Women of Consequence

It seems fitting that the first posting of Women of Consequence should coincide with the inauguration of the first woman Vice President of the United States.  It only took us 232 years!  Love her or not, when Kamala Harris raises her right hand and takes the oath of office, she will cement her place in history as a woman of consequence.  Change is coming, but at a snail’s pace.

Consequence: importance, significance, greatness, magnitude, value, substance.

We are surrounded by women of consequence.  After discovering many of the definitions of “woman” in the Oxford English Dictionary were demeaning, Maria Beatrice Giovanadi started a petition that resulted in Oxford University Press changing its definition and expanding it to include more examples and idiomatic phrases which depict women in a positive and active manner.  Dr. Kizzmedia Corbett, a research fellow at the National Institute of Health, at the age of 34, led the team that discovered the Moderna vaccine.   Every day women play a key role in the health care response to the COVID-19 crisis.  While they are under-represented among physicians, they make up the vast majority of nurses. 

Not all women of consequence will make a published list of extraordinary people, but that does not lessen their importance to someone they impacted along the way.  My sister-in-law Jane was encouraged to attend college by her brother’s girlfriend.  My sister Suzi was bolstered by her Latin teacher, Mrs. Heeter.  I will always remember her telling me, “Mrs. Heeter believed in me.”   The idea that someone believes in you has the power to carry you through many of life’s challenges.

Growing up in small-town Indiana in the 1960s, I lived a sheltered life.  Men were in charge.  Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best were must-see TV.  But oh so slowly over the horizon, rose the feminist movement.  A copy of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was being passed around among my friends. Gloria Steinem was campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment and girls were finally allowed to wear pants to school.      

Fortunately, some women of consequence have begun to get recognition.  Movies like Hidden Figures revealed the role of African American female mathematicians and their work on Project Mercury, bringing focus to the critical contributions of black women like Kathryn Johnson to space science. But as a rule, women were grossly under-represented in the history books I studied in high school.  Men’s contributions were well-documented while any recognition of women’s accomplishments was brief.  Even Eleanor Roosevelt was mostly depicted as a caregiver of her husband, rather than focusing on her life as an outstanding political figure, diplomat and activist.   But as we know, most history is written by men.    

I take pleasure in the fact that the times they are a-changin’.  My granddaughters’ and grandsons’ textbooks are not the ones I had in 1970. They will grow up seeing a woman in the White House and I will share with them what I learn while writing these posts. Once a month for the remainder of 2021, I will feature a Woman of Consequence.  Consequence with a capital C.  Women who stepped up and stepped forward without concern for themselves but with real concern for others. Some you may be familiar with, others still in the shadows.   But I hope to do my part to help bring them into the light.  All deserve our gratitude and admiration.           

C’est la vie.

Say anything…

There is a long list of attributes I admire in people. Being well spoken is up there in my top ten.  I marvel at speakers who can express their thoughts and ideas clearly and in a way people understand exactly what they are trying to say.  I aspire to be one of them.  But how do we become more articulate in everyday speech?  

A while back I received an email with a short blog post – Speak With Purpose, Not Impulse.  Busy with other things, I put it aside for later reading.  When I did sit down with it the other day, I discovered it was an invitation to sign up for a 7-day course to improve my communication skills.  Now that Mr. Smith and I are sliding into retirement, I am trying to be more conscious of what I spend money on so I decided that before ponying up my credit card number, I would check out what was available for free on You Tube and via podcasts.  It turns out there is a lot!

After reading and listening to much advice on becoming more articulate, I found there were a few pointers that come up over and over:

  1.  Read!   I thought I was a devoted reader, but I will happily commit to reading more!
  2. Listen to yourself.  That’s a scary one, hearing recordings of your own voice.  It brings back memories of being filmed during speech class in high school.  When the instructor played the tape of my speech for the class, much of the filming was of my leg jittering.  No, I wasn’t nervous at all.
  3. Expand your vocabulary.  I am all in on this one.  I love words and am always happy to meet a new one, but mainly I want to stop being lazy, defaulting to the same words over and over (very, enjoy, etc.), and use words that are more descriptive, that more accurately express my thoughts and emotions.  My fabulous editor suggested investing in a better thesaurus.  I was pleased as punch to spring for a copy of The Synonym Finder from Rodale Books, Inc.
  4. Pause.  Strategic pauses are usually much better than filler words.  Take a deep breath, give yourself a moment.  

