Burning the Mortgage?

Closeup of morgage loan agreement burning. Concept shot of freedom from debts and new beginnings

It’s an exciting day today for myself and my husband. We paid off our house! For the first time in our lives, we are debt free. It may not last, but on this date at this time, we don’t owe anybody any money and thank God we are in such a state. We fully expect things to fall apart at any moment now.

The Dionysis Connection, by Liz Cowan

lizcowanThe Dionysus Connection was a fun read from the first sentence to the very end. Liz Cowan has woven a tale of a strong, spirited and, yes, feisty independent woman who really has no business also being stable and grounded. That is, of course, except for the love of her aunt and uncle, who just happens to be the Chief of Police in Dallas. When she meets with an equally strong-spirited detective, the sparks fly. That’s when the good parts just keep coming as one thing leads to another.

The author has written a tale with a thoroughly researched exciting plotline with well-rounded characters that involves a ladies club. How could you go wrong? She gets to know the detective, who is stripping “under cover”. How about that for an oxymoron? Though the heroine gets to know him from the outside in, she still grows into someone to be proud of my favorite kind of romantic HEA ending.

An enjoyable read from start to finish, download this book for a relaxing and entertaining dip into the seedy world of strip clubs and mayhem without ever leaving home. Can’t wait to read Liz Cowan’s next romantic adventure.

Deception by Bill Ward

deceptionYou’re not paranoid if everyone is truly out to get you. Lara comes to Powell, her old friend, and ex-lover, with a big problem. She’s ruthless and will do anything for her work as an agent for MI6 in Saudi. After having rescued several children from life in a lost world, returning them to their mother, she finds herself hunted like an animal by her government and, worse yet, her boss. And why? Because she’s seen too much? Could that be the only reason?

So starts the exciting and thrill-packed plot of Bill Ward’s third in a series, Deception. Having not read the first of the series, I found this fast-paced easy to read novel able to stand on its own, filled with a host of characters I felt as if I knew. The action is set in Brighton, based out of Powell’s bar; however, you travel through England’s hot spots seeking both Middle Eastern bombers, but more deadly, British and American intelligence personnel. Both current and former spies are bombing strategic locales with deadly results, bolstering national sentiment for more anti-terrorist funding.

Admittedly I found the reasoning behind the plot a tad bit far-fetched but that’s what suspension of disbelief is all about. Once you buy the premise, the action and detailed explanations of each motivating plot point are well written and bring the action to life. The characters of Powell and Afina are well conceived and obviously, have a history that both of them try to deny. Through sacrifice on both sides, the planets do align and the world, which has been tilted on its axis, does become righted again. Powell proves himself to be the consummate hero. Deception was a light and airy, enjoyable read which I highly recommend. Bill Ward proves himself an excellent writer who knows how to deliver an exciting thriller.

“If Only There Was Music…” The Poetry of Forbidden Love by Nonnie Jules and Giani Jordan

if onlyThis book of poetry is a real treat for romantics. It is what the title suggests: lyrical. These poems of unbidden and forbidden love are begging to be put to music and, in a quieter and more peaceful place and time, I just might try my hand at doing just that. They are exactly what two lovers express in that gentlest of passion, unique to themselves yet longingly similar in content and texture. You can imagine the two lovers feeling the emotions in the verse, sitting to write wistfully as they yearn for one another, testing out all the feelings that are burning from within.

Let me say, I am not a poetry fan, but I ran through these poems at a frantic pace, desperate to hear the next melody of words. I had spent my evening watching a tribute to the incomparable Ray Charles at the White House, with songs of love and longing, hot beats and erotic twists that had The First Lady fanning herself from time to time. As I sat down to read these verses, those tunes and melodies were still lofting through my mind, and I could feel the gentle sway of the music of these words. They do need to have the accompanying tunes, melodies and harmonies attached, with that same lovely blend of jazz, country, rock and soul. That’s what these poems hold in store for the readers: soul. As someone said at the concert, soul is what music should be when you just leave people alone. This poetry has that same kind of soul.

A performance well done by the authors. Your blending of poems sounded a lot like a perfect duet to me!

Haunting Megan by Rebecca Reilly

haunting meganThis romantic suspense takes you on a roller coaster ride that’s unpredictable. You follow Megan, from a young girl living in unimaginable circumstances through an extraordinarily tragic event that leaves her deeply scarred. Unexpected events unfold around her and she finds a relationship she didn’t expect in the midst of the craziness surrounding her. At one point she even winds up accused as a serial killer. All throughout this, her make-shift family stands behind her and eventually she realizes she has the kind of support she’d always lacked in her life. But the twists keep coming and you don’t know when they’ll stop. A frequently visiting ghost lets her know she has to take responsibility or she’ll lose out on the romantic love she desires deep down. It’s in jeopardy, but you don’t know when the next struggle will come or who is behind the evil that keeps touching her life. There are many suspects, but which one is the harbinger of evil?

The author has created a nicely-developed cast of characters and does a great job of keeping you guessing, never really knowing which way the story will turn next. You’ll need to stay on your toes to finish this suspenseful read and pay attention. You never know what’s going to happen next!

