Monday, August 27, 2012

Mishaps

Contact!

When I was about thirty years old I got contact lenses. I’m very near-sighted with bad astigmatism and thought I’d never be rid of my Coke bottle bottom specs. I inherited my eyesight from Dad, but guess what? He had contact lenses. If he had them, why not me? People with our kind of  eyes have a bit of a tough slog initially but vanity is a cruel mistress and she beat me into this.  But over the  years I’ve had few problems with my lenses and have only had to get new ones a few times. Each time, though, the prescription for my rigid gas permeables is just different enough that my eyeballs have to adjust making mishaps a real possibility. 

Once, in Sears, I looked sideways and a new lense went the other way rendering me kind of google-eyed as I tried to get it back into place without actually popping it out. One second I could see clearly and the next not so much. Another time I inhaled sharply as I popped a lense out and sucked the little bugger part way up my nose. I was so glad to be in my own bathroom that time instead of at the mall!  

But the very worst episode with a pair of new lenses happened on a family trip to Howe’s Cavern. A great place to take family and visitors, by the way. I’d recommend it the next time you visit upstate New York. Anyway, we did the whole tour thing and the gift shop -  of course. Then the men and kids began whining for lunch. We opted for the Burger King we’d spotted on the drive up.

Well, the King had just added a new humdinger of a burger to his menu and I ordered it. Two burgers, bacon, jalepeno peppers, blue cheese dressing, lettuce, tomato, and a kitchen sink was it? Can’t quite remember but I couldn’t wait to dig in. When we all had our orders we had to commandeer several tables to seat everyone. I sat down opposite my son, Carl, who was on and off wrestling with his five month old daughter. He set his meal on the table and set her firmly on his lap.

I unwrapped my humdinger. I splurted some ketchup onto my fries. I sipped my soda and was half way through my first big bite of  burger when two things happened at once. My granddaughter grabbed her dad’s French fry box and yanked. I looked up too fast, my lense went wonky and I went google eyed. I froze as I always do when I lose a lense. I rolled my eyes because sometimes it gets lost in there and you can feel it in another part of your eye. But soon enough I felt it somewhere else – with my tongue! My new light blue lense was in amongst my two burgers, bacon, jalepeno peppers, blue cheese dressing, lettuce, tomato, and the kitchen sink. Oh . . . No!

I looked around with my clear eye. The restaurant was full of families, old people, teens, all laughing, munching, ordering, and there I sat wondering how the devil I was going to discreetly pull that lense out of the mush in my mouth. It would be disasterous to keep chewing or Gasp - swallowing. I sat there with my chipmunk cheeks full of burger mush not wanting to risk the chore of pulling the lense out of some other cheeks later. Yuck.

I ducked my head and slipped my finger into my mouth. Fished around a little. My son stared at me as he gathered his fries. I wondered if  my little blue lense had fallen in love with a hunk of jalepeno and they were hiding out in a back molar, but I finally found her, dragged her out, and plopped her on the burger wrapper. 

“What’s wrong,” Carl asked.

“Nothing, I’m good. Eat your fries.”

My relief was immense! And I managed to finish my bite of burger. But then I looked at my poor lense sitting there all drippy like and knew what I had to do next. I had to put it back into my mouth. Every lense wearer does this! Yes – it’s the emergency clean spit method. Even Jesus used it once so don’t judge me here. Anyway, I swished some soda and ice around to clean my mouth, picked up the lense and gingerly put it on my tongue. I spit cleaned it as best I could, ducked my head again, popped it back in and went on with lunch. Like nothing had really happened here, people, eat your whopper.

That was about three years ago and I have to say, my little blue lenses have behaved themselves ever since. No more hiding out in my back molars with Senor Jalepeno. I'm so glad.




