Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Can't Anyone Make Pies Anymore?

Maybe it was the homegrown vegetables that triggered my taste buds. Maybe it was my cousin's email telling about visiting a U-Pick strawberry patch and making a strawberry pie as good as Big Boy Restaurants could make. Whatever it was, my hunger for pie became an obsession. Cherry. Yum. Or Strawberry, my husband's favorite. Or Rhubarb? Ohhhh my, I'm drooling.

I didn't want to start from scratch, I just wanted a piece of pie. So where to go and get a great piece of homemade pie? Mom has packed up her rolling pin, I can't get her to make me any. So which restaurant?

I called around. Boston Market? "We only serve apple."

Woody's Barbecue? "We have sky-high pies -- coconut cream and peanut butter."

Sonny's Barbecue? "We only have cobbler -- peach and ...."

Getting a bit desperate I thought of Baker's Square -- but that was in Illinois. I don't know where to find one in Florida. And Bob Evans? Again. Where oh where would they be located? Does Too-Jay's make pie? They make to-die-for cakes and pastries. Their carrot cakes should win awards. But I don't know about pies. We're running out of time. If I don't get my husband out of the house soon, we'll be eating frozen pizza.

I'm really missing Mom's homemade pies. Her pie crust seems to have gone the way of the Dodo bird. Even if I can find a pie, the crust is either mushy or tastes more like cookie than pie crust.

We finally decided to head to the locally owned restaurant in downtown Oviedo. The Townhouse Restaurant. It has that old Florida ambiance with waitresses who call you honey and worry about my husband's need to use a cane.

Oviedo, Florida, the only community I know that has a law to protect the free-range chickens who inhabit the center of town. Bless their fowl hearts. Their logo involves chickens and everyone must brake for chickens -- even if the traffic light is green. The Townhouse Restaurant, decorated in chicken paraphernalia, looks like a 50s restaurant with booths, tables covered in checkered oilcloth, and a chalkboard listing the desserts including: strawberry-rhubarb pie.

I couldn't wait and ordered pie and cup of coffee to start the meal. My husband, a man who saves the best for last, ordered a chef's salad first. We both ordered chef's salads. And if you're ever in Oviedo, stop by the Townhouse Restaurant -- it has the most amazing chef's salad with big rolls of ham and turkey. Not gourmet, but definitely fresh and hits the spot. (They also have the best breakfasts around.)

And the pie?

I so wanted to give them Mom's recipe for pie crust. The filling was yummy and as obsessed as I was for a piece of pie, the crust was -- still not that good. Sorry, I really wanted to like it. I really wanted to say nice things about it, but it was a bit soggy and had that cake texture rather than the unleaven crust of Mom's wonderful lard and flour crust. But it was close enough for now.

And, the bad thing about saving the best till last? There often is not room for the best.... So my husband waddled out of the restaurant full of salad, no room for pie. Or maybe he just couldn't chose between the peach cobbler or the blackberry buckle....decisions, decisions.

Anyone want to recommend a restaurant's pie? I'm all ears. I'll be glad to go on a taste testing survey.

For those who feel more industrious than me, below is my cousin's strawberry pie recipe.
Strawberry Pie

Rich Pastry

2 1/4 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup milk

Sift flour with salt and sugar. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles
fine crumbs. Best together egg yolk and lemon juice. Blend in milk. Add to dry
ingredients, tossing with fork into a soft dough. Divide dough in half, form
each into a ball. Roll to desired thickness. Bake at 400 for 8-10 minutes.

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 heaping tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons strawberry Jell-O
Red food coloring (a few drops)
1 quart strawberries, whole
Cook the first four ingredients until thick. Add the strawberry Jell-O and
a few drops of red food coloring; blend well. Remove from heat and allow to
cool. Combine with strawberries. Put into one 9-inch baked rich pastry shell.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fresh veggies

It takes so little to make us happy.

After returning to work following a refreshing holiday, we came home to fix a simple meal and relax. With hamburgers sizzling on the grill -- the new grill, quite a step up from the little $30 charcoal grill bought before Clinton was president -- I picked a few veggies from our garden.

Cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes, green onions, a bit of basil, nothing beats fresh picked. Nothing. And the joy of raising these little goodies. And growing enough to share with neighbors and friends. Priceless.

Our little 4x8-foot garden sets just off the screened in porch. We enjoy looking out at the lush foliage. Just seeing their greenness brings a smile to my face, eases the day's tensions, reminds me that nurturing something or someone rewards the nurturer as much as the object of their attention.

We watch each little flower develop. And then wait for it to turn into 'fruit' or in this case veggies. So big and beautiful, and producing new life that we can eat and grow healthy. What a delightful life cycle.

If only growing healthy was as easy as eating our vegetables.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Angels All Around Us

By Dawn Goldsmith

I’m a firm believer that we share this earth with angels.

