Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I have been in a funk this week, bogged down in the wash/rinse/repeat of life. Every post I started for today came out sounding whiny. So my sister/editor who has had my back for the past 65 years, again stepped up and offered to provide a guest post. I don’t have any memory of the wringer washer, but I do remember the excitement of the arrival of an automatic washer and dryer at our little house on Fail Road many, many years ago. Happy Sunday and enjoy the post!

…a memory                                                                                                

…it’s 11ish, morning…I’m scanning the Times newspaper when the buzzer goes off signaling the chore of pulling wet clean garments from the washer and plopping them into the yawning dryer.    I sigh… like it’s a call back to the mines.  Suddenly I am awash with old memories…of my mother and me rolling that heavy awkward old round wringer washer machine from our covered back porch into the kitchen to start the weekly laundry drudgery.  She would pull out the two hoses stored inside and manipulate the washer around the floor to hook up the hoses to the kitchen faucet.  As the tub slowly filled with hot water Mom would grab her faithful big orange box of industrial strength Tide detergent.  She swore it was the best and got even the grimy boys pants clean.  ( She even made us kids bathe in it.) (I don’t recommend it.)

The load of whites always went in first, the agitator working away, back and forth, sometimes adding a splash of bleach to encourage brightness. After a bit of time (only Mom knew how much) it was time to put the clothes through the scary wringer.  All seven of us kids were warned with stories of fingers and hands being crushed in a wringer. We knew to pass on the admonitions to our younger siblings.  

Carefully each garment was eased into the rollers and then down into a second nearby galvanized tub filled with clean water to rinse out the soap.  We would splash them around, up and down, then back through the wringer and into a basket to be lugged to the back yard and hung on clotheslines…spring summer fall and the dead of freezing winter, hung with wooden clothes pins until they dried, not always an easy feat in wintertime. In polar temperatures diapers would freeze into perfect rectangles and needed to be brought inside to thaw before they could be folded.

After the whites came the pastels, same arduous routine and finally the darks of dad and brothers’ shirts and pants which were also the dirtiest.  If the water became too murky, we would empty the washer thru a hose into a bucket and haul that heavy load to the sink to empty and refill. I hated emptying the washer and hauling the dirty water out, in the summer  to the yard…must not waste water and the soap kept insects at bay, so mom said.  Occasionally we would run out of hot water and mom would fill large pots and heat water on the stove.

And this was my memory at 11 am in 2021, as my dryer buzzer called me.   I sat with those Indiana days for some moments realizing how my mother never complained but just got on with the task at hand. She was raised a farm girl. That’s what you do. As I headed down the stairs to transfer the laundry my thankful heart went out to the inventors and moms who today make my laundry day so simple and me feel a bit guilty.   May they all rest in peace.

…the duchess

My bookshelf…

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

Mr. Smith discovered this title on The New York Time’s list 20 Books We’re Watching for in 2020.  He requested it from our library, quickly devoured it, leaving time for me to read it before it was due back. It is the story of Italy’s haves and have-nots told through the eyes of a young girl. Giovanna is a meek, obedient, 12-year-old girl growing up in a middle-class part of Naples.  She overhears her father comparing her to his sister Vittoria who her parents have always described as someone in whom “…ugliness and nastiness were perfectly matched.”  From that point on, Giovanna begins a journey through the Hell that is puberty with her father’s words in her head.  There is chaos, deception and infidelity on the part of the adults in her life.   The book opened up a window for me into the Naples culture, allowing me a look into a very different world than the one I grew up in. It wasn’t my favorite read of the month, but I’m glad I stuck with it and appreciate that it expanded my horizons.  Elena Ferrante is a pseudonymous Italian novelist who also wrote My Brilliant Friend.

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

My fan-girl admiration of Fredrik Bachman continues this month with Us Against You.  Set in hockey obsessed Beartown and full of human drama, you don’t have to have an interest in hockey to love this book.  When the star of the hockey team is accused of rape, the town is divided and struggles with the aftermath. Even though I know Bachman is a Swedish writer and his novel is set in Sweden, I could easily imagine it being northern Wisconsin.  The Washington Post review states, “Us Against You takes a lyrical look at how a community heals, how families recover and how individuals grow.”  Not a quick read, but well worth it.

