Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Panis Angelicus


      “Carly, can you stop by your grandmother's on the way home from school tomorrow?” My mother asked. “She was asking about you yesterday.”
      “I just saw her last week.”
      “I know. But she adores her little Piccola,” Mom said, using Nonna's nickname for me. “It would really make her day if you just stopped by. She's lonely since your grandfather passed away.”
      “Okay Mom.”
      Guilt. Mom learned from the best. That's why I got off the bus two stops early and lugged my book bag to Nonna's little yellow house. My feelings of annoyance vanished as I walked up the front steps. I smelled it before I opened the door—the unmistakable, irresistible, smell of home-baked bread. There is no more alluring scent in the world—not fresh cut grass, or Starbuck's coffee, or lemonade on a hot summer's day.
      “Is that you Piccola?” she called as the screen door slammed behind me.
      “Yes, it's me Nonna,” I said. “Something smells amazing!”
      “I knew you were coming so I baked the most perfect bread you ever saw!” Nonna said as she pulled me into an olive-oil scented hug.
      “You've gotten even more beautiful since I saw you last!”
      “It's only been a week,” I giggled.
      “That's too long to keep me from my Piccola! Now, sit down. I'll pour you some milk and you tell me about your day. The bread just needs another minute.”
      She poured milk into the tiny jelly jars she used for glasses.
      “No cheerleading today?”
      “I'm a majorette Nonna, remember?”
     “What's the difference again?”
      “Batons? I twirl batons. Is the bread almost ready?”
      “So impatient!” she said with a laugh. “Let's take a closer look shall we?”
      She opened the oven door and knocked on the bread gently.
      “It's just right.”
      She pulled out four loaves of bread that looked good enough to be on a magazine over and placed them on the large wooden board on the counter.
      “That's a lot of bread Nonna,” I said.
      “I baked a double batch. Mr. Guerra at the fruit stand gave me a good deal, so I made one for him.”
      “Fruit stand?” I whispered. “Nonna? Did you make jam too?”
      “It's the best jam I ever made.”
      “You say that every time Nonna.”
      “I'm still perfecting my formula,” she said with a wink. “Wait until you taste it!”
      “I can't wait. I love your strawberry jam. It's my favorite.”
      “Ah, Piccola, no strawberries in September. Mr. Guerra gave me a good deal on the last of the summer peaches.”
      There was something about the way her eyes lit up when she mentioned Mr. Guerra.
      “I think I remember him. Doesn't he have the wavy white hair.”
      “That's him,” she said trying to keep from smiling.
      “Nonna!” I shrieked. “You have a boyfriend!”
      “I'm too old for boyfriends,” she said. “Now try this.”
      Steam escaped from the crispy crust as Nonna sliced the bread. She slathered it with golden jam and handed it to me on an old stoneware plate.
      “Well?” she said as I slowly chewed the first bite.
      “Nonna, if you give this bread and jam to Mr. Guerra, you aren't going to have a boyfriend.”
      “No?”
      "You're going to have a husband.”
      She smiled ever so slightly and said, “You think?”

      I'm linking up this week, for the first time in AGES with Write on Edge. We were given these two delicious images for inspiration and asked to write something fresh. It's nice to be writing again.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thrifty Tasty Tuesday: Individual Zucchini Quiches


        For the past several years, we've had a vegetable garden in the summer. The most successful plant is always zucchini. I love picking them when they're small—still tender and slightly sweet. They're delicious sauteed with a little chopped onion or brushed with olive oil and grilled with a sprinkling of herbs. But zucchini plants are HUGE and every once in a while you end up with these giants that go unnoticed until they're the size of baseball bats.
         So I'm always on the lookout for recipes that use grated zucchini. This week I tinkered around with a recipe for individual quiches. These are just what my diet ordered—a make ahead breakfast or lunch with lots of protein and veggies that can be frozen and reheated in the microwave.

Individual Zucchini Quiches
makes 12

2 cups of grated zucchini
¼ teaspoon salt
6 eggs
¼ cup buttermilk
¼ cup feta cheese*
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese*
¼ teaspoon thyme
dash pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray (or line with muffin papers).

Sprinkle grated zucchini with salt and set aside in a colander while you prepare the other ingredients.

Whisk together eggs and buttermilk thoroughly. Add cheeses, thyme and pepper.

Squeeze as much of the water out of the zucchini and fold into the egg mixture.

Pour into prepared muffin tin and bake for 20-25 minutes until puffy and slightly browned.

Allow to cool in tin for a few minutes before removing.


