Peeling the Onion

Peeling the onion.  Someone I admired (as in someone cool- they had their act together) used that phrase a long time ago. It was at EST.  Yes; I was an EST-hole.  I grew up in SoCali back in the 60s-70s. EST was big in the 70s. 

EST stood for Erhard Seminar Training.  You weren’t really “training” as much as you were purging.  You and 249 other trainee’s would meet in a hotel conference room set up with row after row of straight backed chairs.  You’d park your ass in the chair from morning to night for two consecutive weekends.  Breaks for food or bathrooms were only allowed at the discretion of the “Trainor”.  Rumors about people being tortured for hours with no food or potty breaks didn’t scare me.  OK- maybe a little. But when I was offered a new set of luggage, or the EST training for my 18th birthday, I jumped at the training.  How could I resist?

The Trainor started each day by talking about life.  Life brings hard, painful things and we don’t always get time to deal with it; we are expected to suck it up and move on.  Every insult from a kid on the playground, the time your friend turned on you.  The cheating boyfriend.  The disappointments, the losses. We just carry it around like a burden, adding layer upon layer until we are choking on the sorrow.   That’s where the onion comes in.  As you reexamine, experience and move past these ghosts from the past, you leave them behind.  Each experience is peeled off like another layer of the onion.  This leaves you lighter, relieved of the burden.  So, the Trainor talked and healed.  He’d talk of love, sorrow, disappointment, guilt, sadness, fears.  It wasn’t always easy.  Every time he got to a hard part, heads would nod.  You see- we all have this bizarre sleep signal that helps us avoid things we really don’t want to hear.Jaws went slack, snorers would snore, droolers would drool.    Then, the Trainor would casually throw out a comment about either sex or food.  In every case the whole room woulld instantly be awake.  Myself included. 

I was 18 years old, and in a room full of strangers.  We listened to the people- the brave ones who stood and shared their stories.  This went on for 15-18 hours each day.  Each story brought old memories to the surface of my mind.  Old wounds became painful again.  Old memories came back, bittersweet.  Through it all, every time someone stood to share, they spoke for me. I recognized the stories as if I’d lived them.  Who doesn’t know the pain of betrayal and loss?  We left each weekend feeling connected; like blood brothers to these other 249 people.  My soul knew theirs. 

At the end of the training I walked out the doors lighter.  I left behind most of the unresolved issues, hurts and angers.  I felt shiny clean with a new start.  

That was many years ago.  The years have been very, very.  Very good, very hard. The same as other people, I suppose.  Years where I’ve tried to relish the joy, and have been denying and absorbing the joyless moments.  The feelings of sadness, worry, pain and disappointment have been pushed to the back burner.  Now, I see that I’ve done it again.  Worse- I see it happening in children.  Not just my own.  I’ve seen kids be unspeakably mean to each other.  Their vile words just take my breath away.  I’ve seen grownups talking with kids in a way that makes my own stomach hurt.  I want to cry for them- but I see them choke back the tears and force a smile.  I can’t do this anymore.  I’ve grown accustomed to the burdens, but I don’t want my kids to carry them.  

There is no EST for them.  I’m not sure what to offer them, except my love and and guidance.  I can’t keep setting this example- I need to let go of the past and set the right example. I can’t do that here-it isn’t fair to expose the other players in this venue.  I need to vent- and scream and cry.  I need to write another blog that allows me to rant about all the bad things I’ve been pushing to the back corners of my mind.  If I can just do that, with one layer at a time, I can be free. 

I need to peel the onion.  One layer at a time.

To the Boys at the APCC: CHEERS!

In any marriage, there are things that you might “borrow” which rightfully belong to your spouse.  Sometimes it’s a well worn shirt.  Or a jacket.  Or a hat.  Or perhaps, sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes, you might just want to steal their relatives instead.

I grew up with a few cousins, mostly older, a few younger.  We moved, they moved. In the “pre-facebook” days of the 60s and 70s, I never felt like I really knew those cousins.  Some I haven’t seen or spoken to since I was a kid.

Grumpy grew up without any first cousins.  None at all.  His father was an only child, his mother’s only sibling died young.  Really small family.  His grandmother (mother’s mother), however, came from a big family.  She left them behind in Newcastle, England.  She, and then her daughter (my mother in law), were good about keeping in touch.  Mary (my MIL) went over for a visit, and met some of her cousins and their children.  This is how Grumpy and I came to know his (2cd…3rd???) cousins in the UK.  And I stole them.

I didn’t set out to steal them.  It started out with a visit from Hylton and his (new) bride Yve. They were great- the kind of people you have fun with right off.  Then we stayed in touch through FB.  This is where I met Allen.  Allen and Hylton are brothers; and also very competitive, in a friendly way (ahem- right?).

