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Friday, July 31, 2009

Dry Spell

Fairly regularly I sit down to post on Middle Passages with no idea as to what I am going to write about and today happens to be one of those days. When this occurs I shuffle through my pile of yellow sticky notes to see if there’s an idea jotted down--but knowing that the last thought I scribbled led to yesterday’s topic, I’m pretty sure I’m in trouble.

As a complete morning person, it is never a good sign when I approach the computer to address this well after noon, but a busy start to the day set me behind. Our daughter’s 7:30 a.m. consultation with the oral surgeon kicked things off--she’ll be sixteen in two weeks and these days they want wisdom teeth out early, before the roots are formed.

As a woman who’s lived for thirty years with a pins-and-needles jaw that stemmed from the removal of an impacted wisdom tooth with roots wrapped around a nerve, I’m all for it. That said, she’s been under the knife once in the last year already, (knee surgery) and no mom wants to see her kid endure pain. However, we squared our shoulders, set the date and then took the half hour trip to her day camp counselor-in-training program after which I traveled home in time to change my clothes and meet my college roommate for a walk by the ocean.

We talked quickly but walked slowly so here I am, approaching 2:00 p.m., wondering what to write about. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to discuss friendship, and what it means to get out of a car and begin talking to someone you don’t see often, and still have mountains to yammer about long after your circuitous lighthouse route is complete. Now that I’ve returned home, I swear that physical manifestations result from a long conversation with a friend. I bet, if I had the means to test it, the effects would reveal themselves via relaxed muscles, low blood pressure and some kind of all-natural tranquilizer that drapes your psyche in a blanket of ease. Hmmm, now that I think about it, I suppose there are other things in life that cause err, positive biochemical responses but, (she says with a blush) there’s only one I’ll mention today.

Before finally settling down to Middle Passage a short time ago, I checked in on my favorite writer’s blog and in it she referred to “writing for hours in that rare way that makes me forget about time…”

There is, thankfully, a place I go to sometimes while sitting in front of this computer—my physical body remains, but the rest of me travels to where there is no time, no air around me, nothing to distract from the search for the treasure of a right word, a correct description, the perfect modifier. I come to, confused at the hour, the lowering sun in the sky, often aghast at the list of other things that weren’t accomplished. Yet the dial inside me remains set at a low simmer, which is reflected in a warm serenity and a percolating self-confidence. Sadly, I can’t profess that I arrived at that place today.

I’ll live though, because the word document into which I type each Middle Passages post before cutting and pasting it into Blogger, is called “I Can do This.” It happens to be the title of my first blog post ever and reminds me each time I sit down to write, that even when I’m sure I have nothing to say—words remain possible. When my brain feels like a parched desert filled with drifting sand, it’s critical that I wipe off the sweat, yank out the shovel, place my foot on top of the blade and force it deep down—because, just like today, there’s always something underneath; a cool spring of words that convinces me, once again, that I can, in fact, do this.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Living Memories

Here in the Boston area, white hair often complements a ruby face, and I’m here to tell you that while we of Irish heritage regularly bloom pinker with age, contrary to popular belief, the veined networks across our cheeks and nose aren’t always derived from drink. Many of us (including me) color up as a result of a skin condition called Rosacia that runs prevalent in those of Celtic decent.

Now that I’ve offered up that disclaimer though, the adage, “He wears the map of Ireland on his face” held true for my father. Those who knew him remember that he did, in fact, speak highly of a good glass of scotch--but that aside, both he and my mom had grey hair as long as I can remember and, for whatever reason, Dad’s face--complete with a fleshy scar over one eye stemming from a car accident when he was two--colored to a lovely shade of rose during his thirties and remained that way for life. In his last few years, his white hair receded enough that he combed it straight back, which changed his look entirely and this last piece is what I want to write about.

My Dad grew up summering in the town next door to where I live now; an area known as The Irish Riviera. His boyhood friends, Galvins and Leahys and Gahans and Cahills, in many cases married each others' friends and cousins, provided jobs for each others' children, and stayed in touch long after their heads all faded to white. My siblings and I identified the friends that came from this boyhood era in North Scituate, because the kids he swam with at Minot Beach or danced with at the Cliff Hotel had their own nickname for him. While his business acquaintances called my dad Tom and his friends referred to him as “Tuck;” these childhood buddies labeled him “Tuckie.”

One weekend several years back my dad visited from his home fifty miles away, and when we climbed into the car after church on Sunday Dad caught sight of one of these old summer cronies. Rolling down the window, he leaned far out and waving his arms yelled “Jack, Jack!!!” across a busy interception. Not knowing Jack, I looked at my father with a furrowed brow until he explained the boyhood connection. That day when Jack didn’t hear him and drove off; my father’s disappointment took on flesh and physicality in our car on the way home.

After that, I saw Jack from a distance at church regularly and though I never mentioned it, he always reminded me of my father. Not only did I picture that Sunday when my dad practically fell out of the car hollering at him, but because Jack is about the same height, with a portly build comparable to my Dad's; he wears similar wire-rimmed glasses, and shuffles slightly the same way when he walks. Most importantly, Jack inherited the Irish pink complexion too, as well as receding white hair that he combs straight back.

My Dad died on a Thanksgiving and the following Sunday my husband, daughter and I attended church. In the way that life works, for the first and only time, Jack and his wife sat next to us, and once I realized it I shifted my weight and crossed and uncrossed my legs. The obituary wasn’t out yet and I wondered how, once the service ended, I could possibly introduce myself to them and share the news without crying. I was spared that when Jack, a doctor, was summoned to the back of church to assist with a medical problem. Days later, as I stood reading a eulogy at my Dad’s funeral, I took a calming breath when I saw Jack and his wife sitting at the back. Not long after, on yet another Sunday in church, then 10-year-old Meghann leaned over and whispered to me. “See that man up there?” pointing to Jack. “He looks like Papa.”

To this day, when I see Jack sitting many seats in front of us at church on Sundays I quietly categorize his similarities to my Dad. Finally, this year upon encountering him outside of my favorite coffee shop, I introduced myself. When he learned my maiden name, Jack grinned, put his hand on my arm and began to tell me stories about my father. I left that conversation smiling softly, as I did when I bumped into him at the same coffee shop this week.

This time our words were brief, but when we finished he said, “Thank you for saying hello.” Feeling infinitesimally closer to my dad, I backed up my car, thinking: “Thank you for being there.”

When we lose someone, we reach for customary objects and pictures to bring us closer to those we love. In my case, it’s the continuity I seek--a familiar face who knew Dad long before me—someone who recalls a skinny, long-legged boy called Tuckie when he had fresh scars on his forehead and wavy brown hair that he parted on the side.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You said I could have the Front Row

After spending two days group interviewing in a voluntary capacity, I'm toast. I promised earlier in the summer to share pictures of this solitary rowboat, drifting on top of its reflection if I ever capture it. A foggy day last week provided the canvas for this shot. We won't discuss the fact that while out driving sans camera yesterday we passed the boat and the image I've been hoping for. The photo I seek couldn't be more different than what is portrayed below, but perhaps you'll enjoy these guys.

(Click on the picture itself to get a larger, more humorous view).

