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Monday, November 30, 2009

Recipe for Adventure

In 2005, a few weeks prior to Thanksgiving, I went on a work sponsored trip to Japan, which is where the parent corporation was headquartered.

The journey was billed as an award, but to be candid, if you were at a certain level in the organization with enough longevity, your time would ultimately come. I wasn’t in a rush to travel so far away from my husband and daughter, but that year, when they reached into the hat, my name came out. So on the 20th anniversary of my start date, I boarded a plane with a few other folks and headed to the Far East.

In retrospect, it was a trip of a lifetime. We were treated like visiting heads of state, with a dedicated tour guide who escorted us to peaceful temples overlooking reflecting pools all over Kyoto, onto the bullet train that slipped by the cloud-topped vision of Mount Fuji, to Tokyo. The “work” of the week involved touring Tokyo’s fashionable shops with executives from America, meeting with Japanese counterparts to exchange knowledge, and standing in front of a crowd of local management to give a one minute speech (in the native tongue) thanking our host company for the visit. The last involved late night rehearsals and much panic, but what’s one minute in the scheme of things?

Other than during that required speech, there was enough English around to get by. So besides a mystery surrounding toilets which I will not go into here (except to add that the seats were heated!!), to me, one of the largest cultural differences we experienced surrounded food. As palate sophistication goes I lean, albeit slightly, toward the adventurous side, but this week vaulted me well over the top.

Over the course of the week, we ate sea urchin (slimy), jellyfish (crunchy), squid (call it calamari and I’m home) eel, and octopus. Mind you, most of it appeared in front of us, well, in its virgin state. One night we were relieved to walk to a restaurant that specialized in something called Ishiyaki, where food is grilled on a hot stone. When the squid tentacles on the hot grill began to wiggle, my table mate and I burst into a fit of hysterical giggles. Composing ourselves, we swallowed duck, tofu, chicken necks and seaweed.

Mid-week, we traveled to what was billed as a traditional country inn, and kimono clad women presented us with artfully designed platters of sashimi--tuna, sea breen, squid, salmon eggs and more octopus, before being rewarded with miso soup, cooked beef and chicken. Wheat gluten, soyba noodles with tempura, and cutlass fish enhanced our chopstick talents.

On our second to last day, we climbed into taxis at 4:00 a.m., heading for the renowned Tsukjii fish market, where vendors auctioned off fish that had been offloaded moments earlier. After watching men hacking warehouses full of just-caught fish with machetes, we wandered to a market-side café and ordered sushi for a pre-dawn breakfast. The highest quality fish in the world arrives at that location. Still I wasn’t surprised when the raw tuna I tried to force down at that early hour threatened to swim back up. That night, the menu included sukiyaki, Kobe beef sautéed in broth with veggies, finished with a dip in raw egg.

Though it was an adventure I’ll remember forever, when I arrived home after a sixteen hour plane flight, nothing tasted better than the plate of jarred spaghetti that my husband and daughter served. Nowadays, I'll eat sushi. But last night, peering at plastic wrapped plates inside the fridge, moaning about creative recipes to enhance four-day-old food, memories of my Japan trip trickled back. I didn’t write much about our travels. I saved memories by taking hundreds of pictures, and jotting notes about the food. And with my 5:00 a.m. breakfast of out-of-the water fresh tuna in mind, I decided I could embrace turkey one more night.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Darren McGavin has nothing on me

One of my favorite movies of all time is A Christmas Story, based on tales written by Jean Shepherd, staring Darren McGavin. You’ve probably seen it; it usually plays in a repetitive loop prior to Christmas. Based in 1940, it’s an ageless hoot. If you are a fan, like me, then you’ll be able to hear the family patriarch’s voice as he cavorts around the house yelling “It’s a major award! It’s a major award!”

That’s how I felt yesterday when the clever, funny and yes, scrappy Sarah over at Sarah with a Chance bestowed the Honest Scrap Award on me! Only Sarah’s award is a lot better than what Darren McGavin pried out of the hay-packed box he received (I won’t ruin it for those who don’t know the movie). The honor is more on par with Ralphie’s “Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle.” So a huge thank you to Sarah for putting me in such gifted company.

The rules of the award dictate that I tell you ten honest things about me…

1) My mother used to call me “Lizard.” I’m not sure whether that was a play on the spelling of my name, or because as a child I was so skinny I looked like one.

2) The second toes on each of my feet bend at 90 degree angles. I've always though that it’s possible they pulled little lizard me out that way.

3) My father used to say that I love my husband Tim because he looks like Tom Selleck. My husband’s grandmother used to say I love Tom Selleck because he looks like Tim. Hmm. Anyway, a million years after Magnum PI went off the air, I still catch my breath when I see that guy. (Which one? Guess.)

4) I was an English major but I can’t spell. Regular Middle Passages readers probably already know that.

5) If I allowed myself to watch TV during the day, I’d be a Food Network addict.

6) I love to cook. It provides an outlet through which to nurture those I love.

7) I love to eat what I cook. It provides an outlet through which to nurture me.

8) Though I have hosted 14 out of the last 15 Thanksgivings, this year was the first time I ever roasted a turkey.

9) I don’t sing in the shower. I sing in the garden—often phrases of Latin pieces I learned in our high school Acappella Choir. “Oh Magnum, mysterium…” Thankfully, our closest neighbor is never home.

