Home   |   LCS Prints Store   |   About Me   |   FAQ   

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Short Step up the Soap Box

We held a volunteer appreciation luncheon yesterday.  Since I work for a not-for-profit, the budget is about as tight as a pair of pantyhose two sizes too small, so the value of the folks who give of their time to the elders in town cannot be overstated.  At the lunch the Director commented on how volunteers not only help others, but how through volunteering they develop their own friendships. 
After she said that, I looked around the table where I was sitting.  Three years ago, a few weeks after I’d received my pink slip from my 23-year employer and started volunteering for Elder Affairs, I knew none of the people I sat with yesterday.  Now, not only do I know all of them, but probably 75% of the rest of the 100 folks being honored in the room.  And, I am not exaggerating when I say, they are all nice.

Of course the bonus for me is that although I still volunteer for the organization, I have also been hired in the traditional sense.  But regardless of whether I am being financially reimbursed for the work I do or not, when I am there, I interact with a wealth of upbeat people who think nothing of giving of their time with kindness and empathy and grace.  Because of this, I never leave work grumpy.  And I’ll be honest.   My last professional job?  Yea, you know the one where I made big money?  Well those days were made up of a lot of grumpy.  

I suppose I’ve climbed on a proverbial soap box here, so I’ll say my piece quickly and sit down.  When I was working 8:30 to whenever, sure, I volunteered a little.  I baked cookies, I chaperoned field trips, I did a few things for church.  But mostly my days were filled with the grind of getting everything else done. I considered myself way too busy to step out of my comfort zone to regularly help others.  It took a big old layoff to realize how much more worthwhile I could make my time.

It's just this.  I’m guessing a lot of folks who read this blog know just what I am talking about.  But if you don’t, and you are looking for a way to enhance your life, consider volunteering.  It doesn’t matter if you help seniors, or kids or the disabled.  Coach a team, read to the blind, or serve a meal to the homeless.  Whatever.  Just know in however you chose to give, you’ll find unexpected rewards.

During her speech, our boss used a take-your-breath-away quote.  I’m sorry I don’t know where it is from, but it says it all:

“To the world, you may be one person.  But to one person you may be the world.”

It made me shiver.

Happy weekend all!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Good Timing

I didn’t even realize it was Earth Day weekend when I decided to take a field trip into the city on Friday.  But I needed some information on the Boston Harbor Islands for the piece I’m writing and the seasonal ferries to the islands don’t start until one day after my deadline.  So I hopped on a commuter boat to the city, knowing I’d get an amazing view of the Boston Harbor Islands National Park area.  Once my boat docked in Boston, it was a short walk to a kiosk manned by a National Park ranger.  There I could get some information to round off the piece that is mostly written.  After that I’d head over to the outdoor market at Haymarket, pick up some affordable produce, grab lunch and head home.  Easy peasy.  And it was.  I didn’t expect that it would be so, well—remarkable.

Let me back track a little.  I grew up going into the city from the western suburbs.  We took public transportation and landed in a grimy metropolis.   I worked in Boston for several years, and let me tell you, Boston Harbor was about as polluted as it gets.  It was a pretty view, but you sure wouldn’t touch the water.  A long time ago, my now husband and I went boating in the harbor with friends.  I don’t want to horrify you by telling you what we saw floating that afternoon— I’ll just tell you it used to be alive. 

Fast forward a few years.  My husband and I chose to live on the South Shore, which offered the fun and convenience of taking a ferry ride into Boston.  But all those raggedy looking islands we passed along the way? Well, one housed a prison, another a homeless shelter and one was a garbage dump.  I ignored them.  

Thankfully, others did not.  Over the last twenty years, folks from all different venues have been planning and implementing a cleanup.  One of the largest sewage treatment systems in the country was built where the prison used to be, the harbor is now mostly swim-able clean.  The 32 harbor islands, which were either decaying military installations or receptacles for that which was not wanted by the city of Boston, are now being turned into places of recreational, natural and historical beauty.  In the back of my head, I knew all this was going on of course.  But now, I’m writing about it…and paying a heck of a lot more attention. 