Image: Grant Cochrane                                                 Free Digital Images

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Words

Being a writer, I’m always interested in how words are used. Yesterday, as I was heading for a ‘girlfriend lunch’ with one of my girlfriends, Marie, we discussed this very thing. She was surprised the day before when her three-year-old granddaughter became word confused when shown Grandma’s new pocketbook. She turned to ask Mom what Grandma meant and Mom said ‘purse.’ It made me chuckle. My mother-in-law called her purse a pocketbook and when I first heard it I was confused, too. Especially since she’d left the ‘t’ back in the Bronx from whence she hailed pronouncing it ‘pock –a – book.’ To me a pocketbook was a paperback book with a little kangaroo logo on the spine. To her a purse was the amount of money up for grabs at the race track. Nowadays the trend is to say handbag. Much better.

During our brief stint in New Jersey we loved to order subs from our favorite deli. Sub is short for submarine sandwich and the term makes sense because that’s what they look like. You've seen lots of Navy submarines with lettuce hanging out the sides, haven't you? Anyway, I've subsequently learned what these long sandwiches are called in other parts of the Northeast; torpedoes, hoagies and grinders. I'm told there's something similar out Binghamton way called 'speedies.' Marie told me that. I think it's a po' boy in the South and who knows what they're called in Montana or Florida?

In Northern Minnesota, where I was born, Coke, Pepsi, Orange Crush etc. is called ‘pop.’ When Dad hauled us all out to live in Southern California we carried that term with us and had no problems. However, years later when my husband hauled us back to New York, I learned to call these carbonated beverages ‘soda.’ Once, on a return visit – with husband and kiddies – to Minnesota, I asked our picnic hostess for a soda. She thought I had an upset stomach thinking I meant bicarbonate of soda. Smack on the forehead – “Oh, I mean pop,” I said. She handed me a root beer.

Here are a few other words that sound different but mean the same.

Dungarees – jeans. My husband still calls them dungarees.

Sneakers – tennis shoes, Keds.

Capri’s – cropped pants.

Valise – suitcase or luggage. My father-in-law always carried a valise.

Victrola – i-pod. Okay, I skipped a couple of incarnations here for what we call our music delivery system. Think record player, cassette player, tape player and CD player. They all came first.

It occurs to me that brand names were once used to describe commonly used items like Kleenex and Vaseline. That was long ago and far away, though, and we tend to use generic terms like ‘tissue’ and ‘petroleum jelly’ now that there are gazillions of brands to choose from.

I've barely scratched the surface here but would love to know some other regional names for the things we use in common all over the country. Any come to mind?


Image: John Kasawa                                          Free Digital Photos


Monday, August 20, 2012

My Summer Reads


Okay, you know I write mysteries. But what do mystery writers read? I’m an eclectic sort of reader and though mysteries are the first I seek out, I’m always looking for a good book no matter the genre. Here are a few I’ve read over the last several months. Maybe you’ve read them, too.

The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow by Joyce Magnin – This book was recommended to me by my writing bud, Christine. Delightful story and quite different from what I usually read. Agnes Sparrow weighs 700 pounds and is taken care of by her devoted sister, Griselda. The people in Bright’s Pond come to Agnes with their troubles and she helps them with her prayers. The relationship between the sisters is intriguing, the setting is quaint, and the series (there are more) reminds me somewhat of Jan Karon’s Mitford books. I’m with Christine on this one – recommended.

Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George – Inspector Thomas Lynley is alive, kicking and still out there trying to solve crimes even though devastaing personal tragedy still haunts, tapping him on the shoulder when he least expects it. But there’s been a death in the influential Fairclough family and the inspector, along with his friends Simon and Deborah St. James, are on it. Family secrets are exposed, lifestyles examined and good old DS Barbara Havers eventually shows up to help, too. I’ve been a great fan of Ms. George for years. I always tout her books when I can.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. Wow, what a brilliant eleven year old is Flavia de Luce! Not much can keep her from her intended goal of proving her father innocent of killing his old school mate. Mr. Bradley won the Debut Dagger Award for this one and should have. His tenacious protagonist, always looking for her father’s love, takes us over hill and down the lane from the decaying English mansion where she lives to uncover the real killer. Loved it. Want more.

Some others I enjoyed.