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Eat these Words

In all the writing books I’ve read lately, the consistent theme is that if you want to write well, open your eyes, look all around you and pour what you see onto the page like maple syrup on pancakes, great glugs of language filling an overflowing plate. You can never write too much. Later, after you’ve served up all your words, there’s plenty of time to raise your knife and fork, slice through the extra ideas and hand them off to the dog--smoothing those that remain like soft butter.

The other constant suggestion is to dredge way down and scrape up events from your past to use as fodder as you practice your craft--plumb the ocean of your psyche to write about the difficult experiences, the most painful, the ones that you tucked away behind a cement vault--you hoped forever. According to the experts, tackling these challenging memories opens doors to emotions so an erstwhile writer like me may learn to describe them.

I’m getting a failing grade at the second lesson, though that’s for me to deal with--don’t worry, my attempts to overcome the deficiency won’t appear here in Middle Passages. I only bring it up as a result of my “ah ha” moment last night when I read examples of the kind of writing I hope to accomplish, if I allow myself to peel my skin like an orange and pick at the stringy white pith underneath.

In an earlier post this spring, I mentioned a blog that I read called Orangette by Molly Wizenberg. A columnist for Bon Appetit Magazine with a first book under her belt, Molly’s genre is food. No wonder I like her. I received her book A Homemade Life last week, and gave myself permission to put aside my self-assigned homework over the weekend in order to read it. As I write this, I’m having another “ah ha.” Perhaps reading Molly is the reason for the corn chowder post yesterday which, as I read it today, did nothing to describe the creamy texture of the soup, the sweetness of the corn kernels that crunched between my teeth, the melting potatoes, the back of the mouth bite of onion followed by a final reminder of heat from the cayenne, but now I’m way off topic.

Back to Molly.

A Homemade Life is her tribute to her family, specifically her father who passed away from cancer, through the food they prepared and savored together. To use an appropriate phrase, I gobbled this book, chewing it up in big, fat, flavorful mouthfuls, up to the point when she describes the hours leading to her father’s death. She writes:

“I remember thinking that Burg wouldn’t make it through the weekend. He had stopped eating. He was fading. I don’t know how else to say it. You get a sense for these things. I remember talking on the phone, telling someone that he was dying. I must have had the conversation while standing in the pantry closet, because when I think of it now, I picture a row of jam jars and single-serving cans of pineapple juice. The pantry was where I went for privacy. The door had a latch on the inside so I could safely close myself in when I needed to talk without anyone hearing me. Saying it aloud—I don’t think he’s going to make it—was almost a relief. It had been barely two months since his diagnosis, but we were exhausted. I wanted something to change; the hum from the motor on his hospital bed, the nurses that came and went, the sweet smell on his breath, something.”

I put down the book, took a deep breath and got it. Here was an example of the detail I need to incorporate in my writing. The emotions are there, her pain, her angst, her grief, and yet none of it is maudlin. She simply uses her sight, sound, smell, touch, to create the picture of the time leading to his death and lays out her painting so cleanly that I have complete faith that I imagine the day as Molly meant me too. I can picture her pantry--door, barn-style with lengthwise planks locked together via horizontal two-by-fours, nailed at the top and the bottom. It’s painted off-white and the latch is black dimpled wrought iron that you lift with your finger until it raises the sidebar with an audible click. The shelves are stocked, jars of preserved beets, the pineapple juice, an old stainless blender with a black cord hanging over the side.

The fact that her pantry might look nothing like this is irrelevant; the point is that her writing conjured up a vision in my mind. Clearly Molly took a backhoe deep into her own emotion, digging it up to share in the most appropriate and believable way. Later I picked up the book again, sad, yet joyful to read about the dishes she includes from that time, the warm hug of memory an old recipe provides, the sweetness of her father’s friends, the taste of his own passion for food.

I told you that I put aside my homework to read Molly but in truth, she is this week’s teacher.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Soul Food II

I don’t think it’s my intent for Middle Passages to morph into a food blog, but today we need to talk about corn chowder--specifically the one I made for last Wednesday’s dinner over which I am still salivating even though we got two meals out of it.

I promise that it’s finished, but if you recall, last Wednesday I celebrated my birthday. The air hung full of grey clouds, heavy and humid and both my husband and my daughter were working. In fact, Tim commutes to a next door state and with all-day meetings scheduled, we could anticipate a late arrival home. Bless my two buddies though, they planned ahead and by Tuesday evening, nine-inch Devil’s Food layers from a mix baked by Tim cooled on the counter; the middle shelf of the fridge hosted chocolate ganache for frosting that Meghann had prepared. No complaints.

In our house we celebrate birthdays with a special dinner—at a restaurant when they occur on weekends, with take-out during the week, or occasionally over a favorite dish prepared by yours truly. Last week, Tim’s schedule combined with our fiscal belt-tightening meant that neither take-out nor go-out appeared on the evening’s menu. As a result, early in the morning, I opened the fridge to determine what simple supper I could create from inexpensive leftovers.

With the cool air blasting, I eyeballed a thawed chicken breast soaking in its own pink juices with a niggling worry. On a fifty-first birthday during which you happen to be in reinvention mode, a refrigerator-clearing supper has potential to trigger a mild depression. In an immediate transition, I contemplating how lovely it would be if we had left-over corn-on-the cob in the fridge that I could turn into a chowder. There could be no birthday gift as sensorial or rewarding as eating my way back to childhood, and corn chowder, that bastion of New England cheap eats, has comforting roots snaking all the way back to the dinner table of my youth. Alas, there was no corn in our fridge. The idea of it however, teased me through most of the morning until the arrival of a special-delivery breakthrough thought: “If I’m making my own birthday dinner, I’m choosing the menu too.”

Off I went to the store. For you gourmets, by all means be purists and use just-picked corn if you need to, but I cheated. After discovering a package of frozen corn in our freezer, it was less expensive to buy additional creamed corn then the number of fresh ears required. Generally when I make corn chowder I wing it. Wednesday’s creation arrived after tweeking this Epicurious suggestion--my edited and calorie-enhanced version resides below. Happily I grew up in the whole milk era, so although arguably richer, my results came pretty darn close to the way Mom used to serve it.

Warning: this is all about starch and fat, dairy and solace--to get a few additional food groups in I suggest you pair it with a salad. It was my birthday though; I served it with Baked Stuffed Clams (see below).

Happy Birthday Corn Chowder

• 1/2 pound (about 8 slices) bacon, coarsely chopped
• 1 6-ounce russet potato, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
• 1 cup chopped onion
• 3/4 cup chopped celery
• 2 small bay leaves
• 2 cups half and half
• 1 10-ounce package frozen corn kernels
• 2 14 3/4-ounce can creamed corn
• 1 14 3/4-ounce can low-salt chicken broth
• 1/2 cup chopped celery leaves
• 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Sauté bacon in heavy large pot over medium-high heat until crisp and brown. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons drippings from pot. Add potato, onion, celery, and bay leaves to pot. Sauté over medium-high heat until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add half and half, frozen corn kernels, creamed corn, and chicken broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer chowder until potato is tender, about 15 minutes. Add celery leaves, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne, and bacon. Simmer chowder uncovered until flavors blend, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Clams Casino*
* (My family doesn’t like whole clams, so I buy chopped clams and mix them with the veggies, flavored bread crumbs to taste, and a little olive oil before stuffing the reserved shells.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Week in Review (24)

Things to Note:

You think you are over it, but small insults poke at you along the way--for example, a more costly prescription deductible.