But those winged Biblical hosts were far from my thoughts as my two sons, husband and I drove home from a last minute shopping trip. Our minds were on the upcoming camping trip. The boys chatted in the back seat about the big fish they’d bring home. “But I’m not going to eat them. Noooo way,” Nick, our eight-year-old, red-haired picky eater declared.

“Me either,” his pre-teen brother said in one of those rare moments when they agreed on something.

Our car trunk overflowed with fishing gear, foods to cook over a campfire and various necessities from hot dog forks to mosquito repellent. Derrol drove the familiar street that led away from the shopping mall and toward the little farming community where we lived. I sat in the front passenger seat, Nick sat behind me twisting and manipulating his favorite transformer toy. His older brother, Dave sat behind his Dad.

Anticipation filled the car that sunny summer day.

We approached the intersection. I looked at the car and the woman driving it as she slowed for the stop sign at the cross street.

Sometimes I get premonitions. I felt her disconnection and knew she didn’t see us. I opened my mouth to suggest Derrol slow down, when the woman sped up, heading her car directly at us.

My husband hit the horn and the brakes at the same time. There was room for us to miss each other if the woman braked. Instead, she pressed harder on the gas and her car flew into the intersection. We learned later that in her panic, she hit the gas pedal thinking it was the brake.

As most will tell you, time during a crisis slows down and every detail crystallizes like facets of a prism. Our brakes locked and the nose of the car jerked down as the woman’s car slammed into us. Between the sudden stop and the impact, we were thrown around like rag dolls.

My husband gasped for breath and fought the car and the pain as his clavicle snapped. My head grazed the windshield before my seat belt tightened and threw me back in my seat. I felt Nick’s face hit the back of my seat and saw Dave fly forward into Derrol’s seat. Their cries frightened me more than the accident. I struggled to get out of my seat belt. I frantically beat on the door. One thought, one instinct led me, “I must get the boys out of the car.”

I couldn’t help my husband and I couldn’t get the door open. I couldn’t reach my children and we all needed to get out of the car in case it would catch fire or explode.

We were trapped.

Suddenly from out of nowhere a crowd of people surrounded the two cars.

A burly older man wrenched open my door while a man and woman ministered to my husband and helped him and our oldest son out of the car. I rushed to the back door. It stood open filled with a young man who was pulling off the most beautiful multi-colored sweater. He stuffed it under my son’s bloody nose and murmured encouragement.

“You’re OK. It’s just a nosebleed. You’ll be fine. Man, you’re one brave kid.”

Silly how concern over a spoiled garment would even cross my mind. But it did. I even reached to stop him from putting the lovely garment to my son’s face, and then felt ashamed that I would even consider the garment more than my son’s need.

Nick scrambled out of the car and into my arms and the young man with his sweater stepped away. I thought of the Bible story about Joseph and his coat of many colors and above my son’s head, I tearfully thanked him and asked his name.

If he told me, I don’t remember.

In the following minutes paramedics came to check our injuries and police asked questions for their reports. Thankfully no one suffered serious injuries. In the following days we could feel the bump where the two pieces of my husband’s clavicle rejoined and we laughed about our bruises and stiff muscles.

I never again saw the people who ministered to us. For almost three decades, I’ve thought often of the young man in his colorful sweater who selflessly ministered to a frightened child. He earned this mother’s prayers through the years and my heartfelt thanks.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Memorial Day

Our neighbors began partying at noon on Friday. Firecrackers have been popping for weeks as people gear up to celebrate the beginning of summer with the annual Memorial Day weekend festivities.

In the small farming town where I grew up in Ohio, Memorial Day combined graduation, town reunion, barbecued chicken fundraiser for the volunteer fire department and patriotism. The parade, something every kid wanted to participate in, began at 10 a.m. The fire trucks and marching band led the way followed by scout troops, baton twirlers of all ages, antique cars, pony carts, and a military honor guard. After a rousing ceremony at the civil war monument in the center of town -- Fred Sumney delivered the Gettysburg Address, the barbershop chorus sang several patriotic or at least Americana songs, the parade continues.

The whole community lined the streets. People had returned for reunions with classmates, friends, family and neighbors. As we proceeded to the cemetery at the edge of town for another ceremony, we all took the opportunity to greet and get reacquainted with everyone we hadn't seen in the past year.

At the ceremony the marching band played. Usually at least one band member fainted in their wool uniform under the hot May sun. A political celebrity stumping for re-election usually gave some rousing address. If it wasn't a big election year, we heard from the mayor.

One year Mom was the honored grand marshal. They honored her for her years of service as a dispatcher for the volunteer fire department.

When we got to the cemetery, the atmosphere changed as we saw the flags posted on too many graves. There was Dave Cox who joined the Navy and was killed during the Vietnam War. John Hale, a sniper in Vietnam -- what a marksman he was and a heart throb in high school. Carter and Helen Blunden's son Jack lay buried in the cemetery. He died during World War II. The picture on his gravestone will show him forever young. There are more and sadly I don't remember all of them. The 'old' cemetery is filled with Civil War dead.