The Innocents by David Baldacci – I’m a big Baldacci fan. Always looking for his next one.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I learned a lot about the now outlawed Chinese tradition of foot binding in this one. Went right to Google to find out more. Great read.

Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise by Joyce Magnin – Second in the Bright’s Pond series. Will follow this writer.

Low Country Bribe by C. Hope Clark - Carolina Slade is a bit hard to love, but story was good.

I’m currently reading Shroud for a Nightengale by P.D. James. Loving it so far. I mean, c'mon, P.D. James. What's not to love?

So – what are you reading as summer scampers into fall?

Image: Free Digital Photos

Friday, August 17, 2012

For My Readers


Yesterday I did a not-very-ladylike thing. I was in the kitchen hacking away at tomatoes,  making pasta sauce. I had to dig out a bad spot in one of them before plopping it into the pot of hot water but just before I did I stopped. The glorious red juicy inside of the object in my hand was too much to resist. I plunged my face right into it – as I reached for the salt shaker. YUM! It was enormously satisfying and I shooed away the thought of how it would have looked to anyone watching.

You just can’t get that kind of goodness in the winter. Which is coming. The weather guy reminded us of that this morning when he said some of us could have morning temperatures in the 40’s this weekend. Brrrrr!

But this cooking and plunging got me to thinking about food. Um – I do that a lot. Have to think about what we’re going to eat every day just about. It’s in my job description. But it happens to be one of my favorite topics. Then I thought of you, my faithful readers. What good could come from all these food thoughts for you? Then it hit me – my awesome garlic bread!

I’m going to tell you how to make it. Tell You - no recipe. Just know if you make this and make it right, you will be in demand everywhere. Really. This is the thing most requested from my family at gatherings where there are dishes of pasta, platters of ribs, fried chicken – you name it.

So . . .

Buy a loaf of good Italian bread, unsliced. Cut it lengthwise then crosswise to make easy-to-hold pieces. Lay them cut side up on a large cookie sheet.

Next get out a saucepan. Pour some olive oil in to cover the bottom and add a big lump of butter – like a whole stick. Warm these together.

Add some fresh chopped garlic. Leave it in chunks and bits and don’t stint. It’s GARLIC BREAD. Stir it up. Add some sweet basil (fresh if you have it) and some oregano. Sometimes I put in a little garlic powder for added hairs on the chest.

When this is all bubbly around the edges add your Parmesan cheese. I prefer it from a can – I know – but it’s just as good in this recipe. But grate fresh if you like.  Stir it in slowly and don’t overdo – it’s not cheese bread.

Turn the heat off and let this melange sit on the stove for a bit to blend the flavors. Turn on the broiler and put the rack right under. Spread the garlic mixure onto your slices. Make sure to stir up the cheese from the bottom so every slice has some on it.

While this is under the broiler – for One minute or so – don’t burn it; lick the spoon. Go ahead, I won’t tell anyone you did it if you don't rat me out as a tomato face.

Remove your golden brown slices, let cool a bit, and serve in a pretty basket. Or not. Your pretty basket may get savaged when your guests discover how good it is. I’m just sayin.’

You’re welcome.  

Picture: What hubby put on the kitchen counter this afternoon. And if you make this garlic bread, take a picture. Send it to me and I'll post it here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Summer . . .

Almost every day I take a walk up to our garden and have a look around. There are five fat watermelons and as many pumpkins waiting to be picked - but not quite yet. The weeds are a bit higher than we'd like especially where the herbs are planted. Tall grass stands along the boards hubby used to keep the rabbits out and the mesh deer fence is sagging. The last few visits, though, have seen a bit of sadness seep in as I realize what's coming. Fall. The tomato plants give testimony to that fact in their brown leaves and stems, just barely able to hold the heavy ripening fruit. The cucumber plants are dying on the vine and the summer squash and zuchinni are in the last days. These realities - along with the Halloween stuff and pumpkins showing up in the stores - force me to look ahead to the next season. In doing so I remembered the following poem; one I sold to Good Old Days back in 2009.