I aspire to be one of those people who find the right words in everyday conversation, who are consistently articulate and prepared for a chat.   I still remember from over thirty years ago a friend of mine deftly handling a situation, not hurting anyone’s feelings, but not committing to anything she didn’t want to do.  My family had been living in a subdivision outside of Atlanta and we were preparing to move to Indiana.  While together with a group, my friend mentioned she was planning a goodbye luncheon for me.  Another woman spoke up and said, “You should have a potluck.”  Now I knew my friend Ann had no intention of having a potluck, but she simply very kindly replied, “I’ll think about that.”  There was no potluck and no one’s feeling were hurt.

Words can help and words can hurt. I have had the excruciating experience of instantly realizing I have said the wrong thing.  Fortunately, I have also had the rewarding experience of knowing I said the right thing at the right moment.  While I know that happens when I take my time, gather myself, and respond thoughtfully and don’t simply react, there are still times I blurt out the first thing that pops into my head.  Usually not a good idea. 

I am someone who struggles to articulate my thoughts, particularly under pressure.  There are times when I know someone is waiting for my response, but my mind is momentarily paralyzed.  In the past, this has caused me to feel inadequate.  Interestingly, while researching how to be more articulate, I came across an article explaining that what I often experience is normal for introverts.  Wow! I knew I am an introvert and apparently, I’m normal!

I am a work in progress.  I have not given up.  I will not brush eloquence aside as something I cannot achieve.  I am armed with many tools, including my new hefty thesaurus!  It may take me a little time to assimilate new techniques into everyday natural responses, but I am going to try.

What traits do you admire in other people? Do you have a quality or talent you would like to master?  How would you go about mastering something new?  Feel free to leave me a comment about what you admire or what you aspire to.  I’m listening, say anything…

C’est la vie.

A Congenial Table

No matter what your political beliefs or affiliations, we are living through a unique moment in our nation’s history and it’s taking a toll on all of us.  After turning on the TV last Wednesday afternoon and seeing rioters attacking the Capitol, I lost my sense of invulnerability.  I don’t have the words to articulately express my feelings, but I am left under an oppressive cloud, making finding the pleasures in everyday life far more difficult.  Although Sunday was a half a week away, I thought about 86ing my plans for the first Congenial Table.   By the end of the night Sunday, I was so glad I hadn’t.

Mountain of Love, Mountain of Love or How Two Old People Ended Up Dancing in Their Kitchen on a Sunday Night

While Mr. Smith is unequivocally the head chef in our home, I am not without my skills.  I have decided my goal for 2021 and A Congenial Table is (at least) once a month to come up with the menu, do the shopping and cooking, allowing him a day off.

First, I needed a menu. We both love a good crab cake and I knew they were within my wheelhouse.  I Googled ‘What to serve with crab cakes?’, added a salad, a vegetable and crispy potato and had a plan for a delectable meal.  I remembered Mr. Smith had a crispy potato recipe he was wanting to try, so I broke my own rule before I even got started.  I assigned the potato dish to him.

Saturday morning we set off to the market to do the shopping.  We found almost everything on our list and in one case, something that wasn’t on our list.  I wasn’t going to serve a dessert, but Mr. Smith spotted a small container of cream puffs in the bakery and somehow they ended up in our cart. In addition to the menu, I had been thinking about my table setting.  I have replaced our Christmas table linens with a favorite gray and white tablecloth and wanted all white flowers for the table.  The flower selection that morning was very disappointing, and I left empty handed.  

After my morning cappuccino on Sunday, I set off to a different market to check their flower supply and grab a couple of things we had forgotten.  There I was rewarded with some white hydrangeas.

This striking black ceramic vase was made by my oldest son. I added the hydrangeas and had my centerpiece. Perfect.

I wanted to serve Sunday dinner at 6:00, but somehow the day got away from me. My well laid out agenda was to make the salad dressing, prep the salad and the put the crab cakes together in the afternoon.  But we had a late lunch, read instead of prepping dinner and then went for a long walk.  Now I was really behind schedule!  

Back from our walk, I dove into my dinner prep, annoyed at myself and not in the best of moods.  When I finally got to a lull in my prep time, I went to grab a shower.  For dinner on New Year’s Day, I had donned an Eileen Fisher black dress and it had made me feel festive.  The idea was to do the same.  And what did I put on post shower with freshly coiffed hair – my silky, sexy pink and black pajamas!  In my defense, they are lovely pajamas and in this case I will refer to them as les pyjamas to make them sound more elegant.

