Monday, July 27, 2015

Comparison ...

I watched "Wild" yesterday, Reese Witherspoon's telling of Cheryl Strayed's hike along the Pacific Coast Trail from the Mojave desert to the Oregon-Washington border.

Sitting there, on my couch in my air-conditioned house, watching Cheryl's struggles, I said, "I couldn't do that."

And then I paused the movie, exasperated with myself.

"I walked the 3-Day," I said, "but that's just sixty miles. And I had someone cooking for me. And a shower each night."

I had had just about enough of myself. So I responded to myself with this:

"Yes, Beth, you walked the 3-Day, which is sixty miles in three days. Do you know how many people don't walk the 3-Day? Most people don't walk the 3-Day. And you walked the 3-Day seven times."

I do believe that comparison is a mild form of insanity.

This summer, I've been working through Nona Jordan's course Get Right with Money.

I'm finding it very helpful on a number of levels, but the most helpful thing of all (so far, at least) may be what I read on the second page of the prologue: "You can do hard things."

Yes, I can. I do. I have.

Recently, when my recently flooded basement was on the verge of flooding again just days later – even as the drying equipment was in place – that simple sentiment was what kept me going as I bailed water out of my almost-overflowing sump pit into any watertight container I could find. Thankfully, a neighbor had a second submersible pump that, in concert with the one I already had pumping, got ahead of the water just enough to prevent another flood.

At one point, it seemed hopeless. I was exhausted. Water is heavy, and I had been hauling buckets of it to empty into my utility sink. Then my circuit breaker tripped – twice – and I had to feel my way to the box to trip the circuit – twice – until it dawned on me to pull all the plugs on the drying equipment. I was running out of containers. After I had filled my utility sinnk, I had upended my totes of Christmas decorations, I had filled Styrofoam coolers, I had filled a plastic garbage can, but I managed to get ahead of the water just enough to run upstairs and grab the phone and call my neighbor.

And with perseverance and help, I prevented another flood.

And then, two days later, as it rained again, though thankfully not as heavily, I had the plumbing rerouted to discharge outside of my house, so, in theory, I should never have water in my basement again.

Neither the 3-Day nor bailing out my basement are the same as hiking the PCT, of course. Because nothing is the same as hiking the PCT. Only hiking the PCT is hiking the PCT.

And I will never do that. Because I don't want to do that.

And I will never go through what Cheryl Strayed went through in other areas of her life, because I am not Cheryl Strayed.

I am me. And my life is my life. And comparison is literally pointless.

I can surely have empathy for others. Sympathy, too.

And admiration and appreciation.

And I do. Every day.

And I know I can do more than I do, improve in many ways, but not to be as good as someone else or better than someone else, but simply to become a better me.

Which is not to say that I find myself lacking but there is more that I want to do. Of course there is. Doing is the point of living.

Being is only the beginning.

But the only logical comparisons begin and end with me: me now, me then, me in the future, however long that may be.

I woke up this morning. I don't take that for granted. I really don't.

Another day.

So much possibility.

And incomparable.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Brownies ...

Once upon a time, not long after Angelo and I had "met" on Twitter, we found ourselves a bit at odds.

He had posted this video and I felt compelled to comment on the unfrosted nature of Baked's brownies. I like my brownies frosted. Angelo replied that he did not.

I tweeted: @AngeloSurmelis Ooh, I think we should have a brownie summit! Embrace our respective brownies' differences. Then, bring about world peace.

(I have an archive of my tweets. Thank you, Twitter, for enabling my accuracy obsession.)

I don't have access to Angelo's responses, but he replied and I felt compelled to respond with:

@AngeloSurmelis Well, honey, my brownies don't *need* frosting. I just like to gild the chocolate lily, as it were. But I'll try one.

He remained unconvinced, and so I added: @AngeloSurmelis Well, the next time you're in Chicago, I'll be happy to supply frosted brownies for you. I'll even throw in ice-cold milk!

Time passed.

Last fall, I shipped a package of treats to him which contained his first-ever brownies from me.

Soon thereafter, this tweet appeared:


Behold, the power of frosting.

Recently, he posted a link to Katharine Hepburn's brownies on his Facebook page.

I commented:

"Kate and I are practically twins! Well, brownie twins. My recipe calls for a bit more flour, but everything else is the same. For the brownies.* Then I frost 'em, unlike Kate. I don't get why more folks frost brownies."

Angelo replied: "... as you know, I was not a fan of frosting on brownies. THEN, I had your frosted bits of crack brownies. Delightful! Share with the folks where they may find YOUR frosted brownie recipe, cause it's awesome!"

To which I replied:

"And I am delighted to count you among the fans of the brownies. But I never have posted the recipe. I shall do that one of these days."

And today is that day.

The brownie recipe is precise. The frosting recipe much less so. But frosting is a subjective thing. Make it as sweet as you like.

So now, Angelo, you can whip up a batch of brownie crack any time you please.

But I'll happily bake for you again. Just say the word.

Maybe we should remake "Citizen Kane" and open it with him saying "Frosting."


Brownies
(No idea of the real source of the recipe; my family's been baking these forever.)

1 stick butter (I use salted)
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Walnuts (I toast mine first in a 350° oven for 13–15 minutes then let them cool)

Melt the butter, stir in sugar and cocoa. Add flour. Mix. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix. Stir in walnuts. (I dump some into a Ziplock bag and press on them to break them up a bit first.) Spoon mixture into greased 8x8 pan (I spray it with PAM).

Bake at 350° until done, about 25 minutes. (Start checking a little before then, as ovens vary. You may need to go to 30 minutes. It all depends.)

Cool on a rack until warm but not hot (15 minutes, maybe), then frost with:

Equal parts of butter and cocoa (For an 8x8 pan, you might use 3 tablespoons of each, maybe 4 tablespoons; depends on how much frosting you like)
Powdered sugar
Milk

It's hard to give people the recipe for the frosting, as it's just a taste thing. Melt the butter and stir in the cocoa until the mixture's smooth. Dump in some powdered sugar and a little milk and stir. Keep tweaking until you get desired sweetness and spreadability. Add the milk in smaller increments than seems reasonable. You can always add more. If you add too much, pour out a bit into the sink. If you thin the frosting too much by mistake, you'll have to add more powdered sugar to recover the consistency and you may end up with frosting that's too sweet for your tastes. So add milk in small amounts.

Double the brownie-proper recipe for a 9x13 pan. Frosting-wise, though, don't double the frosting. For a 9x13 pan, use 5 tablespoons to 6 tablespoons each of butter and cocoa and add powdered sugar and milk accordingly.


* (She used 1/4 cup. I use 3/4 cup. Hers are described as "gooey." Mine were once described as "cakelike yet fudgy, yet not so fudgy that they're not cakelike," which is spot on. Dan Santow conjured that fine description. Dan, if you happen across this post someday, I hope all's well in your world. Holler if you'd like a brownie.)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Enough ...

I don't own a smartphone.

This fact seems to genuinely baffle some of the people in my life.

How can I not own a pocket computer that gives me access to all the information in the history of the world every second of every day, they wonder.

I know it's tricky for some to remember, but there was a time when we didn't have pocket computers that gave us access to all the information in the history of the world every second of every day.