10) By far, my proudest accomplishment in life is raising our beautiful, smart accomplished daughter, with whom we are blessed. No other word does justice to the feeling.

OK, so now I’m supposed to award the Honest Scrap award to 10 blogs that I think deserve recognition. Since Sarah already awarded two that I would have nominated (Through My Eyes, and Tales of Extraordinary Ordinariness) I won’t get to 10, but here are some lovely writers you should check out:

Sharon at Musings of a Mercurial Woman

M.Heart at Secret Notebooks – Wild Pages

Simon at Constant Revision

Therresa at The Chocolate Chip Waffle

Amy at AmyMusings

Thank you again Sarah! I'll try not to shoot my eye out.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Day After

We’ve shoved most of the furniture back in place, washed the kitchen floor, sorted the silverware and dispatched it back to the dining room. The china has been stacked and returned to the cupboard. Tablecloths churn in the washer.

It takes three days of prep and one morning of clean up for a meal that lasts an hour—with a bonus of time before and after with family. If anyone asks, yes, our small house can accommodate 30 for a sit down Thanksgiving, but the day after means big time recovery mode. After a turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry for lunch, I have discovered the couch. Exhaustion shrouds like a dull fog. The cat has settled herself purring on my shins. Rain buckets down and outside, pine trees droop with needles that hang like just washed hair. Droplets merge and blend on the window panes, creating clear Rorschach’s patterns I’m too tired to interpret. Water ricochets off the gutter to drum on the firewood stacked below.

The house is almost back in order; for the moment there is no need to move, so I’m thinking, for the rest of this day, I won’t.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Online Essence

My dad passed away on Thanksgiving six years ago. Late that night he sat in his arm chair with a glass of scotch and closed his eyes. Every year since, as I prepare pies, set tables and mash potatoes for my husband’s family, Dad is here with me. It’s a good thing. He spent his last day comparing and enjoying desserts at my sister’s house and went away from us happy and at peace. Since I started heavy-duty holiday prep today, he’s on my mind. I’m indulging myself and resurrecting this piece I wrote four years ago.

Two years after my father died, I find myself Googling him. A Boolean search with quotation marks in the right place allows me to eliminate the thousands of entries pertaining to an Australian car model with the same name, and hone in on my dad. As of this date, a record of a donation he made to the Friends of Harvard Celtic Studies pops up, as well as an acknowledgement of his status on the board of trustees at a local bank. Scrolling down, I discover legal articles of incorporation he filed as an attorney for a local restaurant chain--and two archived notices of his death.

Recently, a family friend died under tragic circumstances. The day after the funeral, I sat down in front of the computer again and Googled this man’s name. When I located a picture of him and forwarded it to others in my family, it struck me that among the many things that have changed with the advent of the Internet, the Web has altered how we process grief.

While Google has become a mainstay for those trying to track down old friends and classmates who still live, I’m finding it a comforting resource in which to stay connected those who do not. In my Dad’s case, an attorney whose law firm bore his name until several years ago, the footprints I locate on the Internet keep family history fresh, in spite of his passing.

Once my Dad retired, his law firm name was purchased by a larger group, after which a typical transition took place. For a few years, the merged business combined the names of both corporations. It was a mouthful for the receptionist but eased the transition for clients of my dad’s firm. Once a suitable time went by, Dad's office name was dropped entirely. So his name is off the masthead, and I find myself wondering whether his picture still hangs on the wall of the conference room named for him, an honor bestowed upon his retirement.

But while the physical evidence of his senior partnership may be a thing of the past; confirmations of my dad’s professional life are everywhere on the Internet, records of business he conducted personally, as well transcripts pertaining to partners and associates of the old law firm in which my dad’s name had center billing. Before this online age, when a firm changed hands, the stationary was replaced and those seeking the legal past had to travel to the Registry of Deeds or a county courthouse. Now old case law featuring my dad is available at the click of a mouse, easier to find and read and print.

Without the Internet, it would have unlikely for me to stumble upon a letter my Dad wrote to Time Magazine in 1938, taking issue with a sports article about an up and coming Boston hockey goalie. Post Internet, I typed in a few letters, and was elated to find unexpected proof of my sixteen-year-old Dad, a rabid sports fan.

These little surprises help me know my dad more, even though he’s no longer here to share the stories in person. Yes there is a grave to visit, and photo albums and keepsakes, but they offer the finite and unchanging “bricks and mortar” of my dad. At times that I feel particularly sad about his passing though, the computer offers consolation in confirmation of his everyday life--his essence called up by my fingertips, any time I need to see him.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Taking Flight

The autumn aviary migration is underway; Juncos and Starlings flit their way through our woods on their way to warmer climates. Yesterday, I was driving through the brown leaves that skittered down a two lane highway when a mass overflowing with birds exited a tree--flying low enough toward me that I gasped. Before I could twitch a muscle on the gas pedal, in one single shadow of wings and bodies, the flock arched themselves up, aiming toward the sky.

I am not a bird watcher. I am clueless as to the telepathy, aerodynamics and physics that induce countless birds to change direction at once, without crashing amid a flurry of drifting fluff. As they veered away though, I found myself positioned on a platform in our high school auditorium, hypnotized as Mr. Sullivan, the choral director, swooped his baton in an attempt to pull flawless harmony from our group of Glee Club singers.