As I was putting the finishing touches on the salad, Mr. Smith popped open a bottle of bubbly.  A dry sparkling wine goes well with the sweet crab cakes with its creamy sauce, or you could serve a classic Chablis or fine white burgundy.  Sitting down at the table with the snowy bouquet in my son’s vase and candlesticks gifted to me by my mother-in-law, I began to relax.  Wynton Marsalis, Standard Time, Vol. 3 was playing.  Wynton on the trumpet, his dad Ellis on the piano and the candlelight were working their magic.

For our salad, I chose Pomegranate, Arugula Salad by Tyler Florence at Food Network. I used an arugula mix with some other baby lettuces rather than all arugula. Topped with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings, toasted walnuts and the red, juicy pomegranate seeds, it was a yummy start to our dinner.

After salad, it was time for the main course.

We have tried many a crab cake recipe, but once we hit on Martha Stewart’s, we’ve never looked further.  I cut the recipe in half, making four cakes.  We each had one on Sunday and now have two in the freezer for a future dinner.  Speaking from experience, they do freeze beautifully.  Martha uses a mixture of jumbo lump crab and small size crab.  We have sometimes been able to find a can that includes both, but not this time.  I just bought a pound of “premium” crab, then broke some of it up a bit and left some larger chunks.  While Martha suggests serving with tartar sauce, we prefer remoulade.  

We steamed fresh green beans as a side to make ourselves feel better about devouring the rich crab cakes. The elegant cakes were nearly overshadowed by Mr. Smith’s Crispy Roast Potatoes.  They were delicious!  Fluffy and crispy at the same time.  As a side note, we did think they required a little extra roasting time, about 15 minutes longer than the recipe called for.

By the time we finished dinner, I was much more at ease. I spent a few minutes tidying up the kitchen, then it was time to serve the illicit cream puffs.  I decided to create a faux croquembouche.  As I started artistically forming my creation, Mr. Smith began singing Mountain of Love, or at least the bits and bobs of it that he knew.

Then through the magic of iTunes, Johnny Rivers’s voice filled our apartment, crooning to us in his soulful way.  I grabbed Mr. Smith and in the perfect end to our evening, we danced around the kitchen.

Ha!  Actually, not the end of the evening.  We luckily had bubbly left to complement the cream puffs.  So, for a week that started out really sad and scary, I was able to move forward with my dance partner to turn it into a A MOST Congenial Table.

C’est la vie.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one precious and wild life?” Mary Oliver

Are you quick to pack up Christmas/holiday baubles or do they keep you company into the new year?  As much as I delight in decorating for the holidays, when January hits I’m normally ready to welcome the new year with a clean and fresh slate.  This unusual year, I decided to keep my holiday lights up a little longer. 

So instead of taking down greenery and packing up my Santas last Sunday afternoon, I sat on my perch, surrounded by scraps of paper with scribblings on them (brilliant thoughts for future blog posts!), tablets for different blog subjects and a calendar, trying to come up with some organization.  It was snowing out and I could hear strains of Bruce Springsteen coming from the TV room where Mr. Smith was watching Western Stars the Movie.  Bruce has certainly gotten reflective in his old age.

I hit a lull in my process so to clear my mind I texted my sister.   I wrote longingly of hoping to spend some extended time with her this summer (post-vaccination), helping her work in her yard.  She has lovely visions of what she would like dancing around in her head. And me being me, I started talking about measuring and graphing out the yard and thinking about what would grow well where.  Her response was: “My sister, the inveterate planner.”

I am a planner, some might say it’s my superpower.  I love lists, sub-lists, and calendars.  If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  Sadly, COVID-19 has thrown a colossal monkey wrench into my way of life. How do we plan when we don’t know what’s coming?  After the pain of cancelling Camp Grandma last summer, I am gun shy to start planning trips and vacations.  But I also miss the process.

Personality tests and quizzes attempt to divide us into one of two camps.  Either you are a studious planner or a spontaneous free spirit.  Despite what I know about my nature, I took a couple of online quizzes and yes, I am admittingly a Determined Planner.

I know that I am never going to be comfortable with the “oh, let’s just wing it” approach.  But aren’t we all planners to a certain extent, or at least we must acquiesce to a certain amount of it?  You don’t wake up in the morning, brush your teeth and say – hey, I think I’ll drop by my doctor’s office for a visit.  We don’t sit around waiting when we need a repair person thinking they will serendipitously show up.  We schedule them.

Likewise, I don’t think all planners are devoid of joie de vivre.  As much as I like to know what’s on the schedule, I have been known to call an audible.  I have never played professional football, but I have been at the metaphorical line of scrimmage and had to change my plan.