As the ferry churned along, we passed Peddock’s Island, which used to house Fort Andrew, built in the early 1900’s and abandoned by the military after WWII,  which is currently in the process of a major reclamation.  (Parts of the film Shutter Island with Leonardi DiCaprio, was filmed there.)  Spectacle Island, which hosted a rendering plant and a dump, has been capped off, cleaned up, replanted.  Folks who visit can utilize a beautiful visitor center in addition to a lifeguard staffed beach.  Yep, people go there to SWIM.

Oh there is so much more to tell you, but I’ll wait until the article comes out.  All I really want to say is that the day before Earth Day weekend, and I saw firsthand the value of caring for our earth.  

Oh what we can do when we put our minds to it.

Spectacle Island, Boston Harbor...it used to be a dump!

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Curiosity Chain

My father was an interested man.  Note, I did not say “interesting” (which he was), but “interested,” meaning he was intrigued by things he didn’t know about, and eager to explore.  If there was a road he’d never been down, he’d drive it.  If there was a house being built, he’d climb into it.  When a home he’d summered in as a child was torn down and rebuilt, he marched up the walk, knocked on the door, introduced himself to the new owner and received a guided tour.   I know these things because often I was with him when he decided to “investigate.”

I thought of that today, while I taking an early morning walk past our harbor.  The wind was blowing right into my face as I approached the private driveway leading to an 8.5 acre property on a bluff overlooking the water, which is my turn around point.  Usually I walk several yards up the driveway and inhale the view of the harbor for a few minutes, before turning back the way I came.  But for the first time I remember, a chain with a "Do Not Enter" sign dead center, linked the two stone pillars marking the entrance. 

The estate, called Bellarmine, is owned by the Jesuits of Boston College and used as a retreat for priests and students of the school.  It was last open to the public for a historical society fundraiser four years ago (How did I miss that?).  Before then, it had been 18 years since the public had been invited in. The residence was apparently designed by one of the most renowned architects at the time, although without Google, I’d never know.  The driveway curves, trees block what is beyond, so all we see is a roof and a couple of windows when we sail by in the summer. 

In my father’s curious vein, I have wandered a ways up the driveway before, and visited a stone boathouse on the property, but while I’ve never had the nerve to go near the house, I took that chain as a personal affront.  The pull of the unseen estate yanks at me, but I draw the line at trespassing on priests.  The chain however, hurt.  To console myself this morning, I reminded myself of all the places I have explored since life freed me to do so a few years ago. 

I’ve caught snow dusted lobster boats at dawn in winter, and the moonset when the temperature has registered less than 0.  I’ve caught deer stepping through the woods, coyotes cavorting in a field and turkeys in my yard. I’ve viewed the peaceful serenity of two dinghy’s drifting on an eddying tide, a celebrated Boston museum that sat on the top of my “bucket list,” and a tiny little maritime museum located in my own home town.   

I’ve watched the sunrise behind a lighthouse on Christmas Eve, and a sunset over a bay amid a pack of Harley Davidson riders.  I’ve sat on the deck at a nature reserve and listened to the ripple of a salt water river flowing by. I have even power-walked, oh, OK, trespassed, on a remote private property with panoramic views located on the other side of the harbor with a friend—though when a caretaker kindly suggested we turn around, we heeded the warning.

Over the past few years, time and the curiosity inherited from my father has allowed me to experience so many things I’d missed before.  Believe me—I’m aware how I’ve been blessed.  

If I ever make it into Bellarmine though, we’ll call it a minor miracle.

The View From Bellarmine DrivewayThe boat belongs to the property.
 (You've seen this picture before, but perhaps a repeat will help you understand my thoughts on that nasty chain.)