Atomic Love by Jennie Fields

Jennie Fields’s own mother worked as a University of Chicago-trained biochemist in the 1950s. Inspired by her mother’s work, Fields wrote Atomic Love set in Chicago.  During World War II, the protagonist, Rosalind Porter, was the only woman working on the Manhattan Project.  Five years after the war, she is 30 years old and selling jewelry at Marshall Field’s.  When she is contacted by a colleague she had a passionate love affair with while working on the Project before he abruptly broke up with her, she is also contacted by the FBI who wants her to spy on her old lover.  There is science, love and espionage.  One reader aptly described it as “atmospheric, historically interesting and escapism” and I agree.  It was a quick read and a nice distraction.

And a Valentine book craft!

I recently came across a Valentine craft I had saved from a few years back.  I decided this was the year I would finally make the upcycle book-page treat bags ala The Refab Diaries.  I made a pattern and since I didn’t have any books to upcycle, I cut out my hearts from some sheets of crafting papers I already had on hand, as well as using ribbon and card stock from my stash.  The only thing I purchased was the candy to tuck inside.  I used a 4” heart template which only held one Hershey Miniature.   

They were quick and easy, and I think turned out pretty darn cute!  For those of you who may not have a sewing machine, I hand stitched one heart with two strands of embroidery floss using a running stitch.  Let me know if you are inspired to create your own!

C’est la vie.

Confessions of a (somewhat) remiss grandmother…

Have you ever started off your morning with a list of things you want to accomplish that day and ended up wandering in a totally different direction?  Has one thing led to another and before you know it, you are sitting on the bedroom floor sorting through piles of stored memorabilia that have been (im)patiently waiting for you?

This past Wednesday morning the first item on my list was finding and printing out a copy of Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb to include in my granddaughter Olivia’s scrap-ish book.  I am not a scrapbooker by any stretch of the imagination, but ten years ago I started saving mementos for Olivia and putting them in a book to give her someday down the road.  I have the invitation to her baby shower, the label from the bottle of bubbly that Mr. Smith and I shared on the day she was born, and other bits and pieces I have gathered through the years.  

I found Ms. Gorman’s poem and was printing it out when a prickling of conscience hit me.  I was way behind on Olivia’s book.  Instead of continuing on with my “to-do” list, I pulled out her album and a large stack of pictures, thank you notes, drawings, and other grandchild keepsakes and started sorting.  I spent a delightful afternoon.  I basked in the memories and started speculating about new adventures we might share as soon as we get rid of this lousy Pandemic.

I donned my grandma crown in a big way from Day One.  I was working away in my office at the law firm in the fall of 2009 when my son Emmet called.  He and his wife Emily were expecting their first baby and I thought he was calling to report on a prenatal visit. He asked me, “Remember how excited you were to find out you were going to be a grandma?  Well, get ready to be twice as excited!”  Twins!  I spent the next hour floating around the firm, spreading the word to anyone who would listen that we were going to have not one, but two grandbabies!  I didn’t start scrapbooks for Eli and Henry, but I did buy a couple of boxes for their keepsakes.

The last time Henry and Eli were able to visit, we had a grand time sorting through their boxes. They loved seeing birthday party invitations from birthdays they can’t quite remember. My favorite souvenir is from the first Camp Grandma in 2012.  They were 2 years old.  One afternoon while we were hanging out on the beach, Henry came running up to me excitedly saying, “I found Goodnight Moon, I found Goodnight Moon!”  While playing in the sand, he had dug up a broken milk jug cap, but in his eyes, he had found the moon!

I have logged the most grandma hours with Sam, Eli and Henry’s little brother.  I was the grandmere au pair for the trio of brothers for 16 months a few years back.  Eli and Henry spent their mornings at preschool and Sam and I were the best of buddies.  We played at the park, we nibbled many a croissant, and spent hours creating fanciful creatures with playdough. 

I have been writing a letter to Sam each year on his birthday.  I tuck in a little cash, seal it up and put it away for later.  I’m thinking maybe his 18th birthday.  While he is no longer my little sidekick, I treasure the time we had together and want him to know how special he is to me.