This new year more than ever, I will accept my natural tendency to be a planner, but also endeavor to find a bit more balance in my life.  I will never be laissez-faire, but I will try to be a little less controlling.  It could be an adventure.  If we learned nothing else in 2020, it’s that we have very little control over our lives and the control we do exert can unexpectedly or quickly become a mirage.  

Summer will come and instead of being overly rigid or stringent when working with my sister on her landscaping, I will strive for harmony.  Between the two of us, we will bring the best of both worlds.  Just like I believe our lives are enhanced when we surround ourselves with others who think and believe differently, I believe we can both bring our different skill sets and create something better than either of us would on our own. 

In Anne Lamott’s book, Almost Everything, Notes on Hope, the Prelude begins”

            “I am stockpiling antibiotics for the apocalypse, even as I await the              blossoming of paperwhites on the windowsill in the kitchen.”

This book came out in 2018, long before COVID-19 was front and center on our minds each and every day. The realities of the Pandemic are unprecedented, but I have always been worried about something, often trying to plan for the unexpected.  While I am a planner, I am also a realist.  I realize we can’t foresee all that life may throw our way.  I will take Mary Oliver’s wise words to heart and do my best not to waste my one precious and wild life trying to plan out every detail.  I think I’ll start by buying myself some paperwhite bulbs and wait for them to bloom.

C’est la vie.

My bookshelf…

2020 was a banner reading year for me.  I recorded 47 titles in my book journal, although I’m sure I missed a couple along the way.  Thanks to Covid, our library is partially closed again.  Luckily you can still request books online and pick them up by appointment.  For this I am grateful. 

One of the books I requested this past December turned out to be my favorite book of 2020, although it could also be called, The Best Book I Almost Didn’t Read.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman, translated by Neil Smith

I like to be drawn into a book right away.  When the author told me on the first page that Anxious People is “about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots” my interest was piqued.   But then for the first couple of chapters, I had some difficulty getting into the book and almost put it aside.  That would have been a huge mistake.  As soon as I allowed myself to relax into Backman’s amazing storytelling, I didn’t want to stop reading.  

It’s almost New Year’s Eve in a small Swedish town.  A distraught parent short on rent money and afraid of losing custody of their child, makes a feeble attempt to rob a bank.  Unfortunately – or fortunately – for them, they chose a cashless bank.  From that failed bank robbery, the story quickly develops into a hostage situation in a most unlikely way.  Eight hostages, each with their own lifetime of grievances, hurts and secrets, who had simply gone to attend an apartment open house.

Backman’s ability to submarine your expectations of each hostage, slowly exposing their histories, finally getting to the root of their anxieties is ingenious.  A friend of mine who was also reading Anxious Peopleshared that she loved, “the ordinariness of the characters”.  

The relationship of the father-son police team was one of the many highlights of the book for me.  Trying to decide how to handle the matter at hand and Googling “hostage situation” is one of their finer moments.  When they started arguing over who should enter the building first, I choked up and had tears running down my face.

When reviewing books, I never want to give away too much and I particularly feel that way with this book.  I can share that I found it humorous, compassionate and wise.  And it is poignant.  In my old book group, The Book Babes, poignant became one of our signature words to describe books.  This book is Poignant with a capital P.

Fredrik Backman is a Swedish blogger turned superstar.  I searched for his blog and succeeded in finding an entry from July 2, 2018.  I have only read one other of his novels, A Man Called Ove, but have already requested My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.

Looking over my book journal, there were a couple of other titles I wanted to share with you.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe 

This is a memoir.  When Will Schwalbe’s mother, Mary Anne, is diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment, the two of them spent hours sitting in waiting rooms.  He often sits with her during her chemotherapy treatments.  They pass the time talking about the books they are reading.  When by chance they read the same book at the same time, their book club of two is born.  Gracefully written, The End of Your Life Book Club is a beautiful testament to his mother.  

Monogamy by Sue Miller

This is the story of a marriage and what it means to be faithful over the course of a long marriage.  Annie, the wife, is shy and private.  The husband, Graham, is a gregarious Cambridge bookstore owner, a classic extrovert.  He dies early on in the book, but he is not gone.  Graham remains very vivid in the memory of his wife, his children and his first wife.   Annie loved her husband, but she is left wondering was he as good for her as she was for him.  A very interesting read. I wanted to give this 3-1/2 grandmas, but just couldn’t bring myself to chop a head in half!

C’est la vie.

