Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Sadness Of Abandoning A Book ...

I rarely fail to finish a book.

If I begin a book, it is with the intention of finishing the book. I like the sensation of turning the last page. Sometimes, that moment brings with it a sense of satisfaction. Sometimes, that moment brings with it a sense of regret, not for having read the story but for having come to the end. If Memoirs of a Geisha would have contained an index, I would have read it. I hated to bid that book farewell.

I have great faith in most authors and their work. Even if a book is leaving me cold, I hold out hope that it will get better. I keep reading. And then, by the time it becomes clear that a particular book will most likely not improve, I'm so far into it that it seems a shame to not persevere. It's like quitting a marathon with the finish line in sight. May as well finish for the sake of finishing, right?

I can remember giving up on The Shipping News. Everyone raved about that book. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why. (I saw the movie because Kevin Spacey had the lead and, as you know, I will watch Kevin Spacey wait for a bus. I remember the beginning of the movie. I don't remember the end.)

I can remember wishing that I'd given up on The Fourth K. How Mario Puzo could write a masterpiece like The Godfather and then write such utter dreck will forever remain a mystery. It's not like I can ask him what happened.

I gave up on Twilight (and was amused, re-reading this post).

And now it's happened again.

I am loathe to write negative posts about books because, hey, I've never written a book. I have one with which I've been noodling around. It may be worthwhile. It may not. I may finish it someday. I may not.

But today, I gave up on a book.

On Sunday, I tweeted:



Later, I added this:



I did not finish it. It went back to the library. Someone else is waiting for it. Perhaps they'll enjoy it more than I did.

Mind you, I loved The Alchemist. Me and eleventymillion other people on the planet.

And I'm well aware that any author who writes such a phenomenon of a book is destined to never repeat that success. Lightning rarely strikes twice. Liz Gilbert knew that she would never again write another Eat, Pray, Love, though her latest book, a work of fiction, is doing very well.

But I expected a book titled Adultery to be steamy and fascinating, an examination of the complexities of love and relationships, full of moments of insight and explanation of our psyches.

It is not that. (After I gave up reading, I went to Good Reads to read reviews – I don't read reviews in advance of books or movies – and I found that I was very much not alone in my thinking. At the moment, Good Reads reviewers give the book an average of 3.14 out of 5 stars.)

Not only did I not relate to the main character, I found her rather disgusting but not in a fascinating "Oh, why would she do the things she's doing?" kind of way, but rather in a "What a vile person" kind of way. I felt no empathy. I had no desire to find a reason to empathize.

But my bigger issue was with the writing.

It's tricky for me to read books anymore because I can't disengage the editor part of my brain. Some books are so well written that they sweep me along and I can't find any flaws.

But as with Twilight and "When we entered the classroom, Angela went to sit at a black-topped lab table exactly like the ones I was used to," the sentence in Adultery that really made me want to give up appeared on page 77: "But who wouldn't like to say that her husband was president of Switzerland, otherwise known as the Swiss Confederation?"

I read that and thought, "Well, later on in the book, I guess there will be a need for me to know that Switzerland is also known as the Swiss Confederation."

But damn, that kind of amateur, clunky writing wouldn't pass muster in a college fiction course. It sure as hell does not belong in a book written by someone with more than 30 titles to his name.

There were other instances. I didn't bother to flag them at the time and I didn't take the time to find them before I returned the book to the library.

I did read the last page, so I have a general sense of how the story played out.

But meh.

I have many other books on my radar and some on my shelves. Hope springs eternal.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Where Does The Time Go? ...

Some nights ago – I can't remember how many, exactly, which is fitting, given the point of this post – I was watching my beloved Rachel Maddow and she mentioned the botched execution of Clayton Lockett ... in April.

Whoa. My first thought was, "Rachel is wrong."

But Rachel is rarely wrong. (And when she is, she corrects her errors on camera as soon as possible.)

My second thought was, "That can't have happened in April because this is September."

I mentioned this to Doreen. She was in my "Rachel is wrong" camp.

But I looked up the date of Clayton's death and, sure enough, he was executed on April 29.

Which is almost May, but still. That happened in April.

And this is September.

Which means that since that news happened, May, June, July, and August have come and gone.

Holy crap. A third of a year, gone.

Now, May was busy and then my father had a health episode in June which lasted into July, and other life-type things came up and needed tending, but still, it was disconcerting to hear something in September about something that happened in April and not be able to account for much of the time.

But you know what I haven't done in a really long time?

Record. Or sing in front of other people.

The latter is far more scary to me than the former – which is why, though I've done it, I need to do it more often.

My friend Briggetta was over for dinner recently and asked about my singing. As in, was I?

Nope, I said. I've lost touch with my recording connection and I haven't had the means in recent years to plunk down cash for studio time. Not to just play around.

She mentioned that she's told some people about my voice. She compared me to Diana Krall.

Which was very sweet of her. And which made me think, "And she rich and married to Elvis Costello!"

Not that I expect to get rich. And I'm sure she and Elvis are very happy together.

But I need to get back to it. Because I really, really miss it.

So today, I pinged my recording connection. I may not hear from him. Or I may. We shall see.

And I checked out the schedule at Davenport's: Yup, Mondays are still open-mic nights. And yup, George Howe is still the man at the piano on those nights. He's the one I sang with before. And I lived to tell about it. So I feel good about singing with him again.

There's something about fall that brings out my creativity. I wanted to make bread today just to make it. Have no real inclination to eat it. I just want to bake it. (And I would have, if I had enough flour on hand. Any any yeast. I must stock up on baking supplies.)

So here's to singing again, at long last. I'll post songs if I have them to post, on my web site, where you can hear what I've noodled around with in the past.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Sauce, Now Even Better ...

I've posted a post similar to this in the past. This is updated with recipe improvements.

Every year, we make sauce.

Mom and I procure some amount of plum tomatoes – somewhat easily had at this time of year, and this year, we procured a bushel, in an honest-to-God bushel – and then we procure the rest of the ingredients and then, when we're both feeling ambitious, we convene to make sauce.

The division of labor is as follows: I dice tomatoes. Mom does everything else.

Lest you think that I'm getting off easy, allow me to assure you that I do not.

Have you seen a bushel of tomatoes?! That's a freakin' lot of tomatoes!

There are always a few tomato casualties, tomatoes that are far past their prime. But for the most part, I don't have to trim up most of the tomatoes, and so today, I diced the entire bushel's worth and we made half of the sauce that we will eventually make. But now all of the tomatoes are diced, and handily portioned into ginormous Ziploc bags, so the rest of the process will be easy, as the recipe is a snap and all Mom will have to do is dice onion and press garlic and measure out the other stuff.

When all was said and done, I diced enough to total 96 cups of tomatoes, which doesn't sound like that much, considering that dice tomatoes was all I did for most of the afternoon.

But it's nice to do once a year and Mom has a commercial freezer, so she stashes the tidy pints and lets the flavors meld over time and then, in the middle of winter when the closest thing to nature is a twig sticking out of the snow, she can pull out a couple of pints and boil some pasta or simmer down a couple of pints to use as pizza sauce or defrost a few pints as a base for soup. (Me, I'm perfectly happy to pile in meatballs and an embarrassment of Parmesan cheese and stir it all up and dig in. I don't miss the pasta.)

It really is delightful stuff. And simple. So if you have a lot of tomatoes on hand and you're stumped for an idea, give this a try.

Beth Note: The recipe below is for a single batch of sauce, but we always double each recipe and adjust accordingly. So the first amount is for a single batch and (the amounts in parentheses) are our tweaks and substitutions for a double recipe.