A good choir leader performs with a fervor that mesmerizes his flock, encouraging and manipulating the purest sound through the direction of his stick. The birds reminded me of this--standing in front of a composer while he taps the stand in front of him, raising his arms before slashing them down, the signal to commence the piece in four-four time. Balancing on tiptoes, he stabs toward the sopranos, lifting his pointer to elevate their voices, prodding it at the tenors so they’ll open their mouths and build with unified sound. Holding out his palms, he shapes the song, coaxing the altos, quieting the basses, bequeathing a complexity to the melody by lifting it high, then chopping with his hand so all mouths close in synchronized suspension.

The orchestration of the birds, their seamless chemistry, makes me wonder if somewhere there’s a bird maestro. White haired and corpulent like Mr. Sullivan, maybe he teeters on the balls of his feet, beating time and pointing with his wand, guiding the enthralled flock over my car, under a bridge, around a tree, leading them to a telephone wire with the same finite precision a choral director utilizes to ensure voices blend--songs and wings soaring--then coming to rest--with plumage soft as silk on the weighted cable far below.

For just a second yesterday, as the birds climbed the wind above me, I was startled enough to think, “This must be what it is like to see music.”

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Just Keep Swimming...

Do any of you know Dory, from Finding Nemo? She's how I feel right now. Not in a bad way, but like there is a goal out there, and I'm going to figure out how to get to it, no matter how mixed up I seem.

To that end, there was no post yesterday, because, among other things, I was going back and forth with someone to finalize this:


Cross your fingers for me. If this works, I get to keep writing.

Today though, is dedicated to pie crusts (2 apple, a cherry and a pecan...maybe two of those) that I will make and chill, to roll out on Wednesday. Then there are about five table clothes to iron. Ugh.

Happy Saturday folks!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More "Scene Storming"

Pulling out the socks catapulted her to a damask Queen Anne chair situated in the corner of a pink room that smelled faintly of Rive Gauche and roses. Towering pines from the front yard brushed purple shadows onto smooth painted walls. In front of the window, her grandmother sat in the chair, gray curls bent low over a wooden darning egg. With knotted fingers, she fitted the tool into a wool argyle sock and began to mend a hole in the heel. On the drop leaf table behind Grandma rested a brown tinted picture of Grandpa, dressed in his Army Uniform from World War I, the only one she had ever seen in which he still had hair.

Returning to her own present, she pulled her heel-less socks from the drawer thinking, “How does one actually darn a sock? Who does that anymore? It’s another skill dying with the generations.” In her house, socks with holes landed in a wastebasket, but in Grandma’s day, wool was too dear to toss until heels became knobby from repeated repairs.

After Grandma passed, the egg resided in the lowest drawer of mother’s cherry highboy, beside her quilted sewing basket and the dented metal cookie tin filled to the top with odd buttons. That darning tool never left the drawer, its smooth maple wood a talisman, or a testament to memory, because mother didn’t use it.

As a child, it never seemed important to notice how clothes were mended; that sewing drawer spelled entertainment. She remembered fingering the soft grain of the molded egg when she reached inside the bureau, though her real target was the button tin. Digging her nails under the rim and wedging the top off, she’d dip in for a palm full and let the treasures run through her fingers. Laying them out on the floral carpet, she’d sort by color, by size, by beauty. Breaking a long thread off a spool, she’d feed the shiniest buttons on to the string, whirling the collection in circles before pulling the two ends away from each other tight. The string would bounce back and forth, the buttons continuing to spin until the momentum died. Knotting the ends together and looping it over her head produced an elegant princess necklace.

Her present button tin, sky blue with snow flakes painted on top, sits behind the glass doors of the spare bedroom curio. Originally it was a container for holiday nuts, but shaking it now gives a satisfying clank. Who knows where the darning egg went though.

Fingering the holes in the synthetic argyles she held in her hand, she balled them together and pressed them once again to the back corner of the drawer.

Anyone care to critique?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Catch

The sea smoke came back and finally, I got it. I did.

It’s the first cold day. Out the dark window this morning the thermometer registered 32; our breath bloomed white in front of us when we entered the garage. With the mild weather we’ve had lately, the pond down the street is warmer then the air. As we drove by it, mist materialized from water that reflected like a warped mirror; strands of vapor copied gray on its chalky surface.

Every autumn for years, my daughter and I have driven by similar scenes on our way to drop her off at school. Each time it’s a surprise. We catch a glimpse of rising steam beyond leafless trees and both exclaim “Oh look!” Invariably, I follow up with, “If only I had the camera…” before accelerating past the pond on the way to her school.

Before, when we would encounter this phenomenon, after depositing her, I had to continue six miles farther to work. This morning, she exited the car, and conscious of the of the rising sun’s potential to evaporate the mist, I raced home past rock walls to retrieve the Nikon.

There is something about this need in me, to capture the essence of a picture with words and on film. When not glued to the computer writing my brains out over the last nine months, I’ve been running around taking shot after shot, often of the same subject, trying to frame the moment, to define an instant; to catch a perfect execution—hoping somehow to freeze the emotion conjured by the scene and share it, so I’m not the only one.

I’m not a skilled photographer, the same way I’m not an expert writer, but I’m an eager one. It makes sense how each compel. With every piece I create, the first draft produces a snapshot, a sketching of the total scene. Follow up photos are like edits, clarifying and refining. How about if I crouch on my knees and shoot up through the trees? What will the print look like from the bend in the road, from behind a split rail fence, above the waving paint brush fronds of the leggy marshland grass?