Isn't that amazing?

For almost all of time, we didn't have pocket computers. And yet we managed to do nifty things like discover fire and invent the wheel – without watching how-to YouTube videos! – and build pyramids and empires – hey, that Colosseum in Rome is pretty spiffy! – and build horse-drawn carriages and then horseless carriages – cars, don'tcha know? – and figure out how to fly and and develop penicillin and build skyscrapers and put men on the moon – and bring them back! – and every other thing mankind accomplished before the pocket computer.

And because I don't own a smartphone, I also don't own a Fitbit.

The other day, I was at Bed, Bath & Beyond with my mom. The woman in front of us was buying a Fitbit for someone from a gift registry. It was $100.

I know folks who have lost and replaced those wristbands. At $100 (or more) a pop? Ouch.

So I don't have a Fitbit. What I do have is a finely tuned sense of whether I'm spending too much of the day sitting on my ass. And if I really want to obsess about steps or distance, I have a pedometer that, if memory serves, cost $7.

But I think I've used it once.

The lovely Liz Gilbert linked to this post today, which I'd read before but which I was happy to read again. You should read it, too, but the gist of it is this: a woman posted pictures of her kitchen online and received a slew of comment informing her that she should renovate. Her kitchen looked dated, they said. They cited her mismatched appliances and boring floor. She started to ponder an update. And then, the next morning, she looked at her kitchen for the miracle that it is. It's crammed full of creature comforts much of the world can barely begin to imagine.

And that's enough for her. She loves her dated, quirky kitchen. She loves the life that's lived in that dated, quirky kitchen.

I love her for that.

My TV was purchased – for me – in 1994. It was my college graduation gift, but my parents didn't buy it for me until I got my first apartment. It's a 27-inch Sony. Back in the day, that was a big TV, kids. Some years ago, a friend who was spending the night walked into my TV room and said, "Where's your TV?"

Dude. (The friend was a dude.) I get that men, especially, go all orgasmic over giant TVs, but it's not like my TV is invisible. It takes up quite a decent chunk of visual space in this room, thankyouverymuch.

And I've pondered an HDTV. I've shopped. I've priced.

And I'm still watching my 27-inch Sony. You know why? Because it still works just fine.

It went through a phase about six months ago when the colors seemed to veer from yellow-ish to pink-ish and back again.

I thought then that the day might have arrived to buy a new TV. But the colors settled back into their normal hues and you know what? A good part of the time, there's nothing worth watching on TV anyway, even with the eleventymillion channels I receive via a satellite orbiting around the earth, most likely built and launched before the advent of smartphones.

You get my point.

A friend of mine is moving next month. The condo she lives in now is far from large. She's looking at a studio apartment with a lovely terrace. She has made great strides in selling and shedding her stuff. I admire her. What remains in her life are items with true worth to her. And someday, I wouldn't be surprised if she pares back again. She may come to discover that she wants even less than she owns now. (I am fostering her wrapping paper, bows, and gift bags until she settles into a new space and better understands her storage capabilities. Neither she nor I may ever be able to overcome our gift-wrapping addictions.)

Most of us have far more than we need. I live in a "small" house by American standards but even this feels like too much space. I think, frequently, about the one-bedroom apartment I lived in before I moved here.

My studio felt a bit too small, even though it wasn't, really. It served all my needs, but I wanted a separate bedroom big enough for a queen-size bed. But my one-bedroom apartment was plenty of square footage, even if an outsize amount of it was devoted to the dining area. That was odd. But I was happy there.

I'll probably downsize again someday.

I probably still won't own a smartphone.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

And Speaking Of Wrapping: My Signature Floofy Bows ...

So, I have a thing for curling ribbon:


That is not my entire stash. I have more, on smaller spools. Also, you'll note the lack of red. I'm out of red. Christmas.

Once upon a time, when I arrived at a very-well-attended 50th birthday party for a friend, I held up his gift and said, "You'll know my gift by the giant bow." (The card was inside the package.)

He smiled. Indeed, everyone I know knows my bows.

And over the years, many people have asked me how I make them. And somehow, despite prattling on on this blog for more than 10 years, I've never explained.

Until today.

So, first, I choose colors. Sometimes I keep things simple and use a single color that coordinates with my wrapping paper of choice. (I also have a thing for wrapping paper.) Sometimes, I use two. Three. I've used up to five colors together. Festive.

I stick my scissors inside a spool and whip off as much ribbon as looks good, given the size of the package I'm wrapping and the size of the bow I want to make. I make sure that the ribbon pools on my wrapping surface, not the floor.


I repeat for however many colors I'm using.


And then I start curling. (If you've never curled ribbon before, lay your thumb alongside the side of the blade of the scissors, not on the sharp edge. Pull the ribbon between the scissors and your thumb. The more tension you apply, the more curled the effect. Also, the type of ribbon will determine how much it curls on the first pass. Curl the same section as many times as you like to achieve the desired effect.)


It's a rather quick process.


Once all the ribbon's curled, I bunch it up. (If I'm using multiple colors, I bunch it up until I like the distribution of the colors.) And then I lay the bunch across a length of uncurled ribbon.

(Note: A bow like this can be tied around the neck of a bottle of Champagne or onto the handle of a gift bag. When using a bow on a package, I use one of the colors of ribbon around the package – I like to use an odd number of passes, usually three, sometimes five – and slip the flat length of ribbon underneath the ribbon that's wrapped around the package. Then I put the bunched-up ribbon on top, and tie the whole shebang together, cinching the ribbon onto the ribbon on the package, thereby affixing the bow.)


The tied version doesn't look much different, eh?


At this point, I have a bundle of ribbon that's really a series of loops, by virtue of being bunched up and then tied in the middle. I start pulling lengths of loop and snipping them open.

(Note: If some loops are too long, I trim them as I go.)


I snip until all the loops are open and voila! Bow!

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Testing An Assumption About Wrapping Gifts ...

I love to wrap presents.

I mean, I love to wrap presents.

But I think I am part of a rather small club.

I also love to bake cookies.

But after I published How to Bake a Better Cookie, it dawned on me that maybe most folks don't want to know how to bake a better cookie.

Maybe most folks would rather that someone bake cookies for them. Maybe most folks just want to buy cookies.

Huh.

Well, OK.

So, part of my pondering about whether to write another wee e-book(let) – say, How to Wrap a Prettier Present – includes wondering whether most people want ideas for wrapping or whether they'd rather pay someone at a store.

Do folks not have the time? The inclination? The talent?

I'd love to know. (Be a dear and leave a comment, would you? Thanks.)

The closet off my office contains two boxes of wrapping paper, one all Christmas, and one for assorted occasions. I also have two large drawers devoted to wrapping supplies, one of which contains only large spools of curling ribbon. I'm a bit of a junkie that way.

But lately, I've also started pilfering boxes of sewing notions, left to me by an aunt who passed away many years ago.

And Angelo's the mastermind behind my increased use of twine.

I pulled a few photos to illustrate my points.

Sometimes I get theme-y.


Sometimes, I can't decide on one color of ribbon so I use, you know, like, five.


Sometimes, I opt for curly ombre. Sometimes I feel like something more fluid.


Sometimes, I go simple.


