the gratitude for their survival with them through their daily lives. Tougias said after hearing this repeatedly from these individuals, all of whom had come within a hiccup of dying, he adopted the idea of embracing gratitude too. It didn't take a near death experience for him, as a result of listening as they described their harrowing stories, he made a decision to focus on things he is thankful for.  Consequently, he says he has become more open to joy.

A few days later and way behind the mainstream, I sat in bed reading the mega hit Eat, Pray Love, (please tell me how they made a movie out of a book that involves so much thinking) and encountered a passage that reminded of me Tougias’s words:

Elizabeth Gilbert writes:

“…people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You need to fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t, you will leak away your innate contentment.”

So in less than a week, I encountered two different authors traveling polar opposite paths…a man who held conversations with survivors of natural disasters off the East coast of America; and a woman who traveled through Italy, India and Indonesia to find self-fulfillment.  Both writers communicated the same reminder.

Life is filled with unexpected storms, hurricanes that veer off course, waves that swamp us, and forecasts that are wrong. We lose people we love, struggle through things like depression, job loss, financial hardship and illness. And yet, we can decide, in spite of these things, to find joy— we all hold the power and strength to complete ourselves whenever we decide use it.

Happiness is a choice.

I’m going with it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Timing is EVERYTHING

Over the past year and a half, I have read and learned  many things from so many talented writers. One of the many, Jody Hedlund who offers a couple of educational posts per week on writing tips, celebrated as her first book, a work of historical fiction called The Preacher’s Bride, was released last week.

Here is the blurb on The Preacher’s Bride from Amazon:
"In 1650s England, a young Puritan maiden is on a mission to save the baby of her newly widowed preacher--whether her assistance is wanted or not. Always ready to help those in need, Elizabeth ignores John's protests of her aid. She's even willing to risk her lone marriage prospect to help the little family. Yet Elizabeth's new role as nanny takes a dangerous turn when John's boldness from the pulpit makes him a target of political and religious leaders. As the preacher's enemies become desperate to silence him, they draw Elizabeth into a deadly web of deception. Finding herself in more danger than she ever bargained for, she's more determined than ever to save the child--and man--she's come to love.”
Now—let me tell you that because I have so much respect for Jody, I’ve been planning on ordering her book since this summer, but due to a tight budget, have had to schedule things like book purchases carefully. So when Jody, as part of her pre-release publicity offered weekly drawings for The Preacher’s Bride with her regular blog posts, I entered every time I could, but didn’t win. On Friday, after I thought all my chances were up and  wrote a “to do” to order the book on my calendar for tomorrow, Jody offered one additional drawing.

Skip to this morning. It’s a rainy bla, bla, bla of a Monday. I struggled with the content for today's blog post all weekend, and though I have one partially written, no word of a lie, when I read it over, I used the word “preachy.” My options, since it’s a volunteer morning, and then I’m off to work for the day, included no blog post at all, or something recycled from last year. As I opened Windows, to make that decision, I took a quick look at email, and guess what??? I WON A COPY OF THE PREACHER’S BRIDE!!! Later this week, I will be stalking my post office box.

So, for today’s post, nothing “preachy,” but a “Preacher” instead. Please join me in offering Jody Hedlund congratulations on the publication of “The Preacher’s Bride!!

Thank you Jody!!!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Rest Your Eyes

Can I tell you that I have probably driven by this house 500 times in the eighteen years that we have lived in our home and never noticed it before?  The operative word in that first sentence is "driven"-- the other day, I happened to be on foot.  At street level, you see a closed garage, you have to look far above that to notice a long front porch that gazes out over the small boats moored in the calm water at the back of the harbor.  I stood across the street for several minutes, focusing and refocusing, trying for a shot of flowing greenery spilling from the planters attached to the railings when thankfully, I looked to the left--and gave up on the porch and went right for this fairy garden. 



Happy Friday all.



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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Beginning Color

Dying trees light the match—
bring first flame to wood.
Skeleton fingers rake the sky,
poking holes in somber grey.
Mostly though,
they bleed,
orange sifting to yellow—
You can almost hear
a stand-alone gasp
amid rags of faded green,
stronger trees pause—

then follow.









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Monday, September 27, 2010

A Side of Fried Potatoes

On the warm, lush, first morning of autumn, I drove past many walkers and joggersup and about for the health benefits, I suppose.  I however, was up and about for the hash browns.   Oh dear.  Did I say that out loud? Really, it was the change of scenery I was after, I swear.

Prior to summer schedule interruptions, Thursday was Library Day and last week, I finally plugged it back on the agenda, though, not without the same issue as before; I’m ready to go by 8:00 a.m. and the library doesn’t open until 10:00. Can you imagine? Those of you who have been reading Middle Passages for a while know most Thursdays mornings I’d go to the French Café in town for a cup of coffee while waiting. Sometimes I’d write as I sipped my brew, other times I’d write later about what I observed while sipping, but for some reason, this past Thursday, I wanted to experience something different.

It is easier to observe things when they feel new and fresh, I guess, and as it happens, in the resort town next to us, there is a coffee shop that I don’t get to very often. The sign on the back wall there says: “If you are in a hurry, you are in the wrong place.” My husband and daughter don’t like to go there on weekends, because you can wait a long time but a wait was what I was after last week, as it would give me plenty of time to pen observations into my notebook. The delay can also be worth it if you order their killer hash browns—though of course, that had no impact on my decision to visit. It was all about the writing exercise. Honest.

So, I rather than traveling my regular Thursday route, I drove over the causeway past my favorite two boats plus two walkers who didn’t even glance at them, over the town line to a seaside settlement that was built on the long flat peninsula cutting between Massachusetts Bay and Boston Harbor. The second you are over the line, the light brightens from the ambient shadows and colors wrought by thick woods, hills and winding roads and becomes clear and luminous on the flat, treeless streets lined with shingled cottages built between the ocean and the bay.

Jiggling over the rutted bumps that dapple these weathered streets, I arrived my at destination which sits at the bottom corner of a brick condominium building, positioned on land formerly occupied by an old amusement park. Across the street, a seasonally empty parking lot stretches to where a cement sea wall stands at attention and eyes a high-tide beach.

Inside the eatery, ten or so tables are surrounded by walls decked with kitschy signs like: “What if the Hokey Pokey really is what it is all about?” and “Be nice or leave.” A three-quarter wall blocks the view of the kitchen from the rest of the place and is stacked with antique toasters, old fashioned soda fountain equipment, and even a tall, red and green tin labeled “Premium Saltines,” exactly like the one my mother used when we were growing up.

I jotted all these images down in my blue notebook after ordering, until the man at the table next to me leaned over and asked me if I was writing a restaurant review. Not once, in all the months that I’ve been going to the French Café in my town, has anyone ever asked me what I was doing while I scribbled away. Smiling, I told him that I was simply entertaining myself while waiting for my breakfast, adding that restaurant critics usually “perform” in secret.

At his thoughtful nod, my food was delivered and I dug in.  Not that it matters a bit, but those hash browns were worth writing–well, I mean waiting for.