The cemetery, even a quiet place on Memorial Day, doesn't begin to reflect the horror, pain, fear, suffering and heroism these dead endured to make us free. For a taste of that, we can watch the evening news. Once again a war unfolds and takes the lives of our brave soldiers.

For those fighting on this weekend, we must not forget. Visit Any Soldier to send a package or message to let them know we have not forgotten them and to thank them.

A writing friend and veteran, Linda Swink, has put together a remarkable book "Lest We Forget." It will be published soon. It includes the real people behind the names of military installations such as Camp Pendelton or Fort Hood. There are generals and history making names, but also everyman heroes such as Technician 5th Grade John J. Pinder, Jr. Pinder Barracks in Zirndorf, Germany is named after this valiant soldier from McKees Rocks, PA. He served with the 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division and died June 6, 1944.

His citation includes: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on D-day.... Technician Pinder landed on the coast one hundred yards off shore under devastating enemy machine gun and artillery fire which caused severe casualties among the boatload. Carrying a vitally important radio, he struggled toward the shore in waist deep water. Only a few yards from his craft he was hit by enemy fire and was gravely wounded. Technician 5th Grade Pinder, never stopped. He made shore and delivered the radio. Refusing to take cover afforded, or to accept medical attention for his wounds, Technician 5th Grade Pinder, though terribly weakened by loss of blood and in fierce pain, on three occasions went into the fire-swept surf to salvage communication equipment. He recovered many vital parts and equipment, including another workable radio. On the third trip, he was again hit, suffering machine gun bullet wounds in the legs. Still this valiant soldier would not stop for rest or medical attention. Remaining exposed to heavy enemy fire, growing steadily weaker, he aided in establishing the vital radio communication on the beach. While so engaged this dauntless soldier was hit for the third time and killed....."

So between bites of barbecue or while lounging on the beach, please take a moment to remember the people who are not celebrating -- those on watch, those who died, those who are dedicated to protecting your freedom and mine.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Squirrel Surprise

My cousin MJ and her husband are heading to our house for a visit. They are packing up their 35-foot long luxury motor home and will soon be heading south from their home in Arizona. She has been cleaning and purging, stocking up on food and comfort items for the trip. But before they head out, I just hope her husband checks for squirrel gifts.

They know what I mean. Every RVer knows what I mean. You get a dozen RVers in a room and they will all have at least one squirrel story.

MJ’s most harrowing happened on a trip leaving Arizona and heading to their summer home nestled in a lovely hundred-acre woods in central Ohio. The RV kept speeding along until it became a battle of wills between driver and driven. The only way MJ’s husband could keep the RV from speeding out of control was to drive with his foot on the brake.

When they came to a campground, he slowed enough for MJ to jump out and warn the man in charge that they had a runaway.

“Ask him if he can let us through to a camping spot where I can stop by killing the engine,” he yelled as the RV took off.

The man nodded agreement and he and MJ hopped on his golf cart to lead the way. Her husband tromped on the brakes narrowly missing the building at the campground entrance. He fought the RV like a cow boy breaking a bronco. His behemoth shadowed the little golf cart nearly pushing it along as the man sped down the road to a camping spot.

He pointed at one “I thought I’d give him that one…” but the big RV pushed him past.

“How about this one?” He asked pointing at a spot where her husband was already maneuvering into place before killing the engine and coming to an abrupt stop. He pulled on the emergency brakes and rested his head on the steering wheel.

As soon as he could breathe normally and the campgrounds owner calmed down enough to return to his work, MJ’s husband released the hood. His head and shoulders disappeared within the engine as he tinkered and checked for the malfunction.

A group of kids gathered to ask, “What ya doin mister?” “You sure drive like a lunatic.”

He ground his teeth and kept working. The kids stood silent, watching the stranger tinker with the steaming engine. It wasn’t long before his voice rang through the campgrounds and heads nodded in understanding: “Squirrels!”

MJ’s husband held out his hands dripping with hickory nuts. Squirrels are great little saboteurs.

MJ stored hickory nuts in their garage back home until she would find time to pick the juicy meats out and make cookies and cakes. Squirrels love hickory nuts, too, and stashed a few away for their own use. All was fine until the unsuspecting travelers started back to Ohio. The nuts worked their way down into the manifold causing Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride into the campground.

"Memories! That was one of the scariest," MJ said. "I wonder why we still do it."

Her brother-in-law's squirrel encounter came to a head when he turned the key and started the engine of his motor home. The little critters had put nuts in the engine in such a way that when he started the engine, the fan propelled the nuts right through the radiator. One new radiator later and he learned to check under the hood first.

So, if you’re reading this MJ, just remind your honey to check for squirrel surprises. Can't wait for our visit and to hear of your latest adventures.

Any RVers out there want to share your squirrel stories?

