Don't miss my NEW Bossypants review (under Memoirs & Autobiographies)
and The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes review (under the Fiction tab).
(Click on "Book Reviews" tabs on right)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Attack of the Killer Tomatoe Plants

Help!  My tomatoes are out of control!  They’re growing out of their cages and over the fence and into the neighboring green beans and peas!  They’re five foot tall and still growing -- truly! Vines and green tomatoes are everywhere.  We’re talking only six plants here:  one miniature tomato plant and a beefy plant both from Urban Growers.  The remaining four are misfit plants found at a veggie stand that were drying up and looking a bit like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.  We took pity on them, paid $1 for all four and threw them in our garden just to save their little lives.  Now they’re all crazy huge!  What’s with that?

What’s a gardener to do?  I found some good advice in the Plain Dealer article “Taking late-season care of tomato plants” (08/11/11).  According to Mr. Lamp’l, I’m supposed to get in there and cut back those wild offshoots and “new suckers…that grow from the crotch”.  I’m also supposed to “watch for disease” and “by now the first generation of caterpillars  will have dropped to the soil, pupated and emerged as sphinx…,” not to mention keeping an eye out for parasitic braconid wasps, hornworms [lovely illustration included] and the “smooth, oval, light-green eggs…on the lower sides of the leaves.”  I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t make me want to jump right in and fix my tomatoe issues.  No matter, I’m going to don my rubber floral-patterned garden boots (they’re so cute) and my rubbery green garden gloves (necessary, not so cute) and my sharpened clippers.  Then I'm going to muster up some gumption to tackle those gangly grappling green plants and their associated critters and creatures.  Assuming I don’t kill myself stepping over the fence (for the record, I often clip the fence with my oversized -- but cute -- boots landing full face either in or out of the garden) and that I don't get eaten alive by hornworms or contract some parasitic disease, I’m planning on taking on those monstrous tomato plants today. 

Did you know there was actually a campy B movie back in 1978 called Attack of the Killer Tomatoes? See, someone else obviously had issues with tomatoes besides just me.  I’m going to get red tomatoes yet.  I promise.  I know you have to be careful what you wish for.  I envision thousands upon thousands of red tomatoes ripening all at once.  But that’s okay by me.  When it happens, I’ll do what I always do with my excess produce.  I donate it to Geauga Food Bank.  My neighbor and dear dear friend, Doris, volunteers there on Wednesdays.  *She says there are more families than ever in need of food donations.  Being unemployed, I can relate.  It makes me even more cognizant of the need to help others.  Thus, the more tomatoes, the merrier.  All that I can say now to my tomatoes is, “Bring it on!”

*Since I have time on my hands AND if you have excess produce in your garden AND if you want me to pick it up for the food bank, just say the word and I'll come get it.

The Plain Dealer: Inside & Out

Urban Growers:

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Up-side of Unemployment

If you’ve been reading along on my blog, you would know that I’m laid-off work and actively seeking employment.  Now that I’m settling in to this new role, I am realizing that there is an up-side to unemployment.  One is realizing that I have a wealth of beautiful friends.  They have been an absolute saving grace during this transitional period.  I’ve met with some of my closest friends, re-connected with some old friends, and have kept in touch via e-mail with colleagues and new friends.  It’s been a joy having these friends around.  They have passed along job leads, encouraged me to look in new directions, prayed for me, made me laugh when I wanted to cry, and let me cry when I needed it.  They met me for coffee, lunch, drinks, for a walk, wine, martinis (truly, I’m not an alcoholic).   I’m so thankful to have such a great group of friends!  When I’m on the other side of this job hunt, I will certainly pay it forward.  Thanks dear friends!!

I’ve had an opportunity to meet my boyfriend for lunch and dinner more often.  That certainly is a nice treat!  He’s my biggest supporter, my personal cheerleader and a great different perspective when I need it. 

Another up-side of being out of work is having ample time to read.  I punched out The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes and Bossypants.  I loved Bossypants!  I always like Tina Fey, but now I adore her.  She’s so real and so funny!  I am working on the reviews.  I should have them on-line shortly. Look for them soon.  Next up is Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson. 

You would think that I might sleep in more often now that I have the time.  But I can’t.  I have too much going on in my head worrying about finances and about finding a job.  I am a bit of a worry-wart and lean towards anxiety at times.  I’m up very early.  I make myself stay in bed until it’s close to sunrise.  Then, to counteract my nervousness, I get right up and go out walking.  My walking has now moved into an occasional jog – walk, jog, walk, jog. I’m not ready to run a 5K yet…but maybe I can progress to that level. No matter, I have greatly increased my exercise quota.  That’s a good thing -- definitely an up-side.

