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.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Welcome Back!

It’s been raining cats and dogs for days and days.  Water is everywhere.  It puts me back into that winter hibernation mode.  The type of weather when you need a fire in the fireplace, a pot of soup on the stove, a glass of wine (optional) , a big cozy blanket, and good chick flick or an Oprah book.  That’s my idea of hibernation. 

I bumped into an old friend today.  She’s been divorced a few years.  I don’t know much about her situation but she expressed that she was glad to see me happy in my relationship and that she hoped to find someone nice like I had.  How sweet was that! I’ve spoken with a few other close women lately, too, who are in trying situations with their relationships.  It made me think back on those times when the separation/divorce piece was still fairly fresh.  Those were tough times.  How odd it is that some of us women try so hard to mend a relationship that we turn ourselves inside out and become something that we don’t even recognize…at least, that’s what I did.  I remember trying to do everything and to do it all perfectly…you know: “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never ever let you forget you’re a man…”  That was the mantra way back then.  Sheez!! No wonder my generation of women ended up this way!!

The best thing I learned over the many years that I was alone, is that I’m okay.  I’m okay by myself, on my own two feet, all alone.  Yes, financially it’s hard sometimes.  Making big decisions is very difficult on my own.  It is very lonely sometimes…when a couple invites you over and you’re not a couple.  Or a holiday comes and you’re wrapping presents by yourself or toasting yourself “Happy New Year” as the kids sleep through the ball drop.  Wedding showers are tough.  And being a bridesmaid is the worst.  But, the up side is on a rainy day, I can stay in my jammies and watch TV all day.  I can run out and buy an appetizer of Pepperidge Farm chocolate cake and peppercini’s and salami for dinner (my poor poor heart). Or I can have a "backwards day" where the kids and I stay in pajamas and eat cereal for dinner.  I don’t have to answer to anyone when I buy yet another pair of stacked sandals (they’re SOO cute!).  I just have to pay my own bills, make my mortgage and my car payment, get to work every day, and do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it. 

The beauty is, I take care of myself now, too.  Way back then, I went to the most wonderful therapist ever who helped me get back on my feet and who helped me to start finding myself again.  I went back to church, and found a lot of support spiritually.  And I surrounded myself with my women friends…the ones who were really a positive influence. Now I don’t have a therapist (although some days I should) and I haven’t been to church lately (which I promise to get back to), I still hang with the girls sometimes and I’ve added exercise to my regime (woo hoo!).  But overall, I’m more confident these days.  I’m happy in my own skin.  I like me.  And when I bumped into an old friend, Greg (my now boyfriend), I was ready for that next step.  The timing was right. 

Taking some time and space to be alone is really an awesome experience.  I highly recommend it.  I hope and pray for these female friends that they find their inner-woman and recognize themselves when they look in the mirror.  I hope they snuggle up under a blanket in their flannel pajamas with their favorite book in hand.  I hope they take solace in the peace and quiet of a gentle rainfall.  And that they truly stop and smell the roses (or lilacs…those are my favorite).  I pray for my women friends that they find their old beautiful selves and when they do, they give that girl a big welcome-back hug!

Welcome Back, Kotter
Theme Song

Welcome back,
Your dreams were your ticket out.
Welcome back,
To that same old place that you laughed about.
Well the names have all changed since you hung around,
But those dreams have remained and they're turned around.
Who'd have thought they'd lead ya (Who'd have thought they'd lead ya)
Here where we need ya (Here where we need ya)
Yeah we tease [her] a lot cause we've got [her] on the spot, welcome back,
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

All the Pretty Babies

I love babies.  Puffy little baby chicks, pink wiggly baby piglets, gangly wobbly baby cows, chubby puppies (and what about that puppy smell!), fuzzy baby kitties, pudgy cheeked baby girls and bouncing baby boys.  Just babies.  Finding myself as a single mom when my children were very little, I was sure that I never wanted any more children.  When I was having my second (and last) child (I knew divorce was pending), I told my doctor to tie my tubes.  He refused, “You’re a young woman still.  You may want another child.  Take some time and think about it.”  I was so sure of myself then.  But, in that position, I was too tired to argue.  Don’t get me wrong, I love every bit of my two boys with all my heart.  But it was a lot of work on my own. Being a single mom of two little ones and working full time meant staying up all night with sick babies, trying to find someone to watch them when they were too sick for day care, going to work sick because you took too many days for the kids…and trying to bundle up their bottles, bibs, and breakfasts and somehow still make it to work on time.  I told myself then…nevermore. 

Now years have gone by (where did they go?) and here I am amidst the start of menopause.  I ended up having a run of procedures that basically eliminates my opportunity to have babies.  Truly, I had no intent of having another baby.  I didn’t really have the desire over the years.  But suddenly when I couldn’t have babies, I wanted babies.  And then I felt really sad!  Sad to know that my option was gone.  That I couldn’t change my mind…if I wanted to.  And now when I see a baby anything, I just miss my option. 

