Monday, March 31, 2014

Get A Job!!!

I was in my young fifties when I decided to retire.  I dreamt of lazy mornings, afternoon naps, endless hours of nothingness.
But my husband warned me that the complete halt of my daily routine might be a total shock to my system.  He understood I wouldn’t miss the stress, the commitments, or the harassments I was leaving behind in my old job, but what about the social aspect of my life, the challenge of learning something new on a daily basis, the pleasure I got from living an industrious life.
I needed to ease into retirement, he said.
I was going from working with thousands of people on a daily basis to just him for lunch.  I was involved in the latest trends and information in my field.  I liked working and being productive. He gently told me how much he loved having me at home, twenty-four/seven, taking care of our house, making him lunch and dinner, catching up on all the books and DVDs I had bought over the years and never taken out of their wrappers, BUT he was afraid it would keep me happy for only so long before I would get bored and come to resent the confinements of our life.
I needed to “get out there,” he said.  Find stuff to do.  Make new friends.  Register for classes.  Take up a hobby.  Or start a new career. He was kicking me off the couch.  Launching me into space.  Telling me to get a job.
I resented his advice at first, but now six year later (don’t you dare tell him this), I realize he was right.
At first, I toyed with selling real estate, but soon after I got my license, I decided I wanted to dedicate all the time that entailed to something else – I wanted to write. I found several writing groups and settled into the one that proved the most effective for my needs.  I joined a diet group and a gym and never intended to make friends with the women in these groups, but they befriended me and I was hooked.
Left to my own devices I would be wasting my time on lazy mornings, afternoon naps, and endless hours of nothingness; instead my life is full. I have a weekly routine that fills my retirement with friends and fun and fulfillment.   
I got a job like my husband advised.



Monday, March 24, 2014

The Best Book Club in the Whole Wide World

We might not wear feather boas or glittery tiaras when we meet (though I am thinking of suggesting such at the next meeting), but we have the best time when we get together to discuss our latest chosen tome.
Our group formed one afternoon in the spring of 2011 and though some of the original members have dropped out or moved away, the rest of us have persisted. We have read over twenty-three books in the last three years though meeting on a consistent basis depends on a myriad of facts.  We all have two lives – our daytime filled with family, jobs, and other obligations, and our writing life with all its deadlines, some self-imposed and others dictated by legal contracts.
Though we can bake and hostess with the best, we meet in the evenings at a cool, local coffee shop.  This way we don’t have to worry about adding more stress to our complicated lives and we don’t overstay our welcome.  Our book talks usually end when the employees start turning off lights and stacking chairs onto the empty tables.
We choose a book, pencil it into our calendars, and decide when to meet next.  We give ourselves six to eight weeks because of our other obligations and remind each other as the deadline approaches.  Some read old school – in paperback or hardcover copy, but others read on their iPads, iPhones, or by audio book.
We look at each book from two perspectives.  We study plot, characters, and themes, but because we are writers, we also look at the biz of book writing – studying the craft, the market, and targeted audience.  We dig up what we can about how it sold, its book reviews, and anything we can about the author.
We have purposely covered all genres – YA, classics, and current best sellers, but because the six of us are avid readers and constantly on the lookout for hidden gems, we have read some works that didn’t sell well or ended up in the published slush pile. (Most often, we end up agreeing with the bad reviews.)
In the last twelve months, we read The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian (because of its references to Gatsby), Into the Free by Julie Cantrell (because of its stellar reviews), and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Divergent by Veronica Roth (because of their lucrative movie deals). Over a busy summer we each read a book of our own choice and shared it with the group, and in the fall we each read a different Jane Austen. It was an interesting experiment, but we didn’t get as much out of it as we do when we all read and analyze the same novel. Our next book is non-fiction, a first for us since most of us specialize in fiction.

What makes this the best book club in the whole wide world is not what I have learned about the craft and business of writing.  It is not about the bound books. It is deeper than that.  It is about the bonds we six have formed while commiserating over what we liked and disliked in the books we have read. It’s the discussions that have led to sharing of personal experiences.  It is the friendship shared over a cup of coffee (or a smoothie) and a book, a simple book.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

Love Thy Neighbor

For years I was confused by the bible verse – Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

As a child I was scolded, both at home and at school, if I tarried too long in front of a mirror.  I was chided if someone gave me a compliment, warned against the evils of vanity, pride, and egoism. I grew up embarrassed and ashamed.  How then was I to love others the way I loved myself when I didn’t love myself very much?

Thank goodness for my stubborn streak (or better yet, my resilience); it sheltered the little self-esteem that kept me going.  It questioned why one side of the equation did not equal the other.  How come I could appreciate the innate goodness of another person and not see it in myself?