*You can use whatever cheese you have on hand. I chose feta and parmesan because you get a lot of flavor in a small quantity of cheese.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

100 Word Song: Mirrors

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

         I'm linking up with the 100 Word Song over at My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog. This week's prompt was Justin Timberlake's Mirrors. As I read over the lyrics, I thought it would be fun to write two pieces that “mirror” each other about how others see us—and how sometimes people get it right and sometimes they get it wrong. Depending how you look at it, I've either done extra credit, or I cheated by writing 200 words. I'll leave it up to Professor Leroy to decide. This piece picks up where I last left Karen and Danny. You can read more about them here

Karen's Mirror
         Karen and Danny spent the afternoon decorating the church basement for the CYO dance. They transformed the cold gray room with crepe paper and balloons before the Ladies' Guild arrived with cookies and punch.
         Mrs. Doyle looked scandalized to see Karen with Danny. To her, Karen was the girl who “got in trouble” after her father ran away and her mother drank herself to death. Unfit to associate with the deacon.
         To Danny, Karen was the little girl who got straight A's and sang the “Pie Jesus” at Mass.
They were both right. And they were both wrong.

Danny's Mirror
         Karen could still see the same old Danny under the cassock—the boy who had holes in his jeans and dirt under his fingernails and got into fights. When the Ladies' Guild arrived, they treated him with a reverence that made him uncomfortable.
         “Deacon Daniel, you mustn't bother with moving those chairs. We'll take care of it,” Mrs. Doyle insisted, banishing the Prodigal Son to his office to work on his next sermon.
         The coffee she brought him tasted bitter in his mouth. Mrs. Doyle couldn't see that he had come home to get his hands dirty, only Karen saw that.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Fiction: Yes Captain


         Nora watched him get ready for the day through a crack in the doorway. Everything he needed for the day was laid out on the glass top of his bureau—tie, glasses, watch, cufflinks, phone, wallet. He put each one to use, working left to right. He didn't hurry, but wasted no time. She had never known a man who took such care getting dressed. She stiffled a giggle and wondered if he put his accessories away right to left.
         When he was nearly finished, Nora hurried down to the kitchen. She had already set the table with his Wall Street Journal folded in thirds on top of his New York Times, which was folded in half. She placed an ironed linen napkin to the left of his bone china cup, ready to be filled with black French-pressed coffee when he sat down.
         One her first day, Nora let his egg cook for twenty seconds longer than necessary. He noticed and without raising his voice, made it clear that three minutes was his expectation and she would follow his instructions to the letter from then on. She did. His needs were no more than anyone else she had ever worked for, just more specific. Her pay, however, was the best it had ever been—well worth meeting his exacting standards.
         Nora brought out his breakfast tray with his (perfect three minute) egg and his one-cup serving of Capt'n Crunch in milk. It was the one glimmer of whimsy in his otherwise severe existence. He nodded in acknowledgement and opened the Times and Nora returned to the kitchen. Moments later she heard the china cup clatter in its saucer and the chair legs scraping the hardwood floor. When she looked, he was gone.
         The newspaper lay on the floor. A photo on the front page showed an shapely blond wearing a slinky dress and high black boots. The headline read, “Espionage Suspect Flees to Cuba”.

        I'm linking up this week with the Trifecta challenge which offered the word "crack" as our prompt and with Write at the Merge which gave us a wonderful photograph of men's accessories and the iconic Nancy Sinatra song, "These Boots were Made for Walkin'" for inspiration.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lessons from Vacation


A family adventure at Universal Islands of Adventure.

         Did you ever wake up from a nap or finish a meal and think, “Wow. That was exactly what I needed.” Maybe you didn't feel tired or hungry. Then you took care of your needs and suddenly it becomes crystal clear that you needed that nap or that perfect grilled cheese as much as you need oxygen. That's how I've been feeling since I got home from vacation last week.
Legoland: The Holy Land for my boys.
         For five days I didn't cook a single meal, wash a dish, pack a lunch, fold laundry, or even drive a car. For five days I drank Butterbeer, watched people make balloon animals for my kids, played with Legos, screamed on roller coasters, read a novel, and wrote in my journal. I went an entire week without needing to see my chiropractor (something I haven't done in a year).
         I came home wanting to write—not feeling like it was something I was supposed to do like taking out the garbage or making the bed. I went to work happy to be there (not as happy as I was to be on vacation of course, but definitely happier than I had been before). My chores seem a little less chore-like this week. I know this afterglow won't last forever. I just hope I'm perceptive enough to not wait so long before I go on vacation again. I needed that time off... like a long nap on an overcast day or a perfect grilled cheese when I've waited to long to eat. I needed that time off like oxygen.
Sometimes you need to get dizzy to feel grounded.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Eleven