Spaghetti Sauce

1 cup chopped yellow onion (2 cups)
2 tablespoons butter (3 tablespoons)
5 cloves garlic, pressed (1 head garlic; there is no such thing as too much garlic)
12 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (24 cups; we use plum tomatoes)
2 cups dry red wine (1 bottle; the recipe as written calls for Burgundy, but somewhere along the way, we started using Chianti, so now we use Chianti)
12 ounces tomato paste (Yep, the recipe for a single batch calls for 12 ounces of tomato paste. Mom and I both think that's nuts. Twelve ounces for a double batch is perfect, so: 12 ounces)
2 teaspoons instant beef bouillon granules (5 teaspoons beef base)
4 teaspoons dried basil (6 teaspoons dried basil; rub it between your palms to crush it)
2 bay leaves (4 bay leaves)
8 ounces sliced mushrooms (16 ounces; we buy prewashed, sliced mushrooms; save yourself the effort)
Improvement for 2014: If you have some Parmesan rinds in the freezer – and you should; don't throw them away! – toss a couple in to simmer with the sauce. Oh, yeah, that's a good idea.

Saute the onion in butter until translucent. (We use 16-quart stock pots just to give ourselves plenty of room to stir and to allow a nice amount of surface area for simmering.) Add the garlic and saute until fragrant. Add the tomatoes in batches, giving yourself a chance to incorporate them with the onions and garlic. If you dump in 24 cups of tomatoes at once, it's trickier to get everything stirred together.) Add everything else. Simmer about 1 hour. Then sprinkle with a bit of baking soda and stir. (It's rather atomic!) Continue cooking for 10 minutes. Ladle into freezer containers (you can buy sleeves of 'em at food-service stores for just a few bucks). Be sure to leave a bit of room for expansion. Top with lids and stash in the freezer. Makes about eight pints. (Or 15-ish pints when doubled.)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Cookie Has Spoken, I Must Obey ...

The fortune made me smile but the Learn Chinese phrase drove home the point: I gotta get back to singing.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Good Fortune Of Good Neighbors ...

Unexpected doorbell. Neighbor hands me a plastic bag. Inside, I find this. Soon, they will be drizzled – nearly doused – with a garlicky balsamic vinaigrette and buried under a mountain of Parmesan cheese. Summer, you continue to make up for years past. Neighbor, thank you.

The Fuzziness ...

... makes me happy.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Makes Beth Happy, August 9 ...

Wow, I haven't compiled a Makes Beth Happy post like this for a year and a half!

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

Cahoots!
Geez, I love language.

The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Apricot Tart
This dessert embodies the same aesthetic as the one I love for my home: rich and warm, imperfect, rustic. Is it fall yet?!

And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Davis Leather Chair
See what I mean about my aesthetic? I covet this chair.

A Brief Note To Summer ...

Summer, I know I've not always been your biggest fan. I gripe. I whine. But you've been lovely this year. Thank you.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Gratitude, Day Five ...

Day 5 already? Well, that was fast.

1. I am grateful for electricity. This morning, I opened the curtains in my dining room and saw a small branch – or a large twig – on my power line. Then my brain directed my eyes upward – up, up, up – until I saw the place where a limb had cracked and fallen down. It's still attached to the tree, but for how long? So, that will need to be tended to, because if it lets go, it'll take out my power line. Which means that I am also grateful for my generator. But just in general, it's an amazing thing that I flip a switch and a light goes on. I flip a switch and the air conditioner starts to hum. I once saw a video about someone who started making "lights" out of plastic pop bottles filled with water, fitted in the roofs of homes in India. And by homes, I mean shacks. Not in a derogatory way but in a descriptive way. We enjoy an absurdly luxurious standard of living compared to much of the world. But a plastic bottle filled with water can become a skylight of sorts, a way to transmit light into a dark space, and the smiles on the faces of those who live there are unforgettable. My lastest loan for Kiva is to a group of women in India, as a matter of fact, who will buy (or who have bought) solar light kits that will enable them to weave at night. I love everything about this project: the women who want to work even more than they already do, the product that they're creating, the renewable aspect of the energy. I just noticed that I may be rambling a bit. On to 2 … .

2. I am grateful for rain. Pleasant amounts of rain, please. Not horrible storms, not flash floods. But gentle, even rain. I noticed yesterday that my lawn was looking rather parched. I had thought about cutting the grass, and then thought, "Why? So it can die more quickly because it's shorter?" But it rained a bit last night and everything looks relieved. Revived. We have done so much harm to this pale blue dot we call home. I don't blame the climate for being angry. I do what I can to appease it. I conserve energy for the most part. (Speaking of No. 1, above. I seem very keen to talk about energy today.) My house is not aglow with lots of lamps at night. I unplug things when I'm not using them. I pride myself on using less power than my neighbors. (The power company sends out energy reports.) I recycle more than I throw away. And I am grateful that more and more companies and countries are doing what they can to do what they can. It's not enough and it's already too late, but it's something.

3. I am grateful for you. I am so, so fortunate to know so many amazing people. Some are very present, others fade for a time but we come roaring back to life in an instant. I have cheerleaders and confidants and more shoulders than I hope to ever need. I hope you know that you do, too. Reciprocity is key. There is so much kindness and intelligence and creativity and love in the world. Thank you for reminding me of that every day. I'd send each of you a cookie right now if I could. And thank you again, Lynne, for inviting me to participate in this very important exercise. I shall continue. I may not share it every day, but I shall continue.

Day Four's post:

This morning is very sneezy. I am grateful for tissues.

But that isn't one of my three entries for the day.

1. I am grateful for Mondays. No, I am not being saracastic. I am grateful for Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays and Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays, too. Yesterday, I was watching "CBS Sunday Morning." (Note to any young'uns reading this: There is an age at which you will suddenly start watching "CBS Sunday Morning." It will not be a conscious decision. It is likely preprogrammed into all our brains by Les Moonves. It is a milestone in life. You cannot avoid it. Happily, though, it's more subtle than the first appearance of something in your mailbox from AARP.) And the Sunday profile was Lee Grant. Who steadfastly refused to admit her age, as she started lying about it early on. I am really irked by people who refuse to discuss their age or who think they're being clever when they say they're going to stay 39 forever. Dave, a very dear friend of mine, died very suddenly when he was 38. He never got to celebrate turning 39. Every day we're here is an amazing gift. Even if we spend it watching reruns of "The West Wing" and eating cold pizza with plasticized cheese. Not that I would know anything about that. My point is: Yay, Monday! Yay, a new week! (My weeks start on Mondays and end on Sundays.) Yay, opportunity! Yay!

2. I am grateful for this mild summer. I crossed my fingers before I wrote that, so I haven't jinxed anything. I am no fan of summer. As I mentioned to Mom on Saturday, "I don't really like the sun." I appreciate the sun and hey, let's all move toward solar power, but to be out in it, directly? I'll be looking for shade. Another friend named Dave once informed me that I had a Wayne Gretzky tan, which made us both laugh. I am indeed disinclined to ever tan if I can help it. And that summer, I was very much inclined to wear long skirts, so sun couldn't reach my skin if it tried. Anyhoo, I am very grateful that my windows have been open for so much of the summer. I am also grateful, by extension, for a lower utility bill each month.

3. I am grateful for creativity. Some people say they're not creative. I don't buy it. I believe we all are. In different ways. I have long known that whatever "success" I achieve in life will come from something I create, which is both very, very cool and somewhat daunting. But mostly very, very cool. I once had a dream about yet another friend named Dave (I had quite the roster of Daves in my life at one point) who handed me a little figurine of Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz." I looked at him and asked, "Is this to remind me that I always have everything I need, inside of me?" He smiled at me and I woke up. On a bulletin board in my office, I pinned a sentence I wrote some years ago. It reads: "Of all the things my creativity enables me to make, I am most proud of my ability to make a difference." We can all make a difference. Let's do. Monday is a fine day to begin.

Day Three's post:

This is a nice exercise, writing down things for which I'm grateful, in the morning. It sets a nice tone for the day.

1. I am grateful for kindness. Despite all the ugliness in the world – which is what leads the news – there is, proportionally, far more kindness. I don't have specific numbers to back up that assertion, but I have probability on my side. Last night, I caught up with shows on my DVR, among them a tribute to Don Rickles. (Who knew Brian Williams was so funny?) It was a lovely couple of hours of people saying lovely things about a man who's made his living insulting people, but insulting people in such a way that they covet an insult, because they know it's not rooted in malice but in humor which is a fine expression of love. Don was the last person at the event to speak. He stood up – and then sat back down again, because he's 88 years old – but then stood up to drive home his final wish, which was that everybody have health. I burst into tears. What an amazing wish for everyone. Because without it, nothing else much matters.

