August Blog: The Dog Days of Summer

Here in South Carolina, the kids are already back in school. Personally, I think going back to school before Labor Day is an abomination and simply un-American. That may be why I simply can’t get myself motivated to sit down and finish the book I’m writing, even though I’m within spitting distance of the finale.

I get up every day with the intention of writing at least two hundred words — my bare minimum goal as per John Grisham’s advice — but I just don’t feel like it. Yesterday I received my weekly Inspiration for the Week from Cathleen O’Connor (cathleenoconnor.com). If you don’t subscribe to her emails, I highly recommend you do. This week’s message  was entitled “You Deserve a Break Today”. I felt as if she wrote it just for me. Thank you, Cathleen.

She began with a quote from writer Anne Lamott:

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.”

I love that. Of course, I’ve been pretty much unplugged since I got back from my vacation at the end of July. You think I’d be re-booted by now.

I do have at least one legitimate reason for not writing the last two weeks. Each Monday when I sat down to type, my computer ground down to the slowest speed imaginable. On my own I was able to go to the settings  and determine that my 465 GB’s of storage were completely filled up. I knew that was impossible.  I managed to clear out the inordinate amount of temporary files that somehow downloaded themselves to my computer, not once, but twice.

When these phantom files were back again last week, I decided I needed professional help, so I  called my trusty IT guy, Peter Manse, out in Colorado. Guess what? He was in California for a brief vacation. Nevertheless, he managed to get me back up Wednesday. Somehow, starting something on a Wednesday just never feels right to me. Still, I managed to get one chapter completed last week.

And then there’s the new puppy. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you already know I’ve adopted a new dog — Trixie.  She’s a sweetheart, but she’s only about six months old, so she needs lots of attention and exercise.  I still miss Lucky, my dog of 12 years, whom I lost in February, but I confess it’s so nice to have a little buddy once again. I mean, really. Is there anything more endearing than seeing that little tail wag when you walk in the room? Second only to a baby smiling at you. Really.

So, today, I’ve decided to take Cathleen’s advice and embrace Anne LaMott’s message and heed Cathleen’s own words:

“Just take some deep breaths. Ask yourself what you need to feel rested and restored . . . and then give that to yourself. “

Maybe next week — after Labor Day — I’ll start writing again in earnest. In the meantime, it’s a rainy day here in Mauldin this morning, so it won’t be at all difficult to go over to the couch, curl up with Trixie and finish that cozy mystery I’m reading — One Taste Too Many by Debra Goldstein.

Ah, yes. I think I’ll just release all guilt and totally indulge in what’s left of the remaining dog days of summer! Happy Labor Day, Y’all.

Ode to Emily on Beltane Day

That beautiful smiling face you see belongs to Emily Miller, daughter of my friends Nina and Steve. I was Emily’s confirmation sponsor and although that means my primary responsibility is to provide her with “prayerful support and guidance in her Christian life”, I choose to honor her on a pagan holiday — Beltane. Why?

Well, let me tell you about Emily. The first thing you need to know is that she’s brilliant. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. After college she worked as a paralegal in New York City. During that time she seemed to find “her calling” — a deep interest in the environment.

Next, Emily left NYC for Denver where she spent a few years and worked for the Chef Ann Foundation (www.chefannfoundation.org) whose mission is “To provide school communities with the tools, training, resources and funding that enables them to create healthier food and redefine lunchroom environments.” That experience led Emily to decide she was ready for law school. She is now enrolled in UC Berkeley Law School focused on food and environmental policies.

I am in awe of this young woman, who, I believe, can succeed at anything she sets out to do. And that’s why I was delighted when her mother told me she was working on a paper focused on policies to implement the Green New Deal. Now, I know many people feel that the Green New Deal is an impossible dream. But I’ve got news for you. It’s not just a pipe dream if Emily’s working on it.

If you’ve read my blogs over the years, you know I’m a Pollyanna — a cockeyed optimist. But I can’t help myself, especially when I realize our future is in the hands of intelligent, diligent and thoughtful young people like our Emily. In just a few years, they will come into their full powers and I just hope I’m around to see the wonders they’ll achieve.

But you may still be wondering, why I picked Beltane to write this ode to Emily? Well, May 1, Beltane, is the Gaelic May Day. On this day in Ireland, rituals used to be performed to protect cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth. And, after all, isn’t that what Emily is working on? With her on the job, I’ll sleep better, knowing the Earth is in good hands.