          See this woman in the photo? That's me, just about eleven years ago this weekend. I was about 41.5 weeks pregnant and had no idea what I was getting into. I had gone for an ultrasound and a non-stress test that morning to see what was taking the occupant of my womb so long to come out and introduce himself. My doctor assured me that my tenant had no intention of coming out soon and suggested we offer him a little surgical assistance.
         “I think the baby could be over ten pounds,” he said. “I think he hasn't dropped because he's just too big. I'd like you to have a c-section on Tuesday.”
         “Can I go to my cousin's wedding today?” I asked.
         “Sure. I really don't think that baby has any plans to be born today.”
9.8 lbs with a head in the 90th percentile. Thank God for c-sections!
         So for the first (and only) time in my life I went to a wedding in flip flops and no hosiery. I hadn't planned on going. I thought I'd be in the hospital, or newly arrived home with my infant. After all, this kid was due to arrive on June 22nd and it was already July. We brought Owen into that world on “the day before America's birthday” as he likes to say.
Preschool graduation. Six years have passed in the blink of an eye.
         On Friday, that baby finished his last day of elementary school. It's such a cliché to say that time flies. But man, does it ever! This week Owen turns eleven. In September he'll start middle school. He's been a strong and beautiful boy since the beginning. Now he takes my breath away with his intelligence, integrity, and faith. He loves loud music, great books, and games of strategy. He believes in equality and social justice.

He's a devoted brother and a wonderful son. And he's only eleven.  Happy birthday Sweetie! I can't wait to see what else you bring to the world!



 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Take THAT, Stagefright


           I know in most parts of the country, summer vacation is in full swing. But here in my little corner of the world, we have another agonizing week to go thanks to the hurricanes and blizzards that visited us this year. But the full-on crunch of homework and projects is finally winding down and has been replaced with field trips, science fairs, Hawaiian shirt days, and my favorites—school plays and concerts.
           Having been bitten by the performance bug when I was in sixth grade I get really excited to see my kids discovering the joy of being on stage. They had been reluctant to try, claiming stage fright (although how you can have stage fright without actually getting on stage remains a mystery to me). Several years ago I auditioned for a local production of “South Pacific” and there was a part for a child Owen's age. I asked him if he'd like to come with me and give it a try. He was wide-eyed with horror at the prospect, “I will if I have to,” he said. I assured him that he didn't have to and he was very relieved.
           During April vacation, he told me his class was going to be doing a play and he asked if I'd help him practice for the audition. After running a victory lap around the house, I settled on the couch with him to read his part. He wanted to be a palace guard—a small part that would allow him to wear his Halloween costume again.
           He got the part and last week after months of rehearsal, we finally got to see the production. He did a great job with the small number of lines that he had. (As we say in the biz, there are no small parts, only small actors.) But my favorite part of the show was an ensemble musical number where the entire cast sang and danced together. When the song began, he sang shyly and danced deliberately. As he warmed to the audience, the desire to entertain became greater than the fear of looking silly. By the end of the number he was glowing. Owen had discovered the joy of performing for an audience.
           When it was over, he ran up to us and said, “That was so much fun!”
           Yes Sweetie. Yes it is.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Mother Goose and Me



           Every afternoon on my way to pick up my son at the bus stop, I pass a small pond. It's home to a variety of creatures—turtles, waterfowl, frogs, dragonflies. A few weeks ago, their numbers increased when four fuzzy new goslings hatched. They wobbled after their parents much like human toddlers, still getting used to being on their feet. If I got too close to them, they'd duck under their mama's wing while papa goose hissed at me to stay away.
           Yesterday when I walked past, I noticed they've doubled in size. They walk and swim on sturdy, steady feet—they practically strut. And their dad isn't quite so aggressive when I slow down to watch them. They aren't babies anymore. The beginnings of real feathers are beginning to show like the peach fuzz on a young man's face. They're tweens or teens by goose standards now. In a few short weeks, they've gone from helpless balls of fluff to geese on the road to adulthood. I couldn't help but feel a little sad on Mother Goose's behalf.
           My oldest son is finishing up elementary school this month. Next month he'll be eleven. He isn't a baby anymore. He doesn't seek shelter under my wing very often these days. I'm proud of the way he seeks out independence. It's a relief to not have to see to his every need—feeding, clothing, bathing. But I can't deny that eleven years have gone by much too quickly. Poor Mother Goose, I hope she has a girls' night out planned soon.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ah, Bach


 
                   Karen heard music drifting up from the church basement. It wasn't Mrs. McCardle practicing today. The church organist played piano accurately and deliberately. There was no love in Mrs. McCardle's playing―music was just a job to her. Whoever was playing the Bach prelude, was playing with passion and devotion. The music sounded like praying.
                   Karen waited in the stairwell until it was quiet.  The piece was so lovely, she half expected to hear applause when it was over. Instead, it ended in an awkward, naked  silence.
                   She pushed the old metal fire door open. Danny was sitting at the battered spinet.
                   “That was you?” 
                   “Is it already 10:00?” he asked checking his watch to cover his discomfort. Karen had offered to help set up the hall for a CYO dance.
                   “I'm a little early. Sorry.  I had no idea you played.”
                   “My mother made me take lessons.”
                   “I don't remember that.”
                   Danny blushed slightly, “I used to carry a pair of boxing gloves with me when I went. I let the neighborhood kids believe I was training. I knew they'd give me a hard time.”
                   “Did you tell her you wanted to quit?”
                   “I didn't want to quit. I just didn't want to get beat up. I loved piano. It took me out of that neighborhood, you know?”
                   Karen nodded.
                   “Did you ever play professionally?”
                   “I don't like to play for other people. The only person I ever played for was Mum and she's gone.”
                   “When did she die Danny?”
                   “While I was away at seminary.”
                   “That's when my mother died too. Do you think it's easier to lose someone when you're religious?”
                   “No. Knowing that someone has gone someplace good doesn't make them any less gone.”
                   He put his hands on the keys.
                   “This was her favorite,” he said as he began to play. This time, the music sounded like a confession.