Cheers to me…

A new year and a blog anniversary!  Two years of posting twice a week.  Through a pandemic and the corresponding lockdown, I somehow managed to stick to my schedule, despite most days feeling like Blursday.  There is a definite lack of novelty in my life these days.  No trips to the city, no parties or dinners out and no visits from the grandchildren.   When every day is pretty much the same as yesterday and you aren’t creating new memories, what is there to write about?  

That is what was going through my head while out on a walk with Mr. Smith a couple of weeks ago.  I shared with him that I was thinking of going to posting once a week instead of twice and trying to funnel my energies back into my book.  He was quiet for a moment before saying, “I don’t think you should do that.”  He encouraged me to keep posting twice a week AND get back to working on the book.   I should treat writing like a job and devote the proper time and attention to reaching my goals.  

Mr. Smith has long been my muse.  I had toyed with the idea of writing a blog for several years, but never got past the thinking about it point.  It was his Christmas gift three years ago of a vintage typewriter and a copy of John McFee’s Draft No. 4 that finally pushed me over the proverbial hump.  There is magic in seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes.  When another person – especially someone you love and admire – has faith in your ability, it becomes easier to gather up your confidence and move forward.

As we walked along the Susquehanna River that day, I mulled over what Mr. Smith had shared.  He was correct that I had the time.  I love my little blog and had been wondering where to go with it.  I have no desire to “monetize” it, blogs with lots of ads drive me crazy.  I don’t want to link to Pinterest, imploring people to share and pin my posts.  I simply want to write a blog that keeps me engaged in life and that readers find interesting, but lately it seems tough to come up with blog topics.  As we continued walking and talking that day, I had another idea that I think is my solution.

Sunday posts will continue to be the staple, but Wednesday posts will follow a formula.  For at least the next year, the first Wednesday of every month will be a book(s) review.  Reading has kept me sane through the pandemic and deserves an earned spot.  The second Wednesday of the month will feature “A Congenial Table”.  I don’t want to give too much away, so consider this an amuse bouche!

I am excited about the third Wednesday, “Women of Consequence”.  We will visit women whose activities have created consequence whether through writing, social activism, talents or accomplishments.  The fourth Wednesday will be reserved for my stream of consciousness ramblings, “Midweek Mélange”.  On months that have a fifth Wednesday, it will be “Wordless Wednesday” when I post a favorite photograph.

I’m excited and a little (pleasantly) surprised to be starting my third year of blogging.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for every read, share and comment.  

Happy New Year and cheers to you all.  

C’est la vie.

What are you doing New Year’s Eve?

midweek musings…

In the past, my journalistic son has accused me of burying the lead, so today I’m just going to get it right out there.  Mr. Smith and I are staying in on New Year’s Eve.  This isn’t exactly front-page news as we have spent more New Year’s Eves at home than out painting the town, occasionally visiting New York City for a special New Year’s.  A cozy yet festive dinner party at home with family and/or friends wins hands down over the often-forced gaiety of a raucous night out.  This year it will be Mr. Smith and me, so luckily there are just a couple of things I now need to make my New Year’s celebration memorable and an important one of those is Champagne.

Since 1693 when the near-blind Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Perignon first stumbled upon and then developed an effervescent pale colored wine that caused him to exclaim, “Come quickly, brothers! I am tasting stars!”, Champagne has grown to be synonymous with celebrations. Mr. Smith and I didn’t always ring in the new year with bubbly.  There were years when we had small children that we were just pleased with ourselves if we stayed awake until midnight, but for the past couple of decades as empty nesters, it has been de rigueur.  

A glass of bubbly has become my drink of choice and no longer limited to special occasions.  I have sampled Champagne, Cava, Prosecco and Sparkling Wine and learned some of their differences.  Champagne, of course, must be made in the Champagne region of France from traditional Champagne grapes – chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier – and follow the traditional winemaking techniques developed by Dom Pierre Perignon.  Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine also fermented in the bottle like Champagne but using less expensive grapes resulting in a lower price tag.  Prosecco is from Italy and made from the Charmat method, meaning it is fermented in tanks first and then bottled.  Sparkling Wine is a general term for fizzy wines that do not follow any traditional wine-making techniques and can come from any location, from California to Switzerland.  

When you are searching for your bottle of bubbly, I believe the most important factor is the sweetness factor.  Check the label for:

            Doux:  This is as sweet as they come.  It might pair well with a dessert, but it is not for me.

            Demi-Sec, Sec and Extra Sec:  This on the label lets you know that they are still on the sweet side, pairing well with desserts, but sometimes also with spicy foods.

            Brut and Extra Brut: Now you are in dry territory.  You can invite me over for a glass as soon as we are all vaccinated!