Somehow or other, we started having intercontinental challenges.Kelly's yorky pudd I’m not sure who started it, or even what the first one was.  It might have been the Yorkshire pudding challenge.  This one was the entry from Kelly, Allen’s daughter who lives down in Australia.  My own entry was not so pretty.  There was also the “Toad in the Hole” contest.  This is basically a nice yorky pudd with sausages in the middle. toad in hole

This here is the Toad in the Hole that I made.  The toads (sausages) were burnt nearly to a crisp!  It’s a sad thing compared to Kelly’s- all high here/ flat there, but  it does pull off a neat height of 5 inches on the high corners(that’s more than 10cm there Kell!).

marrsy's mud pieThen, there was the Mud Pie.  We used a recipe from the Hairy Biker’s.  Know of them?  Those guys can really cook! This is Allen’s entry.  

Here is a link to the official recipe for Mississippi Mud Pie from the Hairy Bikers Mississippi Adventure.  It’s not like the ice cream one.  It’s a decadent, rich, chocolaty treat.mud pie 5

My own entry into the contest is pictured here, but I’m clearly not going to win the award for best photo!  Not sure what the problem was that day- must have been the camera, surely!

Somewhere along the way I really started looking forward to these food challenges.  In between those times we found plenty to communicate about, getting to know each other as well as sharing jokes.  I think Allen shares my fondness for jokes.  I love a good laugh- life is just to precious to take seriously! Allen is a regular attendee at “Church on Sunday“.   Click on the link there to read about it in his own words at  On Sunday’s the guys get together at the Annfield Plain Cricket Club to watch the games.  There’s probably a great deal of cricket (or football) cheering going on, but there is a bit of pint pulling in the club on a Sunday as well.    The boys at the club have been bringing in a variety of foods (at one time Thursday was “cheese night”), following the goings on with the Hairy Bikers and the international foodie competitions among the cousins as well.  I’m not sure they are all on Allen’s side, either! ;-)

Recently I was made an honorary member of the Annfield Plain Cricket Club.  Me.  Not Grumpy.DSCF2070  And I couldn’t be happier.  In fact, just today I received a gift from Allen: a memorial cup from the APCC centennial.    I’m absolutely tickled pink!  I’d like nothing more than to hop a plane out there and join them on a Sunday.  I know less than nothing about cricket, but I’ll cheer for Newcastle United, or Sunderland (If they’re ever the underdogs) and I’ll bring my cup. I know it’s meant for tea- but it’s an official cup lads! It won’t hold a pint all at once, but it seems to have a promise of 2000 refills stated in the handle.  It may take me a while to get through soDSCF2073 DSCF2077 DSCF2081many, but I’ll have a great time coming to know you all in person while I’m getting there!  Thanks so much Allen and you fellas, for making me a part of the club and a fine gift of the cup.  I’m aware it’s a limited edition (and commemorative of the championship) and I’ll treasure it.  Thank you for the cup, and the honor.

Cheers Boys! XXX

But most of all…. I miss my FEET!

I never, ever, ever want to be a teenager again.  This is absolute.  It’s painful enough watching my kids going through it now.  Sometimes, however, I do miss certain things.  We were “free-range” back then.  Our mother wouldn’t have bothered with a GPS tracker, “outside” was the only destination.  She didn’t care to know where we really went, as long as we  went out.

I don’t miss the hard wired phones, or the pre-ATM world where your whole weekend could be ruined if you failed to get to the bank before closing.  I really don’t miss the bell bottoms, or looking good in bikinis, or those heinous Earth shoes.

One thing I do miss, however, were my pre-motherhood feet.  Do you know what happens to your feet when you are pregnant?  Your body makes a hormone called “Relaxin” that makes your muscles, joints and ligaments loosen up.   If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t walk barefoot on the beach while pregnant.  It seemed like such a good idea at the time.  Healthy and serene as I strolled mile after mile.  That was on my days off.  At work I was on my feet and walking most of the day.  Sooo…after 4 kids, and countless miles of walking while that chemical was loosening up my pins, I’ve lost the feet of my youth.  I never had Cinderella pins, mind, but still…at least I had decent arches!  I’ve had to move away from those 8-1/2 narrows (that I thought were massive at the time).  So, I’ll just say it….I have huge, flat feet.  They’ve gained a full size, lost there arch and are now well into the “average” width.   Now I’m shopping at that other end of the shoe aisle…the one which is mostly frequented by majestic giantesses, Fiona (Mrs. Shrek) and transvestites.

I miss pretty shoes.  They still sell them, and I still buy them, but it doesn’t feel the same wearing them on ogre feet.  Now Syd, who still fluctuates between tomboy and princess, has been getting into shoes.  She has nice medium sized feet.  The girls at the mani-pedi salon never whisper in their home language when they see her feet in the tub.   She just bought a pair of basic pumps, and pimped them out in comic books.  I’m so jealous.  These are so cute, and cool, and fun.  And my feet are not.  I really miss having my young feet.  Maybe, just maybe, she’ll pimp me some clogs.  Do you hear me, Syd???DSCF2042DSCF2041DSCF2039DSCF2042Do you, Syd???DSCF2037


“Severe Weather Alerts”- Who Has Time For THAT???!!!