An aside: Robert DeNiro and David Letterman were sitting on either side of Don and helped him to stand for his final words to the crowd. You know you've lived a good life when you arrive at a place where DeNiro and Letterman happen to be the people sitting on either side of you and can help you stand up.

2. I am grateful for coffee. And hazelnut goo. As I sit here writing these, I'm thinking in a very macro way, as it makes sense to me that if I appreciate broad concepts, everything else fills in underneath those umbrellas, so, by definition, I appreciate all of those things, too. But years ago, when I was drinking far too much coffee in the morning because my employer at the time kept massive Styrofoam cups on hand (I did eventually buy a mug: Fiestaware, purple), I told a friend that I was thinking of cutting out coffee, cold turkey. He sounded forlorn when he said, "But we like something warm to drink in the morning." And we do. So now, I limit my consumption, but it is indeed a lovely beverage to sip as I wake up and greet the day.

3. I am grateful for my home. It is more shelter than I need, even though it is not a big house by big-house standards, but it has kept me safe in storms and warm in winter. (One of my favorite postcard moments of my life happened a few years ago: My cousins in New York sent scarves for the whole family for Christmas. [He bought the yarn, she knitted.] I love my scarf. It is thick and soft. And one wintry day, post-Christmas, I was sitting on the loveseat in my living room, in comfy clothes and fluffy socks, my scarf wrapped around my neck and shoulders, and I watched the snow fall and swirl outside.) It contains the trappings of my life and many, many memories. Here's to many more.

Today's tags are – you know what? I'm going to break the "rules" of this and tag no one but ask everyone to participate. Not overtly, necessarily. Writing is a good exercise, but so is pondering. So, everybody, please take a moment today to ponder and recognize things in your life for which you're grateful. It's a good habit. I recommend it, and I'm only on Day 3.

Day Two's post:

My coffee just kicked in. I know that because I said, out loud, "Oh, I have to do my gratitude thingee." So here we are.

1. Cliché though it may be, I am grateful for chocolate. It really does help. Yesterday, I was feeling out of sorts, anxious, not sure what to do with myself. And despite needing to run to the grocery store in general, I was able to open my cabinets and identify the makings of brownies. (Except for walnuts. I am out of walnuts.) And so, with very little effort and time, I baked a batch. Baking really is a form of alchemy. And the chocolate helped. In general, I'm avoiding wheat. But yesterday, it got greenlit.

2. Also cliché though it may be, I am grateful for wisdom. The older I get, the more I figure things out. They say youth is wasted on the young, but I wouldn't trade youth for wisdom. I like feeling more sure in my skin.

3. Another thing to write about sprang to mind yesterday, and as is the case these days (see: age, above) I didn't write it down and so I forgot it, but it was a good one, so I hope it comes back to mind so I can write about it on another day. But I am grateful for the ability to remember my dreams. I had some truly strange ones last night, part of which I relayed to my mom this morning on the phone, and I was happy to hear her laugh.

Day One's post:

Facebook is often full of fluffy crap. But every so often, an idea worth spreading spreads.

Such is the Gratitude Challenge.

Folks tag other folks to post things for which they are grateful, three things a day for five days. And posters also tag three people each day, to expand the mission, as it were.

Yesterday, my lovely friend Lynne tagged me. It was late in the evening. I had not slept well the night before and was almost falling asleep at my keyboard. And so I postponed posting until this morning. And then I thought I should share my gratitude with more than the couple hundred folks with whom I'm friends on Facebook.

So here we are. I'll add to this post over the coming days.

1. In a somewhat perverse way, I am grateful for Facebook. Though I bitch about it a lot, it has enabled me to reconnect with some dear friends from my past (they're even more dear now than they were then) and it has introduced me to some extraordinary folks whom I otherwise would not know. So thanks, Facebook. Now leave my timeline alone.

2. Waking up this morning. Truly. This summer is marked by health episodes for several people in my sphere. I know I certainly take for granted the ability to go about my life without pain or challenge. I really must take better care of myself to ensure wellness for as long as life is granted to me.

3. Peace. Despite all the discord in our country, I am profoundly aware that we enjoy a ridiculous amount of luxury and ease, even those of us who don't enjoy ridiculous amounts of overt luxury and ease. This morning, I am listening to cars on the street nearby, no doubt people heading to their jobs. And I am listening to birds. And my fingers clacking on the keyboard of my laptop which is magically connected to the entire world, without tether. Others in other parts of the world are waking up to very, very, very different sounds.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Gratitude, Day Four ...

This morning is very sneezy. I am grateful for tissues.

But that isn't one of my three entries for the day.

1. I am grateful for Mondays. No, I am not being saracastic. I am grateful for Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays and Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays, too. Yesterday, I was watching "CBS Sunday Morning." (Note to any young'uns reading this: There is an age at which you will suddenly start watching "CBS Sunday Morning." It will not be a conscious decision. It is likely preprogrammed into all our brains by Les Moonves. It is a milestone in life. You cannot avoid it. Happily, though, it's more subtle than the first appearance of something in your mailbox from AARP.) And the Sunday profile was Lee Grant. Who steadfastly refused to admit her age, as she started lying about it early on. I am really irked by people who refuse to discuss their age or who think they're being clever when they say they're going to stay 39 forever. Dave, a very dear friend of mine, died very suddenly when he was 38. He never got to celebrate turning 39. Every day we're here is an amazing gift. Even if we spend it watching reruns of "The West Wing" and eating cold pizza with plasticized cheese. Not that I would know anything about that. My point is: Yay, Monday! Yay, a new week! (My weeks start on Mondays and end on Sundays.) Yay, opportunity! Yay!

2. I am grateful for this mild summer. I crossed my fingers before I wrote that, so I haven't jinxed anything. I am no fan of summer. As I mentioned to Mom on Saturday, "I don't really like the sun." I appreciate the sun and hey, let's all move toward solar power, but to be out in it, directly? I'll be looking for shade. Another friend named Dave once informed me that I had a Wayne Gretzky tan, which made us both laugh. I am indeed disinclined to ever tan if I can help it. And that summer, I was very much inclined to wear long skirts, so sun couldn't reach my skin if it tried. Anyhoo, I am very grateful that my windows have been open for so much of the summer. I am also grateful, by extension, for a lower utility bill each month.

3. I am grateful for creativity. Some people say they're not creative. I don't buy it. I believe we all are. In different ways. I have long known that whatever "success" I achieve in life will come from something I create, which is both very, very cool and somewhat daunting. But mostly very, very cool. I once had a dream about yet another friend named Dave (I had quite the roster of Daves in my life at one point) who handed me a little figurine of Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz." I looked at him and asked, "Is this to remind me that I always have everything I need, inside of me?" He smiled at me and I woke up. On a bulletin board in my office, I pinned a sentence I wrote some years ago. It reads: "Of all the things my creativity enables me to make, I am most proud of my ability to make a difference." We can all make a difference. Let's do. Monday is a fine day to begin.

Day Three's post:

This is a nice exercise, writing down things for which I'm grateful, in the morning. It sets a nice tone for the day.

1. I am grateful for kindness. Despite all the ugliness in the world – which is what leads the news – there is, proportionally, far more kindness. I don't have specific numbers to back up that assertion, but I have probability on my side. Last night, I caught up with shows on my DVR, among them a tribute to Don Rickles. (Who knew Brian Williams was so funny?) It was a lovely couple of hours of people saying lovely things about a man who's made his living insulting people, but insulting people in such a way that they covet an insult, because they know it's not rooted in malice but in humor which is a fine expression of love. Don was the last person at the event to speak. He stood up – and then sat back down again, because he's 88 years old – but then stood up to drive home his final wish, which was that everybody have health. I burst into tears. What an amazing wish for everyone. Because without it, nothing else much matters.

