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Yesterday was officially the first day of fall. If you could see me, you would know I am doing my “happy dance” to welcome autumn. This, to understate the obvious, has been a most difficult year. Not to presume to speak for you, I would guess I wouldn’t get a lot of argument on that statement.

Another rough spot, today my daughter let me know their golden lab, Pita, had to be put down. Pita was getting on in years and like many of her breed, her hips were beginning to fail. Though I believe it was time for her to go, I will miss her smiling face and irrepressible optimism when visiting from now on. To add to the sadness she was was my second oldest grandchild’s best buddy and constant companion. Pita and Payton were as joined at the hip as Abbott and Costello or Lucy and Desi. To see one without the other will be hard to imagine.

A lot of goodbyes have been said this year. If you are a person of faith, certainly the truest definition of faith has been tested for many, “trusting in something you cannot explicitly prove”. There are so many half truths and unconfirmed statements floating around in the air with the political spotlight pointed at the upcoming election, it is enough to make your head spin. Wear masks, don’t wear masks, the pandemic is nearly over, it’s just beginning. Sometimes I think I will stop watching the news and other times I simply can’t turn it off. Sigh.

A lot of people I regularly speak to on the phone are sounding decidedly irregular these days. I totally get that. Everyone reacts differently to stress. For me I usually lose weight, while others will begin slamming down eclairs like tomorrow isn’t coming. Some people drink or kick their dog. I have vivid dreams and wake up five times at night. You can look at me and easily determine my stress level. If my life is running along like a well tuned engine, my cheeks are full (on both ends), my eyes shiny, and my hair lush. In times where life is pressing heavily on my soul, my legs will begin to look like two straight pins holding up a peanut, my eyes become lacklustre and my hair is hanging on by a strand. Just the way my body works. Funny isn’t it how we are all the same, while at the same turn all so very different.

Being different comes with it’s penalties. If you look different in particular people can be unkind. Bullying is a subject that really gets the hair on my arms standing on end and it seems to be on the move. There’s something about purposely going after another person with the intent of hurting them out of pure meanness that gets my Irish up. Well, full disclosure, as far as I know I don’t contain a drop of Irish blood, but you get the idea.

I was bullied off and on as a child. Though a thin adult, I was a plump kid. My grandmother, probably ninety-eight pounds on her heaviest day, was a fabulous cook. Growing up under her roof I didn’t have a prayer. Brightly colored tins lined the shelves of both pantries filled with delicate cookies and chewy and delicious fruit filled bars. Up until the age of five my body resisted the caloric onslaught, but between five and eleven it grew equally horizontally as it did vertically. I remember being in the school play in first grade. I was to be a candy cane among a line of candy canes. My grandmother sewed my costume as instructed by the pattern sent home by my teacher, and the night of the Christmas pageant she pulled it on over my clothes to get me ready for my big moment. Unfortunately, being around the holidays, I had consumed enough chocolate and turkey dinner to make the seams tightly bulge at the candy cane’s sides. No time to let the seams out, I was guided to the side of the stage and made my entrance in the front row with the other canes in my group. All went without incident until we bent at the waist to do our bows after a rather, if I do say so myself, “sweet” performance and my seams gave way no longer able to hold back the tide. With a loud rip, the butt end of my costume relieved the pressure allowing the flesh pushing against it to gratefully escape. This precipitated hysterical laughter on down the line and my face turned as red as the stripes circling my body. I always remember that moment. It marked my first experience with humiliation. The first realization I was somehow different because I was overweight.