Every year we hear these dramatic predictions. is talking about 18-24 inches of snow, with the “possibility of a blizzard”.  Some people are even talking in terms of the “great blizzard of ’78”.  Grumpy claims it’s going to be a whole lot about nothing again.  Who knows?

In the meantime, we prepare.  These storm predictions are the “black Friday”  of grocery stores.  All over New England, people scamper off to fill their home with food, water, candles and batteries “just in case”.

I know we could survive for  weeks on what we already have here.  Months, even.  But… I am leaving early tomorrow morning for a 12 hour work shift.  I know they’ll be fine, but, I still feel  like I need to make sure that the kids and Grumpy are fine in my absence.  So I went, like a lemming, to prepare. 

We have a huge, shiny new store in the next town over.  market basketIt was packed.  About 4,000 people pushing carriages all over the store.  I had no idea what to buy.  I just wandered up and down the aisles.  Usually behind old people.  I mean “tales from the crypt” old.  I could hear the clock ticking my life away.  I had to get something and get out.  Then, I got this great idea to roast a turkey.  It would stay fresh for them over the weekend, right?  If we lose power, they can always store it in the porch back-up refrigeration room.  Lucky for me- they had 2 fresh turkeys left.  It was 2pm, but if I hurried home I could get it into the oven and done by about 5:30; in time for dinner.  Perfect!

Well, by the time I got home it was 2:30.  Maybe if I cook it unstuffed it will be done in time. Then, there were dirty dishes in the dishwasher.  Can’t rinse a turkey with dishes there- so I had to put them into the dishwasher…which was, of course, filled with clean dishes.  So, putting away the dishes when the phone rang.  Run to my desk- it’s a robo-call from the school superintendent announcing that school is cancelled for tomorrow.  As soon as I answered the phone, though, I forgot what I was doing.  I started checking out Facebook.  And email…OMG! It’s almost 4 o’clock!  Back to the dishwasher.  Finished unloading, then reloading.  Chopping the onions, carrots, celery to put under the turkey in the roaster.  Finally got that bird washed, seasoned (no time to brine it) and into that oven.  At 4:49pm.

So now- I just have to make the stuffing, because what’s a turkey without stuffing? Oh- and I have to figure out what to do for dinner.  Because that bird isn’t going to be done for a long time.  Seriously- who has time for this???

Whoville at our house is all about the Doctor, not the Grinch!

We’ve been closet fans of Dr. Who for years now.  At first there was the old series; they were on late at night.  Some were on a par with the old Star Trek in terms of quality, others were a bit better (or much worse).  Then, it got real.

There was a time (as in about 1998-2002) where I seemed to spend a great deal of time breastfeeding.  I love my kids, but you can only maintain eye contact with an infant for so long.  I’d either be curled up with a book in one hand, or watching TV. Every afternoon I’d watch Ground Force with Alan TitchmarshCharlie Dimmock and Tommy Walsh (I don’t care how hokey it was Allen; I really loved that show!). They’d take over someone’s garden and completely renovate it in 30 minutes.  Well, 30 minutes of TV time.  It actually happened in one weekend (these programs were the bane of Grumpy’s existence.  I was always inspired to take on new projects which we (he) could never seem to complete in the allotted time).   I often stalled and watched the next program (becoming a fan of Susannah and Trinny).  Then they started showing ads for a TV movie about Dr. Who.  It looked like a better version of the old series.  I made a point of watching when it came on the TV, and I was hooked.  I waited for the next TV movie, or hopefully a series…and waited…and waited…

Finally, in ’05 (or was it ’06?), it happened. A completely new series.  Christopher Eccleston was the best doctor ever.  Until David Tenant.  David was crazy, and seemed to be the perfect Doctor.  Then….along comes Matt Smith. I was gradually getting to like the Matt Smith character.  He’s no Eccleston, never mind Tenant, but the 2012 Christmas episode, The Snowmen ,  finally won me over.  And, as much as I liked the other characters (Captain Jack Harkness, Rose, Amy Pond and Rory), the new characters are even better.  Madame Vestra, an alien lizard-woman and her wife Jenny, a potato headed creature named Strax and the Doctor’s new companion: Clara Oswin Osgood.  She’s a crazy, brave human who has died twice already, but comes back again to be his companion.  Clara is the best- I’m really looking forward to this season.  Actually, the whole family is; we’re all huge Whovians.

So, guess who else is a fan?  Our dear cousin Allen.  He’s a big collector of Daleks,  These are the alien robot creatures that look like a salt shaker. dalek snowman So, when his brother, our other dear cousin, Hylton suggested a snowman competition, I knew we had to make one of the Who snowmen.  Allen didn’t make a who-related snowman, ,but did send along this photo of a snow-dalek (even before he saw our entry).

