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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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