Sometimes, I go flat.


And sometimes, I don't wrap at all.

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

What Might You Be Missing? ...

You know what's weird? Finding a single character on a resume in a different font from the rest of the document. I would know. That resume was mine.

You may have read recently that Times New Roman is a poor font choice for resumes. I confess: for years, I was a Times New Roman gal, not because I lacked creativity but because I found it classic.

Yet, somehow, I managed to not notice that a lone "T" was in … Helvetica.

(These days, I use Garamond. For the whole document.)

If you're in the hunt for a job, you've no doubt spent a fair amount of time looking at your resume and drafting cover letters.

At some point, you may stop noticing mistakes. It happens to everyone: the more familiar we are with content, the less likely we are to spot errors. Our brains insert what we expect to see.

Perhaps your cover letter needs just a bit of punching up to grab the attention of an HR manager. Or perhaps there's an even-better way to showcase your strengths.

I can help you with that.

With a Resume & Cover Letter Assessment, I'll review your resume, make high-level suggestions for improvements, address issues with grammar, fix typos, and tweak formatting as needed. (I know some folks dislike tabs, but the space bar is a less-than-ideal way to try to make things line up.)

I'll also review your cover letter with the same eye for detail and call out any opportunities I see to improve your message. I encourage clients to write their own cover letters, daunting though they may be, but the editor in me is happy to help you polish your prose.

Let me know if I can help.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Almond Scones ...

My love for almond-flavored anything cannot be overstated. Also, I love scones. Scones just don't get enough love in the baked-goods world. But then, some folks make very bad scones. Dry. Leaden. Ugh.

It's not your fault, scones. It's not your fault.

I first made these scones for Angelo's birthday, and as much as I wanted to write about them then, I didn't want to spoil the surprise, so I refrained.

This morning, though, up too early, and knowing that I had baking on deck first thing, I realized that I could take a picture of today's lovelies.

These contain a triple hit of almond: almond paste, almond extract, and sliced almonds. An almond trifecta, if you will.

This is the recipe, from Food52. You should take note of the ingredients, pick up what you need, and bake them.

Make sure your baking powder isn't old. Scones need a bit of oomph from baking powder and baking soda to combat density. The baking powder I used for Angelo's batch wasn't old, per se, but I should have bought a new container anyway. Today's scones seem a bit higher.

Angelo, if you'd like another shipment, just lemme know.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Really, Jayson? Really? I've Stopped Counting Edition ...

My fascination with Jayson has largely waned, but every so often, I pop by the site to see what's available and ask myself how the store possibly finds enough gullible and/or flush customers to have stayed in business this long. Perhaps I've severely underestimated what people are willing to pay for stuff. That must be the case. It'd be fun to have a Jayson-inspired garage sale and see what insane prices I could charge for household detritus.

Maybe someday. For now, let's see what Jayson finds caught my eye this time, shall we?

Behold the Vintage Yellow Dining Chair. It's 20th Century. It's American. It's priced individually but there are four to be had, if you're in the mood to drop more than $4,000 (tax, don'tcha know?) on someone's crime against chairkind. Remember Trading Spaces? One of the designers was a woman named Hildi. She created a dining room in black, white, canary, and chrome. The homeowners were horrified. I have a sneaking suspicion that these chairs are from that room. I hope the homeowners have long since gotten over their shock. And painted. Or moved.

Vintage Yellow Dining Chair – $995

And speaking of yellow and black, behold this Vintage Wedding Blanket Pillow, which was made in Morocco for – I'd like to think – the most fabulously flamboyantly fez-sporting gay couple ever. Or Siegfried and Roy. Hildi would so use these sequins in a space. And who doesn't want to drop five hundred dollars on a decorative pillow? What else would someone do with five hundred dollars? Light five cigars?

Vintage Wedding Blaket Pillow – $495

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Simple Wisdom From A Very Dear Friend ...

I may live to be 90. But probably not. And so I am reasonably sure that I have crested the hill that is this lifetime and I am on the downward slope. Which is fine. Preferable in some ways, even. I always hated roller coasters, not for the speed but for the initial climb. I hated the feeling of leaning backward and the potential to fall. For the same reason, I am no fan of driving in San Francisco. Being stopped at a light in a car at a weird pitch makes me nervous. I am glad that I live somewhere flat.

Being on the downward slope, though, involves gravity of the preferable sort: the effort isn't in climbing upward but in slowing the descent, leaning backward – but only slightly and of my own accord to keep myself upright – watching my steps, stepping deliberately, noticing.

And so here, at what is very literally middle age for me – or so I hope; one never really knows – I'm beginning to reap the benefits of that "with age comes wisdom" that I heard all through the beginning part of my life, and fitting some pieces together, placing the edges, as it were, to define the parameters of this life and then to set about filling in the middle, watching the picture emerge, without the benefit of having the picture supplied on the front of a box.

Friends, I've discovered, are also teachers. And teachers have become friends. But one friend's words have returned to me like a very solemn offering and I so, so desperately wish that he were still here so that I could thank him in person for his wisdom that was so profound, but I didn't know it at the time.

I met Jeff when I was a teenager. He was only ten years older. But ten years is a long time.

And when we spoke that on particular day, however many years ago it was, he was offering an observation from a place that I had not yet arrived. I was dismissive then. I am not now.

We were talking about me and work, as we often did, but mostly about my inability to find what I thought was the answer to it all.

"You're a good person," he said. "Maybe that's enough."

At the time, it seemed glib. "Being a good person won't pay my mortgage, Jeff."

Today, I appreciate his words for the gift that they were.

Because I've come to appreciate that my "good person"-ness underlies everything I do. And in a practical way, yes, it leads me to form relationships that lead me to opportunities and work.

But more importantly, in the ways that really matter, it is all that really matters.

At his funeral, people spoke of Jeff's professional accomplishments, sure, because there were many. He was a talented and prolific man. But the essence of what was said about him was that he was a good person, that he loved his family and his friends, that he was intrigued by strangers and took an interest in everyone he met. He saw people. In his interest, he let them know they mattered.

And so, while I still have plenty to figure out, more of the picture to form as I work toward the middle and prepare to place the final piece – whenever that may be – I've started to learn to let go of the need to know, to define, and to instead trust myself and let it unfold. To not waste time trying to discern meaning from a fragment, but to be mindful of the moment – which is all we have – and be grateful when the next moment arrives. And along the way, I try to be kind. And helpful. And trust that it'll all work out. Because it always does. Even if, sometimes, that takes some time to know.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Realization ...

Yesterday, it dawned on me, the "fatal" flaw in my ebook(let) sales "plan":

I suspect that most people don't want to know how to bake (package, gift, and ship) a better cookie.

I suspect that most would prefer for me to bake for them.

I often forget that the wider world is not as cookie-obsessed as I am.

Hmm. Maybe the bakery will have to happen one of these days after all ... .

Sunday, April 05, 2015

I'll Bake A Cake For You! ...

Though I bake often, I am not an accomplished cake baker. Still, if gay pals would like 'em for their weddings, I'd be thrilled to bake for their special days. As cakes go, they may be somewhat humble, but I can guarantee that they'd be baked with love.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Makes Beth Happy, March 27 ...