I don’t own Photoshop or extensive photography software, though Picasa helps some, and editing my image is like revising a final draft. The story, the subject, the big picture if you will, rests there on the page; the details are clear. Now it needs cropping and highlighting, an air brush here or there, adjustment to the film grain, the tint.

There’s joy in each attempt, and awe at what I capture. But with every picture I take, as with every piece I write, the passage of time unveils what I might have focused on differently, pared away, angled for a unique effect—hints, reminders and sometimes full blown lessons that keep me whittling things down and refining, always toward the goal of exposing the most evocative view.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009


A wicker basket of laundry folded but not put away.

One hour walking (um, trespassing really) with a friend down a cracked private road that humps like a dinosaur’s back through craggy monoliths soaked from churning salt spray. Lately we’ve tempted ourselves to stroll farther, each time with fingers crossed that we aren’t escorted out in handcuffs. “Sign officer? What sign?”

A quick stop for a cup of coffee to go, lightened with cream, “shaken, not stirred” by the coffee shop clerk.

Homework. An hour online researching a foundation for a theoretical grant I’d be writing for a new senior center building in our town, if I actually had accountability for writing it. Bingo. Who knew I’d discover a generous philanthropic organization founded in memory of a woman who used to live about a mile from me?

Another hour studying the lesson above, and then an online quiz. (100% thank you very much. You gotta love open book tests.)

Forty-five minutes reading and commenting on the blogs I follow.

Approximately fifteen minutes analyzing how to set up tables for a sit down Thanksgiving for 28, 29 or 30 people (TBD), while allowing a path to the kitchen for me, and one to the restroom for everyone else. (Don’t worry, all guests contribute to the feast.)

A “to do” list beginning this weekend, of things to accomplish ahead of time to make T-Day run smoothly (nervous breakdown not included).

A scroll through a Word document called “I Can do This,” now over 200 pages long, containing drafts of every blog post I’ve written, as well as aborted passages never published, in hopes that it would jog an idea for today.

A visit to Dancing with the Gorilla, because “I Can do This” gave me nothing. (I’ve used that trick too many times before.) Choosing from Darnell’s list, I’ll try to“storm” something. It worked the last time I was stuck.

Oh dear, I’m distracted. Anyone care to supply me with their favorite, easy, delicious, and make ahead Thanksgiving recipe?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sea Battles

The night my now-husband slipped a diamond on my finger; he teased that if I rejected his proposal, he’d exchange the solitaire for a sailboat. Ecstatic, I listed to port, as if my hand bore the weight of a vessel instead of a ring. Having been with him for three years prior, I thought I knew what I was in for.

From the age of 10, Tim sailed a 12-foot Cape Dory during summers at the beach in New Jersey and by the time I came along, he was piloting his father’s sloop off the coast of the Massachusetts South Shore. Though I’d learned rudimentary sailing during my teenage days skippering a Sunfish on a quiet lake, a 25’ Cape Dory plowing through the rock-strewn coast offers a different dynamic.

Nevertheless, I stretched out on the vinyl cushions lining the cockpit or wrapped my legs around the rails at the bow, laughing as we churned through rolling waves and the frigid ocean spray. I manned the tiller when he raised the sails, but other than that, he was the captain. I was along for the company, and sorry to say, the tan, though a few years into our marriage, when he wanted to purchase that boat from his Dad, I agreed without a qualm.

Then we became parents.

Our daughter arrived in August, so sailing ended for me that year and over the next summer, with a busy toddler scooting around, treading anywhere near the craft was out of the question. By the time I stepped back on board life was about safety and balance. The boat removed all of that.

Each time we pushed off without our daughter, the magnet of parenthood yanked at me. Knowing we had a child on land, I couldn’t shake off my conviction that regardless of my husband’s skill, at sea nature is in charge. Winds rise suddenly, tipping the boat, or shift unexpectedly forcing sail-flinging jibes. Sometimes they die, leaving you drifting at the mouth of the harbor where jagged rocks gnash like monster teeth. My responsibility as a mother amplified these perceived terrors ten-fold. So, while Tim continued to experience unremitting joy as we heeled at steep angles, my knuckles tightened. Gripping the gunwales, I locked my teeth and tried to act ask if my insides weren’t quivering jam.

To make matters worse, when our daughter was old enough, we strapped her into a life jacket tied to a safety line, but seasickness claimed her first journey. The illness was never repeated but as she grew, boredom factored in. As soon as she could speak her mind, I became the sheet line in the tug of war between my spouse’s compulsion to skim across the sea and our daughter who wanted to do nothing less. My escalating panic influenced me to partner with her, so my husband spent many of our summer weekends sailing all alone.

Shamefully, I simmered with resentment at this lack of time with him until a compromise arrived in the form of a twelve-foot dory with a fifteen-horse motor that he bought for a steal. Something about this pretty vessel spoke to all of us. No longer at the mercy of the wind, after church on Sunday mornings, we grabbed bagels and all hopped on for breakfast on the breakwater jutting into our harbor, or we cast off for a water-front tour before Tim went out for a sail. At 11, our daughter earned her boater’s license and became skipper. As a result of these happy family outings, after every few trips on the dinghy, I’d convince myself to take one on the sloop, and thankfully some of the peace that I used to encounter on the sailboat descended once again.