An aside: Robert DeNiro and David Letterman were sitting on either side of Don and helped him to stand for his final words to the crowd. You know you've lived a good life when you arrive at a place where DeNiro and Letterman happen to be the people sitting on either side of you and can help you stand up.

2. I am grateful for coffee. And hazelnut goo. As I sit here writing these, I'm thinking in a very macro way, as it makes sense to me that if I appreciate broad concepts, everything else fills in underneath those umbrellas, so, by definition, I appreciate all of those things, too. But years ago, when I was drinking far too much coffee in the morning because my employer at the time kept massive Styrofoam cups on hand (I did eventually buy a mug: Fiestaware, purple), I told a friend that I was thinking of cutting out coffee, cold turkey. He sounded forlorn when he said, "But we like something warm to drink in the morning." And we do. So now, I limit my consumption, but it is indeed a lovely beverage to sip as I wake up and greet the day.

3. I am grateful for my home. It is more shelter than I need, even though it is not a big house by big-house standards, but it has kept me safe in storms and warm in winter. (One of my favorite postcard moments of my life happened a few years ago: My cousins in New York sent scarves for the whole family for Christmas. [He bought the yarn, she knitted.] I love my scarf. It is thick and soft. And one wintry day, post-Christmas, I was sitting on the loveseat in my living room, in comfy clothes and fluffy socks, my scarf wrapped around my neck and shoulders, and I watched the snow fall and swirl outside.) It contains the trappings of my life and many, many memories. Here's to many more.

Today's tags are – you know what? I'm going to break the "rules" of this and tag no one but ask everyone to participate. Not overtly, necessarily. Writing is a good exercise, but so is pondering. So, everybody, please take a moment today to ponder and recognize things in your life for which you're grateful. It's a good habit. I recommend it, and I'm only on Day 3.

Day Two's post:

My coffee just kicked in. I know that because I said, out loud, "Oh, I have to do my gratitude thingee." So here we are.

1. Cliché though it may be, I am grateful for chocolate. It really does help. Yesterday, I was feeling out of sorts, anxious, not sure what to do with myself. And despite needing to run to the grocery store in general, I was able to open my cabinets and identify the makings of brownies. (Except for walnuts. I am out of walnuts.) And so, with very little effort and time, I baked a batch. Baking really is a form of alchemy. And the chocolate helped. In general, I'm avoiding wheat. But yesterday, it got greenlit.

2. Also cliché though it may be, I am grateful for wisdom. The older I get, the more I figure things out. They say youth is wasted on the young, but I wouldn't trade youth for wisdom. I like feeling more sure in my skin.

3. Another thing to write about sprang to mind yesterday, and as is the case these days (see: age, above) I didn't write it down and so I forgot it, but it was a good one, so I hope it comes back to mind so I can write about it on another day. But I am grateful for the ability to remember my dreams. I had some truly strange ones last night, part of which I relayed to my mom this morning on the phone, and I was happy to hear her laugh.

Day One's post:

Facebook is often full of fluffy crap. But every so often, an idea worth spreading spreads.

Such is the Gratitude Challenge.

Folks tag other folks to post things for which they are grateful, three things a day for five days. And posters also tag three people each day, to expand the mission, as it were.

Yesterday, my lovely friend Lynne tagged me. It was late in the evening. I had not slept well the night before and was almost falling asleep at my keyboard. And so I postponed posting until this morning. And then I thought I should share my gratitude with more than the couple hundred folks with whom I'm friends on Facebook.

So here we are. I'll add to this post over the coming days.

1. In a somewhat perverse way, I am grateful for Facebook. Though I bitch about it a lot, it has enabled me to reconnect with some dear friends from my past (they're even more dear now than they were then) and it has introduced me to some extraordinary folks whom I otherwise would not know. So thanks, Facebook. Now leave my timeline alone.

2. Waking up this morning. Truly. This summer is marked by health episodes for several people in my sphere. I know I certainly take for granted the ability to go about my life without pain or challenge. I really must take better care of myself to ensure wellness for as long as life is granted to me.

3. Peace. Despite all the discord in our country, I am profoundly aware that we enjoy a ridiculous amount of luxury and ease, even those of us who don't enjoy ridiculous amounts of overt luxury and ease. This morning, I am listening to cars on the street nearby, no doubt people heading to their jobs. And I am listening to birds. And my fingers clacking on the keyboard of my laptop which is magically connected to the entire world, without tether. Others in other parts of the world are waking up to very, very, very different sounds.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Gratitude, Day Three ...

This is a nice exercise, writing down things for which I'm grateful, in the morning. It sets a nice tone for the day.

1. I am grateful for kindness. Despite all the ugliness in the world – which is what leads the news – there is, proportionally, far more kindness. I don't have specific numbers to back up that assertion, but I have probability on my side. Last night, I caught up with shows on my DVR, among them a tribute to Don Rickles. (Who knew Brian Williams was so funny?) It was a lovely couple of hours of people saying lovely things about a man who's made his living insulting people, but insulting people in such a way that they covet an insult, because they know it's not rooted in malice but in humor which is a fine expression of love. Don was the last person at the event to speak. He stood up – and then sat back down again, because he's 88 years old – but then stood up to drive home his final wish, which was that everybody have health. I burst into tears. What an amazing wish for everyone. Because without it, nothing else much matters.

An aside: Robert DeNiro and David Letterman were sitting on either side of Don and helped him to stand for his final words to the crowd. You know you've lived a good life when you arrive at a place where DeNiro and Letterman happen to be the people sitting on either side of you and can help you stand up.

2. I am grateful for coffee. And hazelnut goo. As I sit here writing these, I'm thinking in a very macro way, as it makes sense to me that if I appreciate broad concepts, everything else fills in underneath those umbrellas, so, by definition, I appreciate all of those things, too. But years ago, when I was drinking far too much coffee in the morning because my employer at the time kept massive Styrofoam cups on hand (I did eventually buy a mug: Fiestaware, purple), I told a friend that I was thinking of cutting out coffee, cold turkey. He sounded forlorn when he said, "But we like something warm to drink in the morning." And we do. So now, I limit my consumption, but it is indeed a lovely beverage to sip as I wake up and greet the day.

3. I am grateful for my home. It is more shelter than I need, even though it is not a big house by big-house standards, but it has kept me safe in storms and warm in winter. (One of my favorite postcard moments of my life happened a few years ago: My cousins in New York sent scarves for the whole family for Christmas. [He bought the yarn, she knitted.] I love my scarf. It is thick and soft. And one wintry day, post-Christmas, I was sitting on the loveseat in my living room, in comfy clothes and fluffy socks, my scarf wrapped around my neck and shoulders, and I watched the snow fall and swirl outside.) It contains the trappings of my life and many, many memories. Here's to many more.

Today's tags are – you know what? I'm going to break the "rules" of this and tag no one but ask everyone to participate. Not overtly, necessarily. Writing is a good exercise, but so is pondering. So, everybody, please take a moment today to ponder and recognize things in your life for which you're grateful. It's a good habit. I recommend it, and I'm only on Day 3.

Day Two's post:

My coffee just kicked in. I know that because I said, out loud, "Oh, I have to do my gratitude thingee." So here we are.

1. Cliché though it may be, I am grateful for chocolate. It really does help. Yesterday, I was feeling out of sorts, anxious, not sure what to do with myself. And despite needing to run to the grocery store in general, I was able to open my cabinets and identify the makings of brownies. (Except for walnuts. I am out of walnuts.) And so, with very little effort and time, I baked a batch. Baking really is a form of alchemy. And the chocolate helped. In general, I'm avoiding wheat. But yesterday, it got greenlit.

2. Also cliché though it may be, I am grateful for wisdom. The older I get, the more I figure things out. They say youth is wasted on the young, but I wouldn't trade youth for wisdom. I like feeling more sure in my skin.