When you are nervous, a pad of paper can be a lifesaver.

Other than a few achy bones, nothing else requires changing.

If U R the parent of a teen, communication counts, even if it occurs via shorthand.

M & M’s melt in your mouth and are fun to play with too.

Friday, July 24, 2009

It must be the Weather

I received a tin of chocolates as a gift yesterday; today I could eat them all. In defense of my waistline I’ve hidden them in the cupboard. While secreting them away though, I discovered the opened package of M&M’s. Sigh.

On this rain driven morning, in a summer that isn’t, I assigned myself projects that demanded diligent effort. To that end, I visited my new best friend, Indeed.Com, a job aggregator on the Web, because even though the aspirations are to develop my own writing business, it’s going to be necessary to supplement that. Have I mentioned the pure ugliness that looking for employment via this method engenders? No matter what keyword you search, either a list of jobs for which you are not remotely qualified pops up, or the pickings are slim. We won’t even mention the fact that while I’ve applied for positions over these last months; in return I have received not one, nada, zero response. How to ensure a girl’s ego sinks below sea level. And yes, I still practice the art of networking, but the government, which currently pays me weekly, demands additional evidence that I am industriously looking. So, “Indeed” I must.

As for networking, I departed my two meetings this week with homework assignments--the first to uncover private and corporate foundations to which the not-for-profit I met with may solicit funds--more keyword research on the Internet. There’s a potential trade going on here; if I find the resources, they may train me to write the grants, experience I can parlay to market myself in the future. Hopeful that I had identified several foundations earlier in the week, this morning I developed a list of additional groups and began researching them. Not a single entity on today’s list of twenty, offers grants pertaining to the area in which this non-profit focuses—that meant about two hours down the drain. Worse, as I started reviewing the foundations I found earlier in the week, I’m not sure if they fit the bill either. Sigh number two. I moved on.

The next item on the agenda stems from the second networking meeting this week with a woman who may help me brand myself on-line. Today’s project entailed researching blogs that cover topics similar to Middle Passages. The goal is to begin to follow them, comment on them and hope that those bloggers will return the favor and visit my site, thereby generating more traffic. Here's an intimidating little fact. Did you know that there are over five million blogs on line? Some are written by phenomenal writers, far beyond my caliber, which makes me question my sanity in this endeavor. Writewrite is one of those. Others are trash, amplifying the fact that ANYONE can start a blog and convincing me today that I’m merely one of a vast and ignoble crowd. Sigh number three.

Along the same lines, I conducted additional research to review sites on Word Press to develop thoughts on better methods in which to enhance the look and usage of Middle Passages. Here are two that I liked: Story Corps, Delicious Days. Obviously, Middle Passages has a ways to go. There’s hope I suppose but for today--sigh number four.

Then, just as I finished a handful of M&M’s, a wind gust threw a branch at the sliding glass door--no harm done, but I’m not sure who hit the ceiling first, me or the cat. Sigh number five.

Good thing I know where the new chocolate is hidden.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Where R U?

One afternoon almost two years ago I returned from an all morning meeting to pick up several panicked messages from our then fourteen-year-old, calling from the school office to tell me she forgot her flute and band class met after lunch. That day, I chose to ignore the potential lesson learned from a missing instrument because the drive to retrieve it was short. Unable to contact her (cell phone usage is banned in school) I hopped into my Jeep and as I turned out of the parking lot, my cell issued forth a mysterious beep. Prior to that date, our family mobile communications occurred by voice, so when my phone chirped again, I pulled over, sure the battery was dying and my daughter was trying to reach me.

So much for the “no cell phone” rule at school. As I peered at the screen, my first text ever: “can u bring my flute” blinked up at me, although I had no idea how to respond. Later that day, after a “fluteful” band class, I suggested to Meghann that if she wanted me to return a text message, she had better train me how. She did, and in as much as my slow fingers let me I embrace the technology.

There is something rewarding about communicating via text with your teenage child. When a hug or a kiss or an “I love you” in front of friends has long faded from acceptance, this discrete connection allows children to converse with their elders while avoiding any of that touchy-feely, “Yuck, Mom” contact. Our daughter and her friends punch their touch pads constantly; who is to know if one of the million carpel-thumb inducing messages sent over the course of the day happens to be to a parent?

Texting enables our kids to communicate--without superfluous details, or wasted breath, or for that matter, extraneous letters of the alphabet—quick thoughts that jet stream through their minds and travel at light speed out their fingers--thoughts that prior to the text era may have been discarded. Gosh, imagine dialing a number, listening to a phone ring, waiting for another party to pick up and then holding a conversation. How prehistoric. I can guarantee to you that pre-texting, my daughter would never have contacted me from a bus ride to say, “how is yr birthday?” but yesterday she did and I’ll take it.

This summer my daughter transmits cryptic codes from that same bus at the end of her day-camp counselor-in-training program each afternoon, telling me that she is approaching the drop off spot so that I know when to leave the house. Convenience factors in as I text her asking: “where r u?” and she replies, “stuk in traffic.” She texts me when she finishes play practice “I’m redy,” or when plans change “We wont be dun til 3” or “I hav a ride home.” Sometimes her texts tell me who is aggravating her at the lunch table, and others are innocuous, such as “Mommy, I am bored.” Though I sigh at those, I’m secretly pleased that I’m the one she wants to tell.

That aside though, here is the real reason that I’m all over the texting band wagon. When children are young, parents are their universe; hugs, kisses, and expressions of love are welcome pieces of the daily repertoire. By middle school though, peer pressure wraps its Teflon shield around our little ones and demonstrations of devotion by parents are sloughed off. In my daughter’s case it was sixth grade when physical contact during school drop-off became roundly dismissed.

Now though, I’m back in the game because there is no one to know but Meghann when I punch into my cell phone, “hav fun I luv u.” Even better is what I get in return.

“Aw shucks”

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How Old am I Now?

It’s my birthday today and as I transition from the big 5-0, into my “fifties,” I’m actually feeling rather young, as if today is my first birthday of a new life, which indeed, it is. Yesterday, I sat in an over air-conditioned iceberg of a Starbucks for three hours, speaking with a woman of my generation who was “restructured” from the sister firm of my former employer. While this introduction was facilitated by our mutual outplacement group because we have skills that we may find compatible; what we immediately hold in common is eagerness and excitement to get on with our individual reinventions.

As I engaged in dialogue with this informed, intelligent, articulate and dynamic woman, we agreed how different we are from our mothers’ generation. At an age when our moms were winding down in their child raising careers and truly becoming old, not only do we still march in the thick of our kids’ development, we are also pursuing new ventures outside of our families. I am struck with a statement that my outplacement counselor has made on several occasions: “We’ve done what we are supposed to do; now it is time to do what we want to do.”