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

Romper!
No explanation needed, right?

The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipes of the Day are:

Pine Nut and Feta Cheese Ball
Oh, hello! Pine nuts and feta?! I'll skip the fennel seeds, thankyouverymuch, but otherwise, I'm in!

Sweet Potato Biscuits
Once upon a time, I only liked sweet potato fries or chips, but I've since become a convert to all things sweet potato, and these look delightful. I want to add ham and cheese.

Walnut Galette with Bourbon-Vanilla Custard Sauce
Come on, now. Warm, sticky, walnutty, vanilla, bourbon-y, custard-y goodness?!

I couldn't pick just one recipe this time. Happily, they stack up as an appetizer, a main-course accompaniment (or a main course, if you use them for sandwiches), and a dessert!

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

Wood + Brass Lounge Box
This would make a handsome spot to stash remotes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spumoni! ...

This morning, on Pinterest, I spied a pin for spumoni pound cake!

I clicked through to the recipe and turned my nose up at the first two ingredients: two boxes of yellow cake mix and a box of instant vanilla pudding mix.

Yes, I am a baking snob. I own that. But pound cake is a lovely, simple dessert. It deserves better than the bastardization of cake mix and instant vanilla pudding.

So my brain moved on from the cakeification of spumoni but my love of spumoni remains.

I love the word. It makes me happy. Spumoni!

In the States, National Spumoni Day is August 21. But in Canada – which is basically the United States with better health care – National Spumoni Day is November 13.

Which is my birthday. I really should have been having spumoni every year after dinner. Birthday dinner is always lasagna, because my mom makes the best lasagna on the planet. This past year, we added layered salad to the menu along with tiramisu, for an all-layered dinner. But spumoni could slot in for tiramisu. It's a layered dessert, too. In its traditional form, at least. Or, hell, I could have spumoni and tiramisu.

Ooh, yes, please!

Though I don't need it to be neatly layered and cut into slices. I'm perfectly happy with it scooped out of a cardboard bucket and plopped in a little metal dish, the way it appears in divey Italian joints.

Oh, spumoni ... . If only it were warmer today ... .

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I Am My Mother's Daughter ...

I laughed out loud when I saw this image* on one of the blogs to which I subscribe.

My mom has taught me many, many things over the years. But one of the most frequent refrains that I hear her say in my head is "Who wants to dust all that?"

This table would give her hives. Or angina. Or both.

Thank you for teaching me practicality, Mom. Sorry the weekly housecleaning habit didn't stick.

* Click on the image to see a larger view. Note the absence of a glass top on that table. Honestly, can you imagine anyone trying to clean that thing?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Another Farewell ...

Once upon a time – coming up on three years ago – I wrote "Farewell, Son Of Woobie about my second-most beloved green sweatshirt.

Today, I am writing about my third.

In honor of St. Patrick's Day – not that I'm much of an observer – I decided to don my hooded sage-green sweatshirt over my olive-green long-sleeve T-shirt (whew, hyphens!) and double up on green.

And as I put my left arm through the left sleeve, I put my left arm through my left sleeve. At a point at which my arm should not have appeared.

Whoops.

I looked in the mirror and told myself that perhaps I would keep him, for his hood, which I put up when I shovel snow because I don't own a hat.

But no. Instead, I shall buy another hooded sweatshirt before the need for a hood once again arises. This guy has given me many, many, many years of comfort. I bought him at an Orvis store in Vermont on a trip so long ago, I can't even remember the year.

Thank you, green hooded sweatshirt. May you find Woobie and his son.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Enduring Love Affair ...

As the day wore on Friday, I pondered dinner.

I was 99 percent sure that I wanted carbonara. I had a package of bacon in the freezer. I had a hunk of Parmesan in the cheese drawer. And I had some number of eggs.

What I did not have was pasta.

And any desire to go to the store.

I pondered pastaless carbonara but thought the better of a bowlful of bacon coated in eggy cheese, as I don't have a cardiologist programmed into speed dial.

The procrastination continued, long enough for me to realize that I could already be eating carbonara if I'd gone to the store when the thought first came into my mind.

And that was a sad, sad realization. So I grabbed my wallet and my keys and headed off to the store.

Back home, I put water on to boil. I popped the package of bacon into the microwave to bring it to a sliceable state. And I grated Parmesan cheese.

And then I took a picture of it, because the sheer ridiculousness of the volume made me laugh.

And then I wrote a tweet and posted the picture, because of course I did:


I sliced the bacon, meaty and gorgeous, and plopped it into a big frying pan on the stove into which I had added a splash of water. It took me decades to learn to fry bacon in a bit of water, but oh, what a revelation! It never seizes into carbonized Chiclets. It remains perfectly chewy. Not even chewy, really. Just perfect.

And I cooked the pasta – I went with linguine because I like the heft and texture of it – and I cracked eggs one by one into a dish and then added them one by one into a large bowl and then I tossed in two absurdly large handfuls of grated Parmesan and zipped it all together with a fork. And then I added more Parmesan because of course I did.

And then I drained the bacon on some paper towels and drained the pasta in two batches with a sieve because I was too lazy to grab a colander which I wouldn't feel like washing later and I dumped the bacon and the pasta into the bowl of eggs and cheese and tossed it all together and heaped a serving onto a plate and hit the top of it with more cheese and then a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper for good measure.

And then I ate it.

And thought of this:


Indeed.

I Gave The Post Office Another Chance ...

... and it delivered a Priority 2-Day package in ...

TWO DAYS!

Yay, post office! I knew you could do it!

This time, I used an official Priority box from the post office. I wonder if that makes a difference. It shouldn't, but if that's what it takes to get 'em to provide the selected and purchased service, so be it. I can make gift decisions based on what will fit in the available boxes.

As I was shipping said package, I mentioned my previous problems to the clerk. She was a bit defensive initially but softened as I explained all that had gone wrong. By the end of our transaction, she apologized for the delay. Which was nice of her, given that she probably wasn't responsible for mucking up the previous works, but as an agent of the post office, it was nice of her.

So, my relationship with the post office is back on slightly more stable ground.

For now.

Then again, I don't have anything to ship in the near future.

I may or may not want to take the gamble the next time.

Perhaps a shipment with UPS is still in order, to see how well that goes. Or not, as the case may be.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Ten Years Ago Today ...

... I wrote this:

Jeff Phillips (www.postnuclearart.com -- brilliant photography, check it out) is the reason I am here. I've batted around the idea of a blog for a couple of years, but never got off my ass (or, as I am sitting at my desk typing this, gotten *on* my ass) to do anything about it. Until this very moment. But I believe that everything happens in its time, so for whatever cosmic reason, today is the day that I lend my voice to the millions of others in this parallel universe.
I can't wait to see what happens.
Here we go ...


Jeff's site is now http://jeffphillips.me/.

Everything else has changed.

But of course it has. Doesn't everything? By definition, this second is not like the second that came just before it. In this second, everything has already changed again. Time is funny that way.

The tag line I drafted for this blog is "As a writer and singer, I am finding my way through words."

That remains true. In addition to prattling on for 10 years in this space – some days and weeks and months and years were more prattle-filled than others – I've written articles for clients, web copy for clients, myriad other projects for clients, and an ebook for myself.

