For the umpteenth time…

I am working at improving my eating habits.  They stink and I’m the first to admit it.  I’ve never enjoyed cooking for myself yet I’m a very capable cook.  It’s frustrating.  So while I’m not aiming to cook every night, I will try to prepare a meal a few times a week.  Tonight’s effort reflected the hot weather.  I determined to make something refreshing, healthy and edible.  I succeeded.  It looked a little funky but it was filling and tasty.  I’m not immune to trying new things.  I love carbs like rice and potatoes.  I wanted a salad-type meal but also wanted a small amount of carbs.  I ended up with some brown and red quinoa and dumped it on to the bed of lettuce.  Joining it was some sliced cucumber, sliced chicken breast, and some fat-free cottage cheese.  Normally I eschew the fat-free dairy products but the cottage cheese is good and doesn’t upset my stomach.

I found an unopened jar of salsa in the fridge, checked the expiration date, and used it as dressing for my salad.  This is a huge departure for me.  But it worked.  A little later I’m looking forward to some pieces of watermelon.

I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve tried to improve my eating habits.  I’m an over eater, sometimes a binge eater.  To me, it’s a weakness and a character flaw.  No matter how much I read about the psychology of overeating, I can’t help but blame myself.  But I keep trying to make changes.  And if this doesn’t work, I will try something else.

Four days in, my insulin dosage a far less than usual.  I’m not feeling the increased energy yet but it’s day 4 and my system is still adjusting.  However I’m wearing the old Fitbit again and exceeding my step goal each day so that’s a positive.  As a once very active person, I’ve become very sedentary.  The more I resist activity, the harder it becomes.  No duh.  I’m trying not to expect perfection because the disappointment sabotages me.  I must remember that even if I make one small change per day, I’m on my way to better habits.

Thanks for letting me vent.

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Red sky at the cabin in my head…

The town in which I live is characterized by having many trees, both hardwood and pine.  As a result my previous and current residences lack an expansive view of the sky.  It seems that wherever I’ve lived, I’ve always wanted just one more thing the property didn’t offer.  Therefore I’ve invented the cabin in my head.  It’s where I dream of living.

Tonight at the cabin in my head, there is a gathering of old friends.  At the cabin, adjacent to the kitchen garden, a vast patio sprawls from beyond the back door.  It is comprised of blue-stone of various shapes and sizes anchored in cement.  There are many stones in hues of blues and maroons and it’s one of my favorite places.  One side is shaded by large branches of maples.  It is home to a funky gazebo made from rough-cut logs.  The “roof” of the structure is covered in vines, keeping direct light from the inside.  It is there where I write if the weather isn’t inclement.

In addition to the gazebo, there is a large and long trestle type table.  It is made from reclaimed barn siding, lovingly sanded and resurfaced.  It hosts communal meals and serves as a work table in all seasons:  canning, wreath-making, flower-drying, etc.  Tonight it played host to a tight-knit group of longtime friends.  After a morning spent in the gardens, we friends hung out at the small pool on my property where I swim laps and absorb some sun.

The evening was for sharing food and each of us pitched in with our favorite offerings.  As a joke to all things Martha Stewart, I served homemade graham crackers and marshmallows (Martha’s recipes) along with Hershey bars for everyone to make s’mores.  I’m not a huge fan but I do love to roast marshmallows.  We sat around the fire pit made from rocks and stones collected from local creeks.

Sated by our gustatory indulgences, quiet prevailed as each of us retreated into our own thoughts.  Looking off to the west, across a field of wildflowers, I spied one of nature’s finest shows…a beautiful pink night sky.  Catching my gaze, one of my friends recited the old adage:  “red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”  After some ooh’s and aah’s a toast was offered to the beauty of Nature and to the beauty of friendship.


red sky

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Circling cyclically…

Life often moves in cycles.  This concept has been in my head for a few days.  When my family moved to our longtime home in town, we were the second “young” family on our block.  I was probably 7, my brother 11.  Most of the other residents of our block were nearing retirement age or were already retired.  Several houses down on our side of the street was the other “young” family who had moved in several months before we did.