Sugar Cookies

by Dawn Goldsmith

A strong figure from my childhood, Ethel the Cookie Lady, exerts her influences over my life fifty years later. She and her sugar cookies, that is. Ethel, a kind, elderly widow, daughter of the town's doctor, mother of three sons that she outlived, and grandmother of several biological grandkids as well as 'grandma' to a host of community kids. Everyone knew Ethel. In her little house in our small Ohio farming community, she arose extra early once or twice a month and baked dozens and dozens of brown sugar cookies, using a recipe she gleaned from her Aunt Ruth.

Ethel stacked the still-warm golden orbs in her egg basket, an aged woven carry-all with a dark-brown, warm glowing patina created by time and use.

Dressed in her ‘public’ clothes, nylons, fresh pressed cotton dress, a pat of powder on her nose and basket slung over her forearm, she set out from her little house. Along the way Ethel stopped at friends’ houses — my parents’ house included. There she left a dozen cookies, a few loving touches, kind words and news of friends. Her smile lingered in our thoughts just as her lavender sachet scented the air, surprising us long after she trudged down the sidewalk to her next stop.

Long after she died, I resurrected her with each batch of fresh-baked cookies.

My sons associated her cookies with Ethel stories and often requested both the sweets and the stories. I felt her gentle hugs and feathery kisses as I scooped fragrant cookies from the oven.

I sought other ways to include sugar cookies in our house.

My husband and I, in a fit of grandiose ideas, bought a fixer-upper. We took pity on this little house that teetered on the brink of demolition. If we didn’t buy it, someone would tear it down. Josie Hall lived there and died there, taking her last breath after 98 years. The house’s history was as old as the farming community that had sprung up around it.

Yet for the past few decades elderly women resided in this elderly house. Both deteriorated. The windows rattled, the sills rotted, the floor joists in the front room had given way. The hard wood floors listed at an odd angle reminiscent of some carnival ride where people rode round and round on pieces of burlap until disappearing through a big hole.

The kitchen bore layers of grease and very little paint. Yet, with idyllic dreams of making a home and saving a house, we set to work.

After years of drywall dust and money spent on things that don’t show — plumbing, electrical wiring, studs, floor joists and sub-floorings, we arrived at the day when I could begin to decorate.

What color paint did I chose? Sugar Cookie.

While my husband painted, I baked Ethel’s recipe. We toasted the newly painted walls with sugar cookies. For a decade we covered scuffs and scars on the living room walls with the same toasty brown sugar cookie paint.

Years later, with children grown, our fixer-upper renovated, we moved into a different house that needed to feel like home. I shopped for paint for a small bedroom soon to become my new home office. I didn’t know what colors to chose.

It shouldn’t look like a bedroom, although that’s what it had always been. I sought a décor that fit such words as “sophisticated” and “smart.” Words that never described me, but maybe with the right décor, they would.

I found a bouquet of silk flowers sporting a mix of colors that I admired. Champagne beige, khaki green, vibrant red, dusky purple, rosy apricot. I took the faux flowers to the paint store where the head of the paint department mixed paint to match my bouquet. I decided to try a faux painting design to go with my faux flowers.

Steve the paint-store guy made no judgments, just worked with me to find the exact color to match the hydrangea in my bouquet -- a cross between a champagne and an apricot.

With anticipation, I brought home my cans of paint and swiped the roller across one wall. The first room that I have decorated just for me, using only my own imagination and yearnings, began to come together. I anxiously applied the paint. It rolled on smoothly and I stood back to admire that first strip of color. Flamingo something the sample said.

But as I stared at the wall, I knew.

Twenty years later, Sugar Cookie is now called Flamingo something.

I feel the need to bake.

Recipe: Aunt Ruth Sugar Cookies
by Ethel Helser

3 cups brown sugar 1 cup sour milk (or buttermilk) 1 1/4 cups shortening
(or spry) 3 eggs 1 tspn. cream of tartar 1 tablespoon baking soda 6 cups flour
(or more) 1 tspn. salt 1 tspn. nutmeg (scant and optional) vanilla (about 1
tspn) bake: 350 degree oven for 5/6 minutes on each rack for a total of 10-12
minutes Mix, roll out on floured surface, cut with round cutter, about 2-3
inches diameter (drinking glass works). Good with frosting or sprinkled with
sugar while still warm.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Writing Personal Essays

by Dawn Goldsmith

“We don’t forget, thought Mma Ramotswe. Our heads may be small, but they are as full of memories . . . thousands and thousands of memories, of smells, of places, of little things that happened to us and which come back, unexpectedly, to remind us who we are. And who am I? I am Precious Ramotswe, citizen of Botswana, daughter of Obed Ramotswe who died because he had been a miner and could no longer breathe. His life was unrecorded; who is there to write down the lives of ordinary people?
--pg. 15 “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” by Alexander McCall Smith.