Last Picnic of Summer

Before she sheds her flowered dress
sweet Summer grants one last caress
and wraps her suntanned arms around
the peaceful place my heart has found

She bids me listen just once more
for water lapping on the shore,
and children thumping on the sand
to music from the oompa band

Picnic tables piled high
with buttered corn and cherry pie;
fireflies are sheer delight
blinking, winking through the night

We find some marshmallows to toast
then through the flickering fire, the ghost
of Summer who, with gentle laugh
goes slipping down bright autumn’s path


Let me know what you think. Maybe this is how it is for you, too, as you look ahead to the beauty of autumn and remember the delights of summer.



Image: Michal Marcol                                                   Free Digital Photos


Monday, August 13, 2012

When you smell good bread . . .

Yesterday I heard a wonderfully entertaining and inspiring sermon. The theme was bread, as in Jesus the bread of life, but when the service was over I wanted cherry cheese Danish, empanadas and other assorted yummy things. Why? Because the visiting pastor went to great lengths to tell us about a small cafĂ© in Vermont called Rainbow Sweets Bakery.

Apparently it’s on a back road somewhere and there’s nothing at all to draw the average meandering traveler, as were the pastor and his wife, to the door. No fancy signs, no recommendations from friends, and window shades drawn against the sun. What they did have, however, was grumbling stomachs and that wee bit of hope that the place might have more than packaged bagels and bitter coffee among it’s offerings. But in a town with a population of less than 300 what were the odds? They stopped and took a chance anyway.

When I got home I Googled the bakery and was enlightened. If Pastor Chuck had known the reputation of the place he would have had the GPS set for it big time. It would have been a destination instead of a ‘happened upon.’

In my search I found a link to a review of the Rainbow Sweets Bakery from The New York Times. Written in 1994 it was nearly as glowing as the description in the sermon. People who have sampled their wares are converted. They tell their friends. They call ahead if they’re bringing out of town company with them, reserving extra cherry cheese Danish because it’s so good it’s all gone 45 minutes out of the oven.

And then I got to thinking about bread. Great golden loaves, fresh baked and waiting. Loaves like the ones I wrote about here a few weeks ago with the recipe included. During Lent this year I baked two loaves a week keeping one and giving the other away.  I delivered six in all and no one turned me down.  Unlike what happened and still happens to Jesus. He’s a warm, nourishing presence, bursting with abundant life and only wanting to share it with us. But some push away from the table. They won’t even sample the wares and it baffles me. I want to drag them to that table and say, “Look, there’s good stuff here! Just try it!”

Pastor Chuck told us that the owner of the bakery, Mr. Tecosky, considers himself to be a "beacon of light in the gastronomic wilderness." The man gives every customer a hearty welcome and detailed, mouth watering descriptions of his food. His empanadas, for example, are baked in the oven so the flavors marry instead of sitting on the stovetop and only kissing. It made us smile and want to go there.

But there are other spots in the wilderness much darker and more dangerous than on the back roads of Vermont. For some it probably seems like there are no “Surprise – Great bakery ahead!” signs on the road. They're wrong.

The point is, we all get hungry in one way or another and stumble around looking for food. And perhaps a grumbling stomach eclipses a grumbling soul most of the time. But unlike the Rainbow Sweets Bakery, you won’t have to reserve the Bread and it won’t run out in 45 minutes when, upon your wilderness road, you come to the house of the Lord. There the bread never runs out and there’s a greeting that outshines that of Mr. Tecosky. Really. 

Okay, I’m being a bit preachy here, I know. But when you hear a good sermon and understand what good bread really is . . . you just want to share it. Ya know?  

Thanks Pastor Chuck Schwartz. You and Jesus Rock!

PS: I understand the bread at the bakery is very good, too.


Image: Boaz Yiftach                                                               Free Digital Photos

Thursday, August 9, 2012

For Writers

Humor Sells

“Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.”