Not only was I chubby, but I had a lazy eye which required I wear glasses. God, I hated those glasses. Each day I walked to school up Ogilvie Street and down Tower Road. On Tower Road I crossed a bridge which spanned the massive railroad yard housed below. Always I was fascinated as the trains maneuvered back and forth adding cars to their loads, or leaving cars behind. Often I would stop for a moment to watch what seemed to me the sort of rhythmic metal dance. One day after being teased about having “four eyes” I stopped to glance over the side. Watching a train approach on a track I wondered what might happen to my much despised glasses if they “accidentally” fell on that track before the train passed. Before I knew it the glasses were floating through the air bouncing several times before landing square on the track just as the engine chugged along over them. “Hasta la vista, Baby”. At six you don’t think about the consequences of your actions. Well, at least not immediately. As I turned onto Ogilvie Street and began down the hill the immensity of my actions suddenly dropped over me like a heavy tarp. Without a doubt my mother and my grandparents were not going to revel in my genius for finding a sudden and painful end to the glasses they had just purchased for me. By the time I got home the tears had already begun to flow and by the time I reached the door to the kitchen I was in full gusher mode. My poor grandmother, having no idea what had befallen me between school and home, was trying to make sense out of my blatherings in order to determine what was wrong. Though I’d only had one spanking in my life, I was sure another one was about to be added to my record. Finally calming down to explain the dastardly deed I had done she asked me why. “Why on earth would you do such a thing”? Lower lip still flapping in the wind, I told her I was being teased. “Ahhhhhh” she said, hugging me tightly. No spanking was ever inflicted, and a new pair of glasses had to be ordered which I was instructed NOT to drop over the overpass. I remember my grandmother telling me I musn’t be influenced by mean spirited people for they would always be part of my life. Instead I was to remember I was well loved and safe and that they could only invade my world if I opened the door. Another lesson I took with me in my lesson bag.

There is plenty of mean spiritedness to go around these days. It’s everywhere. For me, I’m trying to hold on to the kindnesses I see, the generosity of spirit, and the love also in ample supply. The other day there was a homeless man with a sign standing by the exit to our market. You are probably saying all the usual things people do when seeing such a person asking for a handout. “They make tons of money doing this. They’ll use the money for drugs or alcohol. There are jobs if they just go and apply for them.” I’ve probably said some of these myself but this man somehow was different. He was elderly to begin with and dressed very poorly. Rail thin his hands actually looked skeletal. His beard reached almost to the waist of his pants and when he moved his arms they shook. No matter what this man’s story was, it was patently obvious he wasn’t doing well. There were ten cars in line waiting for the light to change. Without fail each car stopped and a hand reached out the window with a donation in it. This, made me really happy to see. When I handed him mine his eyes were wet. Sometimes just a little jesture, an acknowledgement, that random act of kindness. It may seem small to you but might mean the world to someone else.

So, I’m not that chubby little girl any more but she is an integral part of me. I remember to love her too, like my grandmother did. Whether you are chubby, or short, or imperfect in any way, don’t let others diminish you. Remember people who need to make someone else feel less than, usually come from a place of feeling less than themselves.

I say this on a rather contentious day. It’s a rough world out there lately. But in my day today the skies were robin’s egg blue with white puffy clouds, and the air was clear and fresh. I worked in the yard and took a moment to be immensely grateful. Sometimes the moment is all you have to be grateful for, and sometimes that is enough.

Have a happy Friday!!

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frozen-colorful-leaves-picture-quote-do-your-best-598pxThis morning I laid in bed and got to thinking about motives. Not the kind of motive such as why Sally stabbed Stan with a butcher knife when she found him with the au pair, but rather the underlying motives guiding our behavior in any given situation. I wonder if these motives are subconsciously driven or if we actually are aware of what we are doing and move forward anyhow.

This line of thought actually developed from a conversation between my hair dresser and myself yesterday. As I mentioned in a previous blog, many a world problem is solved while seated in a salon chair getting your roots retouched.  My hairdresser, Emily, is a lovely young woman in her mid thirties with three children. The oldest, and only girl, is ten. Ten is a tween age, not really a teen as yet but not a little girl. A difficult time when your body is changing and vulnerability is high. Children truly can be the cruelest beings. Many memories haunt me about being teased for being chubby as a child. One such incident, involving an insipid little sixth grader standing behind me in line to sharpen pencils, stands out in particular. While in line I took a step back nearly stepping on his foot. Reacting as if I had, he yelled loudly “Look out, fatso! If you stepped on me you’d squash me flat as a pancake!” Being a true scorpio at heart, I wanted badly to step on him, and step on him real hard. Then, after I had succeeded in squashing him flat as a pancake I would have enjoyed inserting his already pointy little head in the pencil sharpener. That, most likely, is a conversation best left for my therapist. Sharp tongues can wound as deeply as sharp objects, perhaps more deeply.