As I am inspired today, I paraphrase words that inspired me so many years ago:




Some men see things as they are and ask why

She dreams things that never were and asks why not?”

Under the Tuscan Sun

What do all of the above pictures have in common? You guessed it. I’m smiling. Hard not to when you’re in Tuscany for seven straight days of sunny weather.

I confess I have been struggling to meet my personal goal of writing a blog every month. Last year I only managed to post seven blogs, and this one is only the second this year. But when I looked at my pictures and saw the enormous grin on my face in every one, I figured this blog would practically write itself. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, so I won’t need to add too many more.

Our patio in Vecchiano

My trip to Italy all began with a phone call from my friend, Janet Adams Strong early this year. She told me she and her husband, Bruce, were renting a house in Vecchiano and she was calling to invite me to visit them there.  Does it get better than that?  And let me tell you, better hosts than Janet and Bruce don’t exist on the planet. From the moment I arrived, we embarked on an Italian holiday I will long remember.

Oh, by the way, on this trip I learned the secret to beating jet lag. First, after being picked up at the airport, enjoy driving around the countryside admiring the stands of cypress trees, vineyards and olive groves. Stop at a fruit stand along the way. Visit a supermarket. When you reach your destination, have a drink. Talk. Take a walk around town, checking out the architecture, the local church and the cemetery. (The cemeteries are really something to see.) Upon completion of your walk, build a fire and grill food outside. Talk some more and, of course, drink some more. That should get you to nightfall. When you absolutely can’t keep your eyes open anymore, go to bed. When you wake up, you will be ready to roll — no jet lag. I swear by this method.

During my seven-day stay, we visited: Lucca, known for its well-preserved Renaissance walls and its cobblestone streets; Pisa, where I posed for the must-have tourist shot as I took my turn holding up the tower; San Gimignano and its majestic skyline of medieval towers encircled by 13th century walls; and Livorno, a port city with a breath-taking waterside promenade with checkerboard paving.

Perhaps my favorite excursion was our visit to the family-owned vineyard Frattoria San Vito. Matteo, the owner, took us on a tour of the vineyard and olive grove, followed by a delightful bit of wine-tasting on the back patio. The weather was perfect, the wine was superb, the bruschetta delicious and the olive oil to die for. I think the first picture up top picture captures the moment perfectly. We particularly enjoyed Matteo’s reference to one of their red wines as their “all-day wine.”  So much better a description than “everyday wine,” don’t you think?

An Italian cemetery.

Through all of these adventures, my dear friend, Janet drove through the narrow streets and maneuvered the multi-pronged roundabouts without trepidation. She’s a force to be reckoned with behind the wheel of a four-in-the floor automobile. Thank you, Janet, my fearless friend.

I had been to Italy when I got out of college, touring the great cities of Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan. I have wonderful memories of that trip, and  now, I’m so glad I had the chance to experience la dolce vita in the countryside of Tuscany. Because Elton John said it better than I could, I leave you with his words on Italy:

I love places that have an incredible history. I love the Italian way of life. I love the food. I love the people. I love the attitudes of Italians.” -– Elton John

Trip the Light Fantastic

Mary Poppins 1964

In the summer of 1964, I was 13 years old and the last thing I wanted to do was go see Mary Poppins. My younger sister, Mary Ellen, at age 10, wanted nothing more. I remember feeling so resentful at being forced to go with her. After all, I was a teenager all of three months at that point.

When we got to the theater in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the line to get in was formidably long, and I refused to stand in line. And so I was spared the ignominy of being a teenager at a children’s movie and I returned home and listened to my Beatle’s albums instead.

I confess that I felt conflicted because Mary Ellen was so disappointed. But, being the determined little thing she was, and still is, she managed to get to see the movie with someone else…not me a week or so later. I have always regretted that episode because I knew how much it meant to her, but, in my adolescent insecurity, I just couldn’t bring myself to go to a kid’s movie. I let her down.

Fast forward to last week. Mary Ellen and I went to see the latest Mary Poppins movie. This time she didn’t need to coax me. We  laughed when we bought the tickets. “Two seniors for Mary Poppins.” Quite a different attitude from 1964.