I will say, that we were somewhat challenged for time and materials.  doctorwho_photo_snowmen_01_webAfter a few days of single digit weather, it suddenly warmed enough to have slushy downfall that melted most of our snow.  So….here’s one of the actual snowmen from the Christmas episode:

I know- really creepy! DSCF1961 And here is the (not so scary) version that PJ, Syd and I built
Well, he’s not as close a resemblance as I’d hoped, but he’ll do!

Actually, If I could have I’d have made a Tardis.  tardis-doctor-who-new-hd-wallpaperThat’s the phone booth that’s “bigger on the inside” that the doctor travels in. It’s possibly my favorite thing from the show.

We have a cardboard standup of the Tardis in the kids gameroom, because it’s neutral territory and they all wanted to claim ownership.  There are a lot of very cool tardis and dalek items for sale now.

There is also a few do-it-your-selfer’s who’ve come up with some great ideas.  This one is by Greg Kumparek- and he’s my hero.  Check out “The Augmented Reality TARDIS- It’s Bigger On The Inside!

And Maybe it’s Time to Take Down Those Lights

Yes, we still have those lights up.  And the garlands.  And those 2012
I’m just not ready to say goodbye. Or, maybe, we’re not ready to head out into the arctic tundra and take it all down.  Yeah, maybe that’s it.

Well, it’s time to put Christmas to bed.  It’s my favorite time of the year, but it’s really over.  I never did write about our big day.  We have the outlaws (aka Grumpy’s side of the family- mine is spread out so far we don’t get to see each other) over on Christmas Eve. Usually I take a day off before the Eve to start preparing.  Then they all come over and we have a big sit-down dinner.  Always a bit late.  If I say we are eating at 4, we eat at 5. Or 6.  Always works out that way.  Partly the cook- she (that’s me) tends to get distracted with cooking, the comings and goings of the Mass attenders, the wine, and conversation (last year even a skype with our cheeky cousins in Durham, UK).

This year  I had to work on the eve until 3:30.  That meant getting home at 4:30.  Dinner at 6.  Serious prep over the weekend.  All the desserts ready to go by Sunday evening.  Grumpy had to start the roast( which he did well).  Veggies prepped and/or quick and easy. It was a busy weekend- but it was the best Christmas! The desserts you see below are: (individual) strawberry cheesecakes, profiteroles (Bailey made these!), turtle cheesecakes, a Bain Marie filled with ice creams,banana caramel cream pies, chocolate-coconut custard pies ( just like at Ted’s Bakery in Hawaii) salted-caramel filled brownies, a vanilla cake (make by Bailey) and some gingerbread men. In the background is also the gingerbread house village.



Below is a better view of the gingerbread house village. I have 5 nephews, four children of my own and we had Bailey’s family (4 more kids) joining us for dessert. There are a couple more houses on standby outside the pic.


Those houses aren’t just for the kids- they are for all of us.  The adults may not be decorating them (or then again, some do) but they all benefit from the time those kids spend occupied at the table! 
DSCF1816Grumpy ends the evening by putting on a Santa suit and warning the kids that they’d better be asleep in their beds when he gets there “or else!”.  Grumpy’s sister Sue looks suitably worried- not!


At the end of the night I found this lovely creation by Avery.  I can just picture her, sitting there surrounded by her cousins, expressing herself on confectionery canvas.  I just love her.


DSCF1877So that’s it- Christmas is officially wrapped up.  Time for me to move on.  Maybe we’ll take down those nutcrackers.  Or, maybe we’ll do as my friend Rosie suggested: cover them in  red garlands and hearts for now.   Then green shirts and shamrocks.  Then….. ;-) or not!



So instead of cleaning my side of the office (aka: there must be a desk under this somehwere), I am procrastinating.  Occasionally I’ll see a post from other bloggers where they list all the gaziollions of people/places they are being read, or the bizarre things people type into the search engine that lead them to their blog.  I don’t have a gazillion readers, and don’t usually bother looking at that sort of thing.  My desk is VERY succesful in helping me create new ways to procrastinate, so I peaked to see what you could write on google et all that brings up this site.  And the list, in no particular order, is:

chickens (Why when there must be 4,999,999,999 other chicken sites)
weak legs in chickens (???)
border collie dogs (love,love,love them!)
big nice booty sleeping (? I’m blushing)
using apricot nectar to make jam (I do think it adds a little something, too)
silver diner coffee mug (shhh! that was a special gift from our server!)
pixie hair model (???)
border collie  (already there once- this must be a sign…)

and finally…

it is good to plant coffee along with rubber tree (thanks for the tip!)

Okay- I’m really, really going to get back to work now….after I wake up my big nice sleeping booty!