First, I examined myself, truly looked at who I was when no one was watching (or making fun of me), and I assessed what I liked (and didn’t) about the person called “me.”  I learned to nurture the good before I could nurture anyone else. I had to value who I was before I could truly value others.

Throughout my childhood I took abuse because I was intelligent and smart (two separate traits but they complement each other); I had a strong sense of right and wrong and I defended my stand; I was industrious, wanting more from life than the ordinary.  I wanted a college degree, a career, and a happy, loving life.  All three were a struggle.

Finally, I admitted to myself – vanity, pride, and egoism be damned – all this added up to one thing - I was a good woman.  My faults were outweighed by my strengths.

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  It is easier to give to another when you know that what you have to offer has value.  Your time, your talent, your treasure is valuable, and you chose with whom you share it. It is easier to recognize the potential in others when you see yourself in them.  You relate to their struggle and hesitancy.  It is easier to care for others when you care for yourself.


Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself is easier when your soul flourishes with love. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Five Things I Love to Hate


1.     Kale – and all those other odd-ball vegetables that were not part of my dinner plate until Dr. Oz showcased them on his program. They are hard to like. I’ve learned to stew kale with onions, garlic, and chicken stock, and it tastes okay, but it will NEVER replace the affection I feel for a can of Del Monte corn swimming in a stick of melted butter. 
2.    Reality TV – no, no, and no.  I am not interested in watching people prostitute their private lives for the sake of TV entertainment, unless of course, we start televising the lives of our elected politicians.  Now there is an intriguing idea. 
3.    Politics – and the shysters that run our government.  I usually vote for the candidate with the least amount of dirt and the most amount of integrity (or what passes for a semblance of it). Too bad we can’t stew them with onions and garlic in chicken stock to make them more palatable.  
4.    Exercise – and dieting and a slow metabolism and aging – all the stuff that makes it difficult for me to enjoy my golden years with a doughnut in one hand and a diet soda in the other. I deserve living the last third of my life without measuring every step, bite, and fat gram. I know it beats the alternative – fossilizing, wrinkling, and dying, but – geez – do people really think “kale chips” are a viable substitute for Ruffles?
5.    Annual physical exams. You know which I mean – pelvic exams, mammograms, and especially colonoscopies.  Those intrusive exams where people half my age look, inspect, and poke at body parts that I usually cover with underwear, anatomy that no one should trespass without a frank discussion about contraceptives and a firm marital commitment. I know they are necessary, but really?  I have no idea why Income Tax Returns came to mind here among the discussion of colonoscopies, but it seemed to fit here best, among uncomfortable, annual physical exams.  

I have many more things I love to hate, but I shall save them for a future blog. To be continued . . . . 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Bake-Off Femme Fatale

Almost every Tuesday I bake.  It’s become “my thing.”  One, HoneyBunch has a sweet tooth, and two, his all-male, barbershop choir meets on Tuesday nights, and they ask members to contribute to “the coffee break” that is held halfway through their practice.

The average member is in his 80’s, so a vast majority of them are widowed.  Some of those who still have wives live on restricted diets or at the mercy of the food at their assisted living homes. All the men look forward to the coffee break more than they care about getting their four-part harmony in sync.

At first, HB would stop at a grocery store on his way to the choir practice and buy a package of cheap cookies, but then I started doubling a recipe while baking for the home and he took a home-baked good as his contribution.

Over time the men have come to expect it.  HB says a welcome committee greets him upon arrival to see what I have sent.  They measure their Tuesday night practice on the promise of the upcoming coffee break. It reminds the single or widowed oldsters of home, when their moms or wives used to bake for them.  It gives those on strict diets or institutional meals a reprieve. 

I have had two marriage proposals (no joke!) and HB had to fend off an angry Tenor who wanted to know what made him so special (as if given a choice I would dump HB for Mr. Grumpy)!

I don’t always have time or patience to make something for Tuesday night.  On those rare occasions, HB might as well have stayed home.  He comes home with complaints and lamentations.

It gets expensive and sometime I don’t want to run to the store to get the ingredients needed to make a yummy, so on those days I throw together whatever I have on hand.  I have made countless versions of bread pudding with nothing more than frozen stale bread and a can of Carnation milk. To flavor it, I might add a handful of toasted pecans, maybe a few old chocolate chips, or some cinnamon sugar, and – voila – I am the bake-off queen.

At the once-a-year Barbershoppers’ get-together, strange men have introduced themselves.  They go on and on about “those powdered sugar cookies that melt in your mouth,” or the “miniature pigs-in-a-blanket that caused a riot.”  Were those “cranberries or dried cherries in that one strudel-like thing I made last November?”

They wink at me, grin. “Could I please make that again?”


HoneyBunch bodyguards me, rescuing me from my ravenous fans. I try to understand their need. They want me for only one thing – my baking.