Believe me, being able to spend time reinventing myself is a luxury for which I am grateful, and it leads to a whole subject matter to explore here--how we tail-end Baby Boomers did what was expected of us. We followed the rules and knuckled under for the benefit of our families and our employer, whereas if the later Generation X-ers didn't like something in the the work force they said, "See you later, this isn't working for me.” Perhaps some of that self interest ricocheted off of that group though, because if you asked me today I’d say: “I performed well in my former role, but now it is time to create a career that I feel passionate about.”

I am not the only one. A woman I know whose position was eliminated at the same time as mine has several years on me but is actively looking for employment at an age she could consider retirement. She stands completely open to relocation and new beginnings. Another former peer, my age, revels in her part time retail position, while she investigates multiple opportunities. A former Vice President I spoke to at a recent networking gathering contemplates writing a book on a topic at another end of the spectrum from her former career. Several of us are developing plans to put skill sets to work in imaginative ways that we weren’t able to exploit previously. Many of us are volunteering; using the breadth of our talents to benefit both established organizations and individuals.

We come with the promise of energy and experience and critical thinking and knowledge, as well as high expectations as to what will occur next in our careers. I have a theory that in about five years, there will articles and studies focusing on my generation of women. These reports will celebrate how when this economic crisis kicked us in the shins we elbowed it back by hustling out there and fashioning new businesses, new Web sites, educating ourselves, mentoring others, engaging in new endeavors and generally rising above the occasion, in an ultimate benefit to us as individuals as well as to society.

So, there.

In the long run, this second toddler-hood will offer all sorts of gifts. Hope you don't mind, but I'm going to wish myself a happy first birthday and raise my glass to many more.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We Interrupt this Program...

Blog called today as a result of fascinating and productive meetings both yesterday and today that left me with a wealth of ideas and plenty of on-line research to conduct. Please accept water-logged hydrangeas for today, in place of prose that I hope isn't overly flowery.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Writing Down the Nerves

Sitting in a thirteen year old car with limited air conditioning, parked next to a chain link fence in an industrial center in Rhode Island an hour before a networking interview isn’t terrible as long as you find shade. An uncomfortable highway driver, I left early enough to ensure plenty of time for possible missteps during the 70 minute trip, bringing along a book to read if I did make it early.

My current educational literature is Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones which comes with short, compelling chapters. I hoped she’d calm my nerves while I waited to meet with the President of a not for profit mental health service provider who may have future project work for me. Thankfully, Natalie did relax me, although not as anticipated. Flipping though the pages, I wondered if I’d have enough focus to read, but it turns out it didn’t matter, because she directed me to sit there and write instead. I usually bring a steno pad with me wherever I go and I took it out after reading:

“Try writing under different circumstances and in different places. Try trains, buses, at kitchen tables, alone in the woods leaning against a tree, by a stream with your feet in the water, in the desert sitting on a rock, on the curb in front of your home, on a porch, a stoop, the back seat of a car, in the library, at the lunch counter, in an alley, at the unemployment office, at a bar in a wooden booth, at the airport, in Texas, Kansas, or Guatemala while drinking a Coke, smoking a cigarette, eating a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.”

Natalie didn’t include: “Write to calm your nerves before an employment interview,” but she could have, and I did. At her suggestion, I pulled out my pen, and in my mindset, the limbs poking through the fence twisted their leaves like worried hands in the hot breeze. I wrote about the laughing squeals of the children climbing the jungle gym in the playground at the daycare center at the back of the office, and how the building was covered in orange bricks with two rectangular windows that peered like eyes etched with brown liner. I described the freshly painted spaces and the smell of hot tar on the recently sealed lot, and the sound of a bird with a call that has been familiar to me since childhood but whose name I’ve never known.

Then I got down to it and wrote how the buzz of the high tension wires crossing above the asphalt could have been emanating from me. Taking measured breaths I wrote a reminder to myself that I have plenty to offer--at which point my eyes drifted to the seat beside me and I began to detail my three-ring zippered leather case holding plastic sheathed samples of newsletters I wrote in my old job, advertisements I facilitated, and my most recently published pieces. That portfolio is new, I finally pulled it together last week; evidence of my past accomplishments and who I hope to become together in one professional binder, and while I documented those contents, the hour galloped past. At five minutes before eleven, I swapped flip-flops for shoes, pulled on my linen blazer, walked through the building entrance, and up two flights of steps.

Thanks to Natalie Goldberg, those high tension wires outside were the only things left vibrating as I adjusted my shirt and smoothed my blazer, grasped the door handle and announced myself to the receptionist.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Week in Review (23)

Things to note:

Reading thirty-five resumes from applicants for an open Director’s position in our town’s senior center makes me realize how glad I am that I no longer read them for a living.

Some advice? If you ever feel possessed to write a seven page resume, take it from a former professional, now volunteer resume reviewer and don’t do it.

Even President Obama doesn’t need that many pages. Get to the point or the eyes of the volunteer who is reading it will glaze over before the end of page two.

Blueberry picking is one of my favorite summer activities.

Bread pudding is one of my favorite foods.

Combining the two approaches Heaven.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Soul Food

In a generation where clichés ruled the dinner table, my mother’s quote of choice, “Waste not, want not,” repeated with insistent regularity over the span of my childhood remained her fundamental proclamation. A conscientious and determined cook, she held a competition with herself to stretch each dinner into as many subsequent meals as gastronomically possible. Each night she reminded us of whatever third world country struggled with crop-shriveling drought at the time, while prompting us to scrape our plates in order to earn admittance into the “Clean Plate Club.”

In our house, the table was a crowded maple drop-leaf with long wooden benches holding three kids on each side, and spindle backed Windsor’s at the head and foot. Wedged in between my brothers and sisters I dug into big-family-on-small-budget food: creamy homemade corn chowders; thick minestrones made from leftover vegetables, the ground up remains of Sunday dinner presented as roast beef hash, and “Chicken a la King” reincarnated from a previous supper of baked breasts. My father, a hardworking breadwinner for his six children, made enough money, but just; and in my mother’s conventional role as homemaker she pinched pennies between paychecks by resurrecting the remnants from prior meals and fashioning them into presentable feasts designed to fill eight hungry mouths.

As with much of the food my mother served, when she did prepare dessert, it evolved as a second generation produced to avoid wasting food; banana bread from over-ripe bananas, apple sauce from the bruised leavings at the bottom of a bushel basket. The smells and tastes of most of these foods still rocket me back to the aromatic environs of my mother’s kitchen. And although I love them all and replicate them in my own home, one dish represents the zenith of comfort food to me, an offering that conveys clear testimony to my mother’s resourcefulness and thrift. A rich, uncomplicated confection that emerges from humble beginnings, to this day, my ultimate indulgence remains bread pudding.

Nowhere was my mother’s dedication to the practice of saving and reusing welcomed more than her habit of hording old scraps of bread. The heals of bread that her picky children refused to eat, broken pieces unfit for sandwiches, bread that for some reason lasted long enough to get stale, all made their way to a plastic bag in the freezer. And once that bag was stuffed full, Mom turned the contents into a blissfully moist, sweetly soothing cinnamon raisin or chocolate bread pudding.

On the days that we came home from school to find a bread pudding cooling in her chipped stoneware casserole, we invented excuses to remain in the kitchen, dancing around her on tiptoes and sneaking quick crumbs from the edge of the dish. The hours until supper stretched forever and once the meal finally arrived, we emptied our plates promptly regardless of what food sat in front of us--a requirement before dessert was permitted.