Now a teen, our daughter has a social life and Tim persuades me to join him on the sailboat more often. Although I’m still shaky, he keeps us on an even keel and over the last few summers I’ve even dangled my feet over the bow. There I welcome the salt spray, inhale the sea breeze and embrace the hesitant calmness I’ve rediscovered, along with an unexpected bonus. A six-foot cockpit in the middle of the ocean allows enormous opportunity for one-on-one conversation.

These days, when we come in from sailing together, I take a look at my ring-clad left hand, knowing that now that it supports the weight of the boat, we've both emerged victorious.

Friday, November 13, 2009


(Happy Birthday, CCT!)

Recently, I excused myself from the computer to pick up my daughter from school while mentally lingering at the Windsor chair in front of the keyboard. Backing out of the driveway, I drove down the street, turned right and stopped at a red light. Advancing on green I continued, over the ridge, past yellow “school zone” signs and the gentle rise leading up to the long brick high school--where apparently, my daughter stood, her mouth forming a wide O, as I zipped by.

By the time I arrived at a stop sign about a half mile down the road, I grasped that I had sailed past the school without noticing, and turned myself around. Crossing my fingers that my daughter hadn’t seen me, one look at a teenage smirk accompanied by her wrinkled brow clued me in that I was bagged. “Mom,” she said, “you didn’t just drive by, you sped by!” We howled until tears flowed at what she called my “senior moment,” but what I know was something else.

That was bad, but today was almost worse. My walking buddy and I finished our jaunt, after which we planned to meet up for coffee. She took the lead in her car, and I bumped along behind in my jeep, past granite walls and blond grass waving in unmowed fields, over a causeway ribboning through high tide marshes, until she disappeared. Though, of course, she didn’t. I had once again drifted away from my car while contemplating a piece I am struggling to write and failed to observe that she had moved far ahead.

This unnerved me. My rational mind knew she had accelerated out of sight, yet because I had stepped away from consciousness, if you will; when I came to, it was as if she had vaporized--a rabbit lost in a magician’s hat. After an anxious moment in which I contemplated whether she had driven into the marsh, I caught up to her. When I owned up to my lapse in concentration, she asked “Didn’t you see the two trucks that cut between us before the construction zone?” “Hmm…Let me think. Trucks?”

Since I began spending a significant portion of my day writing, these mental hiccups are on the increase. In the shower the other day, when the words ricocheted like the spray against fiberglass walls, and I conditioned my hair before washing, I wondered if all writers travel without going anywhere.

Do people who are, say, a tad more rational, accountants and lawyers, doctors and the like, stay rooted in cement blocks of the here and now while writers climb into cerebral hot air balloons to rise on capricious winds of imagination?

Is this just me, or do all writers drive by their daughters while immersed in words and phrases? Do the especially good ones crash their cars along the way? Don't get me wrong. I love being engaged in this regard, but it has me wondering if additional auto insurance may be necessary.

Um, you will be kind and let me know if instead, I need to investigate Alzheimer’s units, right?

Are you able to disconnect your writing brain and return to bricks and mortar reality, or do you sometimes float, like me?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What if?

“Damn it, where is it!” she cursed softly, reaching into the bulging leather of her designer Coach knock-off.

Probing the bottom, her fingers wrapped around a dried up tube of Lancôme Champaign pink, and a wrinkled grocery receipt dated October, 2007. Boneless chicken was on sale that day.

Crumbling the sales slip and tossing aside the lipstick, she reached into the bag again. “It’s gotta be in here,” she muttered, feeling for her wallet in a side pocket. Rifling through, she found seven dollars, a quarter, exactly thirteen pennies and a dry cleaner receipt—“Oh, that’s where my linen blouse is. Who cares? I’ll buy ten new blouses. Come on, come on,” she moaned, opening an inside pocket. Pursing her lips, the old Girl Scout phrase: “Be prepared” drifted through her mind. “Well I sure am,” she thought, as she placed the unused plastic contact lens case on the counter beside her old eyeglasses. Pushing her current half-rimmed frames up on her nose, she smirked at herself, “Good thing. You never know after all, when you might be ‘blindsided’—ha, ha.”

Purse pocket number two revealed her cell phone, mercifully turned off, two chap sticks, a pay stub, hand disinfectant and a small bottle of aspirin.

Digging through another interior pocket, she yanked out a hairbrush, eyeliner—burnt umber—ugh—hadn’t used that color in years—and her pocket calendar. Leafing through the calendar, she noted the bold red print on today’s date. “Check lottery ticket.”

“Got that right anyway. Oh why do these purses have so many pockets?” Reaching into a zippered compartment, she emptied out a mirror, a stale pack of Juicy Fruit, two crumpled tissues and a scrap of paper with a color code for a paint intended for the dining room scribbled on it.

Turning the purse over and shaking it, she winced as a compact umbrella landed next to the rest of her bounty. An additional thirty-seven cents plus an unwrapped breath mint rolled to the edge of the counter where the lottery clerk leaned. “I know it is here. I know it is. I had it just before I came in.”

“That’s fine lady, but it’s not going to do you any good, if I can’t see it.”

Burrowing to the bottom of the purse, she plucked at the lining, pulling it inside out. “It was here, I saw it. I compared the numbers with the newspaper. I know I have it.”

The clerk raised one eyebrow.