I loved growing up on that block.  I was a friendly kid, despite being painfully shy at times.  My upbringing imprinted me with good manners and the ability to converse with older people.  And I was a tomboy.  Mostly I was kind of a quirky kid; you know, I was funny without trying to be funny.  I was a favorite among the older neighbors.  Maybe I was just a novelty but those people got a kick out of me.

Across the street lived a couple whose only son had been a Green Beret during the Vietnam era.  His mother, a member of the DAR and the Mayflower Society,  spoke of him ad nauseum.  She also mentioned every five minutes that she was a member of the DAR and the Mayflower Society.  Her husband was a jolly man who mowed the lawn in his dress shirt and tie.  We kids referred to their lawn mower as the “crop duster” as it belched more oily smoke than I’d ever seen.  However, the jolly husband also possessed a deep voice.  Men with deep voices terrified me as a kid.  So even though he might have qualified as Santa in the jolly looking department, I was terrified of this man.  He could never figure out why.  Did I mention his wife was a member of the DAR and the Mayflower Society?  At any rate, I spent many an afternoon in the wife’s company, hearing the same stories told over and over and looking at photographs.  My reward was meted out in cookies.  That woman baked a mean cookie.  If being kind meant cookies, I was all about being patient.  

Now that I’ve been an adult for quite a while, I realize she was lonely.  I think of her every time I make raspberry chocolate chip meringue cookies.  It was her recipe.  And I’m happy to say that I overcame my fear of her husband during my teenage years.  When I was in college he became very ill.  I visited him in the hospital and we had a great chat, his once resonant voice dulled to a whisper by throat cancer.  What I took away from that visit was the memory of his sweet smile and how much he seemed to like me though I’d usually avoided him like the plague.  And he thanked me for the many hours I spent listening to his wife.  He winked at me and said, “I know it wasn’t just for the cookies.”  Boy, had I underestimated him.

As I grew up on that block the cycle continued.  Our older neighbors retired, moved away, or died.  My mom remained in that house as she and the matriarch of the other “young” family became the elder stateswomen of the block.  About ten years ago, the other gal moved.  And now, my mom has moved.  Oh yeah, I almost forgot.  Guess who lives down the block where my mom just moved?  Yep, you got it.  They’re on the same block again, after it all began 53 years ago!

So, this post took on a whole different life than I intended.  I started writing and my old neighbors came to visit.  I’m glad they did.  I learned a lot from them and I’d like to think they learned something from me.

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The foibles of youth…

I often find myself thinking, “man, I wish I understood ___________ when I was younger.”  But I didn’t.  Our brains are not developed enough.  I understand this now.  I’ve been mired in travelling down memory lane for a few months.  It’s hard not to be since I’ve been helping my elderly parent pack up the old family home.  The other day I was handed a photo.  It kind of blew my mind.

Part of me thought, “wow, I looked pretty good.”  Part of me thought, “wow, I was huge.”  Part of me thought, “why was I so insecure?”  I’m not capable of answering any of those questions.  And, as I’ve become overly fond of saying, it is what it is.  Water under the bridge.  Moments gone by.

I was either 15 or 16 in this photo, probably 16 and heading into my senior year of high school.  At my lowest weight of 150 lbs (5’9″), I still felt awkwardly large compared to most other girls.  I’ve cropped another person out of the photo.  She was far more petite and considered very “cute” for the time period.  It’s not necessary for her to be present nor would I publish a photo without permission.

My youthful insecurities aside, this photo was the start of a very fun evening.  My friend’s aunt had taken us for a weekend at the former Lake Placid Club.  An old-fashioned resort/lodge, there was a main building and several cottages scattered in a woodsy setting.  Think the setup for Dirty Dancing on a smaller scale.  We stayed in one of the large cottages adjacent to the lodge.  It was an enjoyable weekend of swimming in Mirror Lake, playing tennis on clay courts (a real treat), horseback riding, and playing platform tennis.  I was lucky to be afforded this experience.  However, the best was dinner in the main building.