                   If you're interested in reading more about Karen, she has her own page on this blog. You can check it out here. The title of this story comes from an old episode of MASH. I'm linking up this week with Write on Edge and Trifecta. Trifecta gave us the word "deliberate" for inspiration. Write on Edge gave us the word "orphan" and this picture:
This image courtesy of F3D3.86 via Flickr Creative Commons

                  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

100 Word Song: A Good Feeling


           Charlotte had been observing ghosts for years—watching their memories like a silent film. But today they spoke to her. Filled with the euphoria of purpose and belonging, she walked the hotel grounds as the sunlight dissolved the mist. The once manicured gardens were now a jungle of rhodedendron and tall grasses. It would be be easy to be discouraged by the monumental task of refurbishing the old hotel, but she felt good about it. A bird lighted on a wild rose bush and made eye contact with Charlotte. He tilted his head, twittered his approval, and soared into the sky.

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

           I'm linking up with the 100 Word Song prompt over at my friend Lance's place. Our inspiration for the week is the incomparable Nina Simone singing “Feeling Good”. If you like reading about Charlotte, check out her page here.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

It's Probably Nothing, Part 2



           Monday afternoon my phone buzzed while I was at work. We aren't allowed to use cell phones on the sales floor, so I normally just return calls on my break. This time, I could tell the number was coming from my health care group. The week before, I had an unpleasant three day game of telephone tag with my primary care physician, so I rushed off the floor to take the call.
           “May I speak to Victoria?” the caller said.
           “This is she,” I replied.
           “I'm calling to remind you about your biopsy on Wednesday at 9:00.”
           “Yup,” I said. “I'll be there.”
           As if I could forget. As if I had been thinking about anything else. Lately, I've been more distracted by breasts more than a fourteen year old boy. My mind is not where it's supposed to be.
Last week in my rush to get dinner on the table between the boys' music lessons and Boy Scouts. I accidentally shut the oven off twenty minutes after I put dinner in the oven. The chicken takes forty minutes to cook. Fortunately, I realized my mistake before I served Salmonella Cordon Bleu to my family.
           Thursday night I came home from working the night shift. The sports bra I had worn to work seemed unusually uncomfortable. I chalked it up to being preoccupied with the upcoming biopsy. Upon closer inspection, I realized my bra was on backwards. It's been that kind of week.
           It's also been the kind of week that has made me extraordinarily grateful.
          After I was told I needed a biopsy, I prayed for my health. I pray pretty regularly. Mostly prayers of gratitude for the blessings in my life—my husband, children, extended family and friends. I often find myself praying for situations in the world or of friends who are going through a tough time. Sometimes I pray for strangers—like the customer who told me her husband was just diagnosed with bone cancer. In the darkness of my bedroom that night, I couldn't remember the last time I prayed for myself. And that lead to even more prayers of gratitude.
           Wednesday was the day of my biopsy. I had a great friend with me—one smart enough to tell me she was coming with me instead of asking if I wanted her. There were texts and messages of encouragement throughout the day. By the time I was in the ultrasound room I was pretty calm and together. The radiologist had told me I would feel some pressure, but no pain. The last time a doctor told me that it was a big, fat, lie. This time however, the only thing I felt was a small pinch from the novocaine needle. The biopsy itself only took a few minutes.
           An hour later, I was sitting in my favorite diner with an icepack in my bra eating the most fattening breakfast they had on the menu. I ate every bite. Calories don't count on biopsy day.
Most of the discomfort is gone now and the waiting for results begins. I should know something by Tuesday or Wednesday. So far, I've managed to keep the “what ifs” at bay and concentrate on the things I know:
  • I have loads of people pulling for me and praying for me—some I've never met in person (thank you blogging community!).
  • The medical professionals I've dealt with lately are wonderful—including a PCP who went out of his way to get in touch with me (when he wasn't even on call) to make sure I made an appointment for my biopsy.
  • Mammogram techs have heard every boob joke ever uttered. But they will laugh at them anyway, just to make you feel better.
  • The sound of my boys' laughter is therapeutic and their hugs can work magic.
  • My friends have given me support, laughter, and bourbon to get through this.
  • Twenty-something years ago I met a cute guy at a keg party. He turned out to be the love of my life. His calm strength have helped me through tough times before and will continue no matter what the results of this biopsy are.
  • Besides, it's probably nothing.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Karen: Bad Blood