Yet another up-side is that I’ve had a nice summer spending extra time with my kids (once I got past the shock part of the unemployment).  I’ve been able to talk with them for extended periods of time which looks something like this:

Hi Hon.  How was camp?
Was it a lot of running?
What did you do when you weren’t running?
I don’t know.  Stuff.
Like what kind of stuff?
Did you play Ultimate Frisbee?
Did you enjoy it?
Who did you hang out with?
Mom, do we really have to talk now?  I’m tired.  I just want to sleep.

As you can see, my kids and I are really bonding.  While that’s a pretty accurate representation of many conversations, I’m happy to report that we have had a few shining moments because of the extra time.  I’ve had plenty of opportunity to bake cookies, make dinners, and have a lot more sit-down meals with my boys.  I’ve enjoyed that immensely. 

There is a positive to every negative.  There is a heads to every tails.  There is an up-side to every down-side.  If I keep telling myself this, I may just start believing it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Taking a Break

I finished The Girl Who Fell From the Sky and am wrapping up A Visit From the Goon Squad.  I'll be zipping up reviews for those shortly.  In the meantime, I fill my days with sending resumes and making calls and then I send more resumes, write letters, and make calls.  But this weekend, I took a little break from it all ...although I continued to read Goon Squad here and there.  I got away for a couple days to my little oasis in the country (i.e., my boyfriend's farm).  There, I worked on our little garden.  I weeded and straightened out the rows.  I wrestled the cucumbers back inside their fence -- their prickly little branches leaving bristles in my fingers.  The tiny cucumbers grow to the fence and then as they mature, they're half in and half out of the fence.  Leaves you in a pickle when it comes to pickin'.  It's all orderly and picture perfect today...tomorrow's another story. 

I harvested some beans, peas, a few cucumbers out of the fence and plenty of zucchini.  The garden is overflowing it's borders; trying to take over the yard.  I already snapped and steamed some fresh green beans with some real butter...mmm...delicioso!  I baked some Zucchini Chocolate Cake (see recipe below).  This zucchini recipe will take care of any chocolate lover's addiction and will make zucchini lover's out of anyone.  Later, I whipped up my favorite -- creamed cucumbers: almost equivalent to savoring a bowl of ice cream (not chocolate ice cream...nothing surpasses chocolate anything).

This weekend, I also learned how to drive a zero-turn.  For those of us who may need a definition, it's basically a lawn mower that steers using the rear wheels and pivots through 180 degrees without leaving a circle of uncut grass...that is, if you do it right. Who would have guessed that I could steer such a machine?!  At the start, I almost gave up.  It felt so out-of-control.  My ever-patient boyfriend encouraged me and let me wrestle with it a little on my own.  Actually, he explained that the less I wrestle, the easier it might be to steer.  He was right...again.  Before you knew it, I was zipping around like no body's business.  Of course, I did bump the fence just a little, bounced off the edge of a small tree that was probably in the way anyways, and we certainly didn't need those little impatiens on the end of the house. 

One evening, we went to a pig roast and watched a horse show where the riders and their horses were team penning and sorting small calves.  That was great fun to watch.  And then the torrential rain came down and once the lightning was over, we continued to watch a very muddy horse show.  Today, we took a long leisurely ride through the country on the Harley.  It was a beautiful ride full of rolling hills and scenic views, bank barns, gable barns, barns with Gambrel roofs, and dilapidated old barns, picturesque farms with an array of goats, chickens, cows and horses, and country farm houses with acres of pasture and big old village homes each with it's own unique architecture.  It was all so relaxing...and so needed.  I got a little sun on my shoulders, pink in my cheeks and a lot of fresh air.  Breathe in; breathe out.  Okay, I'm ready to face another week of job searching.  And yes, I'll finish that Goon Squad.