I couldn’t even tell you what we had to eat.  But we were expected to dress nicely.  I’m attired in a favorite wrap-around skirt paired with a favorite bodysuit top (it was the 70’s).  A blazer completed the package.  Since I didn’t own dress shoes in those days, a beloved pair of clogs had to suffice.  After dinner, we adjourned to the lounge where many patrons were enjoying drinks.  We sat and chatted.  People were dancing.  A nice looking, middle-aged man approached the table and asked my friend’s aunt to dance.  She demurred.  He turned to my friend and she readily accepted.  Off they went to trip the light fantastic.  It looked like a scene from a movie.

There was a pause in the music and it was my turn.  Though I was slightly taller than my dance partner, he moved with a well-practiced grace.  For the first time I wasn’t embarrassed to be seen with a man/boy shorter than I.  It was exhilarating and our dance ended with me in a deep dip.  Wow, the guy was strong.

Turns out he was the dance instructor for the club and spent the evening trying to drum up business.  Part of me believes he enjoyed dancing with two young and giggling vixens.  As for us, we dreamily drifted back to our cottage busily sniffing our hands which retained the scent of his Brut aftershave.  What a night.  And what I wouldn’t give to look as “badly” as I thought I did that night.



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The Alone Girl, part three

A tang filled the air tickling the girl’s nose.  Watery sun filtered through high clouds.  The girl walked on, the scent of burning leaves pleasant on the air.  Garbed in an old sage green wool sweater of her father’s, a perfect accompaniment to Levi’s jeans, the girl felt comfortable as she trekked the two miles to the football game.  For some reason, the varsity games were moved to a newer field at the high school that year.  The previous location, the old field at the middle school, was only blocks from the girl’s house and much more convenient.

Along the way, she spent a short time wondering why she seemed always to walk alone.  Many of her friends got rides to the game, yet never asked her to ride along.  Oh well, it gave the girl time to indulge her imagination.  Trekking past the small pond along the main road, the alone girl thought it a nice setting to live.  She would enjoy waking up to views of the pond outside the window.  But in her mind the pond was not located adjacent to a busy road.  It was more secluded in a woodsy area.  A small barn stood nearby, just large enough for her two horses to live.  Dogs barked a merry greeting to any and all who dropped by.  The girl would like that very much.

The honk of a horn broke her daydream.  The autumnal aroma of burning leaves had long ago changed to car exhaust.  In the distance, across the intersection, was her target.  It was rather a large school in the sense that it sprawled in a spider shape. To add distance to her sojourn, the new football field was tucked in at the rear of the school.  Cutting across a myriad of athletic fields shortened the journey and allowed the girl to escape back into her imagined setting of living by the pond.  These fields would provide hay for her horses.  Two cuttings a year would provide most of what she would need to winter her animals.  Who was she kidding?  She was just a kid who spent too much time alone dreaming about the unattainable.  A girl in the 1970’s from a “broken” home wasn’t expected to amount to much.  To heck with that, she’d show them.

Across the fields she walked and grinned when she thought about what she’d learned on these fields.  The tomboy loved the thrill of competition.  On these fields she was taught many games:  speedball, field hockey, soccer.  How she loved running, kicking, competing.  Nearby were the tennis courts.  That’s a story for another day.  As she rounded the edge of the building, she spied the growing crowd.  The teams had just entered the field and were involved in pre-game warm ups.  As she entered the gate, her name was called and she spotted a gaggle of classmates.  It was game time.  It was a wonderful Saturday afternoon tradition.  It was time for the alone girl to join in with the crowd.

autumn sun


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The Alone Girl, Part Deux

A slice of fiction…

The girl ambled down the long road.  Long past twilight, she looked forward to getting home and eating dinner.  The darkness during the winter months seemed to possess an extra layer of inky blackness.  But the girl didn’t mind because she loved the razor sharp quality of the air.  When it was really cold, the girl sometimes wondered if her nostrils would freeze shut.  It felt like they would.