Sweat beaded under her arms as she pawed through the pile on the counter. “This cannot be happening to me. I’m not crazy. I took the ticket out this morning. I signed the back. I sent the kids off to school. I put on my jacket. I drove down here. Where could it have gone in the meantime?”

“Maybe right there?” the clerk responded, pointing to a folded corner of paper sticking out of the breast pocket of her navy windbreaker.

“YES!” She cried, grabbing at her coat. There it was—the lottery ticket containing the numbers 5, 7, 8, 15, 22, and 28—representing the combined birthdays of her children. Grinning, she held it up next to the sign indicating the matching numbers of the previous day’s Mega Million lottery:

Pay out $2,456,327.00.

“I knew I wasn’t crazy!”

“No, you’re not crazy,” the clerk said unfolding the ticket. “But you are calendar-challenged. This ticket is for last week’s game.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Time is Not on My Side

It's early, I know it is. But we took our enthusiastic high school junior on a drive-through at two universities one state away today. As I was showering this morning I had an out of body experience. This can't be me. How is it possible that a short year from now we will be doing this in earnest? It's Veteran's Day. I am so grateful for all of the heros past and present who have assured us of our freedoms, our country, our culture. I pray for them all.

Today though, there was an additional offering of thanks going up. Our lives have been so blessed.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nothing Ventured...

"We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same." Carlos Castaneda

For the first time since the dark ages, I am taking a course--online--but an honest to gosh, you have to register and pay for it class, and it starts tomorrow. The topic is necessary in order for me to push myself forward. It’s called “A-Z Grant Writing,” and the subject matter will layer as a part of the larger package wrapped around my freelance writing business. The more you can do, they more they can pay you to do, right?

Other then the knowledge it will offer in the short term, signing up for this course produced baby steps in another direction. The thought of taking writing classes has always hovered over me, like a helium balloon with a string just out of reach. The thought of standing on a ladder and catching that thing fascinated but frightened me.

Why the nerves? Well, other then training seminars, the last time I was in school there were no such things as email, the Internet or laptops. Online courses existed in science fiction, a story line for the first Star Trek series. I feel so ancient that I envision myself walking up to my cubby tomorrow and trying to sit properly without bouncing up my hoop skirt.

But, thanks to Middle Passages, I’m ready. Once this class is complete, there will be an intriguing “Writing for the Web” and then, fingers crossed, maybe I can earn enough freelancing to move on to something even more compelling. Say, a fiction writing course?

Here’s the luck of Liza though. The online professor releases lectures on every Wednesday and every Friday. Tomorrow as I mentioned, is the first lesson. I’m nervous, but anxious to get on with it, and wouldn’t you know? Wednesday is a holiday. Both my husband and my daughter will be off.

The first day back to school might have to be a sick day. If there’s no blog post tomorrow or Thursday, you’ll know why.

What goal did you achieve recently that you found difficult to begin?

Fiction Follies

Last week, I stepped out of my comfort zone and decided to enter a short story contest at Tales of Extraordinary Ordinariness.

The timing was perfect. I read Suzy's blog that morning, and with no idea what to write that day myself, decided to go for it. Suzy offered a first line and a last line; the rules were to fill in what happened in between. As I mentioned then, if I completed a story, I'd consider posting it here. My disclaimer? I've never done this before...written fiction that is, unless you count junior high and high school. So don't judge me too harshly. It's all about improving, and I used the contest as an exercise in "voice," to see if I could write the way an eight or nine-year-old girl from the 1960's would speak.

May I offer a huge thank you to Suzy because, no matter what the result, it was a blast! With no further ado, here you go:

Uncle George was crazy as a shit house rat. Gramps said he got that way from the service, but to tell the truth, we couldn’t remember him any different. Sometimes he smelled funny and for a while, he came dressed in a costume almost every time. A joker’s hat, a frog’s head; for the last one he came as a giant crab with his arms hidden inside blue poster boards cut like claws and stapled together. Guess he wasn’t cooked yet.

That day, Linnie and me ran to the door before he saw us and there he was balancing on his good leg trying to kick the doorbell with his gimpy foot. “My saviors!” he hollered, as we yanked at the door. It was swollen; in the damp air it always was. It took the two of us jerking it together to open it wide enough for him to slide through. Then he chased us squealing to the kitchen, waving his pinchers.

That time Ma sounded kind of mad. “Can’t you ever arrive dressed like a normal person?” “Naaa. What fun would that be? Where’s Harry?” he responded, strolling over the worn linoleum to the fridge, then glancing down to his crab arms and laughing. Slipping his hands from the claws, he handed them to us. “Have at it you two, but don’t break them. I’ll need them when I see Georgie” he said, reaching into the top shelf for a Budweiser.

Georgie? Linnie and me froze. Even Ma’s eyes bugged out on that one. Georgie was short for Georgiana, Uncle George’s daughter who he hadn’t seen in almost two years. Before the costumes started, as long as we could remember, Uncle George, Aunt Metta and Georgie showed up for all the holidays and birthdays and a lot of weekends in-between. Most times, Linnie, Georgie and me scampered to the attic for the dress-up trunk and dragged it to the yard. The splintered planks of a wooden dock Dad stored in the high grass by the fence made a cool stage. Dad used to joke that what we lacked in talent we made up for in noise, but we weren’t always the noisy ones.