Easy Chocolate Zucchini Cake
(Southern Food)
1/2 C softened butter
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 C sour cream
1 Chocolate cake mix with pudding
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 med zucchini shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1 C choc chips

Grease & flour Bundt pan.  Heat oven to 325.  Mix butter, eggs, vanilla.  Add sour cream and cinnamon.  Add cake mix.  Stir in zucchini and choc chips.  Bake 40-50 minutes until toothpick shows clean.  Cool 15 min. Invert.  Dust with powdered sugar when cooled.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Life is Good

I lost my job.  Not “officially” until August 3rd. No matter, I lost my job.  There’s a weight in the bottom of my stomach and I feel on the edge of anxiety.  When I think too hard about it, my eyes well up.  Sometimes I can’t even say it out loud.  And then Greg, my boyfriend, steadies me with his broad shoulders and gentle soothing words.  And then I breathe…and I begin to count my blessings:

My boys. 
We’re all healthy.
My family.
Greg’s family.
All our cute little animals.
Our dear friends.

Of course, I’m sending out resumes and contacting my contacts and contacting the contacts of my contacts and so on.  I have a minimum daily goal of 2-3 resumes out and 2-3 contacts contacted.  I’m very disciplined that way.  But before I tackle any of that, I walk.

I walk most mornings in and around town to clear my head and I pray as I walk and I take a moment to breathe in the beautiful world around me.  I enjoy the colorful flower beds full of hostas with their spiky blooms, and the impatiens that pile up into one huge colorful lump, the perky white and yellow daisies, and the rich deep gold of the day lilies.  I walk before the morning hustle and bustle.  The streets are quiet. The newspapers are dewy and sitting at the end of the driveways.  I notice the blue sky and feel the crisp fresh morning air.  I pass a few of the same people every morning and share a quiet “Good morning.”  And I realize that...“life is good.” 

The baseball hat I wear while walking was given to me by my sister.  It’s a “Life is Good” hat.  I never knew until this week that inside the hat it reads, “Do what you like. Like what you do.”  While visiting my sister today, the coffee mug on the counter next to me read in black & white, “Do what you like.  Like what you do.”  And later that day, I picked up another cup (not the same cup) that had this saying on it, “Do what you like. Like what you do.”  I’m thinking there’s a little divine intervention going on here.  Apparently God must not think I’m a quick learn and has to pass this by me three times. 

What a glorious concept:  “Do what you like.  Like what you do.”  Hmmm.  Tomorrow morning I’m going to put on my hat, walk, pray and mull that one over.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Kindle, Nook, and other E-Readers

I'm planning on buying one of these e-reader gadgets.  I'm a die hard book person and I love my personal library of books.  But when I'm working out on my elliptical, I have to read to survive the 20 minutes.  I've tried TV...and it drags on.  I've tried just focusing on the exercise...that's worse.  But when I read, it's heavenly!  The time flies by and before I know it, I'm done!  But try reading a book while walking on an elliptical.  I bought the elliptical because it had a great book rack.  Well maybe I bought it for other reasons, too.  However, the book rack was a big selling point.  No matter, I strain to see the words.  I thought a Kindle or something perched on the book rack, bright, with large font, would simplify the reading...and thus speed along the exercise. 

I'm looking to my blog friends to see which product is their favorite.  Besides checking with my friends, I'll do a little on-line research.  It's a big thing, moving away from books.  I always keep my favorite books to add to my shelves and sell back the not-so-favorite at the 1/2 price bookstore.  So, if I like an e-book, do I go buy the hard version?  How do book people do this????  I will not give up my library.  Do those e-book covers, look like books?  Feel like books?  Do you put those in your library?  This is my dilemma.  I will keep you posted on how it pans out. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Catching up...

I‘ve been a bit negligent on updating my blog. However, I have been right on top of my reading. I finished Waiting for Superman and am wrapping up I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I just had to re-read Maya Angelou’s book. It was one of my favorites. I looked it up on line because I wasn’t sure if it was a memoir or if it was fiction. As it turns out, it is autobiographical…which only makes the story all that much more poignant. She also wrote a poem by the same name; another surprise. I love this book!! Really, you don’t need to lose any sleep over my missing reviews…lol. Please be assured that I will write the reviews on the two books, zip up a new writing piece for the the front page and post everything this weekend.
I know why the caged bird sings
by Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps on the back
Of the wind and floats downstream
Till the current ends and dips his wing
In the orange suns rays
And dares to claim the sky.

But a BIRD that stalks down his narrow cage
Can seldom see through his bars of rage
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill for
The caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
And the trade winds soft through
The sighing trees
And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright
Lawn and he names the sky his own.