At last Mom plopped scoops of moist, spongy pudding into bowls. Pouring whole milk around the edges of the custard, we spooned unnecessary sugar on top wallowing in the sublime balance of taste and texture fashioned from unassuming ingredients of milk, sugar, eggs and bread.

When I grew up and moved to my own apartment, boxed macaroni and cheese became the fast meal of choice and bread pudding went out of my life for a time. I was the last child to leave the house and with only two mouths to feed, Mom no longer accumulated enough bread to warrant a pudding. Involved as I was with my own active life, I hardly realized I missed it.

Years later, newly married and in my own home, with from-scratch cooking skills that had improved substantially, I stumbled upon a recipe for chocolate bread pudding in a magazine. Immediately, and with no explanation to my bemused husband, I grabbed my purse, drove to the store and purchased unsweetened chocolate and eggs. Rushing home, I created my first bread pudding. My husband may not have understood the sense of urgency, but he uttered no complaints when he spooned into the final product.

I’ve been making variations of this nostalgic dish for my own family ever since, blueberry, apple, caramel bread puddings, and white chocolate with raspberry sauce. But the dessert I savor most is my edited version of that recipe I first encountered in the late 1980’s; a fusion of ingredients that plunks me right back onto those hard wooden benches, bequeathing a lingering aftertaste of the essence that flavored my life, back in the day when every meal counted.

Chocolate Bread Pudding

2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
1 ½ cups milk (for extra rich, use half and half)
1 cup sugar
4 slices homemade bread
2 eggs
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter

In a double boiler over simmering water, place the chocolate, 1 ½ cups milk (or half and half) and sugar, and stir until the chocolate is melted. Quarter the bread slices and place them on the bottom of a greased baking dish or small casserole in two layers. Beat the eggs until fluffy and add ½ cup milk, salt and vanilla. Add butter to the warm milk and chocolate mixture and let it melt. Then add the milk and egg mixture to the chocolate mixture, stirring constantly, and pour it over the bread in the baking dish. Let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes pushing down the bread to make sure it absorbs the chocolate. Place in 350 preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes.

When I was a child, we served the bread pudding with milk and sugar. These days I find a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream over warmed pudding works just fine.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


A rambling dream jumped me all over the place and at the end, landed me in Australia, visiting my sister, in the damp chill of mid-winter, which is what she is experiencing right now. In her location in the southeast corner of the country, winters are cold, rainy and relentless. She spends the season perched in front of the flames in a yawning river-stone fireplace, and given that they live with no central heating; her winters are probably harder to make it through than our harsh snowy ones. I take that on her word though, as wisely, I’ve only visited in her summer.

In my dream, it was a dank, grey day and we were at a crowded outdoor market, standing under a white expansive tent--the type people plant in their yards for summer parties--in front of a rectangular table filled with stylish wool jackets for sale at bargain prices. I picked up a pink-and-grey boucle with a soft Peter Pan collar, thinking it would be perfect for my “business casual” wardrobe because I could dress it up, or wear it with jeans. I pictured myself sitting with my back to the window in a swivel chair at the desk in my old office, wearing the warm jacket. And there, with a screech of the breaks, I woke up, thinking, “Right, I don’t work there anymore.”

Here is why this dream worried me. The first professional job I had--not including my brief stint as a “gofer” at my Dad’s law firm--lasted 2.5 years. I sat at the front desk in a busy employment agency, welcoming applicants, answering phones and typing offer letters, and for the first two years, loved the job, loved the people and learned about business. Then, as simple as it was, I outgrew it. It’s hard to leave when you care about your coworkers and are loyal to the firm, but finally I moved on, ready, but tearing up at my farewell party.

Then, after exiting that company, I dreamed about it for years. Long after my next job ended and I moved to my dearly-departed twenty-three year stint, sleep introduced scenarios at the corporate offices of that first employer, which had full glass views from forty-second floor of Boston’s John Hancock Tower. Well beyond the time I lost touch with most of those first fellow workers, I would wake up after dreaming of them. And, as I’ve mentioned above, that growth experience lasted a short few years.

I know it’s only been a couple of months and that I am still in processing mode, but last night’s fantasy sequence left me apprehensive. If it takes so long to stop dreaming about a job I had for two years, when will I stop dreaming about the experience that lasted over twenty?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

North River Reconnaissance

Ah, where to begin? With the doe and two fawns at the bottom of the rolling lawn of the yellow antique colonial, nibbling brush by the side of the river, who looked up at the sound of our motor and then trotted behind a mushrooming maple? Or maybe I should write about the freckled girl and two skinny boys, squealing as they ran through the green marsh grass over our heads before catapulting into the brown water below? How about the orange vested construction worker who stopped his drilling at the Union Street Bridge and saluted us as we drifted under him yesterday?

Then there were the two boys, one swimming far below the North River Bridge, the other high overhead, straddling the outside railing beside Route 3A, listening for the sound of his buddy’s voice above the whizzing traffic yelling, “Matt! All clear!” so he could fold his arms around his chest, bullet down the long reach then kick up sputtering in the current below. Maybe I should mention the three irons signs, planted in the woods at sharp cuts in the river that describe a long departed shipbuilding past? Or how, winding our way under the highway ourselves toward the sea, we arrived at “The Spit” where the river meets the ocean at an expanse of hard white sand exposed during low tide only; hosting a single hand-count of human occupants on a summer Tuesday afternoon.

Right. That’s it. That’s the topic.

Churning teal water undercutting a hard-packed beach sculpted in ripples, shaped by the tide’s retreat. A high-pressure blue sky dotted with lazy clouds shadowing distant hummocks of grass covered dunes. To the east, gulls pecking at the edge of the breaking sea then running on fast tiptoes as the waves roll to shore.

Anchoring the dory, we spread a beach towel out on the crusted sand, unpacked peanut butter sandwiches and lemonade and sat legs extended, while the sea terns peeped and dove overhead, water smacked the broadside of the bobbing dory; the heat of the sun stung our burning skin and a motorboat on the other side of a bend in the river droned long before we could see it.

If this is vacation, I’m all for it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Clean Sweep

Yesterday I was uneasy with the concept of vacation. Today the real glamour of time-off together revealed itself as, drum roll here, we shampooed rugs. Well, let’s say we planned on shampooing rugs before partaking in a vacation activity, but were out of carpet cleaner until my husband drove to every hardware store on the South Shore trying to find some. No fool, having beaten said rugs with a broom, vacuumed and then swept their leavings from the floor underneath; I took advantage of this respite by running to the computer to start a blog post. OK, you say, eyes rolling; she’s reached the dregs as far as blog topics go. But stick with me here because this has bigger connotations than floor coverings.

My husband and I will be married 25 years in September. If you count our dating life, we have already been together as a couple longer then we were single. Next year, at 26 years, we’ll tie the game. When we try to quantify all that time together, the details blur and in some ways, it seems like we have always been a unit. Most of the time we are together in things, but sometimes crabbiness or disagreement or impatience naturally sets in. One thing I know about Tim and me though, is that we always do well together on projects, even the forgettable ones.