Though a staunch tomboy, the alone girl took sewing lessons.  These lessons were given in a young woman’s home, a distance of over a mile from where the girl lived.  Sewing lessons had replaced swim team for the tomboy.  The girl missed the swim team but it was a co-ed team and she had reached her feminine maturation during the beginning of the sixth grade.  It was difficult to explain why she missed practices each month, so after the sixth grade the girl left the swim team..  Plus she was the only girl her age with a pronounced bosom.  She could tolerate being teased but on top of the verbal spewings from her brother, she chose not to put herself in a position to be teased.  After all as the decade changed from the 60’s to the 70’s, the female population was still a non-entity.

The alone girl didn’t like to sew.  Her mind wandered too much and she lost track of her desire to sew straight seams.  She spent a great deal of the time ripping out her mistakes.  And it was okay.  Mostly she just wanted the company of her sewing teacher.  Now here was a female who was ahead of her time.  Born with a congenital condition in that the lower half of her body never developed, this young woman thrived by concentrating on the skills she possessed with her hands.  It seemed she could craft anything.  She was also a patient and caring teacher who didn’t mind that the alone girl didn’t like to sew.  Betty sat in a makeshift-type of wheelchair, one with a large shelf on which her craft materials lay.  Her hands were gifted, sure and strong.  And she never seemed to mind the childish chatter that emanated from the girl’s mouth.

Betty recognized a kindred spirit, another alone girl.  Alone girls were never lonely because they had so many interests.  Alone girls could be very outgoing and humorous.  Alone girls felt things far more deeply than their peers.  Alone girls could recognize, without difficulty, other alone girls.  And alone girls were content to be alone together.

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Are bygones a thing of the past?

I’m quick to admit that I have a tendency to live in the past a bit too much at times.  There are lots of happy memories there but I do my best to stay rooted in the present.  And honestly, I miss the spontaneous part of my personality that existed then.  However, times change as we do along with them.

Today I say goodbye to my childhood home.  Was my time there always hunky dory?  Of course not.  But that house and yard played a big part in shaping me as an individual.  It even has an auspicious beginning.  While in the third grade, I was invited to a birthday party at a classmate’s house.  The party had to wrap up early as each of us was instructed to call a parent for a ride home.  Seems they had to “show” the house.  I dutifully recited this information to my mother when she picked me up.  We had moved to town the previous year and were living in a rented duplex.  My mother dropped me back at the duplex, retrieved my father, and they went to see the house.  Over fifty three years later, we are giving another family the opportunity to enjoy it.

As the youngest, I always received the smallest room.  It never bothered me.  As long as I had a comfortable spot to indulge my reading sweet tooth, I was fine.  In addition to my bedroom, I could be found reading on the small screen porch just off the living room.  We had a chaise lounge out there “bought” with several books of green stamps.  Remember licking those and sticking them into the books?  Back in the day, kids like me thought that was fun.  And it was, because you then exchanged those booklets for merchandise.

There is a great yard that goes with the house.  It’s a rectangular-shaped lot that runs deep from the road.  Plus it has an additional side piece we called “the gulley.”  In truth it was where a great deal of construction waste was buried in the late 1930’s when that neighborhood was being built.  The gulley took on many roles in my childhood.  During the Western phase of my childhood it was a box canyon, a mountain pass, or any variety of blizzard-swept plains.  As bicycles became integral to my life, it became a “motocross” track, an obstacle course, or a place to facilitate an escape from unwanted intruders (see also, obnoxious playmates or older siblings).

As I gaze upon the gulley now, I marvel that it was so many things.  My jaundiced adult eye sees a slightly overgrown depressed area of earth running alongside a rock wall that supports a perennial garden, also overgrown due to the ravages of old age (both the garden and my mom).  I’m so glad it is a part of my past.  Though it was a place of play, it was also a spot where I honed my mowing and gardening skills.