           Karen sat on the curb by the service entrance of the country club watching cherry blossom petals rain onto the pavement. She was the first to arrive every shift. Tony hinted at a promotion and a key of her own once she earned the owners' trust. She wondered when arriving early, staying late, and working her fingers raw would be rewarded. She pushed aside the thought and admired the sunlight breaking through the fog on the golf course.
           “Good morning Karen,” called Charles, the co-owner and banquet manager of the club. “Early as usual!”
           She stowed her purse and began setting up the coffee urns. Tony strolled in a few minutes later and began setting up chairs.
           “Karen, can you grab the bin of white tablecloths when you're done with that?” Tony asked.
           “No problem Tony.”
           Karen finished her task and headed for the storeroom. She heard Charles arguing with John, the other owner and slowed down when she heard her name mentioned.
           “I'm not giving Karen a key,” John said.
           “Why not? She works harder than anyone else. She's always early. She's willing to stay late. The members lover her. Why not let her move up?”
           “She's a good worker. But I knew Edmond O'Brien for years. He was a weasel from the moment he took a breath.”
           “John, Karen wasn't raised by Eddie. He walked out on her and her mom years ago.”
           “Then Peggy drank herself to death! Blood will out. Karen's blood is tainted by liars, cheats, and drunks. I won't have her holding a key to my club.”
           “Our club.”
           “Fine. Our club. I gave in when Tony wanted to hire her. But I draw the line at giving an O'Brien a key to my livelihood.”
           Karen picked up the bin of tablecloths and returned to the dining room.
           “You alright Karen? Tony asked. “You look like you've seen a ghost.”
           “Something like that.”

I'm linking up this week with Trifecta, who gave us the word “blood” for inspiration and Write at the Merge who gave us a photograph of a flowering tree and a quote from REM. You can read more of Karen's story here.

Monday, April 29, 2013

It's Probably Nothing



           A couple of years back I wrote a blog post chronicling my first mammogram. At first, I didn't plan on blogging about the experience because I thought it was too personal. But when I was told there was something irregular on my mammogram I decided to write about it. My original intent for this blog was to discuss the journey from the thirties into the forties. Mammograms are a part of that journey and it made sense to talk about it on the blog. Back then, my follow-up mammogram and ultrasound ended with good news, a pat on the back and another appointment in six months.
           I had my annual mammogram on April first—who schedules a mammogram on April Fool's Day? The next day I got one of those calls. It was no prank, I needed to go back for more pictures again. I made my appointment for a couple of weeks later and tried to put it out of my mind. At first that wasn't easy—I'm prone to be a worst-case-scenario sort of person. But with the craziness in Boston last week, I had other things on my mind.
           Finally the day of my follow-up appointment arrived and I went through the usual uncomfortable squishing followed by an ultrasound. I thought I'd be on my way shortly after that. Unfortunately, whatever the radiologist saw demanded yet another mammogram. Here's the thing about mammograms... the first one is uncomfortable. But it's nowhere near as bad as you think it's going to be. But with each view, compression, and magnification it hurts a little more. This last one? It hurt. A lot.
           I waited nervously for the radiologist to come and talk to me about what she saw. She introduced herself with a good firm handshake and proceeded to look for a chair.
           “I'm really tall,” she explained. “And I don't like to look down on patients.”
           “Cool,” I said. “I'm really short and my neck hurts from looking up all the time.”
           We finally found ourselves chairs of the right height so we could talk face to face. She told me there is definitely a mass in my breast and she's 90% sure it's nothing. But it has to be biopsied to be certain. I asked her again for the name of the mass and she wrote it down for me. As she handed over the paper she said, “You aren't going to Google this, are you?”
           “No,” I promised. “Web MD is the devil. Everything sounds like cancer—even the common cold.”
           “Good,” she said. “This is a very broad term that covers many different things, only a few of which are actually cancerous. I don't want you to worry.”
           I left the office after making an appointment for a biopsy and promising the tech and the doctor that I would try not to worry. So that's where I am this week—trying not to worry, keeping my promise about not Googling, not writing much (except for therapeutic journal entries), and being grateful for my family and friends.
           I turned down several offers from people who offered to accompany me to the biopsy. I don't know why. Maybe because if this turns out to be something I know I'll be calling in a lot of favors. Maybe I'm just too proud or stupid to accept help. In any case, my friend Shirley called me on Friday to find out how the follow-up mammogram had gone. Shirley is one of the strongest women I know and is the inspiration for my character Laverne in my work in progress “Lost and Found” (yes, I have absolutely no imagination when it comes to naming characters). She too made the offer.
           “Want me to go with you,” she asked.
           “Thanks, a couple of people have already offered. I think I'll be okay,” I said.
           “When's the appointment?”
           “Wednesday the eighth.”
           “What time?”
           “Nine o'clock.”
           “Okay. I'll put it on my calendar. We'll get something to eat afterwards.”
           “Um. Okay.”
           Did I mention I have great friends?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