In the course of 25 years, we have stripped, prepped, painted and or wallpapered--hmmm, let me count--yikes, 18 rooms in two houses. (We are on round two in our current abode.) On top of that, we planted gardens and trees at our old home and no kidding, we’ve transformed our current yard from a briar filled, weed covered, poison ivy infested plot that we inherited, to a casual, county ledge garden. Not including our daughter who is our greatest triumph but a topic unto herself, all around us we see the proof of what we’ve accomplished together. In all, I recall only one moment when we had to walk away from each other, and that was as a result of a nasty merging piece of wall paper, above a door, around a bulkhead on a non-straight wall after an entire day of hanging about twenty years ago. Even that finally got pasted.

As Tim patiently backed out of the driveway on his mission this morning, it occurred to me that sometime, you are so busy living the details; it’s hard to remember the big picture. Perhaps on a given day, that darn toothpaste tube that’s squished the wrong way drives you over the edge. When it does, it’s a good idea to step back from the sink, look at the paint on the bathroom walls and remember what you have pulled off together.

And since no good deed goes unrewarded, after we finished the carpets, here’s where we ate lunch.

"The Spit," North River, Scituate, MA

Monday, July 13, 2009

Blogger Rhythms

This is the first week my husband has had off since my life-altering experience in February, and our daughter started her summer counselor-in-training job this morning. How weird is this? The fifteen-year-old is the only one who went to work today.

She was home with me for the last three weeks so the schedule I’d developed for myself since February altered a bit. Instead of getting up and driving her to school and then plunking myself in front of the computer to write blog posts, I got up and, weather permitting, walked, then wrote in Middle Passages and/or completed whatever employment related task was at hand before catapulting her out of bed and off to her environmental volunteer program. When she was done, her social schedule permitting, we planned field trips.

Now she’s supervising six-year-olds at day camp for a month, and my husband is home taking one of the few weeks available out of a rigid schedule to seek the calm seas of relaxation. This will occur via sailing, sailing, sailing and, mixing things up a bit, by motoring in our dinghy.

So guess, what? After driving our girl to camp, completing a quick errand and returning home at 9:15 we went--you got it: sailing. We knew the wind dies mid-morning and that our chances for a successful outing were slim—so when, as expected, our sails hung limp, we shifted the plan to our twelve foot dory and a trip along the shoreline. As we plowed past bobbing lobster buoys and the multitude of sea birds pecking at low-tide seaweed on Hogs Head, East Shag and West Shag Rocks, the frigid spray in my face made me laugh, really it did--but when you are not working for pay, it seems necessary to prove your worth and vacation becomes a challenging concept. I welcomed this unstructured time with my husband but as we churned through the rollers, a nasty little inside voice asked me what I would write in the blog today, oh and by the way, when would I write it?

It’s my husband’s first week off this year and I promise you he’s earned it; so I attempted to lock the nagging worry below decks. That persistent little bugger had a spare key though and, grabbing my internal mooring line, conducted a tug of war between the joy of the moment and self-imposed obligations. Looking out toward the horizon, I mulled this contest over and recognized something.

When a twenty-three year routine gets torpedoed, it’s natural to seek a new one immediately. To that end, for four months or so, I sat at the computer early each morning, because that’s what I did when I went to work. During that “transition time,” if you will, familiarity of habit kept me afloat like a life preserver at sea. But, it appears, that new schedule was temporary; it changed three weeks ago, it is altering again this week, and next week it will fluctuate once more. Recognizing this, I reminded myself of my new favorite quote that I included on Saturday’s post: “Don’t be afraid to let life surprise you.” This shifting wind of routine is one of those surprises, I guess.

Ok then. I’m going with the flow and assuming Middle Passages will get done sometime today--because we’ve returned home, eaten lunch and now it’s time to try sailing again.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Week in Review (22)

Things to note:

July still means summer. Who knew?

The term “vacation” has a different meaning when you’ve been on an extended one. When your husband has a week off though, it’s time to celebrate.

Quote of the week: Don’t forget to let life surprise you.

Three names, one person. It’s all the same to me.

Trains, planes and automobiles…I’d rather take a boat.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer is Here!

OK. While I'm still working up the courage to contemplate a teenage driver's license in our near future, I'm pretty darn good about the boater's license. How cool is it to be chauffeured around the harbor by your daughter on the first 100%, no-clouds-in-the-sky sunny day that we've had since the beginning of June?

In the off chance I'm not being clear, the answer is "very."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What Schedule?

Ah, the old silver lining reared its lovely little head again yesterday and I'm happy to say that I'm starting to love that piece of cloth.

Given that we are a bunch of boat owners, our extended family has been excited about the Tall Ships exhibition that is scheduled for Boston this week. Living so close to the shore, my daughter and I have even driven a few reconnaissance missions to high points along the coast to see if we can spot any of the ships as they converge on Boston Harbor. While I can tell you that on the one sunny day we've had this week so far, we saw some tremendous views, we did not see any tall ships. That did nothing to mitigate the anticipation.

Our excitement was heightened by the fact that our nephew/cousin attends the Coast Guard Academy and happens to be stationed this summer on the Tall Ship, Eagle, which arrived in port to participate in the festivities. We live next door to another set of cousins and last minute yesterday afternoon, we received word that our Coast Guard cadet might have a few minutes to see us if we high-tailed it into the city.

Here is what is so fun about where we live. Once we confirmed his availability, we scrambled into cars and met 20 minutes away at the ferry. Hopping on board, we churned through the choppy waters of Massachusetts Bay, under Long Island Bridge past Castle Island, glimpsing several Tall Ships all decked out at their moorings and one actually under sail, before we docked at Long Wharf.

Then it was a quick run through a local hotel to the other side of the wharf to hop a smaller ferry over to the navel yard where the Eagle was docked.

So much for stop-and-go traffic or delayed subways or scheduled trains. Living where we do, the trip into the city brings almost as much joy as the reason for going. All that fun on the water, and, we met the Coast Guard Cadet at the other side.

Licking contentedly at our ice cream cones after our visit, my sister-in-law said to me, “See how much fun we can have now that you aren’t working on week days?”


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Something to Aspire to

Every once in a while, a flurry of activity occurs related to my future aspirations and suddenly it is midday and, eek! I haven’t given Middle Passages a thought. It was in my mind early this morning when, rather than sitting down at the computer, I skedaddled out the door so I could walk before—here’s something novel—the rain arrived, but my thought was less about words and more along the lines of a picture that I’ve been trying to take for most of the summer, but that I haven’t timed quite right.

On one of my routes, I walk down a sloping causeway that cuts between marshes on either side. To the east, the bogs flow toward Little Harbor and just beyond that, inching above the horizon; you can see a thumbnail of Sandy Beach and a blue line of sea. Off the road, in a broadening tidal pond, a single rowboat floats unattended. Tied to a mooring away from any house or any other vessel, this simple white ketch drifts alone in a pool surrounded by waving fingers of green sea grass. It is a picture of tranquility and I keep hoping that I will come upon it when the water is still; during a slack tide when the light reflects soft and golden. On more than one occasion, a few minutes prior to sunset, I’ve driven the mile or so to the spot, to see if I got it right. I’ve taken pictures too, but never the one that I see in my mind, where the water is mirror clear, the sun is low and the boat floats on top of its own image in the water. Today, as happens so often, the tide had receded, the boat was resting on the mud bottom, and the camera stayed in my pocket.