Emily went on to explain she and her husband are of Italian descent. It is not telling tales out of school I don’t believe to say some Italian’s can lean towards having more hair on their bodies. Why this is I have no clue but I have had Italian friends over the years who have dealt with waxing their upper lips and some, like this young lady, were blessed with dark hair on their legs. After numerous incidents involving teasing about hairy legs leaving her little girl in tears Emily purchased an electric shaver and the girl began to regularly shave her legs. This, thankfully gave the teasers no ammunition with which to arm their tongues causing the teasing to fizzle out. Amazingly though the taunting stopped, Emily was rebuked by other mothers in her circle saying the girl was too young for such a process. Really? Perhaps the issue isn’t whether she’s too young to shave her legs but rather that we as parents aren’t instilling the importance of kindness and respect for others in our offspring? I’m just saying.

Meanness is not reserved for the under twenty set. I have a dear friend who is painfully blunt, bordering on mean at times. One does not always have to say everything entering ones mind, even if it happens to be the truth. For example if asked if a pair of jeans are flattering when they are not might it not be better to reply, “I really like the black ones better, or they are not my favorite” rather than something like “they make your legs look like pier pilings”. There is a difference between being honest and being unkind. The phrase “brutally honest” comes to mind. I prefer being tactful when confronted with such a question.

The other day I took my mother out for lunch and shopping. Dementia, for those not dealing with it, slowly robs the sufferer of their short term memory essentially erasing the memory bank a piece at a time. In my mother’s case she won’t retain something I’ve told her five minutes ago but might remember with incredible clarity something that happened sixty years ago. Boundaries in the brain become blurred and behaviors you would expect to see in a child often begin to surface. In a way, it allows you to grieve slowly. Whether this is less or more painful I’m not sure. However, I am blessed every day to still be able to spend such an afternoon with my mother and grateful for each bit of time I am allotted. After lunch I wheeled her about the parking lot in her wheelchair now a permanent part of our world since her hip fracture. We stopped to look at all the trees some still brightly decked out with fall foliage. She seems to find nature fascinating of late as if seeing everything with fresh eyes. Interesting. I left her smiling and happy at her board and care after a fun day. Arriving home I got a text from her caregiver reading, “sad face emoji, Your mother was sitting at dinner with the other ladies. When asked how her day with her daughter went she replied, ‘I didn’t see my daughter today.’ Isn’t that sad?” I sat there for a moment before responding wondering what on earth was the point of such a message?What I wanted to respond was “Why would you tell me that?”, because I couldn’t imagine the point. Instead of getting angry or allowing it to ruin my precious day I responded, “I am well aware that mother doesn’t hold a memory these days. However, she is there with me in the moment, and I am there with her. Whether she knows I was there or not, I know I was there. I take the memory with me and store it on her behalf. Life is as it is and like a lemon you must squeeze it hard to extract all the juice from it.”

It is important to think about what you are saying or texting. Texting in particular has no “voice” if you will. Sometimes I will reread something I have written quickly and realize it might have “sounded” terse or come across in a way I didn’t mean. Words cannot be taken back whether spoken or written.  Apologies can be offered and accepted but mean spirited intentions tend to hang in the air casting a shadow over future interactions whether forgiven or not.

Yesterday I finished up the last of my holiday shopping. The parking lot at the mall was a flurry of activity when I arrived. Cars lined up along the aisles waiting for parking spots to open up. After circling the wagons for a half an hour I finally snagged a spot about a mile from the store I was going to and was happy to have found it. A lady in a pick up truck with a wreath tied on the fender passed me as I was walking. Another driver going the opposite direction came fairly close to her and the pick up lady shouted a decidedly non-holiday like greeting out her window while offering her a one finger salute.  Horns honked here and there and irritated faces wandered about either looking for their cars in the sea of vehicles or headed into the mall. “Merry Christmas to all”, I was tempted to say but thought somebody might leave tire marks on me so just kept walking.