Life Lessons from Prince

PrinceQuoteLike many Minnesotans, I was struck numb this week at the news of Prince’s death. Because of the non-stop playing and replaying of his songs, memories the music has unearthed have caused me to pause and take stock of some of the things I’ve learned over the course of the forty years his music has been part of my life. Some of these life lessons have been driven home by having him as a role model over those years.

Let me preface this by saying that I’ve never purchased one song, album or record of his music and despite that, I do count myself among his fans. It wasn’t necessary to buy his music because it was everywhere. It was the soundtrack of my last years of my life in high school and the beginning of my early adult years. I have fond memories of dancing to “1999” in my socks while I cleaned some wealthy lady’s parqueé floor. Buying music doesn’t make you a fan. Listening to someone’s music makes you a fan.

I am also fortunate that I got a chance to meet Prince in person once. When I was sixteen, I won a piano competition sponsored by the Mpls Piano Teachers Forum and had an opportunity to play at a recital at St. Catherine’s. He came to that concert and sat near the rear. This was before he was a household name, in ‘82 or ‘83. When the recital was over, he came up to me where I stood with a group of my fellow contestants and held out his hand. In a very low, quiet voice he said: “I just wanted to tell you that you were phenomenal.” I returned his handshake and said, “Thank you, Mister … uh, Prince.” When my mother joined the circle of people, he walked away. Of course, Mom had no idea who he was, and I had to explain it to her. In retrospect, it was an amazing thing that such an incredibly talented musician, one of the best of our era, had taken the time to tell me such a thing about my musical abilities.

There are certain lessons in life you learn. I won’t say Prince taught me these life lessons, but he lived his life in such a way that he certainly affirmed many of the things that I’ve questioned over the years. Here is only a small list.

1. Never settle for second best.

While some might say MJ was a bigger name than Prince, I don’t think they would ever argue about the quality of the music. Prince surrounded himself with nothing but the absolute best musicians he could find. That’s because he sought them out. He did weird things like going to high-school piano recitals in search of the very best. In that way, his music was beyond reproach … always.

2. Conformity is for suckers and food products.

You never saw Prince wearing the same thing twice. He made up his own style. He didn’t try to “fit in” in any way, shape or form. His music didn’t belong to any genre. He made his own genre. He didn’t behave like other rock stars. He didn’t look like any other stars. He wore his sexuality on his sleeve and yet, he was androgynous. In short, he always kept people guessing, wondering what he would do next.

3. Don’t sell yourself short.

Though he grew up with nothing and got suckered into giving up his music rights, he fought back to get what he deserved and won. He refused to give in about the value of his work. He demanded to be compensated for his efforts and the success he found because of that hard work, even though the pundits and media made fun of him for it. Even at the end, he was still trying to make sure he and other musicians got every penny they earned.

4. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

In Minnesota, you would occasionally hear stories about Prince having a fit over something. You’d hear how somebody couldn’t find him enough purple carpeting (or some similar altercations), so he’d get angry and cancel a whole contract. This week many more of these stories have come out. I believe them. He lived by this creed, and I believe he was right. There’s no point in settling for anything but doing things the way they should be done. The finished product is the point of doing anything, so do it right the first time.

5. Be true to yourself.

Prince was the greatest oxymoron of his time: a private, reserved, quiet, riotous rock star. When he performed and was “on” he put out one hundred percent of himself, exuding raw sexuality and that made him millions. When he wasn’t performing, he was a recluse who carefully guarded his personal life and all aspects of it against the prying media, but privately he was hilarious. He didn’t change who he was for anybody, no matter what the circumstances.

In my mind, Prince will always be that quiet guy in his twenties sitting in the back of a piano recital, closing his eyes to let the music carry him away. I’m one of the luckiest people in the world, to have gotten a chance to play for him and to have him find pleasure in my performance.

Prince was a one-of-a-kind musician that the world will never see again and because of that, I am saddened at the loss. Thank you for validating so many of the important lessons in life. You certainly were no saint, but you played a mean guitar.

Isabella: Book #2 in the House of Donato Series (coming soon)

Isabella (coming in mid-June 2016)

Humor. Desire. Conspiracy.

Isabella_Cover5Chad “Manic” Murphy, is an amusing and charismatic hockey star on the rise. His tutor is the gorgeous Isabella Donato, his teammate’s twin sister. If only he hadn’t promised never to touch her. Though his life is in turmoil, he charms his way into her heart. When she comes to her senses, her follow-the-rules mentality often clashes with his oblivious, impulsive ways.

Murphy’s one-sided decision to turn pro, throws them into a cycle of unanswered longing. He stumbles upon a lawless domain driven by a man who has the power to destroy his world. Can Murphy clean up his chaotic life and once again sweep Izzy off her feet? Tragedy leaves her wondering if they could ever make it work.

Isabella is the second in the new adult romance series “The House of Donato”. If you like an enjoyable light-hearted romance, with sensitive love scenes sure to delight and arouse, download this unpredictable and compelling read today.

