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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


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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