It was quite a revelation, silly as revelations go. But never before had I created something (with help from a lovely designer friend; thanks again, Marcus!) and launched it into the world.

And people bought it!

Not a ton of people, mind you. But it is out there, in the world, in perpetuity, so that others may.

(And I have a little plan brewing on that front, too. I am hopeful that my next royalty payment from Amazon is heftier.)

Huh.

Fun!

As for singing, well, my engineer friend Brian and I never did complete his plan to record an album's worth of songs, but we got close. And I've found a new studio nearby where I hope to get back to recording in the very near future.

But on the singing front, I've also taken voice classes and – GASP! – performed ... IN FRONT OF PEOPLE.

My voice teacher, Gwen, passed away recently. She was too young and the story is very sad and I shall miss taking a class with her again (I was looking into doing just when I came across the news that she had passed away) but she helped me establish a good foundation. It was in her living room that I first sang into a mic for the first time. She was plainly frustrated with me on many occasions but she stuck with me, helped to coax me out of myself. And for that, I am very grateful.

This blog has been a chronicle of a lot of my life, which I know baffles at least one fried of mine (because she has told me), but writing is my therapy. And many are the instances I have had when I have read something online and said "YES!" in relief that someone else has thought a similar thought or felt a similar fear and I find great comfort in that.

So I share. If passersby glean a bit of commiseration or validation or some other -tion from something I've written, then my efforts are even more worthwhile than they are simply to me.

I've written about my very dear friend Dave in the immediate aftermath of learning of his death and that post was used as one of the eulogies at his memorial service, which was was of the honors of my life.

I've written about my very dear friend Charles who also died far too soon and that post has connected with many people who knew him. One of his daughters has become a friend and she once told me that she's probably read that post 100 times. Someone posted this comment:

I was with Charles on that fateful vacation. I still think of him often as well. Thus, the search of his name on Google and finding this blog.

Your writing brought him back.
Thanks.


"Your writing brought him back."

That is one of the most breathtaking sentences I have ever read.

That sentence would make 10 years of blogging worth it if I found it worthwhile for no other reason.

But of course, that is not the case.

I have connected with amazing people through this blog. Some have become dear friends.

And what better outcome than that could there be?

Blogging has never been a living for me. I've never included ads. I've never sought sponsors.

This has always simply been a place to share.

My posts have become less frequent but I like knowing that this page is here, that I can return to it whenever inspiration strikes.

Odds are good that I will not write a "Twenty Years Ago Today ..." post, but then again, who knows?

I never thought I'd end up writing about 10.

Let's see what the future holds.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Donna Day 2015 ...

This image of Donna sits on my desk. I see her every day. The words "Choose hope" appear below her.

And that is what this post is about.

Donna died on October 19, 2009. She was four.

She may no longer be present but she is still very much with us.

So, so many of us.

I never met Donna, as Sheila (Donna's mama) and I – friends in high school – reconnected just a month before Donna died.

But she was a pebble dropped in a still, endless pond, and the ripples continue to radiate, year after year after year.

Her extraordinary parents, Sheila and Jeremy, parent her now by sharing her story. Sheila wrote Donna's Cancer Story and touched the world. Sheila and Jeremy tell Donna's story and help raise funds for Lurie Children's Hospital each year as part of the Eric & Kathy Radiothon.

And every year, they host a St. Baldrick's event, too.

As of this moment, the total funds raised for Donna's Good Things, the organization created by her parents, stands at $290,634.

After this year's event, on March 28, that total should swell well beyond $300,000.

Especially if folks like you contribute.

Bafflingly, childhood cancer research is woefully underfunded. Frankly, it's infuriatingly underfunded.

Consider these statistics:


Kids deserve far, far, far better research and care.

I encourage you to read Donna's Cancer Story. Meet Donna. Marvel at her intelligence and humor and truly indomitable spirit. She will inspire you as she's inspired so many of us.

Read about childhood cancer and the important work St. Baldrick's performs.

And then, please, contribute to this extraordinary cause.

Choose hope. Every day.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Farewell, Flannel! ...

Cotton sheets! Cotton floral sheets! Bedding appropriate for waking Sunday and realizing I forgot to change the clocks!

Friday, March 06, 2015

Dear Post Office: It's Not Me, It's You ...


I wasn't going to write this post. And then, this morning, I received an email from the USPS and spied that it was "signed" thusly:

"Your friends at the United States Postal Service"

Oh. Well. Let me rethink my plan.

OK, "friends," we need to talk.

First off, let me reiterate that I really, really, really want you to succeed. I think all the bullshit that Congress is putting you through is just that: bullshit. If you could break up with Congress, I'd totally support you. We could curl up on the couch together, each with a pint of Ben & Jerry's, and I'd reassure you that Congress is being an asshole and that you deserve better.

But, as is often the case in relationships, both parties could stand to do better, be better. And as your "friend," let me tell you what I see that you could improve.

Simply put, you need to keep your promises. You need to provide the service I pay for. That's not too much to ask, is it?

Here's what happened:

On Wednesday, February 25, I shipped a package. I chose Priority (Ostensibly) 2-Day because I wanted the package to arrive on Friday, February 27. The timing of the arrival of the package was key.

In an effort to demonstrate improvement, you started including tracking on all such packages. Good on you.

So, when I got home, I went to the site, keyed in the tracking number, and clicked the radio button for future email alerts. I received an email that the package was accepted at the post office. Yup, I was there. Good. And then I received another email that the package departed the post office. OK. Good.

And then I received nothing.

For two days.

I thought perhaps there was some technological glitch. Perhaps the computer wasn't generating emails? So I went to the site and pasted the tracking number and there was no new information.

So I searched for the number for my local post office. I like the people who work there. I figured they'd be helpful.

Instead, I discovered that I now have to call a 1-800 number. Ah, yes, because nothing says "customer service" like "call a number and speak to a person who will have no idea about your problem."

But I called. And, of course, a computer answered. And I spoke my (very lengthy) tracking number and the computer told me what I already knew, which wasn't what I wanted to hear. So I pressed "0" to speak to someone.

I won't relay all that I went through on that phone call, but suffice it to say that it involved yelling into my phone. To a computer.

Because I was never allowed to speak to a person. Nothing I did or said – or yelled – would connect me to a person.

That, my "friend," was really maddening.

The night of the 27th, I received an email that my package had arrived at the next facility in the process. Which isn't terribly far from my house. Suffice it to say, if I had driven the package to that facility myself, it wouldn't have taken two days. It might have taken an hour.

When I shipped the package on the 25th, the clerk at the post office handed me my receipt and pointed out that there was a survey I could fill out online.

Guess who filled out the survey?

But I presumed that my survey rant would fall on deaf ears, so to speak, so I also went online and filled out a complaint.

On the morning of the 28th (aka the day after the package should have already been delivered), I received an email that the package had left the facility at which it had arrived the day before.

It was ultimately delivered just before 5 p.m. on Monday, March 2.

That morning, I had received an email from "eCustomerCare National" informing me that I had not included my tracking number, and could I please provide that.

Whoops, yes, my oversight. I replied immediately with the tracking number and thanked "whomever" for their assistance.