Lemon Meringue Pie and Lies

In junior high I was required to take several classes which I thought, at the time, were completely useless: shop and home economics were top on my list.

Lemon pie on a yellow plate with coffee in the background on a restaurant table.

Keep in mind that my parents worked diligently to raise self-sufficient children. We got no allowance. We got paid for work we did, just like any other farmhand. If you didn’t work, you didn’t get paid. We didn’t get anything handed to us. If you wanted a new record (once upon a time, music was sold on vinyl discs called records), then you got a job, earned money and paid for it. If you wanted anything outside of food and clothing, you got a job, made money and paid for it. By the time I was ten, I had worked several small jobs and had learned to do quite a few things for myself, like woodworking, cleaning cows utters, birthing piglets, mowing lawns, sharpening a knife: all the things they would try to teach me in shop class. Since I was a girl, my mother knew that cooking and domestic duties would be necessary for me to learn, so she taught me to cook, clean and sew: all the things they would try to teach me in home economics class.

At some point in home economics, we were asked to make our father’s favorite dessert. At the dinner table that night, my dad was absent, which had me downhearted. He was on a business trip, so I asked my mother what my father’s favorite dessert was. She said she wasn’t sure, but she had once made him a lemon meringue pie when they were dating that he had gone on about how much he loved it. He had sat down and eaten it with a huge smile on his face, so her best guess was lemon meringue pie.

I wanted to practice so, that weekend, I bought all the ingredients to make lemon meringue pie and worked on it at home. I made a lovely pie (which is NOT an easy flavor of pie to make from scratch, by the way) and presented it at dinner for my family. My father took a slice and ate it with a smile. I went to school the next week and made one heck of a lemon meringue pie. I got an A on my efforts, but not many of my fellow students liked lemon, and I had leftovers. This will be great, I thought. It’s my dad’s favorite, so I’ll bring it home. What a smart teacher to have us make our dad’s favorite so we can bring leftovers home for him.

When I got home that night my mother was out of the house, so I presented a piece of pie on a plate, neatly garnished to my father. He brushed me off saying, “I hate lemon meringue pie, honey. No, thank you.” I was extremely confused. Just last week when I made the pie he had ate it and said how good it was. I let him know my mother had told me about the pie she had made that he loved while they were dating.

He turned to me with his brilliant blue eyes and said, “I know. I hated lemon pie then, and I hate it now, but please don’t tell your mother. She wanted me to like it so much. I didn’t have the heart to tell her, and I still don’t.”

We tell lies to those we love and to ourselves for many reasons. I don’t know why my dad chose to keep his hatred of lemon a secret from my mother, but I’m pretty sure it was love. He truly loved her and could not bear the thought of hurting her in any way. It’s pretty ironic because two people cannot be married for twenty or thirty years and not hurt each other in some way, so this small, simple continuous lie for years was pretty ill-spent. He would’ve been much better off if he’d quit smoking ten or twenty years earlier than he did instead of keeping this stupid lie intact. She would’ve been much happier not to be hurt by the ridiculous expense and nasty habit he kept on with for decades than to find out that long, long ago he’d lied about his love of lemons.

What lies are you keeping stashed away for silly reasons? You might want to reconsider the value of that lie. By the way, although I can make an excellent one, I hate lemon meringue pie.

Happy Easter!

IMG_1206Make no mistake about it: Easter is my favorite holiday. It always has been and always will be. Not that Christmas isn’t a beautiful time of year when you are supposed to get warm fuzzies about eggnog and gift-giving, lovely lights and cheer. Easter has more oomph to me than Christmas. First of all, in my climate, it’s usually warmer. There is hope on the horizon, whereas there is nothing but darkness and cold at Christmas-time. Granted, there isn’t the level of gift-giving you see for Christmas. When I was a child, there weren’t that many substantive gifts around our tree for Christmas. There were gifts; however, they were usually cheap and more intended for sentiment than for a thrill.

Two things have always made Easter a special one for me. When I was growing up, Easter Sunday was a very busy day. We’d wake up well before the crack of dawn for what was called, in our church, a Sunrise service. Leading up to Easter was a big deal too. Every week my family attended a Wednesday night Lenten service, complete with a meal. For each week during the forty-day Lenten period, our church would all gather for dinner and have a different ethnic dinner. I specifically remember a borscht dinner, mainly because I had no desire to eat anything that had beets in it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked borscht. There was a special service on Palm Sunday where all the children were given a palm leaf to take home. My mother would make a bouquet of her children’s three palm leaves that took center stage at our Sunday dinner table.