Happy Weekend Folks!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Excuses, Excuses

I’ve been around…

An appointment required a change in schedule, so on a day I was supposed to be working, I did what I needed to do…and then toured a town about twenty miles south of me, where I haven’t been for probably fifteen years.  The wooden bridge to the pristine barrier beach that is claimed by town residents in the summer is, I’m guessing, approximately a half mile long.

Duxbury Beach

Powder Point Bridge

Let's just say, even though the visit to the beach was rejuvenating, the appointment earlier wasn’t fun and I slogged home feeling a little low.  But when I got there, I found an email with a writing assignment waiting for me…a feature article on the Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area…and so since then, I’ve been here…

View of the city from Webb State Park

And here…

The view from Nut Island.  It was a little hazy, so the image isn't that clear...

And I have no complaints.

Happy Monday all!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Taste of Memory

One of the owners of the cheese/gourmet food shop where I worked last year says: “Food is memory.” Ever since I heard her say it, I’ve loved that phrase, running it over my tongue like a nibble of dense chocolate.

There are few things more right. Favorite foods, prepared a certain way, conjure up memories as real as if we stepped into a time machine and rocketed back to places only we, and those closest to us recall.  I engineer my own trip to the past each Easter, when I prepare the same breakfast my grandmother cooked for my family every Easter morning while we were growing up.

I was not quite two when my father’s father died, and I retain no memory of him.  A few years later Grandma Carens moved within walking distance of our home.  After that, for as far back as I can recall, she joined us for Sunday dinners.  I have no idea if she was a good cook, since by the time she moved near us, she and three of her friends had developed a routine of eating dinner five days a week at Lotties, a linoleum floored,  meat loaf and hot turkey sandwich restaurant. But on Easter, she prepared breakfast.

The empty lot behind Grandma’s looked across to St. Paul’s Church, and we arrived at her house in plenty of time to eat, then fast for an obligatory hour, before cutting across her backyard for late morning Mass.  Stepping in her front door, my younger sister and I headed straight to the dining room.  There, in the middle of a table set with Royal Dalton china holding precisely edged grapefruit halves, two over-sized stuffed bunnies sat back to back, serving as a temporary table display.   After breakfast, the centerpieces belonged to my sister and me.

Every year, Grandma served the same meal: those grapefruit halves decorated with maraschino cherries, pulpy, fresh squeezed orange juice, crisp bacon, grilled sausage, meltingly sweet honey buns warm from the oven, plus scrambled eggs.   But not just any eggs.  

All the lead-up above?  The story here is the eggs.

My grandmother is the only person I have ever known who cooked her scrambled eggs in a bowl resting above a pot of simmering water.  This double-boiler method requires patience, but the results are creamy and luscious with thick, soft curds and an incredibly moist texture.  As far as I am concerned, they elevate something as mundane as everyday scrambled eggs to epicurean status.  I think I read that one of Julia Child’s challenges when learning to cook in France was perfecting scrambled eggs.  Julia should have called my grandmother.  

Grandma died when I was in college, but for as long as I’ve been married, she comes alive again for me each Easter morning when I recreate her annual breakfast.   I stand over the steaming pot of water, scraping the sides of the bowl while the eggs cook, pulling them off when they have reached a sunny yellow, custard-curd texture.  As soon as I taste them, I’m vaulted back to a seat in my grandmother's painted-pink dining room, facing a polished mahogany table, with my family all around me.  My grandmother wears an apron over her church dress.  We use our best manners, savor the silky eggs, and endure the evil eye from mom when she catches us licking honey bun-sticky fingers.  When breakfast is over, my sister and I grab our bunnies and escape to the living room for quiet play time, before we all leave for church.

Back at my own table, I bite into the one edit I’ve made to my grandmother’s breakfast, a cayenne and brown sugar spicy bacon that my daughter adores.  Someday, she’ll have a food memory of her own.

Grace Carens’s Double-boiler Scrambled Eggs

Fill the bottom of a double boiler one-third full of water and heat to a gentle simmer.