Mary Poppins 2019

We, of course, loved the film. Like Mary Poppins herself, it is “practically perfect in every way”. I read an interview with Emily Blunt and she said she remembered the original movie, calling it a “joy bomb”. Well, this movie is beyond that. Multiply joyful by a hundred. Call it a bliss bomb.

Trip a Little Light Fantastic was my favorite part of the movie. I loved it so much that I decided it will be my motto for 2019. My favorite lines:

“So when life is getting scary, be your own illuminary
Who can shine their light for all the world to see
As you trip a little light fantastic with me”

As we embark on this new year, I wish you twelve months of blissful brightness.

Happy New Year!

Stardust and the Power of Words

This morning I worked the crossword puzzle in the daily paper as I do everyday. One of the clues was “A Hoagy Carmichael Song”. The answer, of course, was Stardust. The word captivated me, so I googled the song and found it on Youtube.

I had heard that song many times in the past, but I never really paid attention to the words until I played that Youtube clip. As I listened to Hoagy croon his creation, I found myself entranced by the beautiful images he painted with words and marveled at his ability to create such beautiful poetry out of heartache.

Just felt I had to share that with you today.  To all my writer/reader friends out there, may the power of words be with you. If you have a moment, take a listen.( I’ve included the lyrics below the video.)

Stardust Lyrics

Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely night dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you
When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
But that was long ago
Now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a songBeside a garden wall
When stars are bright
You are in my arms
The nightingale tells his fairy tale
A paradise where roses bloom
Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
My stardust melody
The memory of love’s refrain

 

Mother Nature — The Good and The Bad

Here in Mauldin, SC and, I think, most of Greenville County, we were spared the wrath of Hurricane Florence.  Thanks to the many friends and family members who contacted me to check on how I was faring during the storm. It felt good to hear from you, and perhaps it was your positive energy and prayers that kept us safe.

The Reedy River Falls in Downtown Greenville — Mother Nature at her glorious best

As I mentioned to some of you, we experienced  wind here, but not nearly as strong as New York City winter winds. Oh, how I remember being held in place by strong gusts that blew down the wind tunnels of those high rise canyons. By comparison, our weather on Sunday was simply breezy.

Unlike what you saw on the Weather Channel closer to the coast,  we didn’t even experience heavy rainfall in my neck of the woods. Just a steady mist all day long. Not even enough to keep my dog inside—Lucky hates heavy rain.

My biggest fear was losing power. After being without heat or electricity for ten days after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New Jersey, I am scarred. I pray I never have to experience that again.

I am so sorry for my fellow Carolinians, both North and South, who did get the worst. Looking at the pictures in the newspaper of flooded neighborhoods and folks waiting in line for water was really painful. As soon as I post this, I will make a donation to one of the organizations providing assistance to flood victims listed in today’s paper, and once again say “Thank you, thank you, thank you” for sparing us a similar fate.

Mother Nature can be very wicked indeed. But yesterday, when I stepped outside and took a look around my patio garden, I actually received an unexpected gift from the old girl. I spotted two eggplant bulbs sprouting on one plant that had borne nothing but flowers all summer long. Just before the storm, I’d actually considered pulling that plant out because, after all, it is September and if a plant hasn’t produced by now, you sort of expect it’s not going to.

I haven’t made eggplant parmesan or eggplant rollatini all summer–one of the things I most look forward to each growing season.  I know you’re probably asking why I didn’t just go buy eggplant at the store or the farmer’s market. I certainly thought about it, but somehow just never did. It’s simply not the same. Imagine how delicious those two dishes will be when I make them from these long awaited vegetables.

So now, my list of things to be grateful for keeps growing.  Let’s hope the eggplant do, too!

If not, no worries. There are all those butternut squash growing on a vine that seeded itself in my garden this Spring. Thank you, Mother Nature.

AMUSING NEWS: On Methamphetamines and Nutella

Sneak peek at the cover of book 3 of the Holly and Ivy Mystery Series due out this November

It’s been a very busy summer and I have shamefully neglected my blogging responsibilities. The worst part is that I have so much to blog about, but have kept putting off writing because I was busy finishing Full Bloom, book 3 of my Holly and Ivy mystery series. ( Very pleased to report that I completed my first full draft and hope to have the book ready for publication this Fall.)

Anyway, a news article this morning motivated me to write. So here’s the headline that greeted me from the Metro section of The Greenville News:

“CAYCE MAN CALLS POLICE ABOUT HIS MISSING METH”.