On Maundy Thursday evening, the Thursday before Easter, there was a service at our church where all of the elders and our pastor would wash the congregation’s feet, everybody’s feet. My church took Easter week very seriously. Then on Good Friday we would go and listen to a sermon on the Seven Stages of the Cross, which was a very long service, complete with seven different special singers. When I grew older, I would participate in a community service that took all day long on Good Friday. The day has always had a particularly sentimental quality to it for me. The lead-up to Easter I think was almost as important as the day itself.

easterGetting back to the big day, for the Sunrise service, the teens and youth of my church would perform the entire service, from beginning to end. It was often a near disaster of a service as you can’t rely too heavily on teens to do things with gusto, but they made an effort. The hymns were always ones of hope and joy, of surprise and happiness in Christ’s resurrection. After the sunrise service, our entire congregation would join for a pancake breakfast, served by the men of the church. Women were not allowed in the kitchen. My father played a prominent role as one of the two main “pancake chefs”. It was one of the few things he could cook to perfection. He and his buddy, Harlan, who eventually walked me down the aisle at my wedding in my father’s absence, would stand in the hallway of the church behind a borrowed fry-top they’d rented from the local legion hall. They’d stand there flipping pancakes for several hours, the heroes of the day. The younger men of the church, working in the kitchen, would fry up bacon and sausage, make orange juice and pour milk, waiting tables throughout the dining hall. Children would run and laugh in a giant Easter egg hunt throughout the church building. We’d find little plastic eggs all over the place. There was a huge basket of candy for the child who found the most eggs.

The breakfast was followed by our “regular” Sunday school classes for children and our typical hour-long Sunday service. When the morning was complete and the last service was over, we had spent almost six hours at church and would go home exhausted. We’d take a nap for a couple of hours until I’d wake to find my parents had hidden real eggs either outside or in our home if it was too cold. We had an excellent evening dinner, probably ham or potatoes. We’d dig into a cake my mother had made in the shape of a bunny.

How could a child not be thrilled with memories like these? It was as good as Christmas, if not better. I always had a hand-made, brand new dress and often dainty white gloves and a hat.

What made the holiday special and what still warms my heart, however, is the deeper meaning of the holiday. The themes of the religious significance always strike a blow to my soul: loyalty, betrayal and forgiveness, sacrifice, fate and hope. If you don’t believe in these things, then I’m very sorry for you, and I do include you in my prayers, whether you want me to or not. I can’t understand a life where you don’t believe in things like the themes of Easter. What is life without hope? What is life without a deep understanding of sacrifice? I do believe in fate. I believe we all have a destiny, a chosen path. Without it, life would be meaningless. My prayer for you this Easter is that you find your fate, you realize that path in your life and embrace it. I love that Easter comes in the Springtime. It’s a time of hope, life and renewal. May the themes surrounding Easter speak to you in your life. Happy Spring! Christ Is Risen Indeed!

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Doing well after EReader News Today promotion

Henrietta made it big, for one day. I took a snapshot today following yesterday’s EReader News Today promotion, just in case I never have a book do this well again, even for part of a day.

Number1_on_Amazon

A Twin Connection

marva_and_margaretIs there such a thing as a twin connection?

That’s a question that I’ve pondered for most of my life. You see, my mother was a twin. I doubt very much that she was an identical twin, although back in the day nobody knew there was a difference between one kind of twin and another. When they were born in the 1930s, twins were enough of an oddity that any set of twins were a spectacle, and they were, indeed, a wonder in that day. They didn’t look much alike at all, yet they were dressed alike, spoiled alike and disciplined alike. If anything, they may have been mirror twins. One was right-handed, the other left-handed. One was popular and flirty, the other a quiet homebody. They were both voracious readers and were thick as thieves. Throughout most of my life, hardly a week went by that they didn’t spend an hour or more on the phone. I swear they were talking about the latest books they were reading.

They would call each other whenever one of them had an ache or pain, wondering if the other were ill or sick or in need of care. That was their twin connection, and it always made me wonder how that kind of bond could exist over time and space. For most of their lives, they lived nearly 300 miles apart. How could they feel anything of that link over such a wide expanse of particles and time? Just the car trip took hours, so how could a feeling in a leg or an arm, a tooth or a stomach get from one to the other? They claimed that it did. They’d spent all of their lives together, sleeping in each other’s arms, until they left home when they were seventeen.

Maybe this is a phenomenon anyone who isn’t a twin cannot understand. Perhaps it’s a coupling of their souls that happens in utero. When my twin niece and nephew were born, they would communicate with one another as babies on a level that was non-verbal and pre-language that you could obviously see when they were going through the activities of their daily life. One would get it in their mind to be funny, throw their food or shake their whole body in a crazy way and the other would laugh. They made their own fun, acted as both performer and audience for one another. That non-verbal exchange between babies was enough to make you believe in that twin connection.

What have you seen or experienced as unwritten, unscientific evidence of a connection between twins? Do you think twins have a bond that goes beyond time and space, life and death?

Day 30: How Blogging for 30 Days Has Changed Me

4-leaf-clover-many-1244492-639x479First of all …..Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!

Now, How Blogging for 30 Days Has Changed Me:

1. I know more about how to improve SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and get posts noticed.  I’m not going to claim to understand it, but I know more.