Emily, Elizabeth and Eleanor each have their own envelope filled with the same sort of memorabilia, but I haven’t decided how I’m going to organize them.  Each of my grandchildren is unique and I want to choose the right format.  I’m thinking Elizabeth may have to have some sort of recording.  When we were Facetiming recently, she had a book that Mr. Smith and I had “recorded” for her.  She was fascinated that our “noise” was in there.  With the speed in which technology changes, I will need to do some research to discover if there is a way I can make a recording for her so she can always hear our noise.

So, I confess.  I let myself fall behind on my grandmother duties and I’m not sure why.  I want to leave my grandchildren with the memories of moments we shared and hope that my keepsakes will be treasured by them.  Are you keeping a scrapbook, journal or something else for your grandchildren?  Do you write them letters or save news articles or quotes for them?  I would love to hear what you are up to.

C’est la vie.

Midweek Mélange…

Good morning and welcome to the premier posting of Midweek Mélange.  According to Vocabulary.com, ‘A mélange is any combination of anything, but the word always heightens the glamour quotient…’. Glamour is certainly something I’m longing for these days.  Well, that and travel.  At least I am now scheduled for the coveted vaccine, allowing a glimmer of hope over the horizon.

Historically January was my least favorite month. That was until 2011. That was the year my first fabulous, amazing granddaughter was born. Happy birthday, my beautiful Olivia!

This year January, however, hasn’t felt all that different from every other month, but I am still pleased to see its end approaching.  I always feel like I’m just treading water, waiting for Spring.  While anticipating the thrill of seeing bulbs start to pop up through the earth, I’ll make do with my cheery tulips from the market.

If you are feeling the need to get away, I suggest Escape to the Chateau, a British documentary series that follows the story of Dick Strawbridge and Angel Adoree as they renovate and redecorate a 45-room, 19thcentury chateau in France.  The scenery is evocative and the renovations are inspiring and entertaining. While they are working on a much grander scale, it brings back many memories of our work transforming the old Victorian we purchased in Indiana over thirty years ago.  Mr. Smith sanded, stripped, painted and papered every square inch of the house, turning it into an inviting, cozy home.  The creative, charismatic Angel provided one of my favorite quotes from Escape to the Chateau.  While sweeping up a room full of dead flies she said, “Behind every romantic story is the reality.”  Having lived through our own renovation, I can relate.

If the Pandemic has left you feeling uninspired, I wholeheartedly recommend listening to Nora Ephron’s 1996 Commencement Address to Wellesley College. Having graduated from there in 1962, she returned on a rainy, chilly day in 1996 to address the graduating class. Despite the audience being huddled under umbrellas, to say she was well received is an understatement. I listened to it again recently and was amazed at how well it has held up over the passage of decades.

 Aware of my girl crush on Ms. Ephron, Mr. Smith recently passed along an article he read in New York Magazine, Mike Nichols’s Heartburn.  Mike Nichols’s 1986 movie Heartburn was based on Ephron’s book by the same name chronicling her marriage to Carl Bernstein that ended in a messy divorce.  We watched the movie this past weekend.  One of the joys of getting old is while the movie felt familiar, we weren’t convinced we had seen it before.  I particularly enjoyed the restaurant scene where they go around the table and everyone describes themselves in five words.  Ephron talks about this game in her commencement speech and how those five words change over time. 

Other activities that have helped me through these winter/COVID months are reading and embroidery.  I am working on more pillowcases and a little Valentine treat for someone.  There is something extremely satisfying in seeing your stitches come to life as a design on your fabric.  It can be as seductive as reading.  Just like telling myself I’ll just read one more chapter, I find myself thinking oh, just a few more stitches.  

Along with travel, I still miss shopping but don’t have much need for new clothes.  Or so I thought.  Despite the onslaught of emails with amazing post-Christmas sales at many of my favorite clothing stores, I have managed to keep my buying to a minimum, but a recent inspection of my lingerie drawer indicated it might be time to dust off my credit card.  I have been purchasing my knickers from Hanky Panky for several years.  Every July they send me a 20 percent off coupon for my birthday and I weed out what is past its prime and refresh my inventory.  Noticing some rather sad looking panties in my drawer, I realized I didn’t receive a coupon this past July! I was past due for an update.  While online looking for undie inspiration, I Googled “How long should underwear last?”  I was surprised that many gynecologists recommend replacing your unmentionables every 6-9 months.  Armed with that information, I spent some time on Soma’s website, filling up my cart.  When I saw the total, I hesitated and decided to sleep on it.  And what should arrive in my email the next morning but a 25 percent off offer!  I am happy to report all is once again well in lingerie land.