3. Another thing to write about sprang to mind yesterday, and as is the case these days (see: age, above) I didn't write it down and so I forgot it, but it was a good one, so I hope it comes back to mind so I can write about it on another day. But I am grateful for the ability to remember my dreams. I had some truly strange ones last night, part of which I relayed to my mom this morning on the phone, and I was happy to hear her laugh.

Day One's post:

Facebook is often full of fluffy crap. But every so often, an idea worth spreading spreads.

Such is the Gratitude Challenge.

Folks tag other folks to post things for which they are grateful, three things a day for five days. And posters also tag three people each day, to expand the mission, as it were.

Yesterday, my lovely friend Lynne tagged me. It was late in the evening. I had not slept well the night before and was almost falling asleep at my keyboard. And so I postponed posting until this morning. And then I thought I should share my gratitude with more than the couple hundred folks with whom I'm friends on Facebook.

So here we are. I'll add to this post over the coming days.

1. In a somewhat perverse way, I am grateful for Facebook. Though I bitch about it a lot, it has enabled me to reconnect with some dear friends from my past (they're even more dear now than they were then) and it has introduced me to some extraordinary folks whom I otherwise would not know. So thanks, Facebook. Now leave my timeline alone.

2. Waking up this morning. Truly. This summer is marked by health episodes for several people in my sphere. I know I certainly take for granted the ability to go about my life without pain or challenge. I really must take better care of myself to ensure wellness for as long as life is granted to me.

3. Peace. Despite all the discord in our country, I am profoundly aware that we enjoy a ridiculous amount of luxury and ease, even those of us who don't enjoy ridiculous amounts of overt luxury and ease. This morning, I am listening to cars on the street nearby, no doubt people heading to their jobs. And I am listening to birds. And my fingers clacking on the keyboard of my laptop which is magically connected to the entire world, without tether. Others in other parts of the world are waking up to very, very, very different sounds.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Gratitude, Day Two ...

My coffee just kicked in. I know that because I said, out loud, "Oh, I have to do my gratitude thingee." So here we are.

1. Cliché though it may be, I am grateful for chocolate. It really does help. Yesterday, I was feeling out of sorts, anxious, not sure what to do with myself. And despite needing to run to the grocery store in general, I was able to open my cabinets and identify the makings of brownies. (Except for walnuts. I am out of walnuts.) And so, with very little effort and time, I baked a batch. Baking really is a form of alchemy. And the chocolate helped. In general, I'm avoiding wheat. But yesterday, it got greenlit.

2. Also cliché though it may be, I am grateful for wisdom. The older I get, the more I figure things out. They say youth is wasted on the young, but I wouldn't trade youth for wisdom. I like feeling more sure in my skin.

3. Another thing to write about sprang to mind yesterday, and as is the case these days (see: age, above) I didn't write it down and so I forgot it, but it was a good one, so I hope it comes back to mind so I can write about it on another day. But I am grateful for the ability to remember my dreams. I had some truly strange ones last night, part of which I relayed to my mom this morning on the phone, and I was happy to hear her laugh.

Day One's post:

Facebook is often full of fluffy crap. But every so often, an idea worth spreading spreads.

Such is the Gratitude Challenge.

Folks tag other folks to post things for which they are grateful, three things a day for five days. And posters also tag three people each day, to expand the mission, as it were.

Yesterday, my lovely friend Lynne tagged me. It was late in the evening. I had not slept well the night before and was almost falling asleep at my keyboard. And so I postponed posting until this morning. And then I thought I should share my gratitude with more than the couple hundred folks with whom I'm friends on Facebook.

So here we are. I'll add to this post over the coming days.

1. In a somewhat perverse way, I am grateful for Facebook. Though I bitch about it a lot, it has enabled me to reconnect with some dear friends from my past (they're even more dear now than they were then) and it has introduced me to some extraordinary folks whom I otherwise would not know. So thanks, Facebook. Now leave my timeline alone.

2. Waking up this morning. Truly. This summer is marked by health episodes for several people in my sphere. I know I certainly take for granted the ability to go about my life without pain or challenge. I really must take better care of myself to ensure wellness for as long as life is granted to me.

3. Peace. Despite all the discord in our country, I am profoundly aware that we enjoy a ridiculous amount of luxury and ease, even those of us who don't enjoy ridiculous amounts of overt luxury and ease. This morning, I am listening to cars on the street nearby, no doubt people heading to their jobs. And I am listening to birds. And my fingers clacking on the keyboard of my laptop which is magically connected to the entire world, without tether. Others in other parts of the world are waking up to very, very, very different sounds.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Gratitude, Day One ...

Facebook is often full of fluffy crap. But every so often, an idea worth spreading spreads.

Such is the Gratitude Challenge.

Folks tag other folks to post things for which they are grateful, three things a day for five days. And posters also tag three people each day, to expand the mission, as it were.

Yesterday, my lovely friend Lynne tagged me. It was late in the evening. I had not slept well the night before and was almost falling asleep at my keyboard. And so I postponed posting until this morning. And then I thought I should share my gratitude with more than the couple hundred folks with whom I'm friends on Facebook.

So here we are. I'll add to this post over the coming days.

1. In a somewhat perverse way, I am grateful for Facebook. Though I bitch about it a lot, it has enabled me to reconnect with some dear friends from my past (they're even more dear now than they were then) and it has introduced me to some extraordinary folks whom I otherwise would not know. So thanks, Facebook. Now leave my timeline alone.

2. Waking up this morning. Truly. This summer is marked by health episodes for several people in my sphere. I know I certainly take for granted the ability to go about my life without pain or challenge. I really must take better care of myself to ensure wellness for as long as life is granted to me.

3. Peace. Despite all the discord in our country, I am profoundly aware that we enjoy a ridiculous amount of luxury and ease, even those of us who don't enjoy ridiculous amounts of overt luxury and ease. This morning, I am listening to cars on the street nearby, no doubt people heading to their jobs. And I am listening to birds. And my fingers clacking on the keyboard of my laptop which is magically connected to the entire world, without tether. Others in other parts of the world are waking up to very, very, very different sounds.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Art In Nature ...

I have yet to find a respectable peach this season – as I tweeted yesterday, every peach I find at the grocery store is as sumptuous as a league ball – but I was delighted to find this artful tendril of vine in yesterday's grapes.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Love At First Sight ...

I rummage through a lot of antique stores. Well, no, "rummage" is not the right word. I wander through a lot of antique stores and I scan. My eyes rarely fall on anything I wish to investigate further. There is a lot of junk in the world. And a lot of that junk doesn't qualify as "antique." So, really, I wander through a lot of junk stores.

But I have a few sources that are legit: beautifully styled and stocked with wonderful finds (from estate sales, perhaps?) and I was in one of those stores yesterday and oh, oh the awesomeness. My mom and I both stared at it. (I get much of my taste from her.)

It is very clearly an antique yet entirely modern, too, a daybed with trundle that would make a very awesome couch.

We left the store. We had walked there. It's not like we were going to tote it home. Well, guess we could have rolled it down the street. But we didn't.

But when I got home and sat where I am sitting now, on a piece I bought when I moved into my first apartment – 20 years ago – which is still in surprisingly good shape but which I really, really, really want to replace, I started thinking about how amazing the daybed would be in this spot. And then I started thinking about its depth – which isn't very deep – and that it would require a custom cushion (on the order of a mattress, really). And then I started thinking that that cushion-mattress would be awesome in worn leather.

And then I started wishing that I had unlimited amounts of money to spend on The Daybed Project and everything else I'd like to do in this house.

Alas, I do not have unlimited amounts of money. But I may have to buy the daybed anyway. Before someone else does. For someday. Because it's too fantastic. It could live in my basement for a while. We shall see.

In any event, it's nice to dream.



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Blueberries …

Awaiting their muffin destiny ... .

Friday, July 11, 2014

Interactive Résumé, Updated Edition ...

I created this post in 2011 but it was due for an update. A lot has happened since then. And several links had broken. Turns out, not everything on the Internet lasts forever. Here, then, an update:

Funny thing about humility: It's not the most desirable trait to put forth when looking for a job.