That sure made me pause. You know, I just had to read on. Here are a few of the article’s highlights:

“A 24-year old Cayce man told police his drugs had been stolen and he wanted to press charges…When Cayce public safety officers responded to the home, they found the man in the backyard. He was ‘upset’ and said someone had stolen his two grams of methamphetamine and he wanted the thief prosecuted…”

Okay, here’s where it gets really good:

“Two officers helped him search inside the house…a female in the home gave an officer a small bag of what she said contained meth…she had hidden it because she didn’t want the man to ‘drink it’.”

The conclusion:

“The man said those drugs did not belong to him. Officers were unable to determine who owned the meth and seized it…Police are still investigating.”

Yes, I assure you, this was a news story, not fiction. Now I’m going to just leave you to ponder this bit of amusing news because, really, what can I say, except that you can’t make this stuff up.

And just because pondering this news item too long can take you from amusement to a despair, I’ve got some really sweet news for you, a follow-up to my Nutella blog a few months ago. On August 6th, USA Today reported that The Ferrerro company, maker of the famed Italian chocolate and hazelnut spread, is looking for “60 ‘sensory judges’ who will be paid for tasting its products.”

Can you believe it! Imagine getting paid to taste Nutella. Again, this was a news story — not fiction. Sixty volunteers will be selected for a three-month training course “designed to sharpen the recruits’ senses of taste and smell.” (Sigh!)

There is a catch, however. The jobs are part-time and you have to be willing to relocate to Ferrero’s headquarters in Alba, Italy’s northwest Piedmont region. Mama mia! Does that really sound like a catch? I can think of  far less satisfying part-time jobs and way worse places to retire.

And so I leave you with that bit of amusing and far more enticing news to dwell on. Maybe listening to  Dean Martin croon Volare can actually fly you up to the sky–no meth amphetamines necessary.

Amusing News: The Nutella Crisis

Yikes! It’s the last day of February–something to be grateful for. But to my horror, I realized I hadn’t written a blog this month. It seems to be getting harder and harder to do. I actually started out the year thinking I’d try to write at least two blogs a month, but clearly that’s not happening.

I have gotten ideas for blog topics, but they’ve seemed lame or just too mundane to bother writing about. I keep waiting for inspiration that somehow seems to elude me lately. Nevertheless, I decided today I would finally write about a news item that made me laugh when I read it back on January 27th. The headline read “Discount on Nutella Spread Sparks Chaos”.

First of all, you need to know that I love, and I mean LOVE, Nutella. Last year I spent a week at Skyterra Wellness Retreat and I recall a class on nutrition in which I asked if Nutella was good for you. Of course, the instructor politely suggested that I try to make my own. Hey, I’ve made a lot of changes to improve my eating over the years–I bake my own bread, I eat fruit and vegetables everyday, and hardly ever eat red meat. Nutella was something I was unwilling to give up.

Besides, I regard Nutella as sheer perfection and I simply can’t see the point of trying to make my own. How can you improve on perfection? Heck, Nutella on honey-oat bread is one of the first things that attracts Detective Nick Manelli to my heroine Holly Donnelly in Second Bloom.

Okay, so now you know my relationship with Nutella. Imagine my reaction when I read the headline: “Discount on Nutella Spread Sparks Chaos”. If I had read that on-line, I’d have been certain that the article was satire, but since I was reading The Greenville News, and not Mad Magazine, I had to read further.

It turns out that in France the price of 950-gram jars of Nutella was reduced from $5.85 to $1.75. Quite a good discount. Here’s what happened:

“Chaos erupted in supermarkets across France as shoppers brawled to get their hands on discounted Nutella…Police had to intervene in a brawl in the northern town of Ostriccourt, Le Parisien newspaper reported. An employee at one store in Forbach, near the border with Germany, linked the scenes to an orgy, telling Le Monde Newspaper that shoppers had broken items in their rush for the treat.”

In France. Of all place! Can you believe it? I would have thought this was the kind of behavior at which the French would look down their haughty noses. I mean, aren’t the French always dignified, stylish, elegant? At least, that’s the image pervasive in American marketing and advertising.

I had to laugh out loud the other night when I saw one of those commercials for Cindy Crawford’s miracle face cream that was created by a doctor with special melons that come from the somewhere in France. I wondered if she would sell as many jars of face cream if those melons grew in Poland or Guatamala. I also wondered if a discount on her beauty products would create as much havoc as the sale on Nutella.