The last time they all visited together, Aunt Metta screamed at Uncle George. We heard him yammering in the kitchen as usual, but then there was this gigantic crash and we could hear Aunt Metta saying: “Sylvia, I’m so sorry!” and then louder, “George! Can’t you ever just stop?” Next thing we knew, Aunt Metta skedaddled out the door like that roadrunner on Saturday cartoons hollering “Georgiana, let’s go. We’re leaving right now!” She grabbed Georgie under the armpit and yanked her up, not even letting go when Georgie screeched, “Ow Ma! That hurts.”

Behind them, Uncle George tilted back a beer can with one big gulp before throwing it in the grass and limping to the car. Aunt Metta yelled: “I’m driving!” before doors slammed and they peeled out of our driveway. That night in bed, Linnie and me discussed things and we’re pretty sure Aunt Metta was crying.

After that, they didn’t come back. One night when Ma was tucking us into our pineapple-post beds under the slant roof up in the eves, she told us that Uncle George didn’t live with Aunt Metta and Georgie anymore and that was it. They didn’t show up for Linnie’s and my eighth birthday, or Georgie’s ninth, at Christmas, or even the Fourth of July picnic at Nannie’s and Gramps.’ That stunk, because Linnie and me got stuck with Orin, our second cousin on the Jarvis side and he’s only six. Sometimes Ma helped us send Georgie letters, but that’s not the same.

About a year after that fuss, the doorbell rang on Halloween, and Uncle George stepped inside wearing a fireman’s outfit with a plastic hose he squirted at Linnie and me. On Thanksgiving he sat down to dinner with a cooked turkey hat that had drumsticks for ears. On Valentine’s he got out of the car holding a bow and arrow and Ma said: “Put that right back George.” For Easter, it was a whole bunny outfit and after a while, it didn’t need to be a holiday. When we knew he was coming, we waited giggling, to see what he would wear. You probably won’t believe me, but one time he dressed like a bumble bee.

So anyway, it was big news to hear that Uncle George was going to see Georgie, let me tell you. Mom looked at him in that way she has, the one where her eyebrow jackknifes up, and you know she figured out you snuck two ginger cookies from the tin she packed for the veteran’s shelter.

Looking at the beer in his hand he whispered “Son of a gun!” and turned back to the refrigerator. Opening the door, he placed the can on the top shelf and pulled a pop from below. Cracking the top, he took a swallow and said, “I’ve been dry for thirteen months. AA five nights a week. I’m going to kick it this time Syl. I’ve been talking to Metta and tomorrow, I’m driving to Tennessee. I have a sponsor there, and Metta’s dad has an opening driving a forklift. That means,” he said, swooping down on me and Linnie, “I have one afternoon left to spend with my girlfriends.” Wrapping one arm around Linnie and one around me, he dragged us toward the door before turning to face Mom, waggling his eyebrows up and down. “Wanna come?”

“You betcha,” grinned Ma, tugging at the knot and yanking off her apron. She shouted upstairs to Dad: “Field Trip!” Grabbing the bread from the counter and reaching for the baloney from the fridge, she called to me “Mellie, get the cooler from the porch!” and started slathering mayo. It was Labor Day weekend. We packed up and went to Far Rockaway beach for one last ride on the coaster.

I would be delighted to receive constructive criticism. Please let me know what I could have done better? Your comments would be so very welcome.

Friday, November 6, 2009

All Dressed up and Someplace to Go

Once in my previous position, I interviewed a woman who wore a stunning ivory lace blouse that flowed to her knees and wide silk pants that swayed from side to side above stiletto heels. She looked lovely, but in my hiring role, I had to determine not only if she had the skills for the job, but also if she demonstrated the appropriate professionalism.

The outfit was gorgeous, but in that it wasn’t a suit, was it suitable? Gee wiz, you weren’t going to be able to tell by me. I am what they call, ah, fashion impaired. My employer was an apparel retailer, and pinstripe-suit-rules were often broken, but this time I was at a loss, though, not all together dumb. Before the end of our meeting, I manufactured an excuse to step out of the office, snagged a woman who had clothing sense, and requested she watch my applicant exit to give me a clue as to whether the outfit was fitting. The candidate got two thumbs up, but beyond mainstream wardrobe professionalism, my knowledge in this regard never improved.

So imagine this. My husband and I have a wedding to go to tomorrow evening. I don't know the bride (my husband’s coworker), the groom, or anyone else going to this event. My standard, “What are you wearing to the wedding?” question dissipated into thin air because there’s no one to ask. Oh and just try suggesting to a man that he ask his female coworkers what they are wearing and see how far you get.

Since we were casual at work for a few years before my job disappeared, nothing left in the closet is wedding suitable. On top of that gravity is starting to exert its pull and I’m not keen on spending money these days for something that’s not comfortable or that I can’t wear, again and again. What’s a walking fashion faux pas like me to do, you ask? Well, turn to the clearance racks, of course, and not just any clearance racks, the discount store clearance racks.

Here’s the good news. Our current economic climate has resulted in deep markdowns. Here’s the bad news. There is still a rule about six items or less allowed in the dressing room. Will someone explain to me why six is the Holy Grail number, not seven, or nine, or seventeen? This, my friends, was an all out search. I had two hours and wasn’t leaving the store without something to wear, and that meant I needed a whole lot more than six items in the dressing room at one time. In fact, perhaps more than one dressing room would have come in handy too.