I, like Mma Ramotswe, am the daughter of a hard working man whose life went unrecorded. Except now, I write my memories that include not only my father, but my mother, brother, relatives, friends, acquaintances and a bygone era of small town life in the 1950s. Two things happen when I write these memories — 1. The people live again and I am surrounded by their words and smiles.

I can feel a touch on my shoulder and a familiar voice from long ago, will say, “Don’t forget dear — tell them about the day Ursula came to your door and little Nick, no more than five years old, mistook her for that movie character, ET. His eyes got so big, but he remembered his manners.”

Or I’ll smell a tonic that transports me to Don’s barber shop on High Street. I remember the farmers who came to his shop directly from the fields. He combed weed seed and leaf hoppers out of their hair before he could start to clip. Then he’d watch as his precise cut was covered by a sweaty, grease-smeared John Deere or DeKalb hat as his customers returned to their work. I remember the barber falling in love again after the death of his wife. Such a tragedy leading to a happy ending. It gives me hope.”

2. My memories lead readers to their own memories and often give them the same gifts that my memories give me. My readers and I garner hope from Don the Barber, we grasp again the fine line between reality and fantasy through Nick’s eyes and we enjoy the reunion that memories bring with lost lives and loved ones.

Never think your memories aren’t important enough to write about. Everything has a story and a string that connects it to the universe. Just think how an anecdote can connect to a theme that others will quickly embrace. For example, when newly married, my husband watched me knitting. Two weeks later, he presented me with a potholder he had knit in free moments at work in a rubber factory. He made it from discarded items, created his own knitting needles out of bolts and turned away requests from his fellow workers, who asked him to make them for their wives.

Lots of universal themes spring from this little story. Recycling discarded items into something useful, even a how-to make knitting needles out of bolts. But the theme that resonated with me was how my football playing, factory working husband taught me about gender roles and when to ignore them. Five hundred words later, several re-writes and tweaking, I sold the essay to Christian Science Monitor. I also sold one-time rights to Chocolate for Woman’s Soul anthology. KnitLit editor, Linda Roghaar, saw my essay at Christian Science Monitor’s website and contacted me. She bought the rights to reprint it in her own anthology “Knit Lit Too.” And I retain the rights to use it in my own anthology or resell it yet again to another market.

One little memory, no research, and I’ve sold it three times. Is it enough money to retire on? No. But personal essays feel like found money to an old newspaper and magazine writer who is accustomed to pulling together topics that require interviews, exact quotes, research and experts as well as photos to create a product.

And, best of all, the memory lives on.

Furry Wings

Photo by Dawn Goldsmith
Spring arrives on the wings of feathery house hunters.
They flutter against my bedroom window.
The starling couple consider a cozy corner
beneath the window’s awning as a possible nesting site.
My cat, my companion, watches the wings’ rhythmic beating
against the screen, bidding them a plaintive good-by
when the couple flies away to inspect another property in the evergreen tree.

His golden feline eyes search the room and widen
when he spies a small powdery miller resurrected by warmer temperatures.
As the small insect swoops and swirls around the bedroom,
the cat eyes him, switches his tail, and ack-acks his longing for a set of furry wings.
--by Dawn Goldsmith

Previously published in Green Tricycle

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Solutions can be part of the problem

By Dawn Goldsmith

We were young, too young to be married and certainly too young to be parents, but there we were, trying to make the best of a union that bookies would have gladly bet against.

We had love and passion, but our income was pathetic. I drew on my ability to type 125 words per minute and found a clerk position in a county children’s services agency.

I have a kind face, ready smile and was raised to serve other and make them comfortable; I was perfect as a receptionist. They locked me in a room with parents whose children had been taken away from them. I looked across my desk at wife abusers, child abusers, drug and alcohol abusers, and now and then at a child wondering what he did wrong.

I knew with a certainty when they closed the door, which separated me from the social workers and bookkeeper and agency director, that I was expendable. If an angry father rushed in to rescue his child, I would be the first one he aimed his anger at and if armed, his weapon.

I sat behind a metal desk, beneath a pastoral picture of a golden hair child and looked out at a room of dark, angry, frustrated and confused people. Every person had a story. Every person had an excuse, some better than others.

The family stories made more sense to me than the bureaucracy I represented.

The Hispanic woman, who could barely speak English, lost her two daughters to the foster care system. They were lovely little girls who inherited their mother’s dimples, smile and huge dark eyes. They adored their mother and she couldn’t keep her hands off of them.

Sometimes families came in and it was obvious that they rarely touched their children, were unfamiliar with showing affection. But this mother’s hands knew the dance of love and her fingers constantly touched and stroked her girls. Her children casually leaned against her and didn’t stiffen when her arms encircled them.

They sent a homemaker to her house to teach her to clean and cook. The mother didn’t understand what was wrong with her house. She didn’t understand what was wrong with feeding children potato chips and pop.

The homemaker reported that there was no improvement. The social worker filed with the courts to take away the daughters. They were eventually adopted. I don’t remember if they remained together or not.