Paying it Forward (From me to you…you to them…and so on)

So many people are out there writing blogs! Some of these are probably fabulous, and I’ve never seen them.  Some are fabulous and I already follow them.  Shaunna, of Tempting Thyme ( is one I do follow.  She recently invited all bloggers to play a game of “paying it forward”.  You can read about it here:

It’s not the virtuous type of thing where you send out gifts in secret to people in need, etc with nothing in return.  Not that that’s good or bad; we enjoy doing this type of pay it forward periodically as it is important and right (and makes us feels so good/virtuous/safe from bad karma).  You actually get a gift yourself; but by paying it forward to 3 people you spread the joy.

I was one of the first 3 to reply, so that means that I will be recieving a lovely gift in the mail from Shaunna.  Frankly, I’m a greedy child still when it comes to getting mail.  I love to order things online.  In the days BK (before kids) I sent my tops out to a Chinese laundry in the North End of Boston because they wrapped all my things in tissue, then boxed them and tied with string.  Getting dressed meant opening up a “new” blouse each day.  So any game that means I get a hand made surprise in the mail is pretty high on the WOOOWHOO!!!scale.

HERE IS HOW IT WORKS: (First of all you have to reply to this post to participate.  You also must post about Paying it Forward on your blog, and…)  Give a gift to 3 people, and those 3 people give a gift to 3 more people……and so on and so on…that is 12 people being touched by this single blog post.  WOO HOO!  The first three people to comment on this post will receive a gift from me. It may be something that I am drooling over and wish to share with others, something to wear, something to eat or maybe just something I love! Whatever it is, it will get special thought and care just for you!

The fine print:
■Within a year (it’ll be sooner than later, I love to cross things off my to-do list), I’ll create something unique to share with the first three people to comment on this post.
■But, in order to receive your present you have to play along. Spread the love on your own blog promising to send a little special something to the first three people who comment on your post.
■You get 72 hours to re-post, or I’ll have to move on to the next person.

These are the rules set forth by somebody somewhere back in the links of links of links.  They are what they are, they are straight forward and simple so don’t even bother trying to change them.

Seems like fun, right???   Want to play along?   Did I mention that… you have to reply to this post to participate?!! When commenting, please make sure I have a way of getting ahold of you.  If not, the old saying stands true….you snooze you lose!

Good luck!

*********** UPDATE ***********************

It’s been crazy busy, and I’d put this post on the back burner.  Until this week, that is. I just recieved a really cute pendant in the mail from Shaunna at “TemptingThyme”. It arrived on a day when my Avery was expecting for a package.  She immediatly brought it to me, waited for me to open it and begged me to “share”.  I’m going to have to get those addresses and get my gifts sent!

Thank you very much Shaunna!


Bye, Bye Birdie and Helllloooo K-Vegas!

These birds just grow up too fast! They get out of the shell and start stomping around like toddlers. You dip their beak in water, just once, and they have mastered the skill of drinking.  They know how to eat and are eating bird chow before they’re even dry.  Now, a week old and they are “flying” in small hops.  They don’t get far, but they are airborn.  Time for them to leave the nest.

We brought them to their real home, with Jack.  They came in a carboard box, with the lid taped together.  I wanted to get them here for their first look “outside”, so they always see his farm as home.

They’ll go into this room he built in his barn; joining the other keets he is rasiing. Those photos look a little red, because of the special warming light.  And because my camera is crap.  Maybe more that than  not! Later, they’ll join his older flock, living mostly off the land. I’ve been to Jack’s farm a few times, the Guinea hens have always kept their distance.  If they were anywhere near when I arrived they would beat feet over to tthe far side of the pasture as soon as they saw me.  This time, they came right up to the barn to check out the new kids.  It was crazy~ they were all sqwauking and babbling about it like…a bunch of old hens.  Funny how I never thought about that phase before. 

There was another eason I wanted to drop them off yesterday.  The kids are kind of attached.  They were talking about wanting to keep one.  Maybe Cheeko…or Tiago…definitely Elvis. 

We left this afternoon for a road trip.  It’s also a hen trip- as in no dad’s on this one. Just us old hens and our kids.  We’re heading on down to Kernersville! K-Vegas, don’t you know.  

I love a good road trip  (Woah- just gave myself a flashback to a road trip from Hell.  But that’s for another day).  Today is just fun- me and 5 kids on the road.  In a minivan.   No work.   No school.   No agenda.  That’s right! K-Vegas, here we come!