If you guessed the above quote to be from Will Rogers you’d be correct. Our friend Will was extremely popular with the American people back in the 1930’s. And isn’t it uncanny that we can relate to his witty observation today? Good humor is like that - timeless. And it will always sell because people, whatever their circumstance, love to laugh. As writers it’s in our very best interest to be mindful of that, and we should attempt to infuse our material with a tickle or two whenever we can.

Short Pieces

The market continues to grow for short humorous pieces or essays. For instance, there’s a constant need for them by varied publishers like Chicken Soup, Funny Times, and Woman’s World. Two of my own sales come to mind where I used a humorous point of view. In one I employed cart loads of humor to describe my disastrous attempt at huckleberry growing; in the other I tell of a Lassie-like episode with our dog, Libby, and my husband who was stuck on the barn roof. I’m pretty sure the comedic element helped sell both stories.

I once saved a half column essay I found in the back of the AARP Bulletin because the writer told of his response to his wife’s request to empty the trash with a unique and funny twist. His topic was death but the way he tangled it up with refusing to take out the garbage was hilarious.
 
Anecdotes

Reader’s Digest, Woman’s World, The Lutheran and many others love little bits of humor to fill holes in their pages. You want to bet how many readers head to those pages first? In our hustle and bustle world it may be the only thing that brightens someone’s afternoon. Think of all the funny little things that happen to you every day. I have six grandchildren and that right there is a deep pool I can draw from daily – sometimes hourly. Woman’s World has a back page with a segment titled Was my face red! This is where a grandchild anecdote becomes a perfect fit to the tune of 60 -70 words. Kids Say the Cutest Things is also on this page and every parent who’s cracked up at their kids antics can have a shot here.

Columns

Dave Barry and the late Erma Bombeck had pretty good gigs with their syndicated humor columns. Maybe this is an area where you can shine, too. And you’re thinking, oh, yeah, I’ll just become a prize winning syndicated humor columnist – that’ll happen. Come on; rearrange your thinking a little, here. For example, in the rural area where I live there are two small publications. Each has a columnist who regularly uses their hot glue guns of humor to enliven their columns. Okay, maybe they say it better than that, but you get the idea. Try approaching your local editor with a funky name for your column—like—well, I can’t think of anything right now, but I’m sure you will. Go in with samples. Also go online and check out Jason Love or Sister Myotis whose ideas on thong panties will have the tears of laughter running down your leg (check You Tube). Your hankering to have a column and your wacky sense of humor could be the marriage made in heaven that answers your local editor’s prayers. It could also be the road to national prominence. I mean, the next Dave Barry has to come from somewhere.

If you’re pretty sure you’ve been blessed with the humor gene for heaven’s sake use it to liven up whatever it is you write. From greeting cards to children’s stories to novels, there’s almost no area of writing where humor can’t be incorporated. Okay, maybe the US Tax Code, but other than that—funny wins. The only words of caution I would offer are the same ones writers get all the time. Know your target publication. You don’t want to write a goofy kids poem and send it to Mad Magazine. You don’t want to send your teenage boy gross-but-funny story to Highlights. Get the picture? Will Rogers would have and so do you, I suspect. The following markets show the diversity of publications that appreciate a humorous touch.

Reader’s Digest – Pays $100 – 300 http://www.rd.com/submit-joke/
 
Chicken Soup – Pays $200 per story http://www.chickensoup.com/cs.asp?cid=guidelines

Funny Times – Pays $25-40 for cartoons $60 for stories http://www.funnytimes.com/submissions.php

Sasee – Pays ten cents per word http://sasee.com/submissions/  

Woman’s World – Pays $50 for Was my face red! and Kids Say the Cutes Things
Send to: Love and Laughter! Woman’s World, 270 Sylvan Ave, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632

Oatmeal Studio – Pays $75 per idea http://www.oatmealstudios.com/Writer'sGuides/WG-Pg.htm    

Grand Magazine – Payment varies http://www.grandmagazine.com/article.asp?id=151

I hope you find some value and inspiration in this post. I know there is a funny bone inside every writer so get yours out and use it - even if you have to whack it on the counter to get it going!