Inside the store people were milling about. One lady was spread out on the floor opening boxes of glasses and inspecting every one. Her husband, a tired looking man, stood next to her holding her packages and handbag probably with visions of a cold beer and a football game dancing in his head.

Finally getting through the line a lovely lady dressed head to toe like an elf checked me out. Friendly and conversational she wished me the merriest of Christmases complementing me on everything from my hair to the color nail polish I was wearing. Some people just find their niche and tuck themselves in it. Maybe she really was an elf? All things are possible in this marvelous universe.

Soooooo, hope your holidays are going well. Keep of good cheer. It takes more energy to be unpleasant than to create a smile. I don’t know that to be true but would like to think so.

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Watching glimpses of Melania Trump’s speech on the morning news, I can’t help but wonder if her poised and calm appearance secretly housed an inside full of fear and dancing butterflies. Beautiful enough certainly to exude confidence in most any arena, still the woman surely had never been asked to give a politically motivated speech viewed by millions prior to stepping up to the podium this week. This would make a mouse out of many a lion.

Public speaking, so experts say, ranks higher than death among people’s fears. I know it’s right up there on my list. However, faced with choosing between standing before a firing squad or delivering a speech, I believe I would spit shine my writing skills and get on with whatever topic was at hand.

So terrified was I in high school of speaking before my peers, I would read whatever book was assigned for an oral book report, write the paper, and when called on to give my report claim I hadn’t done it. I know. I was a shy kid in those days. For people who know me now I realize this concept seems a stretch, but it was an accurate description of the younger version of myself. Miss Payne, my sophomore English teacher, was an unmarried lady of some years. At the age of fourteen I viewed anyone over twenty-five as having one foot in the grave, but her nickname was “the purple lady” due to her bluish gray hairdo so I would guess her to have been in her late fifties. Miss Payne brooked little resistance from her charges, and due to her iron rule received little. Many times we watched in horror as some poor kid caught breaking a Payne rule of behavior got their knuckles whacked soundly with her ruler for whatever transgression they had perpetrated. The second time I’d admitted not having a book report ready she had me stand in front of the class. For the allotted ten minutes I stood before them reading clumsily from a massive book of Shakespeare. King Lear has never been so sorely abused. I’m sure my words were drowned out by the loud knocking of my bony knees and the incessant drop, drop, drop of sweat beads on the wooden floor. Not good, not good at all.

Ten minutes can be eternity when you’re snared by fear. Once I took a ten minute typing test and my elbows were literally locked in place when on the downhill stretch. There was a boy in our class blessed with a nasty stutter. Talking to him required extreme patience. Each word he uttered struggled to be born and when it emerged was often accompanied by spitting and bizarre facial contortions. The wait between statements often became uncomfortable for both the speaker and the listener. As if this wasn’t enough of a social disaster for a teen, he had also been blessed with a terminal case of acne making the circle of his awkwardness complete. I was talking to my daughter the other day about the fact life is rarely fair. Recalling this kid would have been a great example to use. Hopefully like many social pariahs in high school, he went on to run a huge technology firm or try cases in superior court. High school kids can be a cruel lot, pouncing like pack animals on their weakest members culling them from the herd for ridicule and shame. I can only imagine what goes on with social media at their fingertips these days. Back then they were at least limited to their own turf.

Miss Payne trucked no rebellion in her English class. Everyone participated reluctantly or not. This boy, I wish I could remember his name, sat in the back row. His chin seemed to perpetually to be pointed in the direction of his feet, while his nervous hands worked ceaselessly at the craters on his face. When his name was called to do his report, several cooler kids groaned and snickered making his walk toward the front of room probably as long as an inmate taking his last walk along death row. Standing in front of his taunters wrinkled paper twisted in his fingers he began a report which was to eat up an entire class period. The boy sitting behind me began snoring as this boy worked to get through the torture. Looking back I’m sure Mrs. Payne thought she was doing what was best for him, but to me it felt like some kind of retribution aimed at all the men who had passed her by during her life. Poor guy.