2. I’m more open about sharing things from my own life.

3. My writing has improved from the more frequent practice.

4. I’m more confident that people will find what I write interesting and like my blog

5. I understand that the difficult times in life are more inspirational than the easy things

6. I’m glad to know my friends, family, classmates, co-workers are amazingly wonderful people

7. I’ve realized that my parents are behind most of what I think about things in the world. (I guess that makes sense.)

8. I know that daily blog posts are too often! It’s a ton of work, so twice a week is enough.

From now on I will only blog twice a week and may include more original fiction from time to time. I’m glad I got this started because I actually learned to enjoy it. I hope you did too.

Irish_DinnerToday just happens to be one of my most favorite days of the year. It is a day of comfort for me which reminds me of happy memories, wonderful, savory dinners with family and friends, corned beef and cabbage and soda bread. It reminds me of Uncle Ray and my grandfather whistling Danny Boy and singing about my smiling Irish eyes. On this lovely St. Patrick’s Day, I want to thank you for reading my blog and sticking with me for thirty days. I hope you enjoy the day with your family and build memories that will last.

 

I leave you with one bit of St. Patrick’s Day trivia:  The 3-leafed shamrock is significant and connected with St. Patrick because the Welsh priest used the ever-present plant as a tool when teaching “the pagans” of Ireland about the Holy Trinity. (That’s right, St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish!)

 

 

Day 29: How I got Into Genealogy

At some point in my life, I jumped, whole hog, on the genealogy bandwagon and started researching my family history with wild abandon. It’s just another of those many things I got passionate about at some point, but I still keep it up, and it has spurred much of my writing.

I was bored at some time in front of a computer screenfamily-tree-1178786-640x480 with nothing else to do. It’s amazing what you can find on a computer and nothing but an endless sea of undedicated time in front of you. One thing tends to lead to another, and the www-part of the internet truly becomes web-like in how it stretches before you.

In any event, because of my work as a programmer, I’ve been involved with a programming bulletin board for years. It’s a spot where other SAS programmers can post a question, and other programmers will read it, converse with them, give them samples of code that might eliminate their problem or answer their question. It’s a lovely Google group called SAS-L, which sends emails to people on a daily basis (in case you’re interested). I was looking for an answer to a particular programming problem I’d been having and reviewing answers. There was one programmer who routinely responded to people’s questions in a very thoughtful manner, and he answered lots of people’s questions. I wondered to myself: “What does this guy do? Does he just sit around and answer other people’s questions all day? Doesn’t he have a programming job like I do where he’s too busy to sit around and answer people’s questions?” Now, in twenty-two years of programming, it is a very, very rare day when I have time to sit around and read SAS-L, let alone answer other people’s questions.

family-1409629-640x480I got intrigued with this guy.  (Sorry, but I don’t even remember his name.) I looked him up on Google, and he had a web page where he had his entire family tree listed out. I mean, he had thousands and thousands of people’s names, dates of birth, etc. This was before ancestry.com and all of the lovely online trees and things that are available online and via social media. It was amazing that this guy had done all this documentation. He had a link to a website that was free from the LDS (Latter Day Saints), and I clicked on it. I looked up one great-grandmother’s name and low and behold; it gave me back her parent’s names and dates of birth. I had never heard their names or they were just distant faint memories. So I looked up their names and, again, I found their parents’ names and info. I kept doing this until I had a full page of notes on people’s names and info and I’d gone back to the 1700s in North Carolina. All of that was news to me.

I have kept up that frantic searching online ever since that time. It was very hot and heavy when I first started looking things up and interesting as all get-out. I’ve learned things about American history, unique localized history, and personal stories about ancestors from my family that I couldn’t have invented in the most amazing of fiction. Life truly imitates art, and it’s amazing what you can find in your family history.

Now I write about people’s histories within my fiction. I weave their stories in with fiction because a lot of the older folks from a family tree will never have their stories uncovered. They did live amazing lives and did things that would blow your mind. I encourage everyone to dig into family history. You don’t know what you might find, and if you like puzzles, it’s the most amazing, complicated and confusing mystery made of real things and people that you could imagine. It’s a never-ending puzzle.

Day 28: My Favorite Recipe

HosenLaderHosen Lader (Pants Leather)
5 medium potatoes
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening
A pinch of nutmeg
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 cup cream
1 cup flour
Boil potatoes with jackets on. Put through a potato ricer. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Pour mixture into a greased pan to about 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle with cinnamon before baking at 350 degrees. Optional to put in raisins.

This is my favorite recipe and here’s why: Although my dad rarely cooked when I was a child, when he stopped working it became one of his past times. This was one of his favorite things to make because it reminded him of his mother. This was one of her go-to desserts to make for hired men on the farm after a long, cold day working with cattle and horses. It’s warm and inviting and very German (hence the German name). Did I forget to mention that it’s disgustingly delicious??! It is by far my favorite dessert of all time. It’s a little bit addictive so beware before you make it. Fortunately, having to rice potatoes is labor intensive so unless you love ricing potatoes, it’s not likely something you’re going to want to make all the time.