Two days later, on March 4, I received this:

An email had been sent requesting the tracking information so that it could be pulled up in the system. We have not heard back with any of that information, so we are not able to look the package up at this time. Any questions please let us know.

I forwarded my reply from March 2 and mentioned that the package had been delivered that day.

And then I received today's "Your feedback about the United States Postal Service is requested" email.

"Your feedback is very important to us as we strive to improve your customer experience."

Uh huh.

So I filled out the survey – you did not fare well, post office – and I thought I'd let that be the end of it, until I saw the "Your friends ..." bit, and then I decided to write this.

Also, it gave me an excuse to mock up the graphic at the top of this post.

So, to sum up: I paid nearly $30 to ship a package Priority 2-Day. I shipped that package on a Wednesday. The expected delivery date was Friday. And it showed up late in the day the following Monday, which is about when it would have showed up if I had paid for First Class postage instead.

I wasn't expecting miracles, post office. I was simply expecting to receive the service for which I paid.

The weather wasn't a factor. We did get a bit of snow that Wednesday, but nothing that should have ground operations to a halt.

Like I wrote, I really, really, really want you to succeed, post office.

But this is not the first time this has happened.

In fact, when packages I ship show up on time, those are the exceptions, not the rule.

I deserve better. We all deserve better.

Next time, I'll try UPS.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Really, Jayson? Really? One-Off Edition ...

I haven't whipped up a Jayson post in more than a year. I think I thought I was beating a dead horse. But then, today, I spied a Jayson pillow on Pinterest and I clicked through to see if maybe – just maybe – Jayson had adopted a slightly more sane policy when it comes to pricing.

Nope. The pillow's $295. And maybe that's a "normal" price for some folks to pay for a dec pillow, but I am not one of those people.

Anyhoo, I had to check out the Flea section, as long as I was on the site.

And I spied this:

Vintage Metal Atom Model – $4,795

It is, of course, from France. As most Jayson Flea items are, but "Huh," I thought. "That seems like quite a lot of money – even by Jayson standards – for a model of an atom."

And then I checked the dimensions.

Would you like to know the dimensions?

63"W x 55"D x 42.25"H

That's right, this model atom is more than five feet wide.

And it's not necessarily that old. It's listed as "20th century."

Do people in France have very poor vision?

Or did someone make a model of an atom that would be to scale if it were viewed from space?

I greatly appreciate the very precise height dimension of 42.25 inches. Because how upsetting would it be to get your giant atom home only to discover the perfect display space is a quarter inch too short?

I would like the meet the person who buys this big-ass atom. If that's you, please do drop me a line.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Adventures In Food Coloring ...

I had this idea, see?

Given my grown-up disgust yet nostalgia for conversation hearts – I loved them as a kid, but now I'm convinced they're dried bits of toothpaste – I thought I'd put together a batch of shortbread dough, divide it, color each portion with just enough food coloring to be pleasant, not garish, and be pleased with myself for my minimal yet edible homage to the toothpaste bits. (OK, maybe they're antacids.)

I rummaged through the drawer through which I rarely rummage, in search of my heart cookie cutters. Found them.

Then I spun my spice-rack carousel until I arrived at the box of food coloring. Checked them. Still liquid. Good. (I have no idea when I last bought food coloring. I know it hasn't been recently.)

I made the dough.

I cut it into fourths.

I plopped one quarter in a Ziploc sandwich bag and added two drops of red. (I figured it would be better to knead the dough in plastic than get red dye all over my hands that I might then transfer to other blobs of dough intended to be other colors.)

I knew I wanted pink hearts. Two drops seemed like the right amount. Really, I could have stopped at one. Those are the pink hearts, above. Is it me or do they look a bit like tongue? But I was going to mix other colors, a drop each, so I figured I should use two drops per blob.

I also knew that I wanted to purple hearts, so another blob went into another bag and drop of blue and drop of red and smoosh.

Uh oh.

The blue didn't look much like blue. It looked like, um, black.

Had the blue gotten bluer over time? Does blue food coloring eventually turn black?

I guess so. But then I thought, "Maybe I just need to distribute the color." So I set about kneading it through the dough.

Now, admittedly, the light in my kitchen wasn't ideal at the moment and it has been a very grey day, but I wasn't seeing purple. I wasn't seeing lavender. I was seeing, um, grey. Purplish grey. But not so much with the purple.

At which point, I thought this (and then tweeted it):

The more I looked at the dough, the more the purple seemed to recede. Yeah, it was pretty damn grey. Which was not really part of my cute-cookie plan. (Though, come to think of it, I think Necco makes a grey wafer that's licorice-flavored. But I digress.)

I looked at the remaining quarters of dough. Should I leave them alone? Should I just let them be shortbread in hue?

Nope. Drop, drop. Green.

Wow. Green does not degrade. Green stays green.

Briefly, I pondered a shamrock, but I don't have a shamrock cutter.

And so I patted out the colored blobs of dough on parchment and cut out hearts and rolled the extra bits of dough that I flattened into cute rounded buttons.

And I put the baking sheet into the oven.

And I was pleased that the Tim Burton hearts purpled up a bit while they baked. They came out looking much less bleak than when they went in.

But the combination of tongue pink and nearly shamrock green and ashen-Grimace purple wasn't the most photogenic gang.

So I opted to just shoot the pink.

I'm not really the food-coloring type. I'll stick to my usual cookie palette of white, off-white, and browns.

Unless Tim Burton calls.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder ...

I miss this place. I've gotten away from blogging but I shall be getting back to it directly.

In the meantime, yesterday, I was putting away dishes and as I nested some mixing bowls, I thought, "Huh. That'd make an interesting photo."

So this morning, I snapped a few.

I like the colors.



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What Could Have Been The World's Shortest E-Book ...

The day I published How to Bake a Better Cookie, a review appeared that ended with this: "Now I need one for breads!"

Yesterday, I was standing in front of the whiteboard in my office, jotting ideas for upcoming projects. I jotted: "Bread e-book? Do I have enough to say?"

Nope, I really don't.

I don't bake a lot of varieties of bread. (My one atttempt at rye was memorably leaden.)

I don't use starters.

I don't use a baking stone.

I don't mist my oven to encourage the crust.

I've made Greek bread in the past with reasonable success because Greek bread is really just white bread, pulled into a wreath shape and smothered with sesame seeds.

Mostly – almost exclusively – I make the bread you see at the top of this post. The Serbs in my family call it pogacha. It's a basic white bread but it only raises once, so it's slightly more dense than typical white bread. (The recipe's here.)

And it makes spectacular toast. I mean, it's good as bread, but it's sublime as toast.

A lot of people are scared to attempt bread, but it's not as daunting as people make it out to be.

Just before Christmas, one of my cousins mentioned that they tried making pogacha and it didn't rise. He presumed his yeast was bad.

Nope, probably not, I said.

And that brings me to the first – and possibly – only rule you need to know about baking bread:

Don't kill the yeast.

That's it. So long as you don't kill the yeast, odds are that you and your oven will produce something fairly edible.

See what I mean? It would have been a really short e-book. Even 99 cents would have been too much to charge.

If you proof your yeast in warm water, make sure it's warm. Not hot. Warm. Years ago, my Aunt Chick said, "Think of a baby's bath water."