After that day it became somewhat easier for me to appear in front of people. Let’s face it if a kid with a humiliating speech impediment and a face full of pimples could get through it, what had I to fear? These days I rather enjoy basking in the soft glow of the spotlight. Never would I be interested in public speaking, however, or appearing on TV or the stage. That light would be a little too strong for my tastes. People poking their cameras in every facet of your life would have no interest for me on any level. No amount of money or fame is worth losing my privacy.

One of the recent mega lottery winners in California recently stepped forward to claim their prize. The first thing coming to my mind was how life as they knew it was about to change drastically. Media attention, family members crawling out from under the rug, charities pursuing them, and changes in living, working and family situations. Whew. Lottery god if you’re tuning in it is not that I’m adverse to dealing with all this (my ticket is in my wallet if you’re waving your wand), however, I do acknowledge it might be a bit daunting. I’m just sayin.

I do have to say going back to my original thought that Melania Trump’s speech certainly had a familiar echo to it. No matter how much back pedaling their campaign managers do they cannot take away from the startling similarities to Michelle Obama’s speech. Ah well, kudos to her for doing it. This by no means is a political affirmation or nod to the Trump campaign, simply a casual observation about the speech itself.

This is my version of something I saw on a cooking show. Rick gave it an A. I prefer to let the bread rest a day or two so it’s not too fresh and soft.

Brie French Toast with Raspberry Sauce

4 slices Artisan bread, sliced thick
3 eggs
3 Tbsp. 2% milk
1 1/2 tsp. brandy
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. butter
4 oz. French Brie cheese
Confectioner’s sugar

Whisk together eggs, milk, brandy, vanilla, and cinnamon. One at a time soak bread in egg mixture. Melt butter in skillet over high heat. Place soaked bread in skillet and cook until golden brown. Turn over. Place two slices of Brie on top of two slices of bread. When bread is brown on the bottom side place the two slices without cheese on top of the bread with cheese and reduce heat to medium low. Turn over once until Brie is melted. (Like a grilled cheese sandwich). Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

Raspberry Sauce

2 cups fresh raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. brandy
1/2 tsp. lemon juice

Place 1 cup raspberries in food processor with sugar. Puree. Push through fine sieve and discard solids. Add remaining raspberries, brandy and lemon juice. Serve over toast.

Serves 4

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I heard a discussion the other day on a talk show about parents who are actually having their offsprings school pictures altered to correct what they perceive to be defects in their children’s looks.  Good God.  Are we truly becoming that obsessed with our physical appearance?  It must be really ego boosting to know that old mom had that mole you’re self-conscious about deleted from your right cheek, or your nose digitally altered.  How on earth would that make a child feel about themselves?

When I was fourteen I got hit full swing with a baseball bat while playing softball in the street.  Up until that day I had a perfectly straight nose but after the ER physician, who I believe slept through his bone setting course, got through with it it was slightly crooked.  My eyes, which are large and dominate my face, are two different colors, hazel and light blue. Often I am stopped in a store and asked about them.  I like that.  These are imperfections that I find make up the character of who I am. I didn’t opt to change them even when I got my first set of contact lenses, choosing untinted over tinted because what happens when you take them off?  What happens when your silicone slips, your fake eyelashes fall in your soup, your hair extensions get eaten by the cat, or you remove your underwear and that perfect little behind you’ve been showing off is sewn into the seat?  What happens?  Do you just yell, “surprise” and hope this guy has a wicked sense of humor? Also, if you don’t like who you are, how can you expect others to, and if they don’t like who you are, why would you want them in your life?

Joan Rivers, I believe I heard her say, has had over two hundred procedures.  Are you kidding me?  When she falls asleep her eyes probably don’t shut.  I’m still going with my original idea of inserting a drawstring under the skin around the face at birth and as you age you can just keep pulling up the skin like you would tighten a hoodie or pull in a corset back in the day.  I’m going to discuss this when I make my way upstairs, and I do not mean to the second floor.  That is, of course, if I actually make my way upstairs, somehow I’m afraid with my track record the elevator might get stalled before it reaches the penthouse. I’m just saying.