As I typed the reports at top speed, I searched for reason, for abuse, for neglect that threatened these children. At the conclusion of the report, the social worker wrote, “Beautiful children, highly adoptable.”

A friend called me late one night, hysterical, and beseeching. “I know you work for the children’s services. Help us, please, help us. The county just took my granddaughter away and put her in foster care.”

I knew the family well. I went to elementary and junior high and high school with the mother and the father. I knew they were getting a divorce and I knew the personalities. The father wanted custody and made a report against his ex-wife accusing her of child abuse. Unfounded charges, eventually the caseworker concluded, but it took almost a year for them to close the case and return the daughter to her mother. The child's scars earned in foster care don’t show, unless you look into her eyes or notice the way she clings to her mother.

The boy with blue eyes and skin that looked like cafe latte stood before me in his boyish innocence while the social worker showed a colleague the child’s scars. The rope burns around his neck and wrists and ankles, the cigarette burns dotting every area of his body, including his genitals. How was the social workers invasion any kinder than what he had already been through?

Why, I wondered, did the system seek ways to return this child to a home where a mother and her boyfriend took turns abusing him? The social worker went on maternity leave, did not return to work after her child was born. The blue-eyed boy’s case was closed. He was returned to his mother and her boyfriend.

I looked into the world-weary eyes of that four-year-old and longed for my two-year-old son who didn’t understand why I thrust him into the arms of day care workers and walk away from him. Their eyes, so similar in their frustration and confusion haunted me.

I resigned my job. Not that day, but soon after the child’s last visit to the office.

I took my purse out of the bottom drawer of my desk, turned in my keys and went home to a place where I was not expendable. I went to a place where I had a job to do, that I alone could do best.

I don’t regret my choice. Thirty years later, my husband and I know that a family can live on a little money as long as there is love and yes, passion.

But, I wonder about the children whose lives were touched by a bureaucracy that did harm while trying to do good. If I had stayed, could I have made a difference? The few devoted caseworkers that dedicated their lives to protecting these children: Jackie, Pat, Charlotte.... The number is small. They need help. They need help.

Don't Quit!

A recent whine on the Internet Writing Workshop list elicited a response that really brought me to my knees. One of my favorite poems appeared in my inbox as an answer to my 'why bother' feelings. Most writers experience those feelings of "Who am I kidding, I'm no writer," on a regular basis. It has been my turn for the past week or two.

Yet, the poem reminded me how close I could be to doing something meaningful -- if I just don't quit.

Another dear friend, years ago, gave me a mug with that poem on it. Another life when I worked as a secretary for a stable of law college faculty, he presented me with the mug and poem. He didn't realize how that urged me on. I need to unpack that mug and put it front and center on my desk so I can be reminded daily to "Don't Quit."

I can't begin to say it as well as the anonymous author of the poem. So, I'll just post the poem here:

Don't Quit
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit-
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a fellow turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out.
Don't give up though the pace seems slow -
You may succeed with another blow.
Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up
Whe he might have captured the victor's cup;
And he learned too late when the night came down,
How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out -
The silver tint in the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It might be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit -
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.


Friday, May 18, 2007

My garden, my home

Photo by Dawn Goldsmith

We are trying to grow a family, maintain a family. But hundreds of miles separate my husband and I from our sons.

Missing my babies, my now grown sons, hits me suddenly and I look for something familiar. Something I can hold on to. Something that brings me close to them, reminds me of the places we called home when they were babies, and boys and still sticking their heads in the refrigerator looking for a snack, or dropping their wet towels on the bathroom floor or sitting at the kitchen table wanting to talk with their mom.

No, they did not spend time with me working in the garden. They avoided that as strenuously as they avoided eating many of the veggies we grew. But the garden itself is a familiar place.

The green onions in my Florida garden look like the ones we grew when we lived in Ohio or Illinois. The green peppers, tomatoes, green beans -- they stand in lovely rows as they did in each garden we planted through the years regardless of geography.

And looking at those plants, smelling their individual scents, touching their leaves and fruit -- I am transported to wherever my boys reside at whatever stage they were at. At whatever stage I am missing them the most at that particular moment.

I miss my babies. My men. My family. I need something that will give me hope that someday we can all be together, reconnected. Sharing memories and making some new ones.

The tomatoes are getting big. The beans are blooming. The cucumber plants have baby pickles. And all of this growth and change and ripening gives me hope. This moment shall pass and good things, good times, family times lie ahead, if I am just patient and continue to nurture what is growing right now.

I can't take my eyes off my garden, even when tears blur the image and my heart longs for my children. The tomatoes are getting big, the beans are blooming, baby pickles grow on the cucumber plants and someday soon my sons and I will hold each other close. Someday soon.

The tomatoes are growing big....