A lesson on facing loss and acknowledging failure

Sadly, we haven’t been hatching up any fun here.  Nothing is hatching at all.  I’ve candled the eggs, and two were never fertile to begin with.  That’s fine.  The other ten, however, were fertile and show no signs of movement. It’s so sad.  Avery won’t admit that they’ve died.  She won’t let me near them, but tomorrow it’ll be 30 days since they arrived here and they just don’t take that long to hatch.  We had to break the news to Farmer Jack.  He was very good about the loss.  He doesn’t think that there are any eggs available at this time, but has offered to have keets delivered to our home so we can foster them.  Keets are newly hatched Guinea and are more available. Avery was eager- she wants to redeem herself.  I want a bunch of little birds around here- sort of.  It might be tricky, with 2 dogs and a cat here already.  On the other hand, I’ve managed to keep them, a husband and 4 kids alive and safe.  How hard can a few tiny birds be?  We’re only babysitting until they get big enough to manage.  And are no longer cute! Those birds are nasty ugly.  Have you seen them? They remind me of the penguin.  As in The Penguin. The one played by Danny DiVito in Batman. Just look at that horned beak, the little head with the receding feather line.  Not to mention the body that’s about 4 sizes too large for the head. Ugh!  We’ll be bringing them to Jack before bird-puberty sets in all right.

But that’s not all we’re bringing….I’ve located some available eggs!  Shhhh!  It’s meant to be a secret.  We’re going to sterilize the incubator, put another thermometer inside and give it another try!  Farmer Jack is going to have a great big flock of Guineas to watch from his porch this fall!

Aging with “Grace”

It’s been a few years since I’ve seen her, but I’ll never forget “Grace”.  I don’t remember what her diagnosis was, or even her real name.  She had been in the hospital for a few days already when I heard of her.

It was the end of a tough week.  The supervisor made her rounds, and stayed a bit longer than usual.  She told me about this patient, an elderly lady, who I needed to visit.  I’m a labor and delivery nurse.  We didn’t make a habit of visiting patients; certainly not elderly patients on medical floors.  The supervisor told me “Go, you’ll be glad”.  So we went.

When we got to the room, there was a nurse just leaving.  As she went out, we walked in.  The woman was tiny, with thin white hair and an angelic smile.  As I walked to the bed she lit up, and cried “Well hello dear! Don’t you look lovely. Have you lost weight?  Surely you must have.  You look so nice”.

I think she was as we say “pleasantly confused”.  She was clearly delighted to see me, or whoever she thought I was.  I had a lovely visit with her.  She was so happy, and kind.  My whole night improved, all from a few insincere but well intended compliments.

Over the next couple of weeks I went to visit her several times.   She always seemed so happy to have a visit.  She gave compliments and smiles to all who came by.  She was very popular with the nurses.   I’m not sure if she ever had a single visit from an actual relative.  I’m very sure she had more visitors that the other patients.  Especially at night.

Eventually, “Grace” was discharged.  I really missed her.  She gave me so many lovely moments,  In addition to all the compliments, she gave me some important lessons.  The value of a compliment.  The power of a smile.  The importance of aging with grace.

The Combat Zone: after the Battle

Sometimes it’s nice to roam.  Roam the past, roam the streets.  I was able to do both the other day.  The Burlesque district in Boston had always been in an area near Faneuil  Hall called “Scollay Square”.  The area was more than just Burlesque; it was also filled with rowdy bars and prostitution.  About 60 years ago the people running the city decided to revamp Scollay Square.  They wanted to eliminate the rundown, derelict area.  But the people and businesses that thrived there were providing a service that these politicians did not want to eliminate.  They decided not to drive it out, but to move it south.  They rezoned about 2 square blocks of the theater district, allowing “adult entertainment” to move in.

They called it “The Combat Zone”.  This is the area where people of all types went out to music halls, live theater and night clubs.  Anyone who wanted to go out for legitimate theater in the 70s and 80s had to contend with the zone.  The area spread over more than they had planned. (***) There were a lot of stripper bars (The Teddy Bare Lounge, The Naked I and Club 66 among them).  There were XXX-rated movies and peep shows too.  I’d never pay to see them but I always caught myself staring at the scene as I walked by.

It wasn’t all porn.  There were other businesses there.  I would cut through that area to get to my favorite yarn or fabric shops.  My boyfriend at the time attended the school of Veterinary Medicine in that area.   Once in a while I’d meet him nearby.  It was a little awkward for a single female to walk through the area.  There were a lot of hookers on the streets. I was obviously not one.  My makeup was minimal.  I wondered around in Capri pants, girly tops and ballet flats.  Occasionally though, someone who thought this was part of the act would stop me and ask how much I charged for a “date”.   The first time I was probably embarrassed, but I don’t remember ever feeling insulted or threatened.  My friends and I would go out for pizza, late at night, and chat with some of the working girls coming in to warm up on a cold night.

Now that’s changed.  Nearby neighborhoods, both residential and not, fought to “clean up” the neighborhood.   There was crime, not just vice but violent and felonious, and the neighbors had had enough.  Ray Flynn was elected mayor in 1984, and promised to help the residential neighborhoods.  The price of real estate soared in the 80s and 90s, shrinking the zone as smart players in the real estate market bought up and renovated.  The nearby hotel’s,  hospital and colleges all spread, buying up and building on the land. There are few signs left of what was once a frontier of vice right here in our puritanical city.  This club supposedly still operates, but is about to be dwarfed by another high rise right across the alley.