It's Been a Long Week

 
                   The first thing I do almost every day (after hitting the snooze button three or four times) is write in my journal. It's there on my bedside table. I write before I get my coffee, before I feed my kids, before I get dressed. But not this week. My last journal entry was written Monday morning. I have not written one single word about the events of the Marathon bombing. Not in my little green journal. Not on my blog. I have read dozens of pieces others have written. There are some gorgeous things out there—sad and angry and beautiful at the same time*.
                   I've thought about things to write of course. In my head I've composed many odes to the heroes of the day, laments to innocents lost, essays about how Boston has shaped me, and even angry words to those who would commit such evil. But I haven't written it down on paper. Maybe I haven't wanted to rip the band-aid off. Maybe I don't want to make this be about me. Most of my non-fiction is very personal. I wasn't there that day.  Everyone I know who was running or in the crowd walked away. Thank God. But for a city, Boston is a very small town. We all know someone who was affected. We all know someone who ran. We all know someone in law enforcement. It's hard to not take it personally.
                   My Facebook and Twitter feed are strangely silent this morning after the insanity of yesterday. Even the news sites are quieter.  I think everyone in the greater Boston area is sleeping off the adrenaline of the past few days. As for me, I'm writing again on this rainy Saturday. It's a rambling blog post for certain, but I wanted to let you know I'm here. I'm well.  And of course, I'm Boston Strong.

*If you have some time, read these posts. They couldn't be more different from one another, but they are perfect in their own way. From my cousin Beth writing about the Boston of her childhood:
From Jim Dowd on Boston stereotypes and why messing with Boston is a bad idea. It's funny because it hits so close to the mark.

                   And now for a little official business. My giveaway! So my friend Cam wrote this book called Buck's Landing and we're giving away a copy. I tossed all the entries into my little Red Sox hat and pulled out Jessica's name. Congratulations Jessica! I'll get in contact with you about receiving your book.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Trifecta Challenge: Charlotte's Ghosts


This piece furthers a story I wrote last week. You can read about it here.


           Charlotte moved up the staircase towards the sound of music. Her attorney thought the talk of ghosts was nonsense, but it didn't take a medium to feel the energy in the old place. She sat down on the top step, closed her eyes, and focused. The saxophone music grew clearer and was joined by a bass, piano, and drums. The smells of mildew and decay were replaced with smells of lilies, gin, and cigarette smoke. Charlotte could feel the past becoming present.
She turned at the sound of footsteps and saw a bride in white satin walking toward her. Her face was flushed with anger.
           “Clara wait!” called a man in a dinner jacket.
           “How could you? It's our wedding day. You couldn't even be faithful for the first day.”
           “It isn't what you think Sweetheart. I swear.”
           “I know what I saw Freddie. You kissed her.”
           “She's an old friend.”
          “It was more than I friendly kiss Freddie. There's lipstick on your face and it isn't my shade.”
           She turned to go and he grabbed her arm.
           “Clara I love you.”
          “Let me go Freddie. This was a mistake. I should have listened to Daddy.”
           “You don't mean that,” he said, still holding on to her arm.
           “Freddie you kissed another woman on our wedding night. Now let me go!”
           Clara pulled her arm out of his grip and lost her balance. She teetered on the edge of the top step and Freddie tried to catch her. Together they tumbled down the marble staircase. At the bottom, their necks were bent at the same unnatural angle. The angry color gone from her face.
           Charlotte sensed another presence. At the top of the stairs stood a woman Charlotte had only seen in aging photographs. The owner of the hotel, Charlotte's great, great, aunt surveyed the grisly scene, heartbreak etched on her face.


           I'm linking up with the Trifecta Challenge. Our task is to write a piece 33-333 words long inspired by the third definition of the word color.
3: complexion tint:

Wordless Wednesday: Because Words Fail Me this Week

The boys with Boston in the distance.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Charlotte's Inheritance