Image: Free Digital Photos 



Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Home Again

What can I possibly say about our week away that will interest any of you? Recent memories of our visit to #2 son and his girls have been careening through my mind for days. I wonder if you would like to know about . . . Lillie.

She’s eight and doesn’t care if the haircut I got a few days before we flew out is a little wonky. And it bothers her not a bit if I’m not sporting the most trendy shoes or earrings. No – Lillie cares about my knowledge of all things Harry Potter and is more than willing to fill in any blanks in my understanding. And there are a lot of those. So many, in fact, that we watched four HP movies while we were there and I have to say, I’m coming along. Still, I was told as we sat in the fort we built together, that the spell she was looking up in her Book of Wisdom (her own creation) was of too high a level for a beginner like me. But that’s okay. I’d rather sit with her in the fort she named The Green Acorn than in most places on earth because Lillie cares about the important things in life and she's bringing me along.


Or I could tell  you about the blueberry bushes that line the driveway as you approach Blaine’s house. Four of them loaded to bursting. I picked some every day and managed to make three fat pies while I was there. The first was gobbled up in no time, the second went to the landlord, and the third was for remembrance. I told Lillie and her big sister, Elaina, that I hoped they’d think of me and Grandpa while they polished it off. Lillie reminded me that blueberries are a fruit that makes you poop – and at my age that’s a good thing to know! 
 



We cooked. I taught Elaina, who’s fourteen, to make crispy chicken strips. She, Lillie and I commandeered the kitchen one night and served up a right tasty meal for Dad and Grandpa. Nobody went away hungry – well, maybe one little space down at the bottom for pie. 

Oh – and then there was the Rheinlander, an excellent German restaurant in Portland. We’d been there on a previous visit and hubby suggested it for my birthday. Wonderful food, accordian playing fella in lederhosen, and desserts to die for. I even quaffed some German beer. The fella played Happy Birthday and then he and our waitress sang a birthday song in German for me. What fun! Here’s a photo of us and Elaina’s dessert, a fancy sort of Napoleon. And the fella. Isn't he cute?

Blaine, Lillie, Grandpa John, Elaina, Grandma Sue










I need to read myself asleep most nights and Elaina would tiptoe into the living room to see if I was still up. At fourteen she’s of the opinion that eleven o’clock at night is way to early to hit the sack. I love it that she feels comfortable enough to share bits of her life with me even if some of them are troublesome. I believe listening is more helpful than advising at times like these, but of course I did offer a word or two. Grandmas just can’t stop themselves sometimes.

Blaine took us to his office, where he designed the impressive control room with multiple computer screens keeping track of wind power across the country – simply amazing. We hiked in Lewis River County Park - spacious and beautiful. The girls and I played Uno and Yahtzee. We visited OMSI – the Oregon Museum of Science and Technology. Had to cross the Columbia River from Battle Ground, Washington, to get there, but it didn’t take too long. We made several trips to Albertson’s for groceries where they sell Umpqua ice cream in red containers with the chief in a headress pictured on the carton. Visiting regional grocery stores is a weird passion of mine. Also went to Fred Myers; a Ginormous full service store where I got ten pairs of white sox for hubby for mere pennies (okay about a thousand of them) – and some groceries. We don’t have either of these stores in New York. Loved shopping in both of them even though we couldn't find the girls Otter Pops in Albertson's.

And then, somehow, suddenly, it was time to leave and I had the luggage on the waterbed (yeah – first time we’d ever slept on one of those) packing back up. Hubby popped his head in the door and said, “It seems like we just got here.” Didn’t I know it.

Back home now and unpacking the memories, the sox, the clothes I took way too much of and picking a little pebble from the park out of the treds in one of my sneakers.

But we're looking forward to the end of this month when #2 son and his girls will visit us. Yay – their turn to pack! Just doesn’t get any better. Maybe we'll hit the races at Saratoga.

And I’m putting aside time for advanced studies of Harry Potter – I’ve got nearly three weeks!



Making Gargoyles for the fort. Fun!