I remember with great longing how it feels to cuddle a little pudgy baby in my arms and they way they smelled and the way they snuffled and made little baby noises.  And I miss their dependence on their mommies.  Rocking them and cooing a little lullaby of Sweet Baby James and the sing song of  baby books – nothing like a good round of Goodnight Moon, all of Sandra Boynton’s Moo Baa La La La books, Guess How Much I Love You, anything by Eric Carle, all the Mercer Mayer books and, of course, Dr. Seuss. 

My babies aren’t babies anymore.  One is getting his driver’s license and one is just hitting his teen years.  They don’t cuddle much anymore.  They do make me smile and laugh (and sometimes not).  I love seeing them turning into nice young men.  And as much as I know and appreciate that I am in another stage of my life, I can still remember the stories like it was yesterday, “In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon and picture of the cow jumping over the moon…”  Goodnight babies.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Alphabet Reading

My love for reading runs deep. As a child in elementary school, I remember speedily zipping through each color coded level of SRA. I knew the school and town library inside and out. I would walk to town after school lugging home stacks of thick books (sometimes 10 at a time) and hide in my room and read and read and read. If I wasn’t helping with chores, I would read until someone pretty much dragged me away from my books. I knew the junior section of the library intimately. I actually gave myself a goal in 5th or 6th grade to read every book in the junior section of the library. Yes, that was my goal. I apparently didn’t like to strive for big things…I start small…just the junior section, nothing more.

But the up side of that project was that the A’s gave me Louisa May Alcott and a host of beautiful stories: Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, An Old Fashioned Girl, Eight Cousins, Under the Lilacs, etc. What young girl wouldn’t benefit from growing up under the influence of Alcott’s independent strong women? I met the Bronte sisters in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. I delved into the Civil Rights Movement with Sounder by William Armstrong. And I got lost in The Secret Garden with Frances Hodgsen Burnett.

I read a lot (probably not "all") of the A’s, B’s and slightly into the C’s before giving in (it was a small library). I came to the conclusion that 23 remaining alphabet letters may be a daunting task even for this 11 year old voracious reader.

Off-alphabet, I read: the Beany Malone series, the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series, Konigsburg’s Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth, the Little House on the Prairie Series and a wall full of biographies including Abraham Lincoln, Betsy Ross, Harriett Tubman, Helen Keller, and many more.

That was my start. I try to instill a love of reading in my two boys’ lives, too. We read books right from the get-go. I always allowed them to stay up as late as they wanted even when they were little as long as they were in bed and either reading or drawing. They did both…but rarely kept their eyes open long. My youngest loves to read and knows the local library well. My oldest reads as needed.

Every Christmas I buy them a book based on something that interests them at the time. I write a little note in it and date it. They read those books and keep them in their rooms. One of my fondest reading memories with my boys was when we drove to Florida and listened to Where the Red Fern Grows on tape. To this day, they speak fondly of that trip and that story. While I doubt they will read books A through Z, I’m sure they will still enjoy their own off-alphabet road trip.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Comfort Food

Three quarters the way through the memoir Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, the author Rhoda Janzen begins discussing the foods of her Mennonite upbringing -- Borscht and streudel to name a few.  It made me think about the foods that I grew up with and what they mean to me.  I grew up in a modest household where my parents pinched pennies to feed a large family of kids (five to start with a sixth late-in-life addition).  We knew that a pot of beans one day, meant chili the next.  Chicken on Sunday, meant chicken soup on Monday.  If the garden gave us acorn squash, we ate acorn squash. Grocery shopping day meant a special treat of lunch meat sandwiches on fresh deli bread.  I grew up knowing how to stretch a dollar and how to make big pots of food.  And those foods that came from that stretch are the comfort foods of my youth.

My mother is Polish which brought us pierogis, creamed cucumbers and stuffed cabbage.  My father is Mexican and Cuban and that came with tortillas, refried beans, and black beans and rice.  We lived in the country.  So that provided us with fresh garden vegetables and fried bluegill, catfish and bass. 

Tortillas were a staple in our household.  As the oldest daughter in the bunch, I remember being very involved in the household responsibilities with my mother.  I remember the feel of the soft floury tortilla dough in my hands as I gently but swiftly folded and tucked them into small pockets the size of my palm.  I remember taking turns at rolling the tortillas flat and cooking and flipping them on the cast iron skillet.  A pile of warm tortillas 8 inches high stacked beneath a clean dish towel was always at the ready.  I remember the warm aroma of refried beans when I came home from school. 

My father and brothers would fish in the local ponds and rivers and freeze the fillets as they caught them.  Once we had enough for dinner, we had a fish fry.  It felt like a special event.  Maybe the big fisherman were proud of their catch and for providing the family dinner?  Maybe it was just good eatin'.  No matter, fish fry day was a cause for celebration.

Gardening, on the other hand, brings back memories of dry clay and hard cracked ground, long sunny days, hauling buckets of water out to the garden, setting jar lids full of salt water out to catch the slugs.  Weeding. Lots of weeding. It was hot sweaty work.  No matter how hard we toiled, the burn pile would beat us out.  The burn pile out back grew the best largest yellow squash and zucchini.  No one planted them or tended to them.  They were just outgrowths of the burn trash.  I wonder if we gathered more from the burn pile then from the garden itself. 