Not talking about oneself for fear of seeming boastful? Some other time, kid. Not now.

One day last week, I applied for a job for which I thought I was qualified and well-suited. The following day, I received a boilerplate "After careful consideration, we regret to inform you ..." reply. It was nice of someone to reply, but I don't think there was a whole lot of careful consideration; in my book, careful consideration would have involved several staffers under the tiresome glow of florescent lights, all night long, in a conference room, their sleeves rolled up, their hair mussed from so much head clutching, the table strewn with grease-soaked pizza boxes littered with discarded crusts and congealed, plastic-seeming bits of cheese.

My résumé, by virtue of being static, can't convey all that I have to offer. But here, here I can create an interactive experience. Granted, prospective employers may never click on the link I supply to this post, but it will be out there, in the world, an opus of 1s and 0s, a beacon of awesomeness, and people everywhere will be drawn to it, drawn by its burning intensity of fabulousness. It will become a symbol of hope for all mankind. And I shall wake one day to find pilgrims from around the globe camped out on my lawn and in the street and throughout my neighborhood, city, and state, all waiting, waiting for me to step out onto my front stoop, coffee in hand, to share with them my awesome creativity.

Or it might help me to land a job. Either outcome is fine with me.


❑ To lay the groundwork, allow me to share with those who may not know it, the story of the day I interviewed Kurt Vonnegut at his home in Sagaponak, New York. I was writing a paper about Nelson Algren. For a college class. I was 19. Yes, it's a well-known tale to some, but it's an unknown tale to others, and if I can reap mileage out of it in this situation, I'll reap. (For those who may be so inclined, they can read the back story of the adventure here.)

❑ While in college, I spent a couple of summers holding down the fort of Jeff Zaslow's office at the Chicago Sun-Times. I was 17 when I met Jeff. We're still friends. [Even now that he's gone, I think of him that way.] I form lasting relationships. Both my personal and professional networks are vast and varied, and they often overlap.

❑ Also while in college, I interned at Chicago magazine. It wasn't a paid position, but one day, a check arrived in my mailbox, my first-ever payment for something word-related. (I Xeroxed it. I still have it.) I called my editor, confused as to why he had paid me. He told me I deserved it. Also, it was at Chicago that I came to understand that brownies are one of the keys to forming the aforementioned lasting relationships. People appreciate small gestures. Especially if those small gestures involve chocolate.

❑ After college, in a less-than-perfect job market, I landed a part-time gig at the Chicago Tribune. In Sports. Those who knew me asked, skeptically, "Beth, do you know anything about sports?"

"There are three periods in hockey and four quarters in football," I replied. "I'll figure out the rest as I go."

My plan was to stay at the paper for six months, maybe a year. I figured I could round out my résumé with another name-brand publication and wait for the job market to strengthen.

I stayed nearly five years. So much for plans.

I did OK in Sports – I could code a box score with the best of 'em – and then moved on to the News desk where I acquired the enviable title of "Dumper." Thankfully, my editor, Randy Weissman, indulged my curiosities and presented me with opportunities as they came along. One such opportunity led to a full-time job in Features, where I wrote my first article for the paper, for which I interviewed Bill Kurtis. At the end of our phone conversation, he said, in that legendary voice, "Well, Beth, you'll have to come by sometime and see what we do here."

So I did. I was 25 when I met Bill. We're still friends. In terms of baked goods, however, he prefers oatmeal raisin cookies.

❑ I left the Tribune to take a job with the now-former Thomson Newspapers. Thomson exists. Thomson Newspapers does not. But while there, I had the great good fortune to work with some truly exceptional people, including Paul Camp, who remains my best boss to date. Myself not included.

❑ More recently, I had the privilege of lending an editorial hand to The Last Lecture, the missive that Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch left for his children that he was kind enough to share with the world. Jeff Zaslow was Randy's co-author, you'll remember, and I was one of Jeff's editors, though Jeff was such a talented writer, there was not a lot for me to do. But if you pick up a copy of The Last Lecture and notice that Thin Mints is capitalized, that's my doing. Editing. It's a glamorous life.

❑ Also, I interviewed Melissa Etheridge for my first-ever celebrity profile. We kept chatting past my allotted time and she invited me to come backstage during her then-upcoming tour to say hello. As luck would have it, her Chicago date was right smack dab in the middle of the Chicago Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure (in which I walk every year), but her publicist kindly arranged for me to meet her in Milwaukee a few nights later.

So I did. Unlike with Jeff and Bill, Melissa and I have not become friends. But I was thrilled to see her perform that night. She's an extraordinary artist.

❑ And I bake. And write about what I bake. And photograph what I bake. One of my recipes was featured in Fine Cooking and is now part of this cookbook. And in January, I began contributing monthly posts to angelo:HOME, the lifestyle site of designer Angelo Surmelis, who, like others, has become a friend. Our baking adventure began with a shortbread necklace which inspired January's entry, and I've since created February's, March's, April's, May's, June's, July's, August's, September's, October's, November's, and December's.

And for 2012, January's, February's, March's, April's, May's, June's, July's, August's, September's, October's, November's, and December's.

And for 2013, January's, February's, March's, April's, May's, June's, July's, August's, September's, October's, November's, and December's.

And for 2014, I'm posting every now and again.

❑ And for those who like images of food – and who doesn't? – I created a Flickr page.

❑ And then I spent some quality time with iWeb and started noodling around with a web site.

And my résumé contains other conversation-worthy tidbits. We have to have something fresh to talk about in person, right?

And I didn't even mention that I have two voiceover demos and that I sing jazz. Until now.

I have two voiceover demos and I sing jazz.

❑ Since creating this post, I've completed the shift to working for myself (yep, this bullet point is an update), and am pleased to work with a great slate of clients on word projects of all stripes.

❑ One of those clients is the estimable Michele Woodward. I am delighted to be a part of her team and help her clients and others create great resumes, write more creatively, and get book projects off their starting blocks.

My name's Beth and I'm a creative.

What can I create for you?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Crumbled ...

I never was a cupcake maker.

I have no childhood memories of baking cupcakes with my mom.

I have childhood memories of selecting cupcakes at Cub Scouts meetings when I was very wee. I have childhood memories of looking for the cupcake with the most frosting. I have childhood memories of scraping the paper cupcake liner against my bottom teeth to capture the bit of cupcake that was left behind.

But the only cupcake-baking episode I can recall happened a couple of years ago and resulted in the cupcake at the top of this post. I baked a whole batch. I didn't frost most of them. I threw most of them away. My pursuit was a singular, picture-perfect cupcake. I did eventually eat it. It was OK.

Yesterday, when I read that Crumbs, the cupcake chain, had closed all of its locations overnight, my only thought was "Of course it did. Fads don't last."

How anyone thought they could build a sustainable business on a single food product is beyond me. McDonald's doesn't just sell hamburgers. Starbucks doesn't just sell coffee.

But even if they did, hamburgers and coffee are much more staples of the American diet than cupcakes.

The precipitous rise of the cupcake foretold its precipitous fall.

I never did buy into the cupcake craze. I never ate a Crumbs cupcake. I never set foot into a Crumbs store. (The reaction on Twitter yesterday was decidedly anti-Crumbs. If tweeters are to be believed, Crumbs cupcakes were dry and topped with overly sweet frosting. If that was truly the case, it's no wonder Crumbs didn't last: There are only so many curious first-timers in the cupcake world.)

For that matter, I've never had a Magnolia Bakery cupcake or any other. Cupcakes don't entice me. And I really dislike fads.

I make really good blueberry muffins and I make really good cream currant scones. I bake sensational brownies, I don't mind boasting. But cookies are my thing.

And cookies are my thing because the borders of cookies are so malleable. When I baked monthly cookies for Angelo, and I would clack out ideas, many were the time that I had to rein in my thoughts because I was really exceeding the boundaries of what constitutes a cookie.

But, like hamburgers and coffee, cookies will never go out of style. Cookies are as timeless as they are infinite.