The promised rain arrived before I finished the walk, so I returned home to a networking phone call with a woman who is copywriter, and caught myself explaining to her about Middle Passages, and how it has been my “job” for the past five months. She asked me if I wrote on it “say, once a week” and I answered, “No, I post five days a week with a summary on Saturday, and take Sunday off. It’s my obligation to myself, and even when I can’t complete it, I try to at least download a picture to demonstrate my commitment to post.” I wasn’t planning on that statement, but out it came, and as it did, I thought of the little boat, and how once again I’d been skunked this morning.

After the phone call, I completed an online application for a part time communications position (to supplement freelance) and I'm ashamed to say how long that took me. It occurred to me that Middle Passages might get short changed today and gee, I wish I got that picture. But then I thought, perhaps not. What a lovely exercise, to try to describe something so beautiful to me. So that’s what you got. As a bonus, I’m including one of the photos I’ve taken, although keep in mind, it is nothing compared to what I hope for.

If I ever get what I want, I promise I’ll share.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Me, Myself and Still Me

At the advice of my outplacement counselor, I placed quotation marks around my name and Googled. The goal was to determine if Middle Passages comes up—at the moment this blog is the best ongoing advertisement of my writing skills. When I started writing here, it served as an immediate release from the emotions resulting from unexpected unemployment. At the time, discretion reigned and I used my first name only in my profile. Now, it's July; life continues to evolve and it’s time to market myself as a writer. To that end, I recently edited my Blogger profile to include my full name. Now when I Google, using my first name, my maiden name (which I use as my middle) and my last, my LinkedIn profile, an article in The Boston Globe Magazine, two articles in Adoptive Families Magazine and Middle Passages all pop up. Ta da.

When my April article appeared in the Boston Globe, it was the first time I advertised my writing with full force to my family. Before that time, for the most part, I kept my inner scribe behind the scenes and quiet, as if she were someone I didn’t trust enough to exploit. Then The Globe called and I figured that an article appearing in that publication gave me street cred, so I became more willing to share.

When my brother saw my byline, he assumed I used my maiden name as a tribute to my father, who’s been gone for five years but whose influence lives in each of us. Perhaps in some way my brother is right, but actually, I edited my name many years ago, after getting married, choosing my maiden name legally as my middle name. In my mind, when I promised myself to someone for the rest of my life, I did so under a different last name and I’m not about to leave that person behind--she lives in me and with me. In fact, she was the first one published, in high school art magazines and college newspapers; all those years ago she was the one who first expressed the desire to write. So she still gets credit. For as long as I have been creating and submitting pieces in a more professional capacity, my maiden name proceeds my married name in a byline.

However in my more recent “go to the office” persona, that maiden name was abbreviated to a middle initial, and this morning, curious, I Googled myself a second time—using my first and last names only. It’s intriguing to me that in addition to the accomplishments of a high school runner from Connecticut with the same name, I found a list of my former career credits--memberships to certain recruitment groups, a business award, and again, my LinkedIn profile. None of my published articles appeared. It is as if I have been two people, which indeed, is how I feel lately.

There was the professional recruitment manager, poised, experienced and sure. Then there was the Saturday morning writer, passionate, earnest, and sincere, but lacking the confidence that practice and exposure builds. Of late the two personalities are merging into one. Someday soon, I hope, Google will reveal an experienced, poised, passionate and sure business writer, with the street cred to fill your need. Finally, one blended person.

But she’ll still write under three names.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Banners Away

If you count the special that we watched on TV Saturday night, we saw three fireworks displays this weekend. Even though we didn’t attend the Boston event in person, there is something warm and happy about hearing rockets explode and bombs burst from a distance—we know somewhere there is a celebration and our sense of hearing includes us as participants

After a last minute decision Friday to chase down a display that landed us on a grassy stretch in front of a Mexican Restaurant in a parking lot beside Route 3A, and then watching the Boston festivities on Saturday post-cook-out TV, we craved shall I say, a more legitimate experience? So, last night, we drove to our annual viewing location at the edge of the harbor in the town next door, to view an Independence Day celebration that had been postponed due to the potential of bad weather. As the sun dropped down, we climbed up a rutted path, marched over a grassy field to a pebble strewn beach, where we unfolded canvas chairs, dosed ourselves with bug spray and hunkered in. While the darkness thickened, we listened as a breath of wind lifted the leaves of the trees behind us. Lines of tiny taillights flickered on the road across the harbor and blue flashing police boats scuttled like water bugs around the shadowed islands rising in the middle. With hoods pulled tight against the midges, we flinched as the first green chrysanthemum blossomed in the air.

When you sit by the water, sound echoes and reverberates. Each subsequent explosion thumped in our chests as reds and purples and whites rained and expanded, flashed, collided and disappeared into a haze of drifting smoke. A fountain of yellow sparks spewed from the ground, hatching pounding streamers, ovals and diamond sparklers reflecting then disintegrating in the water below. Each detonation carried heft and weight as it rumbled like thunder over us to crash against ledge then reverberate back to sea—yet in the midst of this concrete and seemingly touchable sound, we could hear an airplane droning its way to Logan and a startled seagull cark. Across the harbor a siren blared; our feet crunched on broken shells; the stones that the child in front of us threw plopped at the water's edge.

For just a moment, I absorbed these ordinary noises and stepped away from the present, searching for the phrase from our anthem: “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air...” What might it have felt like during the war of 1812 to sit in a distant ship listening to the rumble and crash as the British shelled Fort Henry in Baltimore?

I thought of the fireworks we watched electronically Saturday night, when shortly after witnessing a display on the TV; open windows introduced actual reverberations as they landed after the fifteen-mile trip. It’s hard to believe that pyrotechnics aren't always indicative of celebration. Thankfully, the night that Frances Scott Key observed his battle; the good guys withstood the bombardment. How would it feel to hear that same thumping that vibrated our windows and to know that instead of a party, it was evidence that an enemy was methodically approaching? How hard it is for me to imagine, yet for those who live other places, so sadly easy.

Pondering this thought, I returned to the present as a new timbre entered. Busy looking up, we failed to notice rising water that now threatened wet shoes as it lapped and burbled at our feet. Chairs adjusted out of range, I leaned back again and gazed at the fireworks, grateful that for the time being our only adversary was the tide, marking a more stealthy advance.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Week in Review

Things to note:

Last week I said: “Rain won’t stop you if you don’t let it.” This week my motto was: “If I wanted to live in Seattle, I’d move there.”

New England residents possess innate genes that require us to complain about the weather. But when I found out that our teenage visitors from last week teased that we live in Forks, WA (Twilight fans will get that one), it put the weather further into perspective.

If you think yourself witty while composing catchy names for a DBA (doing business as) rest assured, there are thousands of clever people who got there before you. And they are already in business.

Not much improves upon waking up to sunshine for the first time in two weeks--well, except for sipping fresh brewed coffee while you look out the window.

Fireworks inspire even when you watch them from a big-box parking lot at the side of a busy state highway.