The biggest reason this is my favorite recipe is that my dad wrote it down from a German recipe into English for me on a note card when I was ten. It’s on a 1970s-era recipe in his handwriting so it is nearly illegible to anyone but me. Nobody could ever read his writing but me. My mother would just flatly refuse. That note card has been mussed with, dunked in cream and sprinkled with cinnamon over the years but it keeps that terrible handwriting and the love of a man for his mother’s desserts intact. That silly little slip of paper means a lot to me but so does the sentiment behind the act of his writing down this recipe. He loved me like his mother loved him and he wanted to share this little slice of edible heaven with me.

I now wish this edible slice of heaven for you and your family. Make it for them with love. (Prepare yourself: This dessert doesn’t “look” good, but it is good. It’s named Pants Leather for a reason. That’s what it looks like, but its taste is out of this world. Enjoy!)

Day 27: Respect

Respect

I read something yesterday that’s quickly come to mean a lot to me. Sorry, but it was in French. Je suis mon maitre. (Translation: I am my master.)

I took a year of French in college because it was required. Although I knew it fairly well at the time because I haven’t used it, I’ve lost most of what I knew at the time, but I can read it most of the time. Because I stink at translating now, I saw this quote on Twitter yesterday, and I was convinced it was “I am my respect”. That doesn’t even make sense, but it got me thinking about respect and the poem Invictus by Henley. If you haven’t ever read that poem, you should. It was a favorite of Nelson Mandela. It’s deep and moving and says a lot about what motivates us as people.

The idea of respect got to me. Respect is such a fundamental thing in life that it’s difficult to carry on without it. Spouses have to respect each other to keep going. Without that respect, there’s derision, infidelity, manipulation and all sorts of nastiness between what should be two loving adults. Respect is a vital part of our society. Children need to respect their teachers, supervisors, parents, clergy … well, everyone. We expect children to be respectful and if they aren’t we consider them societal pariahs. We have a society based on the principles of respect: we have to respect authority figures such as police, doctors, politicians and bankers.

The thing that has been weighing heavily on my mind at this writing is respect in the workplace. It’s a fundamental thing in corporate America where employment is “at will”. The employer has to will an employee to work for them and offer them a semblance of respect such that an employee feels it in his or her will to continue to be an employee. It’s a symbiotic relationship built on respect. Without respect for an employer, an employee is likely to say or do something during their daily workday that will “show” that level of disrespect and the employer will no longer feel “at will” to continue the relationship with the employee.

So what happens when you lose people’s respect? Is it possible to rebuild respect? Where does that respect come from? And what if both parties don’t participate? Can it be a reasonable expectation in any relationship, not just employee to employer, to continue with only one-sided respect?

I have no answers to these questions. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of respect and the comings and goings of it. In the end, it comes down to each person. The poem is right and always will be: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”.

Day 26: An Old Photo of Me

golden_bdayfish - CopyThis picture of me was from my golden birthday when I was five. My family had spent a holiday weekend as we usually did in the summer: fishing in a boat. My dad loved to fish with a passion. He wanted his children to love to fish. I don’t mind fishing, but I would estimate I’ve spent more time fishing in my lifetime than most women spend shopping. The day of this picture I was turning five and my brother was about to turn eleven. That fish was the same as me, five pounds, which is a pretty good size for a bass. I remember it clearly: I was five, it was the fifth, and it was a five-pound bass. I had caught that fish all by myself on my little bitsy fishing pole with three-pound test line. It was incredible really that I didn’t lose that fish, but I was patient and very slowly and carefully waited for my big, huge sucker of a fish to wear out. I sat in the boat, and everyone in the family held their breath while they waited for me to reel that fish in. I listened to advice from all around me, but I tried to focus all of my attention on my father and what he was telling me to do. I knew my brothers would try to spoil it for me and that daddy would tell me the right thing to do so I wouldn’t lose my chance.

In a way, this picture captured the dividing line between childhood and growing up. There we were out in the country in front of our rental house with the full complement of bikes in the background and the wellpit in front of the house. We had a lot of fish to skin and clean after a long, long day out on the boat that day. I’m sure I spent the next day sunburned. You’ll notice a lack of teeth for me, which was my state of being for a long, long time. I had an accident not long before this picture where I lost my teeth, so I avoided smiling. But my dad was so proud of me and my big catch. It was impossible not to smile. I was too small to hold the fish for the picture. He was too heavy for me to lift up high enough to hold still to take the picture, so my brother had to help me. This may be the last picture I have in life where he was nice to me. Well, maybe that’s exaggerating, but it is interesting to note that this is a rare picture of the two of us getting along.

It was an innocent time in the early 70s. In many ways, it was the end of innocence. That next fall my dad had the first of many heart attacks, and we didn’t know if he would live or die. He went on for ten years like that, never knowing when he would have another heart attack. But on that one bright, clear happy day with a big fish of my very own, I had a lot to smile about.