I no longer see the ladies of the night out on patrol at every street corner.  I know that it still exists, and always will.  It’s a sad fact of life.  It’s just that the Combat Zone is no longer welcome in Boston.  It’s much cleaner, safer and nicer here now.  I  don’t really miss the seedy, notorious, dark side of the city.  Well, not much.

***Photo #2: Roswell Angier, Washington Street, 1977. Copied from internet, all credit to Roswell Angier and Howard Yezerski Gallery

Domestic Slut (not), Feta and New Friends

I’m not the world’s best domestic slut.  I clean once a week, on Wednesdays, when I can.  When I can’t, I settle for taking care of whatever offends me, if it can be managed quickly.  You’d be amazed at what no longer offends. The kitchen is special to me.  It’s my place.  It has to be clean when I go to bed.  Bathrooms- they kind of need a regular quickie.  That stack of clean laundry: it could grow mushrooms before I get it put away.  My desk…oh my.

I’d rather have a clean house.  It would be lovely.  It doesn’t come before work.  I work a lot.  Work really interferes with cleaning.   If it weren’t for work, life would be so easy.  Or clean.  Okay, maybe.  My desire for a clean house doesn’t come before my children (or their incessant need for taxi service).  Cleaning does compete with reading, writing and gardening.  In other words: I kind of need a keeper.  I do go through long periods of time when my house is tidy.  This isn’t one.  I like having the holidays at my home.   I like having company anytime.  It forces me to clean.  I also get to bake.  Clean house, fresh baked goodies. Woohoo.

I must be slipping.  This week, I invited a friend over for lunch.  A new friend, whose not seen my home and isn’t used to my haphazard domestic tactics.   And I didn’t clean.   Like, not a good cleaning for the last 2 weeks.  As my hubby says ” Well,  she sure can’t accuse us of putting on airs”.  She was a saint.  I had managed to prepare a salad, to which she contributed a lovely, fresh, locally made feta cheese.  Actually, her neighbor raises the goats that made the milk that made the cheese that made the salad that Jack built…they are at .  Their farm looks lovely.  It seems that when they are young the goats have the run of the place, including the kitchen.  I can just picture baby goats scampering around in my kitchen.  Hypothetically, I even like that picture.  Valley View Farm sells cheese, eggs, honey and syrup (more than goats are roaming there!).  They also have kids for sale in the spring.  I mean the goat kind.

The salad we had is an old favorite of mine. Healthy, lemony and light.  I’m going to give the ingredients first for a change:

8 oz shaped pasta. If you want to go really healthy, use whole wheat.  Or, do what I did: cook 7 grain pasta.  Then, after you taste it, give it to the dogs and start over with yummy, semolina pasta. Really.

1 (or 2) can(s) of artichokes hearts (in water; or you can substitute with fresh steamed.  In fact- this is sooo much better.  But, who has those on hand?).  If you LOVE artichokes, put one whole drained can into the blender for dressing, then chop the other can for the salad.  If not, 1/2 can to each.

Juice and zest of one lemon

2 Tblsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 lb washed baby spinach

1 box grape tomatoes (or, if you forget to stop at the market, any tomato)

Feta…as much or as little as you like. Creamy, homemade or fat free.  Your choice.

First I boiled 8 oz of shaped pasta to el dente, drain and cool. 

Then, in a blender, mix 1/2 can of artichoke hearts (I actually prefer to double the chokes in the recipe, using a can in the dressing and a can in the salad) with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic.  The result is a creamy, aromatic dressing that (of course) I forgot to photograph.

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the feta.  Pour/scrape on the dressing and toss to coat.  Sprinkle on feta and voila!  Lemony-garlicky-artichoky spinach and pasta salad.  It might deserve to be served in an immaculate and picturesque terrace anywhere.  But, it’s not.  So clear off the table, make yourself at home and dig in.   You’re family now.


Chickens are the perfect pet.  The first couple of hours they aren’t really all that cute.  Their feathers are wet, they look sort of sparse and homely, scrawny in the same way as a human newborn (except the feathers part). Then they fluff out and manage to look adorable, following you around and eating bugs.  Especially ticks; they eat ticks like nobody’s business!

Then, just when they get to that not-so-cute adolescence, it gets better.  Instead of being cranky, sleepy, emotional teenagers, when puberty hits they start laying eggs!  Okay, that was some really good planning!  They also step up the bug eating thing.

My first experience with chickens was at Jessie’s.  Jessie lived across the street from my Nana.  They had about an acre of land in the Valley.  As in Southern California.  On this acre she had pet chickens.  They roamed freely and laid their eggs all over the yard.  Jessie wasn’t as good at finding eggs as I.  Every few months I’d go to Nana’s for a visit.  Within hours I’d be over at Jessie’s hunting for eggs.  Some of those eggs were really, really  old.  It was a smelly lesson in the benefits of providing a nesting box.