As a little girl if someone would comment on my cutitude, my mother would always reply “I wouldn’t have an ugly child”.  Go, Mom.  Can I assume from this statement that unattractive children should be drowned at birth or dropped off by the side of a road with a sign around their neck saying “will work for plastic surgery”?  Really? Who defines the words ugly or homely exactly?  Is there an elite group of people born to this world to delineate who the pretty people are from those who should have a bag dropped over their head as soon as the doctor cleans them up after delivery?

People that we view as different have a rough time in our beauty propelled world.  Let’s face it having Danny Devito leaning against a Ferrari wearing a Speedo isn’t going to boost sales of that fine automobile significantly.  Rail thin models stroll down runways in the world’s fashion meccas wearing heals that are wider then they are and the average woman is asked to emulate them or be found lacking.  What if you weren’t born with a terrific metabolism or choose not to live on four carrot sticks, an olive, two packs of cigarettes, and ten Starbuck’s grandes a day?  Chic nightclubs have bouncers stationed at their doors who select the lovliest people from the line to be allowed to enter their clubs and grace their dance floors. Pretty is in.

Perhaps this is where the bullying is coming from in our schools.  Kids who are not mainstream, perhaps shy or unsure of themselves, too thin, too fat, too short, too geeky, or too whatever to fit in.  I can remember in high school we had a kid who was tormented, truly.  Funny, I can still remember his name, although I won’t share it here, we’ll call him Walter.  He was a tall, gawky kid with pasty white skin and a falsetto voice .  In the school plays he was always chosen to sing the female leads, and performed them better for the most part then his female counterparts .

Although this was well received by the parents in the audience, not so much by the macho guys with letters on their jackets, or a good percentage of the male population of his class in general.  One day while my girl’s gym class was out sweating on the basketball courts, a naked Walter was shoved out the back door of the gym and the door pulled closed behind him.  In full view to us was the entire white visage of Walter, with the exception of his face which was the color of a vine ripened tomato.  To add insult to injury, if indeed possible, they hung his underwear from the flagpole in the quad, and made him walk around to the front door to get back in. Poor Walter.  To add to his miseries, he was brilliant, which in high school standards ranks about as high as a bad case of head lice.  As it turns out, he won a scholarship to an ivy league school and I would hope after much therapy went on to contribute greatly to our world, or be one mean son of a *#@D! In either case I’m sure he does not look back on his high school years as his finest hour.

Bullying makes me mad, any kind of meanness, just for meanness sake gets my Irish up.  As evident by what we’re hearing in the news lately it’s more serious than just hurt feelings.  My rant for the day.

“There is no gesture more devastating than the back turning away.”
Rachel Simmons, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls

Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.  ~Kahlil Gibran

I made these for dinner last night and we loved them.  The remoulade recipe is from the restaurant.  Literally, I could eat it with a spoon.  I put it on green beans, eggs, whatever.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.  Smiles for today.

Zucchini and Tuna Cakes

2 6 1/2 oz. cans albacore tuna packed in water, drained
2 cups zucchini, shredded and squeezed dry
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 cup Italian blend shredded cheese
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup finely chopped scallions
1 1/2 cups Italian bread crumbs
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
4 Tbsp. olive oil for frying
Arugula, or spring greens with a squeeze of lemon for bed if desired

Rinse tuna and flake with fork. Finely grate zucchini and squeeze dry in an old tea towel (this will stain) or use multiple folds of paper towels. Put both in a large bowl and mix well with all remaining ingredients except oil. Form into somewhat flat, oval patties.

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium to high heat. Cook patties in batches until golden brown on both sides (about 3-4 mins. per side). Drain on paper towels. Serve over a bed of greens, if desired, with remoulade sauce. (Kids might like these better with Ranch Dressing, but my granddaughter went for the remoulade.)

Zesty Remoulade

1 medium stalk celery
1/2 large onion
1/3 green bell pepper
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
1 1/2 Tbsp. Tabasco sauce
3 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup ketchup
1 cup mayonnaise

Pleace the onion, celery and bell pepper in food processor and chop finely. Slightly wring in paper towels to strain. Whisk until well blended in a medium mixing bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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