If I ever do open a bakery, though, I will sell more than just cookies. Not much more. I will not try to be all things to all people, but if someone walks in and wants a brownie, they will be able to buy a brownie. Biscotti? You bet. (Yes, I know they're cookies, but some biscotti are second cousins to cement and have gotten a bad rap and are sometimes shunned. Mine are buttery and crunchy but pleasantly so.) Scones? Maybe not every day. Maybe I'll have a rotating special.

But if anyone wants a cupcake, they'll have to go elsewhere.

If there's anywhere left to go.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Once Upon A Time, I Was 'Very Sure' ...

One of the many, many, many things that I love about my niece is that her idea of a good time is hanging out at my house on a Friday night and talking for three hours.

She's in the throes of college planning before her senior year. She is a very, very good student and has a very clear sense of what she wants to study. At the moment, however, she does not have a very clear sense of where she wants to go to school. There are contenders, but no school stands apart from the pack. And she hears the clock ticking.

I reassured her that she has, at the very least, the next two months to noodle around with all of this. I also tried to acknowledge that while yes, this is a very big decision, it is not a decision that will be cast in stone.

But she is very much a planner, my niece.

I can relate.

We talked about the ACT and the SAT and the importance – and unimportance – of test scores. They are one component, I reminded her, not the sole point on which any admissions officer will base a decision.

And as we talked, I thought about my own scores, pretty sure that I still had them in a file, tucked away.

So today, I looked.

Yep. Lower drawer, all the way in the back. My past.

What a trip, this glimpse into the time when I was 16 years old and "very sure" of what my future held.

Some of it made me laugh.

Recently, I reviewed the layout of the book of one of my clients, a doctor. I created a rather lengthy list of tweaks for her to share with her publisher. She cc:d me on a very nice note to the woman who had introduced the two of us. She wrote, in part, this: "Just wanted to let you know that when Beth read over the Interior Layout proof of my book, I decided she could also be a pathologist or a diagnostic radiologist or a forensic investigator. She can see things that the average person cannot."

Today, looking at my ACT results, I saw this:

I had forgotten about my radiology plan. It was secondary to my pre-med plan.

I am, of course, neither a doctor nor a radiologist. But I'm smiling, thinking that I've retained the trait that would have made me a good one. I've simply put it to another use.

At the time, though, I was very sure about medicine:


On the SAT, I was very certain. Leave it to the SAT to use "certain" instead of "sure."


I'm amused at my self-professed need for help with math skills. At least I knew that much about myself.

And I love that I wanted to go to a school that had programs for vocal music and student government.

I started singing in grade school. I sang in junior high. I sang in high school. I continue to sing today.

I was never a part of student government, but I like that it interested me as I headed into college.

If I had it all to do over again, I would major in political science.

Of that I am very certainly sure.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Good Times: Summer Begins Edition ...

I felt the need to bake ... . Yep, summer officially arrived and my brain said, "Hey, turn on your oven!"

And I really do love creating cookies for Angelo's blog, and I'm not sure why I never thought of this hybrid before, but now I have.

Allow me to introduce you to snickerdoodle sablés.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Messages, Messages Everywhere ...

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a friend. I can't remember the context of a particular part of the conversation, but singing came up.

As in, my love of it and my fear of it.

Speaking in front of a group of hundreds of people? Piece of cake for me.

Singing in front of a few? Whoa, somebody get me a Scotch.

At the end of the evening, he said, "Sing in front of people."

I smiled at him.

"You're not going to, are you?"

"I'll work on it," I said.

To begin with, I told myself, I can start going to open-mic nights again, if only to hang out and start mustering up the courage.

And then, a couple of days ago, I saw this inside my Dove wrapper:

Hmm. Yes, I should do that. Though there's really no "discovering" to be done. There's "doing" to be done. I really want to sing.

And then, yesterday, an email popped up from a new client, subject line: "Random side note" with this inside:

"Your voice is STUNNING! (Yeah, I just lurked around on your website, I admit it!) Absolutely gorgeous!"

And then, last night, before I went to bed, I can't even remember if I was reading something online or watching something on TV, but I started crying (I'm a bit more emotional than usual these days) and said to myself, out loud, "I have to sing."

And then, last night, I had a dream about my friend Briggetta, whom I met in a voice class at The Old Town School of Folk Music and with whom I performed a song at Davenport's as part of a class outing, and in the dream, we agreed that we'd start taking Gwen's class together again.

And then, this morning, I had another bite of Dove, and found this:

OK, Universe, message received.

Perhaps life will be a bit more normal on Monday.

Perhaps I'll hang out at Davenport's.

Perhaps I'll even sing.

Monday, June 16, 2014

For The Love Of Words ...

I blame the Puritans.

Somehow, despite my not be raised by Puritans, their damn work ethic bored its way into my brain: Work must feel like work – arduous, exhausting – I thought; anything less didn't count.

I tried the arduous and exhausting path.

It was not fun.

And so, I have since exorcised the Puritanical way of thinking and instead started constructing a life that I find much more rewarding.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about book coaching, a new offering in the new year, part of Michele Woodward Consulting.

In the post, I recount my experience with editing The Last Lecture, written by Randy Pausch and my dearly departed friend Jeff Zaslow.

This is what Jeff inscribed in my copy:

Beth, I am completely grateful to you for the advice, editing, cheerleading, and creative input you gave for this book. I remember being very unsure of where this was going, and I appreciated your clear-eyed skill at pointing me the right way. This book is better because of you. I am proud to be your friend.

I was very touched to read that that the night he wrote it. It didn't dawn on me until this past year that his inscription is the book-coaching recommendation to end all book-coaching recommendations.

I really love helping people talk through their projects and I really love helping them work through the nuts and bolts of editing and proofreading and formatting.

Starla Fitch, M.D., author of the soon-to-be-released Remedy for Burnout: 7 Prescriptions Doctors Use to Find Meaning in Medicine, recently wrote to Michele:

Just wanted to let you know that when Beth read over the Interior Layout proof of my book, I decided she could also be a pathologist or a diagnostic radiologist or a forensic investigator. She can see things that the average person cannot. And, it is going to make my book a better read for my clients, which is awesome. Thanks again for the referral.

I've edited titles of fiction, business, and wellness, too.

I've also connected with a client who's in need of help with writing for her job. I look forward to our weekly calls to discuss pieces she has in progress and to talk about ways to make her writing more lively and clear.

I credit my mom with my love of language. She taught me how to print my name when I was 3. And I've been writing ever since. She also read to me and encouraged me to read and set a fine example: Mom sitting on the couch reading is one of the indelible images of my childhood. She was a big fan of Reader's Digest Condensed Books. They looked very nice on our bookshelves after she had read them.

If you need someone to help you get your book project moving in earnest, I'm here. Let’s talk about what’s holding you back. Let’s talk through the areas that you feel aren’t working. Let’s work on an outline and a writing schedule so you can put into the world the things you most want to convey. Or, let's talk about your challenges with the nuts and bolts of writing. Or your need for editing. Or formatting. Or proofreading.

You can find more information and contact me about your project here.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Pondering ...

My father is in the hospital, which I reveal not to elicit sympathy or concern but rather to set up the "What's it all about?"-ness of this post.

Time is warped inside a hospital. And focus is checked at the door for anything that is not related to the situation at hand. I found myself watching golf in one of the waiting rooms. I don't watch golf in any other moment of my life. But I found myself strangely intrigued by the skill of the cameraman (or -woman) who captures the ball in flight.

Boredom and worry become fast friends and pursuits arise, such as venturing down to the cafeteria to check out the day's soup. (Thursday: turkey vegetable. Friday: chicken noodle.)

But "normal" life, the day-to-day-ness that we take for granted until it's interrupted, continues beyond the hospital campus, and so it was that I found myself on Friday morning, about 10 hours after speaking with Dad's surgeon, standing at the edge of a field, staring at the vastness of the pristine blue sky and thinking about Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Mom's car was scheduled for an oil change well before Dad ended up in his present situation, so I drove to the hospital, met up with her in his room, stepped out into the hall to receive an update, swapped keys, left the hospital, got into her car, adjusted her seat and steering wheel and mirrors, and drove to our mechanic's garage, which is on the same property as his home, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere, hence the vastness of the sky.