The water needs to be warm enough to encourage the yeast but not so warm that it dies.

So hold the inside of your wrist under warm water and when it feels plesantly warm but not hot, you're good to go.

Likewise, if you're adding the yeast to an existing hot liquid, let it cool down to a pleasantly warm temperature first.

Don't be impatient. Swirl the bowl around to expose the mixture to more air to hasten the cooling process.

Or, as I often do, stick the bowl in the freezer for a minute or two or three.

Too-cool liquid will always be preferable to too-hot liquid.

Also, you can add a smidgen of sugar to your yeast to give it some food and make it happy from the get-go.

There you have it: the one piece of advice you need to get you started on your bread-baking way.

Baking bread is enormously gratifying.

And your family and friends will think you a genius.

Don't kill the yeast.

Friday, January 09, 2015

How Can I Help You Express Yourself? ...

I formally kicked off a book-coaching project with a new client yesterday. She's been working on a book for a long while. She's collaborated with a friend. She's shared a lot of material with me to review, including a table of contents so extensive, it's really an outline. She's rewritten the first chapter multiple times. And she's felt stuck.

So yesterday, with the hectic holidays behind us and a whole new year to explore, she was ready to get to work and figure out a new plan. She called at 8:30 a.m.

By 9:30 a.m., we had discovered that:

1. She's really writing two books.

and

2. The second book should probably happen first.

Book coaching, like all other coaching, looks different for every client.

For some, what I offer is really writing coaching, helping them to hone their writing skills.

For others, like my latest client, I join their projects already in process but early enough that I can help them shape their initial content, help them work through obstacles, or help them refine their approach to uncover what they truly want to say.

For yet others, I take on more of an editing role when they're further along in the process. Where I can offer insights, though, I do.

And for yet another segment of authors, I come on board at a point when they're almost ready to publish but seek one more set of eyes to review their work and I function as an editor's editor, if you will. In some cases, all that's really called for is proofreading. But, in some instances, I've been able to make suggestions that add another layer of polish to a project that the author didn't know was available.

For this latest project, our plan is to proceed session by session, as she's able to write. Our initial conversation yielded some good insights, but a creative process is just that, and she's open to letting this book – or these books – evolve.

But for the moment, she has a renewed sense of momentum. And I look forward to helping her see where it goes. My favorite part of our call yesterday was her pause after I made a suggestion, then the sound of her voice when she said, "Oh, I like that idea!"

Sometimes a project needs a fresh perspective and a bit of collaboration. Do you have a project you'd like to work on in the new year? Perhaps I can help you with that.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Holiday Giving ...

Pretty much everyone I know is in the process of shedding stuff. It is a delightful feeling, as I know from firsthand experience, having recently donated bags and bags and bags of books and an entire car and trunk full of stuff that, for years, I told myself I would sell at a garage sale.

After about 10 years of telling myself that story – and losing plenty of stuff to a flooded basement some years ago – I decided that it wasn't true. I could make it true, but not until spring, which, 'round these parts, doesn't often show up until June.

And I didn't want the clutter in the house any longer. I didn't want to walk past my guest bedroom and think, "I really have to deal with that."

So I dealt with it. Done.

Just in time for the arrival of the mac daddy of gift-giving holidays.

I already had a couple of gifts on hand that I knew were the right things but the balance of my list loomed.

On Thanksgiving, my father had announced that he had pored over all the sales papers and had found nothing he needed.

"The holidays aren't just about need," I reminded him. "Sometimes they're about want, too."

"Well, there's nothing I want, either."

All righty, then.

Dad got cookies and scratch-off lottery tickets. Seriously. He was delighted.

I talked with my oldest brother about gift ideas for the parents. He asked what I wanted. "Nothing," I said, and I meant it. "You pick up the tab all year when we go out for pizza and movies. That's more than enough. What would you like?"

"Nothing," he said. And I knew he meant it. He's spent the past couple years getting rid of stuff – the man is The craigslist Whisperer – and organizing the rest.

But I also know that he loves the white chocolate macadamia cookies at Subway, so I bought Ghirardelli white chips and half a pound of raw macadamia nuts, figuring I could do better than a fast-food chain.

He wrote the other day to let me know he had recovered from his cold and therefore could taste things again so he broke into the cookies at last. "They're great!" Take that, Subway!

Two of my nephews and my niece received afghans from their great-grandmother. I had two stashed in the guest-room closet, never used. They're navy and cream, rugby-stripe-ish, very graphic, rather nautical, and very cool. Each of the boys got one. And my niece received the afghan my grandmother had made for me when I was a baby. I included a pair of fluffy socks for her. The afghan is not big.

My grandmother was not a warm and fuzzy woman. But I was pleased to share her yarn talents with the kids. You can never have too many afghans.

I don't exchange gifts with their mom and dad, my brother and sister-in-law, other than stocking-stuffer treats. My brother always receives his favorite gummi bears from me. This year, my sister-in-law received a Toblerone. "I've never had one of these before," she said. "They're good!"

Of course they're good. A Toblerone played a supporting role in an episode of "Friends." It was cited in an episode of "Gilmore Girls." Toblerone rock.

My other nephew received a stash of cookies and a note that he shall begin receiving cookies as part of his college care packages.

It was a rather homemade Christmas, most of all for my mom.

She, too, got fluffy socks, which I did not make.

But her main gift was a wreath for her front door, which I did.

I was at their house one day, waiting for her to get home, lacking my keys for their house so I couldn't let myself in. I stood on the front porch considering the front door, knowing she was tired of the wreath she had, pondering what might work better instead, both based on her aesthetic and the style of the house.

My brain said, "Leather!"

Leather lacing would have been too fine though, the wrong scale, too busy.

"Old belts!" said my brain.

Yes, old belts!

And so I headed out to Goodwill a couple of days later to find old belts. Or new belts. Or any belts that would work with my vision.

And then I went to a second Goodwill store because I needed a larger stash.

And then I deconstructed the belts, removing most of the hardware. (I kept one belt intact to use at the top, as the "bow," as it were.)

And then I set out to find a wreath form.

Why in the hell are pieces of Styrofoam so expensive relative to what they are?!

That concern was moot, however, as the craft store I was in lacked the size I wanted. So I wandered the floral department. Surely something else would work. Maybe I could cannibalize a holiday wreath.

Or maybe I could use the straw wreath form staring me in the face.

Why, yes. Yes, I could.

I came home and wrapped that sucker in electrical tape to create a black base for any instances where the wreath form might peek through behind the belts.

And then I attempted to complete my project.

And then I attempted to complete my project.

And then, once again, I attempted to complete my project.

I finally finished on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, seriously just under the wire.

But I was pleased with the final result. Although, as I wrote to Angelo, who knew that this was in the works:

"DO NOT MAKE ONE OF THESE."

It was way more effort than I expected.

I shall not be getting into the bespoke leather-belt wreath business. One of these is all I feel the need to make in my lifetime and this is that one.

But we hung it up yesterday and Mom is very pleased.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: The Year That Was (And Is, For Five More Hours) ...

This year, by every metric I can conceive, was better than last year.

And that's saying a lot.