My boyfriend has a beautiful piece of property that he so generously shares with us.  He has a pond and a river for fishing and enough space for me to garden to my heart's delight.  He plows me up a little garden big enough for two rows of this and two rows of that.  Last summer I froze green beans and peas, and made everything out of zucchini (much to the dismay of my sons), we had creamed cucumbers and I tried my hand at homemade tomato sauce (still in the freezer, the verdict is still out).  When I hold a red plump juicy tomato in my hand and breath in the fresh aroma, I can close my eyes and I'm back in my family's backyard garden.

To this day, I cook my comfort foods often.  I enjoy sharing that with my boyfriend and my two boys.  I set up traditions in my household with the hope that my kids will look back on their childhood fondly and warmly.  I don't roll my own tortillas anymore since you can easily buy quality tortillas at a good price.  But I do cook my own refried beans and occasionally black beans (my kids haven't acquired that taste yet).  I associate a great wedding with a wide spread of Polish foods and polka music. We have lunch meat and fresh deli bread on many grocery days.  And there is nothing like a good fish fry when I catch some good catfish on sale.  To my delight, my oldest son is making fishing his hobby.  I'm thinking, that one day soon, my son will be providing us with a good 'ol fish fry dinner and we'll have ourselves a party!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Little White Church

My Mennonite Story...
Looking for a new book, I went to the local library.  Usually I go with a list of possible good books off some booklist.  And then I get there, and none are available.  I get myself on a waiting list and I wait, and wait, and wait until a month or so later, I finally have a book in hand.  This time, I saw a pile of blue books with literature.  I asked if they were for a book club.  Yes, they were.  It was open enrollment.  Hmmm.  What would it be like to join a book club and not know anyone?  I thought about the book clubs I had joined before that have faded away into oblivion.  How many well-intentioned book clubs had I joined?  I would venture to say ten over the course of years.  Actually, I feel as if I've been in a bit of a transition stage as it relates to friends.  In other words, I'm lacking some close friends for the moment.  Feeling a need for a little girl-time, I'm thinking this might be a good thing.  If nothing else, at least the lot will enjoy reading.  We'll have that in common. 

We're reading Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen.  Funny how I said, "we."  Hey, I'm already part of the club!  The book has its own book club questions in the back.  But the list the library shares is a combination of the Mennonite book questions and someone else's questions.  The book is supposed to be humorous as per the quote on the front cover from Elizabeth Gilbert author of Eat, Pray, Love (that was a good book...Eat, Pray, Love - btw, much better than the movie). 

It just so happens that my boys and I used to attend a small Mennonite church.  I was going through a tough time in my life and I had the urge to connect spiritually.  A couple of girlfriends, sisters in fact, invited me to attend. The church congregation was warm and inviting.  The church itself was plain, simple, and without much ornamentation.  It was white and clean with wood pews and a single aisle to the pulpit.  The little white church was nestled within a rolling valley.  You drove down a road meant for one car and around a bend.  There it sat right by a pretty little creek, on a perfectly green lawn with a white gravel parking lot.  The minister was the best I had ever heard.  He was young and dynamic.  His message was straightforward and down-to-earth.  He was a family man and clearly supported strong family values and spoke strongly about family roles.  Men were supposed to be men and step up and take care of their family.  And a wife was supposed to take care of their man.  Great concept.  A little hard to do when I was on my own at the time.  No matter, it was healthy fodor for my soul.  It made me look at my life and put my priorities in order.  I appreciated the simplicity of my Mennonite church family.  I felt the message hit the core of my values and resonated warmly in my heart.  I look fondly back at that time. 

So, I'm off to read and chuckle over Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.  In a few days, look for a book critique.  The book club meets April 20th.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


In desperate need of a good read, my son and I stopped at the little second hand bookstore in town.  Its been there for a couple years and I've wanted to stop many times before.  The bookstore is in the basement of a very old building on the square of a quaint country town. It was dark, with a low ceiling, a maze of little rooms crammed from floor to ceiling with books, and little overloaded tables and shelves shoved in any available spot.  It smelled dusty, musty and a little like cigarette smoke.  A book reader's haven at best. A perfect fire hazard at worst. There were a half dozen visitors perusing the tight aisles -- a mom and her kids, a few men of which a couple were Amish.  The guy behind the counter (the owner - or so I assumed)  inquired as to my taste.  My genre is usually women's contemporary fiction or books off Oprah's book list.  He suggested, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  He said that he thought this would be right up my alley.  I read the back of the book.  It didn't say much about the story line.  By the cover, it had something to do with a circus.  It was #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.  I did remember seeing this book on a few book lists.  I went with his recommendation.

Then the book guy suggested that I take a look at another book that he read called, When Elephants Weep -- the Emotional Lives of Animals, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy.  And I wondered what was up with the elephant theme.  We walked back to another room and he pulled that book from the shelf.  He said it was was about animals and how they really do have feelings and emotions.  I must have been an easy sell that day.  I walked out with two elephant books.  The dilemma:  which elephant book should I tackle first?