Crack two large eggs per person and add one extra egg “for the bowl.”  

For every six eggs, add two tablespoons of whole milk, half and half, or cream. 

Add a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper and beat the eggs until frothy (Grandma used a hand-crank egg beater, I use a whisk).

Butter the inside of the double boiler insert.  Pour in the eggs and rest the bowl above the simmering water.  Be patient.  It will take a while for the eggs to start cooking.  Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl until they are done to your liking. 

Be forewarned.  There is a reason I only cook these eggs once a year.  Clean-up is a BEAR!  The protein in the cooked eggs adheres to the sides of the bowl like cement.  Scrape as much of the remaining egg off as you can and prepare to soak your dish overnight. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fifty-one Minus Fifteen

The difference in that little equation is the number of pages I’ve got left in the first part of my WIP after  readers told me I needed to pick up the pace and cut out most of the backstory at the beginning of my book. The criticism didn’t surprise me, but I struggled to make the changes, especially because I am in love with my original first sentence.  After sulking for a while though, I decided not to marry it.  To do what needed doing, that splendid—I dreamed it up one night— group of words had to be relegated to the beginning of the second chapter, where they currently reside. That line was a great hook, but it wouldn’t do me a bit of good if the following pages were a bunch of bla, bla, bla.   And here’s a bit of news.  It appears I’m pretty skilled at bla, bla, bla.

One of my readers said something like:  “Sometimes I think we write the backstory because as the writer we need to know it. We’re telling ourselves the story.”  And I agree.  After writing and editing a first draft, I do know the details of the daily existence of these imaginary folks I’ve developed. But a reader doesn’t need all that excess, and to tell you the truth, even my eyes glazed over as I read the blow-by-blow.  So, I’m chalking up those fifteen pages, plus the many more that will be chopped, as a worthwhile exercise in character development.  Now it’s time to move on to the next lesson.

Repeat after me:  Every chapter MUST have action.

Picture me with scissors protruding from my eyes.  For the next several days, I’ll be wearing my ruthless cap and cutting out the CR_ P.

For those of you celebrating holidays this weekend, enjoy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

IWSG April

I’m supposed to be writing a post for Alex Cavanaugh's  Insecure Writers’ Support Group today.  I did, in fact, have one partially written.  When I woke up this morning however, I didn’t feel like being insecure.  I felt instead, like being…restful.

I have plenty of insecurities, writing related and other.  But today, a bird outside sings in a quick-time rhythm, the moss we need to scrape off the patio glows a brilliant Kelly green, and I don't need a scarf under my fleece to stay warm inside.  A school bus pulls up to pick up the girl across the street, a stack of commuter cars lined up behind it.  The creeping phlox on the ledge in back is starting to bulk up, and although the neighbor’s fence is still falling down, the one stalwart daffodil that blooms every year stands tall.
There is a bowl of warm oatmeal, dusted with brown sugar, sprinkled with raisins followed by strong coffee in my near future, with a good plan for the day to follow. The cat is fat and happy.  
Sometimes a little focus on the small things can turn the proverbial tide.  Today I’m switching things up and calling this an Insecure Writer’s Surge of Gratitude.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Lucky Number Four

Things have been in enough upheaval that I forgot about the Fourth Campaigner Challenge sponsored by Rachael Harrie I entered last month.  Let us just say that life has been a tad bit distracting lately—so much so that when I slogged my way over to the computer this morning, I didn’t think I would write.  Words haven’t been much more than oatmeal in my brain lately.  For the first time ever, I wondered what I would do if they dried up.

Since I was in no rush to find out, I opened my email.  It is such a cliché, but folks, today I am here to announce that timing really IS everything.

The first message I opened informed me that I came in fourth place out of 110 entries in the second challenge of Rachael’s fourth campaigners writing contest.  

Sorry for such a short post, but all of a sudden the lump of moistened grain in my head is seasoned with brown sugar and raisins.  

I think I’ll try my hand at writing.