Your bubbly should be served at 47-50 degrees F and never in prechilled glasses.  And if you are using an ice bucket, it is best to use ice water rather than all ice.  This helps the bottle chill more evenly plus it is easier to get the bottle in and out of the bucket.  

You have your bottle chilled to the perfect temperature and now you are ready to “pop” the cork.  Cut the foil below the large lip of the bottle, untwist the cage while putting pressure on the cork to keep it from popping prematurely, cover with a napkin or towel to prevent the cork from flying across the room or at your eye, and the best tip I ever learned for opening a bottle of Champagne – turn the bottle, not the cork.  I don’t think I have opened a bottle of bubbly in the past twenty years without repeating this mantra to myself over and over until I hear that perfect POP!

After opening your bottle like a pro, you need to pour it into a glass.   Many vintners recommend serving it in a white wine glass.  The larger bowl enables you to enjoy all the aromas and flavors.  Traditional Champagne flutes are better at showing off the bubbles, but their narrow shape limits your experience of the aromas and flavors.  Coupe glasses with their extra-wide mouth are said to expose the Champagne to the air, allowing the bubbles and aromas to quickly escape.  I don’t care.  You will never separate me from my elegant vintage coupes.  I simply pour small amounts.  

While scouring the internet for any hints or suggestions that might be helpful for your New Year’s Eve toast, I came across some information that necessitated an apology to Mr. Smith. While pouring me a glass of Chandon recently, I asked him to please hold the glass and pour down the side to lessen the foam and lessen my wait time between pouring and drinking.  Turns out, I was wrong.  You should hold the bottle by the punt (the divot in the bottom of the bottle) by inserting your thumb and splaying your four fingers on the bottle to hold it.  You can use a couple of fingers on your other hand to support the top of the neck as you pour.  You leave the glass totally straight and level and pour directly into it from above.  You don’t pour all at once, you “wet” the glass with just a splash, allow the bubbles to settle, then finish pouring slowly, about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full.  Sorry, Mr. Smith, and thanks for still being my sommelier.

I have never had Dom Perignon, but here are a few sparkling wines I have savored over the years and recommend.  My preference is for crisp, dry bubbly.

G. H. Mumm Grand Cordon (We drank this at our wedding in 1978 and we’ll be drinking it this New Year’s Eve!)

Veuve Clicquot Brut

Mumm Napa Brut Rose

Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut

Chandon California Classic Brut

La Marca Proseco

Freixnet Sparling Cordon Negro Brut Cava

Trader Joe’s Blanc de Blanc (at $5.99 a bottle, this a a great value!)

I am lucky that Mr. Smith is often happy to share a glass of bubbly with me.  We usually have a bottle or two tucked away in the wine frig and don’t require a special occasion to indulge.  Sometimes a Friday night is occasion enough.  

But right now, my favorite bottle in the house doesn’t contain any wine.  It is an empty Chandon bottle from New Year’s Eve 2010, the last time Mr. Smith and I were together with all our sons and their spouses to celebrate.  I had found a New Year’s Eve questionnaire online and printed up copies for everyone to fill out. The completed quizzes are in the bottle, waiting to be revealed the next time we are all together on New Year’s Eve. I have completely forgotten what the questions were, so it will be fun to pull these out and see both the questions and the answers.  I hope we get to all be together before another ten years pass!

This year I won’t have all my peeps, but I’ll have Mr. Smith, Champagne and a kiss at midnight.  I’ll take it.

May you always have love in your heart and Champagne in your belly.

C’est la vie.

Home for the holidays…

How was your Christmas?  Ours was predictably lowkey, but not without its highlights.  The Christmas Eve weather forecast was for rain and more rain so we were up and out early for a quick trip to the market to pick up fresh mussels and a ciabatta for our dinner.  The rain hadn’t started yet when we returned home so we decided to try and get a walk in.  It was cold and blustery but felt good to get some fresh air.  Our Christmas geese friends agreed.

Eventually it started to spit rain, so we headed home.  Mr. Smith thought he was quite witty when upon closing our apartment door he announced, “Home for the holidays!” as we had no plans to go anywhere else. Much of the afternoon was devoted to reading with the backdrop of sleety rain pinging on our windows.  Mid-afternoon we Face Timed with our grandchildren, letting their excited babble of holiday happiness fill our apartment.   As the sky grew dark and our flameless candles began to flicker, it was time for Mr. Smith to prepare our dinner.  We ended our day with bubbly, mussels and the annual viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life.