Doing so though, makes you pine for previous years, sitting at a salt marsh in “World’s End” located on the tip of a peninsula and watching them explode over the harbor.

Reminder for next year: leave earlier.

Happy Fourth, everyone.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Reason to Celebrate

The sun is shining.

A week ago this morning that strange yellow orb appeared in the sky, but last Friday afternoon, clouds rolled in, it started to pour and it has been, at a minimum, overcast ever since. I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that it rained for at least the six successive days prior. “At least,” because in truth, clouds and rain have pressed down on us for so much of the last month, that I’ve lost count. It’s a sad state of affairs that in today’s post I’m compelled to discuss the weather, but I wouldn’t be a New Englander if I didn’t spend significant portions of my life complaining about it.

In our area, typical conversational topics include winters that are too cold, too snowy, or then again, not snowy enough--the springs we suffer through, soggy and rainy while we pine for sun. Even a long stretch of favorable weather elicits the gripe, “We need rain.” In that vein, I knew what I would get yesterday when I mentioned hopefully to a man in a red slicker power walking the beach parking lot, that it seemed like the sky was brightening. One side of his mouth went up in a grimace as he replied: “If we should live so long.”

We wait with inhaled breath for late spring and early summer when the air rolls in dry and warm before humidity descends and we start muttering that the temperatures are too hot. When we are lucky, another beautiful spell arrives in September when the nights are cool but the skies are blue and the sun still contains some heat. We feel fortunate when that stretch extends into October before the leaves fall, the wind picks up, and we are reduced to enjoying ourselves in front of a roaring fire. I know, I know, I learned this year that if I dress for it, the weather shouldn’t inhibit me, but that’s a concept to which I’m still assimilating.

In truth, I have always been a summer girl—stemming from the fact that I was shy and reserved in school and somehow, during that season at the lake where I was an expert swimmer, confidence, as well as a joyful exuberance coursed through my veins. My birthday occurs in the summer too, and what kid doesn’t celebrate the weeks leading up to that auspicious time? As I grew older though, I realized that most often a hot spell surrounds the day; over my lifetime there have been many sweaty, mid-nineties-approaching-one-hundred-degree celebrations.

In spite of that I still cherish July, but in 1993, my love of summer climbed a pinnacle to rest on the month of August. In that month, a beautiful girl was born to a loving birthmother who chose my husband and me to be her parents. Our daughter’s birthday occurred on a normal and therefore changeable day in New England. At our house, about three miles from the ocean the sun blazed down; my husband and I decided to go for a sail but when we arrived at the dock the harbor was blanketed with fog. We sat on the damp boat at the mooring, staring glumly at each other and then returned home to a blinking message that changed our lives.

I spent the rest of that August, as well as September and October home with our girl, and it was the first time I realized that August gifts us with pure delight. Occasionally, humidity reappears as a hurricane circles down south and the ocean churns and spews a harvest of seaweed. We wait to see if the storm will turn towards us, but it’s been a long time since one has. Mostly, the air dries out, the nights blow fresh; we breathe deep and pull out the blankets as we crack the windows to one inch.

During the day the sun shines hot, but there is an edge--reminders that summer is waning in the early sugar maples that bleed to orange, mornings that dawn brisk and bees that probe insistently as the flowers in the garden wind down. Morning fog drifts above the pond down the street while the colors around us soften to yellow and gold; visiting cousins to the bright teals and roses of June and July--more stunning as a result of their fleeting nature. We hold on tight and bathe in the remaining heat, embracing each moment because of evidence that is clear. Summer is reaching an end.

So though today I’m plenty frustrated that already we’ve missed the longest days of the season while sitting mired in clouds and fog; I’m OK. It’s all about August now; in front of us looms the promise of our eighth month and its blessing of favorable weather; in our mind, nature’s reflection of a birthday celebration that lasts the entire month long.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Spotty Coverage

My mother, who dressed in fine wools and natural cottons, wore an apron almost all the time. Me, well, given my propensity toward blue jeans and all, not so much. Several weeks back though, when I spoke to one of the coordinators for the “Friends of Elders” on the night before my first volunteer day, I asked her what I needed and she suggested an apron. Once I arrived, I understood why. We not only cook at home to provide for the senior “guests, ” but also set up tables and chairs, lay tablecloths, brew coffee, serve food, wash dishes, scrub counters, sweep floors, and then pack up all the dishware into plastic totes and lug them out to the cars. An apron is a logical preventative.

On that night though, before my first time, the need for an apron made me recognize the kind of cook I am. I have one apron that I particularly like, unrefined white cotton printed with a green leaf attached to a stem of purple grapes and wine appellations written across it: Beaujolais Villages, Chianti, Bordeaux, Lambrusco, Petite Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon. As I looked at it more closely however, there were other decorations adorning the cloth. Since an apron is more of a special-cooking-event accessory than one I use every day, I was pretty sure what I was looking at. Certainly, stains from successive Thanksgivings, gravy, flour, pecan pie and evidence of actual cabernet. Then there is bread. Flour tends to spread in ever widening concentric circles when I knead foccacia, and though it washes off the apron, there is always a gluey residue left behind--we won’t even discuss what ends up on the floor. Other stains account for when we've entertained, juices from a pork loin, a red sauce or Bolognese, reduced balsamic vinegar.

My cooking is like my apron—it starts with a basic pattern or recipe, then gets splashed with additional ingredients. The difference is that with occasional exceptions, my cooking stands up to public scrutiny, the apron surely could not. That night, I grabbed at the other two aprons in our closet, one green and Christmas themed with a laughing Santa, the other emblazoned with the name of our local basketball team. Though clean, they all spelled out my enthusiasm in the kitchen; I tend to be pretty fearless, and pour with out measuring. In other words, the aprons were covered with spots.

Hoping it would help, I pretreated old stains and tossed them all into the wash, getting up early to put them in the dryer, but years of kitchen residue remained imbedded in the fibers--each cover-all contained a comprehensive ingredient list. Hmm, what to do? Reaching back into the closet I discovered one more apron that I didn’t remember, belonging to our daughter--a take away from a field trip to an international cooking festival when she was in sixth grade. Emblazoned on the front are the words “Cooking up Culture” but to me it read "Cooking up Clean." All that mattered was that it was pristine--suitable to wear as I dolled out coffee to thirty seniors.

Aprons. Really, I tend not to think of them. They are so much a part of the wallpaper when I'm in the kitchen. But that first morning at the coffee cafe, the two women running the program had beautiful (read, clean and starched) aprons with ruffles and flowers and appliqués and I calculated that they either don’t use those particular aprons at home, or have remarkable laundry skills. Not me. Knowing that each of those apron wearers were skilled in the kitchen too, I thought about asking how they kept theirs so clean, but didn’t, slightly chagrined at the thought that maybe there’s some hidden ring-around-the-collar-secret that I’d missed out on years ago.

Then I decided to forget the laundry. It's only when eating that we feast with our eyes first, right? After twenty-five years of perfecting my skills, I’m proud of the triumphs displayed all over my aprons.

That said, I made sure to wrap myself in my daughter’s cover for every volunteer event, hanging it carefully in the closet upon my return and making sure that it stayed clean.