When I was about 14, my best friend and I came up with a terrific idea (given our teenage perspective).  We bought each other a baby chick for Christmas.  Darlene’s father was no dummy.  Soon I had 2 baby chicks.  My father was pretty good about it at first.  He’d go along with most of my antics when it came to pets.   I had chickens, so    he built me a chicken coop.  It wasn’t the worlds fanciest coop.  This might have been part of the problem.  You see, we lived in Orange County.  Not exactly chicken country.  We had to drive out to the boonies to get to an Agway and buy Purina Chicken Chow.  We didn’t know they’d eat bugs. Or grains.  Or kitchen  scraps.   And the chicken chow seemed to agree with them.  Those girls got bigger, and bigger…and before they even laid one egg they were gone.  Dad said that the animal officer had complaints from people who didn’t think chickens belonged in a planned community.  He claims that he drove them out to a farm where they would be happy roaming with cows.  He said the same thing about our pet snakes, mice, lizards…pretty much anything we managed to catch wound up living a better life on this mythical farm.

Many years later I found myself living at yet another beach town, this time on the east coast.  And you know what?  They don’t allow chickens there either.  What is it with these people?  It’s not like I wanted roosters.  There are a few people living in Hull who have managed to have chickens.  One, a lovely person named Catherine Goldhammer, wrote a book about it.  Her book “Still Life with Chickens: Starting Over in a House By the sea” tells of her struggles to keep her chickens and her sanity while she battled town bylaws and cranky neighbors.  There are still a few people in Hull who are raising outlawed chickens secretly.   They are renegades- I won’t reveal their names (who would?), but I silently applaud.

Now we live in a town that allows all manner of pets. My dad would have been challenged to find a reason to deport pets here.  I am still without my feathered pets.  Maybe someday.  In the meantime, Dad is no longer with us.  He is probably living a better life, in the country on a wonderful farm, roaming with the cows and chickens.  Yes, I probably should have a filter.

Tomboys, Girl Scouts and Soap Creatures

Back in the days before cell phones, dvd’s, ipads and video games I was a normal kid growing up with 3 brothers.   We climbed over the water pipes and hunted for blue belly lizards and horned toads in the open area of Southern California.   This was what I did pretty much every day.  We carried them around in our pockets.  Sometimes we’d forget and they’d turn up later.  Like in the laundry.  Maybe that’s why Mom signed me up for Girl Scouts.

Technically, I was a Brownie.  Being a Brownie was a big deal then.  You wore your whole uniform to school once a week.  It was a brown dress, orange beanie and tie with those really stylish knee-high socks.  After school we walked to the leader’s home for the “meeting”.  The “meeting” was a lecture, followed by coloring with crayons, eating some windmill cookies(did anyone actually like them?) and Kool-aid.  I never earned any badges, never learned any cool secret handshake.  They must have done that in year two, something I also never did.  Girl Scouts was the ultimate snooze.

Naturally when my own daughter was old enough, she would take my advise and avoid the whole thing.  Wrong.  Nothing could deter my tomboy from joining the other girls in this right of passage.  Eventually I not only agreed to this, I volunteered to be their “leader”.  Don’t get me wrong- I’m not a Kool-aid drinking convert.  I just wanted it to be more than crayons and cookies.  I used the Scout platform as a way of giving them broader experiences.  I encouraged them to face adversity, fears and challenges.  They learned to ski, ride, canoe, and we camped too many times to count.  They learned to be resourceful.  On one of our trips they learned to roast a whole chicken on a stick in the ground.  On another they learned that a wine bottle makes a good rolling pin.  But I digress… the hard part was giving them a sense of accomplishment before they were old enough to do all the challenging stuff.  One of the things Avery really liked was the time they “made soap” for Mother’s Day gifts.

This was one of the cheats; a way of re-crafting already made soaps into something special for Mother’s Day. It was done over 3 different meetings.  First, we made blender paper (like this: and tore it into rustic looking strips.   The next meeting we went out foraging for flowers, which we dried.  Then, we “made” the soap.  We gathered hotel soaps as well as some basic oatmeal type soaps.  We gave them a few good pulses in the food processor, adding rosemary and the dried flowers for the last pulse or two.

Then we dumped the soap mixture into a large bowl.  Adding just a small amount of water, a tablespoon at a time, created a lumpy clay like mix.  This was pressed firmly into muffin trays lined with plastic wrap. 

After a few hours it was dry enough to pop out.  We dried it overnight, then slipped a strip of homemade paper around it, tied it with jute and a sprig of rosemary.  

It’s been about ten years since the first time we made these. This time Avery wanted to play with hers like clay.  She got right in there and squeezed and molded that stuff for ages.  I kind of like that about her.  Then she made this  soap creature.  I’m not sure what kind of creature this is, but I have a feeling I’m going to find out on Sunday!