Christmas morning started with us watching crews put up barricades closing the Market Street Bridge that we overlook.  All the widespread rain in our area that had help melt the large snow piles left by last week’s storm was causing the Susquehanna River to rise.  The flood gates had been closed on Christmas Eve and Mr. Smith had begun monitoring the river level online, as well as popping out for photographs.  While the level was high and flowing rapidly with all sorts of debris, it doesn’t look like it will reach the previously predicted flood level.

Safe from rising water ten stories below, it was time to think about Christmas dinner.  Normally it takes extensive planning – the menu and wine selection, grocery getting and deciding on the table setting.  Earlier in the week while scrolling through menus and table setting inspirations, I was pining for Christmases past and longing for the time we can again gather to celebrate outside our bubble.  I fondly remembered the family chaos and craziness of holidays past and thought – I should have paid more attention and soaked up every single detail.  And then it hit me.  I needed to pay attention to NOW and not wish my Christmas with Mr. Smith away.  In the years of raising children, there were countless times I wished the two of us could enjoy a quiet dinner for two.  Ah, just the little attitude adjustment I needed.  It made a huge difference and I took it as a personal challenge to make it a special day.

Barring dinner with our extended family this year, we’d have a romantic, elegant dinner for two.  We decided to keep the menu simple and chose Caesar salad and a simple carbonara.  Mr. Smith and I have prepared many a dinner together and have it down to a superbly choreographic dance.  There is no question he is in charge and I am the sous chef.  With Diana Panton singing Christmas tunes and a glass of wine, dinner prep seemed to fly by and it was time to light the candles, sit down together and savor our creation.  

A Hobby Lobby commercial chides us that “Christmas is what you make of it.”  But isn’t all of life what we make of it?  In my very first blog post on January 1, 2019, I wrote about the most important lesson I had taken away from counseling, that it is our job to make our life the best that we can.  I am in no way discounting the very real challenges of this past year, but I’m sure it helps our mental health to find positive moments to focus on in a year of chaos.  I have had more than my share of “melancholy moments”, but I’m trying to follow that maxim. 

I’m hoping 2020 will be the reason I’m more grateful in the future.  Sometimes “gratitude” can seem like a platitude, but I do have much to be grateful for.  Mr. Smith weathered COVID pretty easily, I am healthy and so is my family at the moment and those are no small things.  And I’m grateful we have a home for the holidays and can gaze out our high windows and watch the beautiful Susquehanna below and know we are snug and content.

C’est la vie.

‘Twas the night before Christmas…

Do you remember where you were on Christmas Eve, 1971?  I do.  I was 16 years old, a junior in high school and working the 2-10 shift at the Indiana Toll Road Wilbur Shaw Plaza Restaurant outside Rolling Prairie, Indiana.  There weren’t many places for a teenager to work in our small Hoosier town, so scoring this waitressing gig was a bit of a coup for me.  The main drawback was the “attractive” uniform.  When Howard Johnson restaurants were on their rise to fame, Christian Dior was hired to design the uniforms.  Unfortunately, that was not the case with my employer.  You can just see the lovely bow we had to wear on the back of our heads peeking out.  It was precious…

Few people want to work on Christmas Eve, but I didn’t really mind.  The regular truck drivers would wish me Merry Christmas as they headed home, happy to be off the road for a couple of days.  Traveling families were a delight, little ones often cozy in footie pajamas for the trip, excited to be on their way to grandma’s or other family.  They were usually very excited to tell a willing listener (me!) where they were going, what they were hoping for from Santa, and if one of their parents had blurted out a bad word while negotiating the busy holiday traffic.

The afternoon passed quickly but after dinner time business slowed to the occasional truck driver or harried traveler just wanting to get to their final destination. About the time I started to watch the clock crawl towards 10:00 p.m., a customer came and sat in my section, making me forget about the time. He wasn’t dressed all in fur from his head to his foot nor wearing red, but he was definitely the spitting image of my childhood picture of Santa Claus!    While fetching his coffee order, the only other waitress working that night made a beeline to the coffee station. “Ask him if he’s Santa!”  She was relentless in her badgering, but I refused.  Was I sensitive enough to think someone who bears such a striking resemblance to Kriss Kringle might not welcome yet another inquiry into his identification?  More likely I was a sullen teenager wanting to believe there just might be a little magic left in the world.  That I wanted to hang onto the wish that Santa were real and sitting in my section drinking a cup of warm truck stop coffee.  The gentleman finished his twenty cent (it was 1971) cup of coffee, put down the money for his check and took his leave.  When I went to clean up his cup, he had left me a dollar tip on his twenty-cent bill and this post card.