Surely 2013 was the nadir. Or the realization of the pendulum swinging as far as possible into bleakness. Not that I'm trying to tempt fate to prove me wrong, mind you. I just mean to say that 2013 sucked. Really, truly, awfully, painfully sucked.

So 2014 was bound to be better.

And it was.

I took on some wonderful clients. (I am so pleased to be a part of Michele Woodward's team.) And I took on – and then dropped – and then took on again – and then dropped again a not-so-wonderful client. The people were nice. The work did not suit me. But the on-again, off-again process taught me to trust my instincts the first time around. You know: for the next time.

I helped a lovely doctor with the best name in the world – Starla Fitch – bring her book into the world. What began as a technical exercise morphed into much, much more. I appreciated her faith in me as we tackled some new ground for both of us. I may not know everything from the get go, but I'm a quick study. And my goal was only ever to make her look good, and on that front, we succeeded. Editors are very anonymous that way: If we do our jobs well, no one can tell that we're doing our jobs.

At long, long, long, long last, I met the delightful and charming David Leite. We snuck in brunch at Dillman's right before Brendan Sodikoff shuttered the joint to turn it into Cocello. Happily, though, in recent days the news has surfaced that Dillman's will be back in 2015. Finally, a place to get good deli. Good deli is ridiculously hard to find.

And speaking of Cocello, I was pleased to have dinner there with the only person in my life who may like octopus as much as me. Or maybe I like it as much as him. In any event, it's good to have an octopus friend.

I hatched a plan this summer to publish a wee e-book – a weeebook – or an ebook(let) – of cookie tips. I've been baking for so many years, it seemed like a good idea to gather all the bits of information in my head and commit them to virtual paper. And, remarkably, I actually published it, earlier this month. As I've mentioned to friends, it is the publishing equivalent of wading into the shallow end of the pool and putting my face in the water before mustering up the courage to drift into the deep end and feel the floor disappear underneath me. In real life, though, I've always been a fan of the deep end. It'll be good to return to it in the coming year, metaphorically speaking.

Because now that I've published my ebook(let), I'm more inclined to write and publish again. For as much as I rail against e-readers, though, I really rather like electronic publishing. It suits my impatience.

The aforementioned David sold his memoir this year, which I am very eager to read, as David is a spectacular writer. It's scheduled to be published in 2016 or 2017. I marvel at that. I'm glad to be able to maintain interest in a project for a week. I don't know if I have the constitution to marshal a book through a process that takes years.

Working for myself suits me. And while I'm still getting the knack of the hustle required to find new projects and keep things humming, I am enormously grateful for the freedom this life affords me. Sometimes, it takes me a while to get a message, but I finally have. (Thanks for not hiring me, Mark. Truly. It was absolutely the right decision for both of us. I just didn't realize it at the time.)

I've had some clients return to me and recommend me to others, which is both lovely reinforcement and endorsement. I look forward to building on that foundation and planting new seeds in the coming year (to mix metaphors).

And I am very much looking forward to singing – and recording – in the coming year, too. I've been pondering a return to the voice class I've taken in the past, to get back into the swing of things, so to speak. And was very, very saddened to learn of the recent passing of the woman who taught the class. Gwen was just the teacher I needed when I embarked on taking classes and I'm so sorry that I won't have the privilege of studying with her again. But her passing has only strengthened my resolve to sing and record and maybe even – gasp! – perform. I feel like I owe it to her as well as to myself.

As this particular decade of my life speeds along, I realize every day the truth of "Life begins at 40." For 2015, I decided to choose a word as a touchstone of sorts for the year. I chose the word "become."

The process is already underway, of course. It began the day I arrived on this pale blue dot. But I am more aware of the process now and more ready than ever to steer when I can steer and to let go when I should let go and see where it all leads me.

May 2015 be all that you hope it to be(come).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cookie Tips, Past And Present ...

I've been baking through my list of holiday cookies.

I also keep adding to the list.

Which has reminded me of a very key cookie tip:

— Make a list and (try to) stick to it

This was the year I was going to bake only two varieties, but lots of them: Peppermint Sablés* and Snickerdoodles.

But then I thought, "Oh, but I should make Oatmeal Raisin for Bill. And if I take cookies to Bill, I should make Peanut Butter for Donna ... ."

And just like that, the list had doubled.

And then I thought, "But Mom really likes Russian Teacakes. And Paul really likes Toffee Squares."

And presto! The list had tripled.

And then Mom reported that my niece looked crestfallen upon learning that Chocolate Crinkles would not be baked this year.

Well, that won't do.

Chocolate Crinkle dough is in the fridge.

And then I thought of a cookie-as-gift idea for someone for whom I do not usually bake, so, for those of you keeping score at home, that brings the tally to eight varieties.

From two to eight. Just like that.

So, that should be plenty, right?

Except that I've made what I thought was a sufficient quantity of each type of cookie and then realized, no, I really should make another batch of each.

So this year's baking has spiraled slightly out of control.

But hey, butter's on sale.

Speaking of having a lot of cookies on hand, though, one of the other tips I shared on Twitter this week was:

— Enjoy a couple (or a few) with your morning coffee, pre-holidays

We deserve wee rewards for our efforts.

Others that came to mind to share:

– While warm, roll Russian teacakes in powdered sugar to create a "skim coat"; the initial coat will enable powdered sugar to cling when you roll them in more before serving

– Toast walnuts – or other nuts – before using them in cookies; grind for better distribution, chop for better texture

– Baking two sheets of cookies? Rotate them halfway through the baking time, top to bottom, front to back; also, tack 30 seconds onto the second half of baking time to accommodate your oven coming back up to temp

– A stick of butter that's softened enough for baking should bend but not be too soft or greasy

Find more tips in my ebook(let) How to Bake a Better Cookie on Amazon.

* Swap in peppermint extract for vanilla

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ohmygosh! ...

Oh! In the intro of my ebook(let), I cite the vintage edition of Betty Crocker's Cooky Book as an influence!

What a trip to see myself in the same row with it on Amazon! (This is the Books > Cookbooks, Food & Wine > Baking > Cookies ranking.)

The modern-day reissue is No. 4, as it should be. It's a fab book.

I shall aspire to move up to that neighborhood and appear alongside the new version, but in the meantime, this picture delights me!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

It's A Book(let)! ...

Historically speaking, I completed this project in record time.

I had the idea in July. I started jotting down thoughts on a piece of scrap paper in my wallet in a waiting room.

And then, as with most ideas I have, I let it stall.

I noodled around with it a bit, but not in any meaningful way.

Until last week.

And then, in earnest, on Monday afternoon. And into Monday evening.

And then as soon as I got up Tuesday morning.

And by Tuesday afternoon, it was a thing.

Available on Amazon.

What a trip.

Most publishing cycles take a couple of years.

This one took about 20 hours.

It's a good first step for me, the publishing equivalent of wading into the shallow end of the pool and putting my face in the water before heading into the deep end.

It's also terribly exciting and fun!

On to the next! Whatever that may be.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Crafty ...

Paint chips + circle punch + quilting thread = dotty garland, sample-strand edition. Should I ever make more, I think I'll swipe a black Sharpie around the back of each circle to eliminate the white edge. Fun little project, though. A good way to recycle!