Well, the long and short of it is I really got a kick out of that news article. If you’ve read any of my past blogs, you may already know that I’ve stopped watching television news because I just can’t bear it most days. I still read the paper, though. Finding amusing news is not easy, but sooner or later, I manage to come across a headline that makes me laugh. Hope it did the same for you. Happy end of February!

Coffee, Clocks and Celestial Occurences

 

Skywatchers, are you ready for next week’s celestial trifecta: a supermoon, a blue moon and a total lunar eclipse?

One of my most favorite things about retirement is not having to rush to get out the door and catch a train in the morning. After more than thirty years of commuting from northern New Jersey into Manhattan, I now luxuriate in lingering over the newspaper, working a crossword puzzle and drinking cup after cup of coffee in the morning. Only when I’m good and ready do I finally commute from my kitchen island to my dining area table and turn on the computer. Ah, life is good!

Of course, a leisurely breakfast is simply a delightful corollary to waking up when your body signals you’re rested, and not because an alarm has blasted you awake. I think I may have set my alarm clock once since I moved to South Carolina. This morning, however, I read an article about a triple lunar event next week that may just get me to do it again.

On January 31st we will witness a supermoon, a blue moon and a total lunar eclipse. I don’t know about you, but I find something very moving about solar and lunar events. Every time I recall this past summer’s solar eclipse, I just stop and smile. Here in the Piedmont we were very fortunate to have had perfectly clear skies to witness that awesome moment.

My friend JoAnne Manse, my sister Mary Ellen and I shared the experience with hundreds of other skygazers at the Roper Mountain Science Center in Greenville. I’ll never forget the hush that fell across the crowd as the sun and moon crossed in totality, followed immediately by spontaneous applause. The moment was magical.

This morning’s paper mentioned that even without the supermoon, the combined blue moon and lunar eclipse that will occur next week hasn’t happened in the USA since March of 1866. The West Coast will have the advantage this time around, however. Central and Eastern USA will only see a partial eclipse because the moon will set before totality. Channel WDBJ7 reports, “On America’s East Coast the eclipse will start coming into view at 5:51 a.m. and will give viewers in cities like New York only a small window to see the reddish moon.”

I definitely plan to set my alarm so I don’t miss whatever view we will have of this extraordinary celestial event. After all, I only need to do it, once in a blue moon.

Thanksgiving

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” J.R.R. Tolkien

The day after Halloween I was a bit dismayed to see a complete and immediate shift in focus to the Christmas holiday season. They were even playing Christmas Carols at my dentist’s office…in October!

Thanksgiving seems to have been skipped right over. I can only suppose that’s due to its continued resistance to commercial viability. No Thanksgiving gifts to be bought. Only modest pumpkins and wreaths decorate our front entryways. And, no matter how retailers try, they just can’t seem to get more than a few of us to send Thanksgiving cards. The only ones who can be sure of an uptick in sales are turkey farmers.

November Tomato Harvest

I agree totally with J.R.R. Tolkien whose quote I stumbled upon in this morning’s newspaper. Now, that’s the spirit of Thanksgiving, isn’t it? It’s all about food and good cheer, even if we don’t sing Thanksgiving carols. I love Thanksgiving and I  want to celebrate it in my heart every day this week. Christmas will be here soon enough.

And I have so much to be thankful for. Just like the first celebrants in 1621, this year I give thanks for a bountiful Fall harvest, especially for my tomato plants. I still have plants that self-seeded mid-summer producing tomatoes–in November! Now, for that I am truly grateful.

A Monarch Butterfly Visit to my Zinnia Patch

Also, every year I grow Zinnias in my flower beds, and for the second year in a row, I have been treated to rather lengthy visits from pairs of Monarch butterflies who seem to delight in the nectar of their colorful blooms. Last year there were two butterflies. This year there were six. Perhaps I’m kidding myself, but I like to think that I’m now an official stop on the Monarch Butterfly migration trail and as the years go by, I’ll be visited by more and more butterflies as they journey southward.

Finally, I’m profoundly grateful to have reached my full retirement age this year in good health. So wonderful to be able to just live, enjoy life and do all the thing there was never enough time for when I worked every day. Hallelujah!

I hope you have time this week to truly enjoy and savor it. I wish every one of you a day of good food and good cheer, surrounded by the people you love. Happy Thanksgiving!