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Historical Literature Award

The Patrick D. Smith Literature Award, named for the three-time Pulitzer Prize winning Florida native of the same name, is awarded to an author with outstanding writing about Florida. Smith is probably best known for his novel: “A Land Remembered.”

At the 2002 Annual Meeting of the Florida Historical Society Patrick D. Smith was named the "Greatest Living Floridian." Smith acknowledged the honor, but refused the $5,000 prize. Since then, the society has used the money to endow the "Patrick D. Smith Award for Florida Literature" with a $200.00 stipend each year.

This year’s winner is author Suzanne Williams, chosen for her historical suspense novel “Paper Woman” (Whittler’s Bench Press, ISBN 0-9785265-1-1-, $19.95,

Williams, who now lives in Raleigh, N.C., strives to make her novels as historically accurate as possible, bringing women into a history that previously omitted them.

The award will be presented in Clearwater, FL, on May 24 at the luxurious Belleview Biltmore Resort.

I will be interviewing Suzanne for a future blog. So stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Real Men

by Dawn Goldsmith
(previously published in Christian Science Monitor Home Forum)

He loves me. I know he loves me, but when my husband, Derrol, agreed to accompany me to a quilt show on a Midwestern May perfect-for-fishing day, I got an inkling of the level of his devotion.

He had second thoughts while hunting for a parking space in the crowded lot. He watched the clusters of women streaming toward the entrance and muttered, “I’ll be the only guy there.”

And walking in the front door of the local community college, he issued an admonition, “Don’t you dare ask me to discuss these quilts with you.”

I agreed to his terms, knowing how little he liked to analyze anything except accounting reports and spreadsheets. I grabbed his arm and joined the queue of women, anxious to soak up the display of fine fabric art and imaginative interpretations in cloth. Maybe my enthusiasm was contagious; for it didn’t take him long to stop dragging his feet and start eyeing the various ‘blankets,’ as he called them.

“That one’s not bad,” he volunteered.

“I like the colors,” he said, admiring a vibrant black and orange creation.

We strolled up and down the corridors bordered on both sides by bed-size pieces of art that not only provided beauty but a more basic offering of warmth. What other kind of artwork can wrap around its admirers in a fabric hug?

I ohhed and ahhhed over the tiny stitches, more than 16 to an inch. I stood back and leaned forward while examining the fabric, color choices, intricate quilting designs and perfectly executed piecing and appliqué. I marveled at the teeny tiny pieces of fabric sewn in place, the perfect place, and held there by invisible hand stitches. Thousands of stitches in each quilt. I saw the same pattern used by various quilters and admired the totally unique quilts that sprang from the same triangles and squares, but took on one of a kind personalities through color and quilting, borders and appliqués. My favorite geometric quilts held Derrol and me captive as they performed their illusions. One minute we saw ocean waves, with a turn of the head or a squint of an eye, the pieces broke apart like a kaleidoscope and presented another design.

We had almost completed our tour of the auditorium when a PA system announced the guest speaker, California master quilter Patty McCormick would soon begin her presentation. She would speak about her role as a ‘quilt expert’ during the filming of Steven Spielberg’s movie “How to Make an American Quilt.”

“Do you mind?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Sure, whatever you want. Any excuse to sit down.”

We sat in the last row of chairs gathered around a makeshift riser and a backdrop of quilts that had been featured in the movie. I couldn’t wait to examine the colorful appliquéd quilt, the central figure of the movie, and I admired the simplicity of the African picture quilt, but my eyes kept returning to the black velvet embroidered baby quilt. The thought, “I could do that,” kept running through my head like a streaming tape until she began to speak.

Patty, a middle-aged pixie, reeled us in with her energy, humor and ease. We relaxed and listened, laughed and applauded.

“Let’s meet her. I’d love to get a picture of her and me. Would you mind?” I asked Derrol at the conclusion of her speech.

He jumped up, shouldered the camera case and said, “Let’s go.”

We headed toward the front where the speaker and author of “Pieces of An American Quilt” signed and sold copies. By the time we worked our way through the crowd Patty had stepped away from the table and was mingling, attempting to find the exit and escape. I tentatively asked, “Ms. McCormick, would you care if we took a picture?”

“I would love it,” she crowed and threw herself into my husband’s arms. “I saw you at the back of the room and so appreciated your smiles,” she said grinning up into my husband’s beaming face. “It takes a brave man to spend the day alone with hundreds of women.”

I hesitated, gaped, then reached for the camera and asked them to pose.

Patty wrapped her arm around behind him and leaned against his chest, snuggling into his arm that automatically embraced her just like he held me. She lingered a moment after the flash and said, “I enjoy seeing a man who appreciates quilts.”

“Oh, yeah. Quilts are great,” my husband responded, not moving.

I took another picture.”

Monday, May 14, 2007

Candles and Prayers

Prayers by Candlelight

When my cousin went to the doctor for a ‘follow-up’ exam, I lit a candle.