Day 25: My Ten Favorite TV Shows of All Time

celebrity-tv-1258280-640x480My Five Favorite Comedies of All Time:
1. Barney Miller – This show was the epitome of a well-written comedy. It had a wonderful cast of characters that were believable as real people. It showed the best and worst of people in stressful situations and illuminated some of the social woes of our times, including race relations and public discord. It did all of those very serious things in a very funny way. It gave me, as a child, a view of what a great manager should be like; Barney. He was a wonderful example of a person who was great at handling difficult people and circumstances with humor, wit, intelligence and style. He was a great leader with the main purpose in life of helping everyone around him. I miss that show.
2. The Mary Tyler Moore Show – A lot has been said about what made this show great. For me, it was the example Mary set of a young, single woman making it in Minneapolis that was inspirational. I traveled, several years later, that exact same road to go to a job in that very same skyline. I’m not sure I would’ve done so without that show.
3. The Big Bang Theory – Although this show is still in production, it is so well-written, again, with a great set of characters who all hold their own in their story lines that make this show so popular. Together those characters make us laugh and will probably eventually make us cry together.
4. M*A*S*H – I’ve been falling asleep to this show for the past twelve years. I know every line of every show backward and forwards. I feel as though I know this show from the inside out. After all of these years, there are still one-liners that crack me up and make me laugh out loud. That’s high praise for the wit it took to write those lines. Great writing makes great humor.
5. Chico And The Man – This show only lasted for two seasons as it should have been but it had something special. Like Barney Miller, it took on deep and serious issues of its day in a way that made you laugh out loud. It was the acting of Jack Albertson and Freddie Prinze that made this show great. It had heart and soul. You have to wonder what the world would be like if it had continued the way it was intended, but it was not meant to be. For a while, it was a joy to watch.
Honorable Mentions:
SOAP – This show was inventive and hilarious with such over-the-top situations and crazy writing, it just made you smile. Another thing that made it great was the wonderful theme song, which only played up the humor more.
Weeds – This was another show that specialized in the over-the-top humor of the ridiculous situations of the oxymoron of a drug-dealing suburban mom. It got a little ridiculous by the end of the series, but the first few season were hilarious.

lcd_tvMy Five Favorite Dramas of All Time:
1. Deadwood – This show was a well-acted, well-written drama based on real events. I love the historical and accurate feel of this series. It was so good that Mr. Jackson and I spent a vacation in Deadwood to see if we could see some of the real places, resting places of the real people, etc. I highly recommend this series if you haven’t seen it.
2. Dexter – I’m going to limit this one a bit and say the first two or three seasons of Dexter were wonderful. You found yourself rooting for the anti-antagonist when you knew you really shouldn’t, which was unique and wonderful and great. The series, however, should have died a more sudden death at its peak. They let it linger and dwindle as Hollywood so often does. After Season Three, it lost much of its mojo, but before that, it was well-written, tight and more of a docu-dramedy, which was and is very unique.
3. The Rockford Files – The most under-rated show in the history of television, in my opinion. James Garner was fantastic! He played it low-key and cool as he should have and for that reason, it didn’t get the accolades it deserved. It was the typical cop drama (even though he wasn’t a cop) so to some extent it was a little predictable, but there were enough contrary and unique moments to keep it entertaining and fresh. Again there was a sense of comedy to the drama, which was great. Even looking back on old episodes, it seems just as cool now as it was then.
4. Law And Order (w/Jerry Orbach) – This show was so good when it was new, it was scary. It wasn’t a big-hyped show, but you knew it was good. When it got to the second and third season, when Jerry Orbach joined the cast, it got so much better. I used to wait to watch it every week just for the Lenny-isms, which was almost always in the prolog section of the show. He was a great actor and made this show something more than special. After he left it just never was the same, and all of the copies have failed to get that little spark that Orbach brought to his part.
5. Six Feet Under – This show was so quirky that it was delicious. You couldn’t wait to see each new episode to find out how somebody was going to die, which was a great and unique way to open a show. We still harp on about lines from that show. (How do you run over yourself anyway? That was a great one!)
Honorable Mention:
Both of these show, though still in production, are so well written and have such a quality of realism in them that they are frightening: The Good Wife and House of Cards.

My Favorite Late-Night Show: Of course, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It’s a wonder I can sleep at all at night without Johnny. I miss him terribly. He was one of a kind. Though Jimmy Fallon is giving him a run for his money, it’ll never be the same. He was just so funny when he wasn’t even trying, that he is impossible to match.

Day 24: My Favorite Childhood Book

caps4sale2My favorite book as a child was: Caps For Sale, which was written and illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina. It was, at the time, already an “old” children’s book but one that captured my attention in a big way. Curious George was a very popular character in children’s books at the time, but Caps for Sale, although it was older, had more than one monkey and in fact, a whole tree full of mischevious monkeys. The plot of the book is about a cap peddler who walks around with his caps stacked on his head trying to sell his caps. This spoke to me because my father was a salesman. I could picture dad walking around all day trying to sell his wares, although he drove around while smoking a cigarette. One time I went along with him for “take your child to work” day. When we got home, my mother asked how I liked going to work with daddy. I said I’d let her know if he ever did that because all we did was drive around all day. He never went to any work as far as I could tell.