He was helping someone diagnose a problem – which he did, and refused any money for it, because that's who he is – and I stood by Mom's car, noticing the windmill I'd never noticed on his property before – the kind you see on farms, not the kind you see as cookies – and wondering what, if anything, it powered, and looking at the blue sky, thinking about pictures of Earth from space and how, if someone on the International Space Station, say, was looking down at that moment, or if some satellite was snapping images for the always-creepy Google Earth photos that reveal far too much, that I was a part of what they'd be seeing, me and seven billion other people going about our lives, some awake, some dreaming, some in hospitals, some in offices, at least one standing next to a car adjacent to a field, appreciating the wind.

And I was thinking about the final episode of "Cosmos" that I had just watched the other night and how the final image pulled back until the Earth was just Carl Sagan's "pale blue dot," and wow, yes, in the grand, grand, infinite scheme of it all, things that seem so hugely consequential are truly anything but, except that they are. It's all about scale.

It was a good, grounding moment, a place for my brain to return when I get riled about something, a standard against which to measure an instance and decide whether it's really worth the anger or the fretting.

Scott finished his work on Mom's car and showed me why his garage contains an anvil and he wrote up the bill and I wrote out a check and I headed back to the hospital. Mom and I borrowed some chairs from an office and set up in the hallway where we could keep an eye out for Dad's surgeon if he happened to make rounds, and chatted and snacked and found a few reasons to laugh. Laughter feels a little victory inside a hospital.

This morning, it was nice to wake up and make coffee and listen to the birds and catch up on things online. The grass needs to be cut, boy does it ever. And Dad has been moved off the ICU floor into a regular room. So I'll visit later, once I shower off the aroma of mower exhaust. And Fathers' Day will be spent on unfortunate furniture (honestly, who designs those fabrics?) in a small room and if his dinner consists of Jell-O that will be a big deal. (He hasn't eaten since Tuesday morning.)

And Monday will, with hope, bring some sense of routine with it and I'll resume client work and break away for a visit to his room, grateful that my life is such that that's possible.

And onward we go. Spinning faster than we can fathom and not quite standing still.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Hello, Iris ...

... my lovely, sculptural friend.

Thanks, Mom.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Worth Saving ...

I love the doors in my house.

They are not original. They were rescued from a renovation in another state. They were coated with years of paint and destined for the construction bin.

I did not do the rescuing. That was the doing of the previous owner of this house. But I can do the appreciating. And I do. Some days more than others. Some days, I look up from where I'm sitting and appreciate just how lovely they are and how glad I am that they didn't end up in a landfill or put through an industrial shredder. Perhaps someone along the line would have recognized them for their worth. But all of that is moot, as they'll enjoy a long and happy life here.

I'm always a bit baffled by people who want homes that are cookie-cutter and new. Why do they want granite countertops, I wonder, when there are so many more interesting options from which to choose? New construction often looks flimsy to me. How long will houses built today last? Will advancements in home-building technology matter when houses are slapped up with such astonishing speed? In former cornfields? Who wants to wait 30 years for trees?

I love the book "The Not-So-Big House." I've written about it before. I'd much rather have a small space with beautiful, timeless appointments than a new build with finishes that will look dated in a few years. Why do people persistt with iridescent glass backsplashes? Backsplashes are forever.

Well, not really. But it's not like snyone wakes up on a Saturday and says, "Hey, let's demo our backsplash and retile it today!" Painting a room? Sure. Tearing out a tile backsplash? Not so much.

Of course, my kitchen is backsplashless. Which is OK, given the position of my sink. My sink is not original. Nor is my countertop. I'd love to replace it someday. But I can assure you that granite will not be on the list. I think soapstone would be nice.

For now, though, I'll just keep admiring my doors.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Weather Gods Have Been Appeased ...

The morning has been dreary. Sodden, really. No sign of sun. Rain, followed by more rain, followed by drizzle, followed by more rain.

I have been resisting the urge to make peanut butter cookies but today's rain wore me down.

They are stupidly simple, go together in a half a minute, and bake nearly as quickly. Twenty minutes, start to finish, assuming you're going to eat a few warm.

Behold:

1 cup peanut butter (I use creamy Jif)
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Dump everything into a bowl. Stir to combine. Portion* onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 15 miuntes.** Cool five minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to a cooling rack.

* I use a two-tablespoon cookie scoop.
** Space the oven racks in the upper-third and lower-third positions; halfway through baking, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Lesson From My Childhood ...

I talk to myself.

Usually, I talk to myself as if I'm having a conversation with someone else. Partly, that is a function of having an ear for dialogue. Partly, that is a function of wanting to control situations. And partly, that is a function of simply seeming less nuts.

But this morning, here in this early quiet and light, I started talking about where I grew up. Because of leaves.

The block on which I grew up contained homes differentiated only cosmetically. They were all the same bungalow – ours was slightly taller than the other house because my very smart mother had the builders lay extra courses of brick to raise the height of the basement because my father is tall – and owners added personality through accents. Mom had chosen three opaque green glass blocks – the color of jellied and sugared spearmint leaves – that were set vertically. They were visible inside the house only if you were in the master bedroom closet. Each one featured a minimalist leaf shape – or maybe they were just pointed ovals – and they were set to vary the patttern:

/
\
/

And part of the scrolled railing was painted to match, so our house was "green." Joyce and Shorty's house was "black" and Ava and Ed's house was "beige" and Sharon and Jim's house was "blue" and our house was "green" and on down the block they went.

But what I was really remembering was fall, and raking leaves, and how we kids would rake the leaves into a pile somewhat near the house, and then we'd climb the stairs, sling one leg over the railing and then the other, and turn ourselves to face the pile of leaves, hanging on to the railing behind us.

And what I was really, really remembering was how much time I stood there, deliberating.

Given the height of our house, my feet were at most six feet off the ground as I stood on our porch. But my view made the distance feel much greater. And I would stand there and consider the pile and whether it was really enough ot cushion me and I'd count. And I'd get to the end of my count and I wouldn't jump. So I'd count again.

Thinking about it now, I've spent a lot of my life on "One." I'm comfortable with "One." Maybe even "Two." "Three" is a scary place.

Eventually, I'd get impatient with even myself, and the count changed. It morphed from "One ... two ... three" into a hurried "Andaoneandaoneandaonetwothree."

Writing that just now makes me realize that I gave myself extra "Ones." The comfort of Ones.

Six feet, of course, is not very far down and so the time in the air was a second perhaps.

But this morning, what I'm really remembering is the feeling between the moment of deciding and the moment of letting go.

That moment is everything.

That moment after Three.

That is where I need to go.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Past ...

My father is a saver.

He gets that from his mother, no doubt. She lived through the Depression. We take on the traits of our parents. And so, he saves.

My mother, for the most part, is a tosser. She's not wasteful by any stretch but she has the ability to let go. To some things. Not all.

And so it was yesterday as I helped her sort through some stuff, long-forgotten stashes of – well, let's be honest: crap – that had been saved because, well ... because.

It was a time warp. "Is that a lint brush?" I asked. Yep. Tins of shoe polish, the contents of which were no doubt petrified by now. A cloth measuring tape coming apart all along its lengths, looking like a long-haired woman in a convertible on the highway.

And the small pink box of Ko-Rec-Type. Executive Ko-Rec-Type.

Whoa.

I remember using Ko-Rec-Type, back in the days before technology combined correction film and typewriter ribbon.

I slid the box apart. "Are you sure you want to get rid of this?" I asked my mom sarcastically. "There are still unused sheets." She gave me the look.

I slid the box back together and dropped it back into the bag.

But I had to rescue the Ko-Rec-Type for a wee photo shoot.

I took out the two used sheets and held them up to read what someone had corrected long ago.

Sometimes, these posts write themselves ... .