Do you also find it interesting how your perspective on something can change?  The birth of my first granddaughter gave me a new appreciation for January.  A vase of tulips on my dining table reminds me that Spring is coming.  Not being able to travel and shop reminds me how much I take pleasure in those activities and how I need to appreciate them more in the future.  Those things will happen again and, in the meantime, I have tulips and new knickers as promise of better days ahead.  It’s all in your perspective…

C’est la vie.  

There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow.” O. S. Marden

Ever since Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2021 presidential election, the inauguration ceremony had been on my mind.  Even before the January 6 attack on the Capital, it seemed clear that our tomorrows would be very different from our yesterdays.  The ongoing Pandemic would dictate no parade down beautiful Pennsylvania Avenue, no large noisy crowds, and no elegant festive balls.  Would the scaled back events without the usual fanfare make the occasion seem diminished?  Can an inauguration taking place against the backdrop of seven-foot-tall fences and over 20,000-armed National Guard troops feel majestic and stately?

With these questions swirling in my head, I anxiously looked forward to watching the 2021 ceremony more than any in my lifetime.  Add to that the fact that a woman was being sworn in as Vice President, and my anticipation was bubbling over.  While I had blocked out much of my day for watching, my sister is a much earlier riser than I am and was in on the action before the sun was ever up.  She shared her early morning thoughts of Inauguration Day 2021.

It was 4:00am, January 20, 2021.  Robed and fuzzy slippered, hunkered down in my overstuffed chair, mug of hot coffee clutched close to my chest, I began to watch.  Still dark in D.C., yet shadowy folks already bustling about getting ready for history.  Slowly the sun arose behind the dome bathing it in gold.  An unfamiliar feeling somewhere beneath my ribs startled me. I was puzzled as it quietly expanded bumping against my crusty old heart….it seemed to be joy, it seemed to be hope.   I sensed this day was going to be extraordinary.  An hour later former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was being interviewed. Apparently, she sensed that same emotional bubble and called it “…new hope…” As she spoke the phrase went straight to my heart. Today is new hope.

All my fretting was for naught. From the moment the four hundred lights were turned on surrounding the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting pool on the eve of the January 20, I knew all would be well.  Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks all added to the proceedings.  Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman took our collective breath away. There appeared to be a relaxed sense of fellowship among the politicians on stage – both Democrat and Republican.  The sense of fellowship was as welcome as all the magnificent fashion on display!  The beautiful, vibrant colors made me rethink my predominately gray wardrobe. It was one of the classiest swearing in ceremonies I have ever seen.  Along with Senator Amy Klobuchar, I hope, “This is the day when our democracy picks itself up…”   

No disrespect to President Biden, but the big moment for me was Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor swearing in Kamala Harris as Vice President.  Making it even more special was knowing that my granddaughters hundreds of miles away were watching.  The Biden Inauguration Team made a free coloring book for kids to help celebrate the occasion.  

Olivia, Emily and Elizabeth sprawled on their living room floor coloring the pages, pausing when their mom directed them to the action on the screen.   When firefighter Andrea Hall led the Pledge of Allegiance, they stood and recited it along with their nation.  When Lady Gaga slayed us with her mixed meter version of the Star-Spangled Banner, three little voices sang along with her.  Children accept/take for granted things that they grow up with.  By the time my granddaughters are voting, hopefully we will no longer feel the need to specify “woman” vice president.

I understand that simply changing administrations is not going to solve our nation’s many problems.  COVID-19, the economy, climate change, immigration and equality aren’t issues that are going to be resolved overnight.  But Joe Biden didn’t become president overnight, it was a long and winding road.  With hope and expectation of something tomorrow, we must look for the light.

C’est la vie.

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.