The rest of the plot involves the frustration the peddler has when he awakes from a nap to find all of his caps missing, having been stolen by monkeys while he slept. He gets frustrated and deals with it with frustration then accidentally stumbles upon a solution. It isn’t a great plot but a small child thinks it’s hilarious. Moreover the reading is simplistic enough that even young children can read and remember parts of it. The best part of the book, I always thought, was that the same person who wrote it also illustrated it. The pictures clearly show a labor of love. They are simple and clean but also show a certain Caps-for-Sale-image3European flair that seemed unusual to a Midwest farmer/salesman’s daughter.

This book has had over two million sales throughout the years, which is just amazing. It clearly spoke to children everywhere. I know it’s sacrilege to say it, but I never read Dr. Seuss as a child. I didn’t get to read it until I was a teen. I wasn’t allowed. My mother didn’t like that Dr. Seuss books contained words that were “made up” and not real English words. She wanted her children to be readers and to learn to love books that were above them and not below them. She wanted them to push us past the world we lived in, which was an existence in poverty, to a higher plane where education and learning were more important than anything else. As such, making sure that the stories were interesting and had moral and ethical considerations was vital. This book showed a real man trying to make a real living and not doing very well at it. He did his job in an unusual way and encountered unusual circumstances. There were a lot of lessons in this little book, but mainly the basics of how to read real words in English. That’s the best lesson of all for a child.

Caps For Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina

Day 23: My Dream Job

If I could have any job and could live my life over, I would have been a baker/caterer. It sounds silly, but I think it’s my dream job. It’s what my parents would have called “an honest living,” one where you bakery_in_the_morningproduce a product and get paid for said product, where you work with your hands creating something that someone else appreciates. I’d say that was their definition of an “honest days’ work.”

If was, in fact, something my mom and I thought about doing, and we thought about it seriously. She had been an institutional cook for some years, cooking in nursing homes and drug treatment centers for over one hundred people a day. She was good at it and had many recipes designed for large groups that were delicious, nutritious and relatively inexpensive to make. I had the baking chops in the family. I had learned to bake under the watchful eye of my father’s mother and sister. She had taught me to peel an apple with a real knife at the age of five (NOT recommended). I have great memories of stretching out strudel dough on her huge kitchen table and marveling at the wonders of it. I mean, it’s just flour and water, and when it’s put together with the right combination of fat and sugar, it makes the most amazing and delicious things you can imagine.

I have some friends who are florists and would, on occasion, assist them with their deliveries during the busiest times of the year. That was a great thing to do because every time you made a delivery, you’d be forkgreeted by someone with a giant smile on their face. People are seldom unhappy to receive flowers or baked goods. Think about it. Is it possible to be unhappy while eating cake? It’s cake! It’s the very definition of happiness, isn’t it? Or is it just flour and sugar and eggs and vanilla in the correct proportions?

Food is the great equalizer. It’s something we need to sustain us, but if it’s done well as the French do, food is an experience. It’s an adventure of delight or as is the case when Mr. Jackson does the cooking, the great unknown. So I think for the honesty of it, the fun of it, the ability to make people happy and give people an adventurous ride, being a baker/caterer would be my ultimate job in a lifetime. Of course, I’m too old actually to do it and would probably end up in a hospital if I ever attempted to do it, but it’s nice to have a dream.

Day 22: Someone who Inspires Me

Twins in Clear Lake - CopyMom. My mom was incredible. She was the bravest person in the world, in my eyes. She was a double amputee, having lost her legs to diabetes. Everyone who knew her could see how brave she was, how she fought to maintain her dignity and grace under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. She tried to make it seem as if not having legs was “no big deal” when, in fact, it was a huge deal all day every day.

She was in pain all the time and not some measly small amount of pain like “I have a headache”-kind of a pain but excruciating pain. She had the kind of pain that would and should have knocked her out cold. She took pain medications that should have knocked her out cold. She was on them all: Oxycodone, Oxycotin, Oxy-this and Oxy-that and Demerol and the list goes on and on. She was on the big hitters, but she went about her life like nothing was wrong. I made sure she had what she needed when it was needed and that her supply of pain dope continued without ceasing to keep her life as comfortable as possible, but she knew pain. She had that kind of pain, but she’d do everything in her power to make sure her neighbor got help getting her groceries or that someone who needed help doing laundry would get it. She would check on her neighbors and friends and her sisters to make sure they were well cared for and happy and as healthy as they could be.

She made sure her children were as happy as they could be. She kept a close watch on all of her children, calling us to make sure we did as she’d trained us to do throughout life. She loved her God and prayed daily for a rescue from her pain and suffering. She had kidney failure, which is extremely painful, but she put up with it. When the time came for her to choose to continue the painful life she lived with dialysis or die with grace, she took the escape route. I don’t blame her for doing it. I would have done the same thing in her place. And she died with dignity. I made sure she did. She showed great courage and strength and grace, so much so that she’d leave her doctors in tears. They were amazed at that kind of courage, and so was I. She was the wind beneath my wings in every sense of the word and a remarkable woman. I could never live up to the example she set for me, but by God, every day she inspires me to try.

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