 
                   Charlotte parked her car and stared in wonder at her inheritance. The old hotel was magnificent, even its disrepair. Mother Nature had so overtaken the building that it looked as if it had grown out of the mountainside like all the other flora. The low hanging clouds surrounded it like ghosts.
                   The attorney had given her a key. She was surprised how easily the door opened. She expected to struggle because of swollen wood or rusted hinges. But the door swung freely as if some unseen caretaker had oiled the door in anticipation of her arrival.
photo from imgur.com
                   The carpets were discolored and mildewed, but the crystal chandelier still glittered and the marble columns still stood strong. There was no visible decay inside, only dust and neglect. Charlotte laid a hand on the banister of the grand staircase, remembering the story the lawyer had told her.
                   “The hotel had been an escape from the city for the young and prosperous after the Great War. The best jazz musicians played and the gin and whiskey flowed, even in the years of prohibition. Your great, great, aunt was a renowned hostess. The beautiful and wild of society flocked here. One evening, a newlywed bride drunk on good wishes and bathtub gin tripped on the hem of her dress. Her young husband tried to catch her, but they fell together, tangled in each others arms. The hotel was never the same after that. There were those who said it was haunted.”
                   “Is it?” Charlotte had asked.
                   “My dear,” the lawyer said after looking at her for a moment. “I don't hold with such nonsense. But who wants to dance and drink away their weekend in a place where such promise came to such a nasty ending.”
                   But Charlotte did hold with such nonsense. Indeed, she often relied on the unseen to guide her. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. She caught the faint whiff of lilies and gin, but it lasted only a moment.
                   “The hotel is yours Charlotte. We could find no other heirs,” The attorney said. “To keep or sell. There are other resorts in the area that would be interested in buying it. But I'd take a look if I were you. It is a very interesting old place.”
                   “Why didn't my great-aunt sell? Surely there have been offers over the years.”
                   “I couldn't say, my dear. Sometimes people have difficulty letting go of their past. Maybe that was the case with your aunt. Perhaps the answer lies in the hotel.”
                   Charlotte gazed up the cursed staircase wondering if she'd find any answers. A few faint notes of tenor saxophone floated on the draft that ruffled her hair.
                   “So it's like that, is it?” She said, proceeding up the stairs looking for answers. 



 This week Cam at Write on Edge gave us two beautiful photos of beautiful abandoned places to inspire our writing.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thrifty, Tasty Tuesday... on a Wednesday?


         I know, I know, it isn't Tuesday! Sadly, I couldn't get near my computer yesterday because a certain young man was finishing up a book report. Apologies for the delay! Last time on Thrifty, Tasty, Tuesday, I talked about grilling and freezing chicken to have on-hand for quick dinners. Here's a soup I pulled together using pre-cooked chicken and things I had in my pantry. It was easy to prepare because almost everything comes from a can. Now, I'm not a fan of canned vegetables as a rule. Fresh or frozen is usually the way I prefer to go. However there are some exceptions to the rule and they're all in this recipe.

Tex-Mex Chicken Soup

8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 T. cider vinegar
½ cup brown rice
1-1 ½ cups of cooked chicken
1 can corn
1 can tomatoes with jalapenos
1 can Kuner's Chili beans
1 can black beans
2 teaspoons chili powder
½ teaspoon chipotle powder
salt & pepper to taste

Bring chicken broth to a boil in a large saucepan.

Add brown rice and simmer for 45 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and cook for an additional 15-30 minutes.

Serve with tortilla chips and shredded cheese. 


      If you're looking for more quick and thrifty meal ideas, check out my new recipes page.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

So My Friend Wrote this Book... Buck's Landing


           Happy April! I hope you had a lovely Easter or Passover. Or if you celebrate neither, I hope you were able to enjoy this gorgeous spring weekend. Nearly all of the snow is melted here and the crocuses are blooming. The geese and ducks have returned to the pond on my street. Spring is FINALLY in the air.
           It's time to announce the winner of the firs “So My Friend Wrote this Book...” give-away. After gathering all of the entries and placing them scientifically into my favorite Red Sox cap, I've drawn the lucky name and she is...

Elizabeth Haney

           Congratulations Elizabeth. I look forward to sending out your swag! Don't worry. This is NOT an April Fool's prank.

           Today is the second edition of “So my Friend Wrote this Book...”. This week I'd like to introduce you to Cameron D. Garriety. Do yourself a favor and check out her blog http://camerondgarriepy.com/. Cam is one of the best fiction writers I've come across in the blogosphere. Her novel, Buck's Landing: A New England Seacoast Romance is a perfect beach read—or the perfect book for when you wish you could be reading on the beach.
           Sofia Buck returns to her childhood home in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire after the death of her father. She has spent her life running away from her painful past and simply wants to tie up the loose ends of her father's business and move on. Next door, small business owner, Silas Wilde is new in town. He left the big city and the corporate world behind to start over again in this small seaside town.
           As much as Sofia has always wanted to escape Hampton Beach, the town is Silas' refuge. Hampton Beach is not merely the location of this novel, it is almost one of the characters. Lush and evocative, Cam's descriptions paint the summertime tourist town for the reader perfectly. We can feel the sand between our toes and smell the ocean air. We can taste the fried dough and hear the cacophony of the vacationers along Ocean Boulevard.
           If you're one of those people who say, “I really don't read romance,” set that notion aside and give this novel a chance. Buck's Landing is a well-told story about interesting and believable characters. You'll be charmed by Sofia and Silas' early flirtations and gripped when tensions about the past and future arise.
           You can get Buck's Landing just about any electronic version as well as paperback. Of course, it would be great if you could get a copy for free, wouldn't it? Well, Cam has graciously offered to give a copy of Buck's Landing to one lucky winner. If you leave a comment below, I'll enter you once. If you can't comment because Blogger is acting up, send me an e-mail and I'll include you. If you tweet this post, I'll enter your name twice. Be sure to include @vic39first in your tweet. I'll pick a winner on April fourteenth.