It’s a humid rainy day today.  This evokes memories of massive summer storms which left the gulley brimming with a murky pool of water.  Splashing and fun followed quickly as the giant pool of runoff only lived for a few hours as it made its way, as we do, into the earth.

I’m glad the gulley lives to see yet another child romp through it and I hope it creates pleasant memories for him.  While I know I’m supposed to let bygones be bygones, I’m content to squirrel away memories that never fail to bring a smile to my face.  God bless that house, it was a true home.

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But, it’s history!

Have you ever tried to sort through all of those boxes of stuff that you packed away for some arbitrary day?  I’ve been ensnared in this task on and off for the past several weeks as I’ve helped my mom sort through and downsize her belongings.  It’s a time-consuming process for me because I investigate almost every item.

To understand my penchant for history and all things in the past, one must understand my predilection for reading.  Reading is as essential to my life as breathing.  I’ve been a voracious reader since I first learned to read.  Not only do I love to read, I am also driven to “know stuff.”  This means, for me, that if I come across an unfamiliar term I look it up.  Looking something up usually leads to the discovery of another interesting tidbit and it goes on and on.

My schooling was assisted by our 1963 World Book Encyclopedia.  We were lucky to have it.  It was bought piecemeal until the set was complete.  Each year we received a volume that summarized the important events of that year.  I loved that encyclopedia.  Many an hour was spent browsing its contents.  Of course, it is long obsolete and will soon be heading for a recycling bin.  Time marches on.  It was the gateway drug to a world of reference materials.  But, it’s history (literally and figuratively).

Also found during searches of various boxes was a set of military medals belonging to my first cousin, twice removed.  I never met him as he died before I was born.  He served in WWII and in Korea.  While in Korea he contracted a blood disease and died.  He earned those medals and I hate to see them sit in a box.  There really isn’t any other family to share them with, so what does one do with something like that?  I’m not sure yet.   It’s history.

Our sorting also turned up a 1918 Senior Book for New Haven (Hillhouse) High School in New Haven, CT.  It’s 101 years old.  How cool is that?  It’s a wonderful storehouse of culture.  As I looked through it, I pondered how many of those students achieved their stated goals.  The tiny senior pictures hint at the hairstyles and fashions of the time.  What an extraordinary look at the past.  Various student signatures hint at the wonderful penmanship back then.  The book belonged to another cousin, the sister of the aforementioned military veteran.  I called the school and they are thrilled to receive the book as a donation.  I was cheered by that reaction.  Some people might have thrown it out.  But, it’s history!

History is important in understanding our past and predicting our future.  America is such a great amalgamation of different cultures.  It’s our responsibility to preserve the memories of what provided the foundation for this great nation, or, at the very least, to sustain the ancestral fragments that constitute our identities.  History.  Ain’t it grand?



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Gardening fantasies…

I love the thought of gardening.  I love experiencing a beautiful oasis.  I love working the soil with my hands.  My reality…I’m garden poor.  My fantasies are writing checks that my truth can’t cash.  Yes, I live in a condo but do have areas where I could garden.  Yes, it is mostly shade but there are shade-tolerant plants.  Yes, I have knees that don’t bend so well but there are ways around that.

One household chore I never minded was mowing the lawn.  I was a champion mower and loved making designs in the lawn.  Once I graduated from grass clippers to a weed eater, doing the trimming was a breeze.  This is a right-handed world and back in the day the grass clippers were made for right-handed folks.  As with scissors, I struggled mightily and my efforts always yielded a mangled-looking and sore left hand.  I digress as is my custom.

What would my gardens look like?  In my mind is an old farmhouse-type cottage in New Hampshire.  I visited there a few times when I was a kid, maybe 10 years old.  It was a wonderful place to visit.  The beds seemed high off the ground and even in the summer we needed lots of blankets.  Rag rugs were scattered over the wide plank wood floors.  There was a back porch that looked out to a yard that turned into a field.  Crickets chirped madly and, in the evening, the air sparkled with lightning bugs.  For me it was magical.