But noooo, the twenty-something dressing room Nazi took one look at my arms full of clothes and simpered, “My, what a lot of good choices you have here." Counting out a measly six, she added: "I’ll put this group over to the side for when you are ready,” grabbing a pile about the size of say, Mount Everest. Six items later I shuffled back to her in my stocking feet and traded six rejects for six more. Six items after that, I wandered out for four more and she giggled at me. Seriously.

It seemed like a lot of effort for one black tunic I can wear with my dressy black pants, some costume jewelry to jazz it all up and my high heels that I will long to kick off half way though the evening. My daughter looked at me horrified when I said, “I chose this one, because without the jewelry, I can wear it to funerals too.”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

On the Line

About a hundred years ago I read a description that the air before a snow smells like wet wash on the line. I’ve had an electric clothes drier for all of my adult life but the aroma of laundry flapping in the fresh air floats on memory. For most of my youth, my mom hung our laundry; when we were old enough for chores, we did too. In the winter, our basement clotheslines dipped with the weight, the air steamed with the funk, of wet apparel warming next to the furnace. Summer however, was another story.

In the middle of our suburban yard, a submerged steel pipe yawned from where it was planted, deep in the ground. Laundry day meant trucking around to the garage to drag out a rotating clothesline that raised and lowered like the bones of a picnic umbrella minus its membrane of cloth. Lugging it on our shoulders to the back, we’d slide our feet across wet grass, feeling for the mouth of the buried pipe, into which we’d poke the stem of the rack. Cranking the handle raised four metal arms that reached out like helicopter blades, draped limb to limb with rubber-coated rope. Somewhere, there was a bag of wooden clothespins too.

Stumbling down steep basement steps to the washer, we’d toss clean sheets, towels and clothing into a woven basket, heaving the load out to hang. On a windy day, corners pulled from our hands and sheets hauled up like sails, slapping us with the floral scent of laundry detergent and the musk of wet cotton. I’m sure that people still use these contraptions; my sister who lives Australia hangs her laundry almost all the time. In our world though, convenience as well as ordinances dictating exterior appearances, have relegated these clotheslines to primordial history. Our daughter has never seen such a devise.

Today, the weatherman is threatening bits of snow for late evening; the yard is folded in stillness and gray. On her way to school this morning our girl stepped out of the door and announced, “Smells like snow.” Following her down the steps, I took a long breath and wafted back--to the creak of the wicker laundry basket, the hot sun burning my hair, towels cracking like whips as we shook them out, the clammy embrace of washed cotton, wrapping itself around me.

The temperature needs to drop several degrees to make it happen, but yep, it smells like snow.

What smells transport you to the past?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


The glowing dashboard light read 9:05 as I sat, blinking my eyes and yawning outside my daughter’s dance studio last night. A car pulled up beside me and a woman who still works at my former employer gave me a wave. Rolling down my window I asked: “How are you doing?” and when she responded, “OK. I just got out of work,” I laughed—then covered my mouth and apologized, and then giggled some more.

How do I explain my reaction? My amusement was not directed at her—I’m don't choose to be petty, and the tired circles under her eyes offered clear testament to her challenge. The hilarity, I think, stemmed from a wind of relief, a lightness, a giddy acknowledgement of how far I’ve traveled while moving away from former habits.

The company has had some good news lately, and after 23 years, it would be dishonest of me not to say that in some minute regard, I miss being a part of it. But then, I wouldn’t be a part of this, the reaching down to the core of me, the digging down to my entrails to find a gem of clarity, a truth as it resides in me, germinating, building, seeking exit through my fingers.

There are hard days in this new life, as there were in the old—days when words don’t come and I question my skill, the house is cold and the silence screams in my ears. These times though, are tempered by the fact that I am working as hard as I know how at something I can no longer live without—the difference between doing something I thought I had to do, verses something I must—which makes it far easier to bear.

Everyone has down days. What makes yours easier to bear?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Full Moon Fantasy

At 6:08 this morning, this was the view outside of our bedroom, and no folks, that is not the sun.

Today I’m working on something new for me. It’s a short story contest from Suzy at Tales of Extraordinary Ordinariness, and I hope you all don’t mind, but I’m going to work on an entry for that instead of a normal blog post. My goal in all this blogging is to expand my writing skills and this is one more way to do so. To tell the truth, up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know if I had an ounce of fiction in me, but my apple farm vignette last week convinced me that it'll be fun to give it a try. Suzy has jump started me with a first and final line.

I may include the completed product here…but if not, you’ll likely find it if you click on Suzy’s link this coming Monday.

Thanks for your patience with me.

Monday, November 2, 2009


I’m cheating today, and offering you a link to an article I wish I could have written--I’m glad Beverly Beckham (Boston Globe, Sunday, November 1) did.

As a bonus, here’s a picture. We are delinquent. We should have pulled down the hummingbird feeder and stored it away a month ago; those pinball levitators have long flown south. Instead the feeder faded to invisible--an item at the bottom of the to-do list as we pack away summer and rake up fall. Last week, sitting in my corner, posting to Middle Passages, I glanced out the window and noticed the empty globe still hanging. Then I spotted our neighbor’s display--a burst of crimson, a stream of yellow--in contrast to the tired browns and grays waiting to be cut down from my drab garden. A feeder and two trees, bookending the debris of autumn, while flaunting themselves in matching hues.

The scene presented one of life's many reminders to to seize the moment, or in this case, to grab the camera.

Today, the leaves are gone.