           If you're an author and would like me to feature your book, drop me a line at victoriakp39(at)gmail(dot)com.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Whirly-Gig

  
                   I settle myself onto the brick wall for my coffee break. It's hard and a little too tall for me to get comfortable, but it feels good to be off my feet. I've been selling coffee and bagels since 6am. There are comfy chairs in the lobby and little cafe tables as well. But I don't feel right taking them up. There are people here with sick babies. They shouldn't have to hunt around for a good spot to rest. Besides, I like it here where I can see the whirly-gig. Someone told me it's really a kinetic sculpture or something like that, but I just call it the whirly-gig.
                   I don't watch the machine so much anymore. I've seen it so many times I have it memorized. I watch the kids who watch it. Some of them are real sick―their hair is falling out and they look too skinny. Some of them have big casts or bandages. But there is something about that whirly-gig. It makes them forget for a little while. They forget to be scared. They forget they're sick or injured. They forget they're in a hospital. They're just kids with their eyes wide open to watch the pool balls go up the little elevators and race down the ramps. They listen to the chimes clang and they giggle and cheer. Sometimes they pick their favorite color ball and follow its journey around the whirly-gig.
                   Sometimes I watch the parents too. They have too much on their minds to watch the whirly-gig. They have doctor's appointments to keep and prescriptions to fill and bills to pay. They stop in my shop  and buy a coffee for themselves and a treat for their kid. The lucky ones stop for a while and sit in those comfy chairs and cafe tables and watch their kids. For a while they forget about what brought them to Children's. They smile and watch their children watching the whirly-gig.

                   This is in response to two prompts this week. The folks at Trifecta gave us the word “lucky” to write about this week. Write on Edge gave us the word “wonder” and a video of a kinetic sculpture from Boston's Musem of Science called Archimedean Excogitation, by George Rhoads. We're fortunate enough to visit that museum pretty regularly and that exhibit is one of my sons' favorite things at the museum. When they watch it, I cannot help but think of another Rhoads piece that is in the center of Boston Children's Hospital. My son James had hand surgery a couple of summers ago and the sculpture provided a very welcome distraction for us.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Thrifty, Tasty, Tuesday: Grilled Chicken Ideas

  
                   I'm busy. I bet you are too. It's part of the parenting gig. We're all trying to balance work, school, shuttling kids from point A to point B, and hopefully squeezing in a little time for ourselves. Having something quick and healthy for dinner is not going to happen without some planning, unless you can afford a personal chef. So today's Thrifty, Tasty, Tuesday, isn't going to be a recipe as much as an idea.
                   Boneless chicken breast is high in protein and very inexpensive. Usually one of my local grocers has giant packages on sale for $1.99 a pound. And there is no end to ways to use it. If you type “boneless chicken breast” into Google, you'd fine millions of recipes. But are you really going to whip up a batch of Parmesan encrusted chicken between Sally's karate class and Tommy's piano lesson, while helping little Suzie with her multiplication tables?
                   If you're like me, you're going to be very tempted to stop at Wendy's or whip up a batch of blue box mac and cheese. With a little planning you can do something much healthier that only takes a few minutes longer. When I have time, I buy one of those giant packs of chicken and pre-cook it. That way I have it on-hand for a quick and easy dinner.
                  
Grilled Chicken for the Freezer


You will need:
                   a large package of boneless chicken breast
                   olive oil
                   salt & pepper

1.)   Pre-heat a non-stick grill pan to medium heat.*

2.)   Trim fat off chicken breasts and pound until they are about ¾ of an inch thick.

3.)   Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper

4.)   Cook first side until it's nice and brown and the top is beginning to look cooked.

5.)   Flip over and cook the other side.

6.)   Remove from pan and let cool

7.)   Once the chicken is completely cool, cut into strips and store in a freezer bag. Try to spread the chicken out into one layer within the bag.
Cute penguin print totally optional.

8.)   Place flat in freezer for 1-2 hours.

9.)   Take bag out of freezer and toss the chicken onto the counter to keep the pieces from sticking together. Then put back in the freezer. This will make getting them apart easier later.


*You can also do this on your outdoor grill. Mine is still covered with snow.


            Here are three ways to use your chicken:

1.)   Chicken Quesadillas. Smear refried beans on ½ a flour tortilla, add chicken, and sprinkle with cheese. Pop them in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Serve with salsa.

2.)   Caesar Salad. Top salad greens with chicken and croutons for a quick Caesar salad.

3.)   Chicken Broccoli & Pasta. Toss chicken with cooked pasta, broccoli and olive oil. Sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese.

In the coming weeks, I'll offer more ways to use your pre-cooked chicken. I'd also love to hear your ideas! Check out my new page called Thrifty Tasty Tuesday, etc. I've compiled all of the recipes I've ever posted on this blog in one place.