If I lived in that farmhouse I would create a long hedge of bridal wreath spirea running down the long edge of the property to the left of the house.  That would create a nice natural break that would help stem any direct wind flow into the back yard area.  Toward the very back of the yard, as it morphs into field, I would expect to have some bee hives.  Ideally, they would be tended by someone else who needed a spot to place some bees.

Adjacent to the back porch area, I would plant groups of lilacs.  Lots of lilacs in order to cut them and bring bunches of them into the house.  One of my favorite poems is “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” Walt Whitman’s epic ode to Lincoln.  And lilacs remind me of my childhood.  I love them.  That’s enough for now.  In my mind I’m creating different beds of flowers that pay homage to an earlier time.  I will let you know what I come up with.

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The alone girl…

The spirited tomboy maintained a brisk pace as she made her way to the store at the crossroads.  She grumbled under her breath about having to go for some groceries because it cost her precious reading time.  If she didn’t have plans to play after school, and she often did, she loved nothing more than to curl up with their small dog and read.  It was a peaceful time of day before the clamor of her brother’s arrival from whatever he did after school.  Her mother wouldn’t be home until after 9:00 p.m., due to her night school class.

The best part of going to the store was being at the store.  The older couple who ran the store, Gabe and Sarah, treated her like a precious commodity.  The girl drank it in like a magical nectar.

“Hey, Little Al.  How was school?”  The couple was cheerful to a fault.  The girl grinned at the use of the nickname.  When her family began shopping at the store, Gabe had designated them Al Sr., Mrs. Al, Al Jr., and Little Al.  It didn’t matter that only her father’s name was correct.  He was gone from the picture anyhow, well over a year now.  His penchant for drinking threatened to destroy the family literally and figuratively.  The girl’s mother and brother bore the brunt of her father’s alcohol-induced rage.  Little Al remained untouched by the father but she bore witness to it night after night.

“School was good.  Here’s what I need, Gabe,” Little Al said as she slid a scrap of paper containing a short list across the counter to the stocky man, a butcher by trade.  Sarah beamed at the girl and listened as Little Al regaled her with stories from her day in the 7th grade.

Gabe bustled about the small store.  He called to the girl, “Little Al, grab a package of stuffed shells out of the freezer.”  The girl complied and laid them on the counter.

“Your brother must be cooking tonight.”  Sarah was observant.  When her mother was home, they usually ate sensible meals of meat, potatoes and vegetables.  Her brother liked to be creative and made a jazzed up tomato sauce to put on the stuffed shells.  The head of iceberg lettuce would play a large role in the making of a salad.  And the girl smiled as she knew she would make “Russian” dressing for ketchup and mayonnaise for the salad.  It was one of her favorite salad dressings.

Little Al’s smile dimmed as she remembered if he cooked, she had to clean up.  He always got to cook, being four years her senior.  If she even tried to cook, he would berate her efforts and then smack her a few times to make sure she didn’t do it again.  His beatings went undetected.  The girl never said anything to her mother, for fear of retribution, and her brother never hit her where bruises would show.  Gabe tallied her purchases with his stub of a pencil, the girl was always amazed at how fast he could add in his head, and handed the paper bag of goods to his Little Al.

The girl glanced at the large wall clock with its sweeping second hand.  She realized if she hustled home she would still have almost an hour to read.  It would take her twelve minutes to walk home.  She wished her bike wasn’t broken today.  Every once in a great while her brother flattened one of her bike’s tires just to remind her who was in control.  She could patch the tires in her sleep but was currently in need of a new tire patch kit.  And so, she was on foot.

“See you tomorrow,” the girl said aloud as more customers entered the small store.  Gabe and Sarah waved to their Little Al, smiles in place.  The girl didn’t mind the walk home.  It gave her a chance to think about her favorite books and tv shows.  It was best to think of anything else instead of having to think about spending the evening with her brother.  A quick shudder passed through her as she said a quick prayer that she wouldn’t do or say anything to set him off.  Even if banished to her room, the girl had her imagination for entertainment.  Though she spent a great deal of time alone, she was never lonely.

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