But a caged BIRD stands on the grave of dreams
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with
A fearful trill of things unknown
But longed for still and his
Tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


In my day, we didn’t have video games.  Although I do remember Pac Man and some other starter arcade games.  But we didn’t have them in our house or in our pocket.  You had to go to the pizza shop or some restaurant and have some change to play the games against the back wall.  In my day, TV was black and white.  We really mainly watched it on Sundays together as a family – the Disney show or National Geographic stories with Jacques Cousteau and cartoons on weekend mornings.  So, what does a kid do with himself if he doesn’t have video games?  That seems to be a big question for many young kids (including my own). The question is:  If not video games, how does one manage through, “I’m bored?”

In my day, if we were underfoot, we were kicked outside to play until it was dark or until my dad whistled us in.  There we either organized for neighborhood play or we used our imaginations to dream up something fun.  Organized play involved gathering all the neighborhood kids together for a rousing game of kick-the-can.  How we all knew that there was to be a game without a cell phone is beyond me.  I think as kids we must have had some type of internal radar.  In no time whatsoever, we would all wind up in one of the backyards arriving on foot, on bike, even on pony.  Yes, a pony! 

Eli Miller, a neighbor boy had a little brown pony which he hopped on barefoot and bareback and trotted across the backyards at a tremendous pace to join the games.  Once there, he would toss his bridle around a tree and park his little pony between the piles of bikes.  The bikes were hand-me-downs and jacked up banana bikes, girl bikes, and boy bikes.  The kids were as different as the bikes:  tall kids, skinny kids, girls, tomboys, big boys, little boys wanting to be big boys, etc.  The oldest boys were team captains and took turns at selecting team members.  Everyone played.  The can was kicked and we all scattered.  We played that game late into the evening, sweaty and sticky and out of breath from running and hiding, and itchy from hungry mosquitoes that followed you everywhere.  

Other days, my sisters and I would get together with the other young girls and would take our bikes out in the woods.  There on the well-worn bike trails, we would make houses from wild grapevines.  The grapevines hung down thick, stringy and heavy from the trees to the ground and formed little nooks within their viney arms.  We would sweep out these homegrown nooks and assign them as our houses.  We would bring along snacks or make pretend snacks from the vegetation around us.  In our minds, our houses were real and the trails were our streets, and our bikes were cars.  And we lived and visited each other in our make believe suburbia.

My dad planted small pine trees along the border of our yard.  Today they’re twice as tall as a two story home.  Then, they were just big enough for a 12 year old girl to hop over, one at a time.  In between the trees were stalls.  Well they really weren’t “stalls.”  But to my sisters and me, they were stalls.  We had imaginary horses.  Mine was Trixie, my sister's was Dixie (are you sensing a theme here?) and my other sister named her's Pixie (I’m guessing on that one).  We pranced around the yard on our wild wild horses.  We raced them.  They were fast.  We took very good care of them.  We brushed our horses and fed them grass and tucked them into their stalls to rest. 

At the bottom of the hill, over the bridge by the river, lived another large family, the Zins’, with a troupe of kids around our ages.  I believe I can still name them all in order…Tom, Mary Ellen, Maureen, Marie, Guy, Cyr, Marlene, Mary Catherine (I hope I didn’t forget anyone).  My family had five kids at the time (a sixth came later on).  It was a natural fit for our big families to bond. Behind their house in the valley, the river split and in between was a perfect little island.  There was a log that spanned one leg of the river.  We would drag down tents and sleeping bags, blankets, and fishing rods, cross the river and escape civilization.  Girls in one tent.  Boys in the other.  The boys would taunt and scare us girls all night long.  They would catch and cook frog legs and bluegill or bass and we would let them know just how “gross” that was.  However, the legs did taste a lot like chicken.  They would take sticks and play baseball with bats...the ones that fly.  Just as a side note, bats easily get stuck in long hair.  There were scary tales, late night fires, and a lot of “What was that?”  I remember, most of the time, waking up in the basement of the Zins' house with a few other girls or boys who couldn’t quite make it through the night. 

In that house, there was a wall of books. Along the bottom shelves was a complete series (or so it seemed) of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys Mysteries -- filed separately in numerical order.  They were a dream come true for this voracious reader.  To this day, I swear I ended up in the basement for the books.  It had nothing to do with being afraid of the dark.  Oh, those books were like candy.  I devoured them one at a time, in numerical order, until every last morsel was gone.  Nancy Drew was my hero! 

As I remember it, usually I was lost in my imaginary play, neighborhood games or between the pages of a book. I really don’t remember being bored.  My mother may remember it all differently, but in my mind we were always busy doing chores or playing outside.  We never whined that we had nothing to do.  We didn’t complain.  We didn’t talk back.  And that’s my story and I’m stickin’ with it.