My shift ended and I headed home, knowing I had to be back to work at 6:00 a.m. Christmas morning. Christmas Day had been divided into four-hour shifts, so I would be done for the day at 10:00. My younger brother had lobbied hard that we open gifts before I left for work at 5:30 a.m., but luckily my parents vetoed his wish.  My four hours passed fairly quickly while my co-worker and I poured quarters into the jukebox, playing all the Christmas music it offered.  I’ll never know whether it was my postcard Santa or not, but I got my magic that year.  When I arrived home after my four-hour shift, what to my wondering eyes should appear but my beloved Aunt Ruby!  She and Uncle Ike had left their home in Illinois at 5:00 a.m. to drive to Indiana and be there when I got home from work.  It was a total surprise and one of my best Christmases ever.

Wishing you all your own moments of magic this unusual holiday season and perhaps a glimpse of Santa wherever or whenever you might need him.  

C’est la vie.

Now is the winter of our discontent…

This was already the winter of my discontent and now Mr. Smith has tested positive for COVID. There have been several cases at his place of employment so when he was feeling under the weather this past week, he decided to go for a test.  The call with his results was like a punch in the gut to me.  He is my pandemic pal and I thought we were taking good care of each other.   We adhere to the CDC guidelines.  We wear masks, wash our hands, use hand sanitizer and social distance.  Yet he got the dreaded virus and as we all know, it is scary stuff.

 Now we are quarantining and luckily, so far so good.  His symptoms are mild and hopefully it will simply run its course.  If not, our granddaughter Eleanor has offered to “take grandpa to the doctor and then take him home where she’ll get him water and make him dinner.”  If only everyone had access to such wonderful care!

After my initial panic and a calming phone conference with his doctor, my attention returned to other matters.  With Christmas quickly approaching we were quarantined with piles of Christmas gifts that needed to be on their way to our kids and grandkids.  Always resourceful, Mr. Smith hopped on the UPS website, entered the needed information, printed out labels and scheduled a pickup.  There were some interesting moments as we got on the bathroom scale alone and then holding boxes trying to determine their weight.  With the presents boxed up and the prepaid labels applied, we simply shoved them out our front door during our pickup window and they magically disappeared.  And just as magically, we could go online and track them.  Many, many thanks to the people of UPS!  We may not be able to see our children and grandchildren this holiday, but their gifts will be there!

On one hand I’m trying to count my blessings that Mr. Smith’s symptoms are mild, on the other hand, his positive test result is one more thing for me to add to my long list of grievances with the year 2020.  And the timing!!!  This entire holiday season has been unusual to say the least and I have had trouble getting a grasp on it.   Recently my friend Marilyn shared a column written by Ben Jackson back in 2015 for wbru Cognoscenti, Muddling Through the Season of Joy, long before COVID-19 had taken over our lives.  This year I believe I am a muddler.

 When Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane were asked to compose a song for the Judy Garland film, “Meet Me in St. Louis”, the result was “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, acknowledging the melancholy many feel during the holiday season.  This was particularly true at the time the movie was released in 1944.  WWII was raging, some soldiers having been deployed away from their homes for the entirety of the war.  “Have Yourself a Merry Little. Christmas”, along with “I’ll be Home for Christmas” recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby which was written to honor soldiers overseas, hopefully provide them with a small bit of comfort. “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” may have been originally written with regard to getting through the war, but it also describes how I feel about waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine to be available to everyone.

So right when I was muddling my way through this holiday seasons – no kids, no grandkids, no sister, no friends, no travel, no parties – the big bad virus invaded our home.  After making sure we had all we needed to care for Mr. Smith, a thermometer and pulse oximeter and some reassurance from his doctor, I allowed myself to indulge in a little pity party for one – ME!  

Busy with my pity party, I was slow to respond to an email from my niece who, having heard about Mr. Smith through the family grapevine, was inquiring about how things were going.  I told her I had been busy feeling sorry for myself but was clawing my way out of it.  She graciously responded with love and wishes for a speedy recovery for Mr. Smith and with some very kind words just for me.  She suggested I wasn’t truly having a pity party, but more what could be characterized as a “freak out” party.  That when “all that pressure got you down”, you just have to freak out…

Ah, freak out, Le freak, c’est chic Freak out!

I hope we all find our holiday cheer this season.  But  like Ben Jackson, I hope we also “…look for the muddlers, the sad eyes behind the strained smiles.  See them.  Hold them close, acknowledge their feelings, include them.”  And should the pressure start to get to you, remember, Le freak, c’est chic!

C’est la vie.