Maybe I watched too many old movies where pious women wearing scarves knotted beneath their chins, knelt and crossed themselves. Then they lit candles and prayed while statues of saints watched from the walls.

The ‘follow-up’ was to a regular exam that had followed a not so regular surgery to remove an impressive (size-wise) tumor from my petite, thin-as-a-rail cousin.

She has grandbabies to hold and daughters who have turned into delightful companions. She has a husband who retired and wants to do fun things like travel and shop. She needs her health.

So I turn to an antique towel stand originally used by my mother and her parents. It had once held a stoneware pitcher and bowl. Cotton towels hung on a rack behind it. It seems appropriate that this former cleansing center now serves as an altar in my home. This day I lit a vanilla scented candle. A Mary candle in honor of my cousin. It reminds me all day to pray for her healing. Every time the flame flashed, I turned and said her name and asked God for healing.

I am not religious. But I believe in prayer and I believe in God.

I light candles.

Candles are holy. I see God more clearly in dawn’s light and candlelight. The beginning of each new day causes me to celebrate and say thank you. Candlelight brings me peace and one-ness with my maker.

Is Mary healed? We waited for the biopsy results.

Her daughter phoned. Tears flooded her voice. My faith shriveled into a tight ball in the pit of my stomach and my brain hammered, “No, no, no, no. NOOOOO.”

She choked out words around her tears, “It’s good news. Good news. There is no cancer. It’s gone.”

My prayers turned from please, to thank you. The only two phrases necessary when talking to God at times when the need seems bigger than words: please and thank you.

She received healing, whether through my prayers or her own or just from the generosity of a loving God or a fluke of nature or a medical misdiagnosis. I know that she has realigned her life’s priorities.

I set down the phone and turned once again to my alter. With a prayer I bent over the flame and snuffed it with my breath. The vanilla smoke wafted upwards. Along with the whispy trail, I sent a whispered, "Thank you."

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A new favorite: Music and Lyrics

My husband (Derrol) and I enjoyed a quiet (cheap) evening watching Lyrics and Music starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, just out on DVD.

Full disclosure: my husband doesn’t care for most chick flicks but amazingly he enjoys Hugh Grant movies. Maybe it is the self-deprecating, tongue in cheek performances, the clutzy but big hearted characters like in Notting Hill (Roger Michell, director) with Julia Roberts, and now as Alex Fletcher in Lyrics and Music.

I’ve been cheering for Drew Barrymore ever since she was that adorable little sister in ET (Steven Spielberg, director). And I’m old enough to have watched her ‘ancestors’ in their old films as reruns on TV. My mother is old enough to have watched them in theaters for real – even the silent movies. But that’s another story. Just let it suffice that I feel like a friend of the family.

Grant and Barrymore are endearing and play their characters with a lighthearted sincerity spiced with a touch of gotcha. Not taking themselves too seriously, they looked like they had fun with these quirky parts.

The relationship seems all wrong at the beginning. Both characters have histories that were keeping them living in the past. They help each other through to the other side while their relationship grows and turns into something we were both hoping would work out. That and the catchy little songs and the tropes – like her clicking her pen, his hip move, the has-been battle, the over watered plants, just drew us in like we were ‘in’ on the joke. Barrymore's character, Sophie Fisher was a bit spacey, but not dumb. She and Grant's character, Alex Fletcher, made a believable creative team.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen Brad Garrett as a supporting actor, but Kristen Johnston made a great 'big' sister. Haley Bennett fulfilled every expectation as the nympho diva Cora Corman. Much to my surprise I enjoyed Grant’s musical performances, not such a surprise, I like him in tight pants.

After the end and the credits begin to roll, the story continues with some of the best pot shots at old rock 'n roll stars, the music business and the characters. We totally enjoyed each little balloon caption with comments about hip replacements, chicken cutlets only 74 calories, Cora’s wedding…. Wonderful tidbits.

I may just have to buy this gem. It is the kind of movie that calls for another viewing, and another, and another. Now we can have a Hugh Grant weekend: Notting Hill, Love Actually (our all time favorite) and now Lyrics and Music.

If you want a second opinion, check out IMDb –Earth’s Biggest Movie Database for their review.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I Just Want to Share

My son phoned me from work.

“Mom, hi, I’m taking a break and just read this great description. I just had to share it with you. . . .”

If he hadn’t said another word, he had already blessed me in more ways than I ever expected.

As a Mom it made my heart grow two sizes, like that old Grinch story he liked as a child.

He wanted to talk to his Mom.

After all of the things I put him through while learning about this mothering stuff. He’s lucky to be alive and I’m fortunate that he’s talking to me at all. (I’m thinking of the time I zipped his naked little body into his Dr. Denton sleepers and part of him got caught in that zipper’s nasty little teeth. A sensitive part of him. He still winces when he hears a zipper).

His words warmed me as a reader. I lived most of my life in a world of non-readers. My parents worked hard. Dad worked long hours in a steel mill; Mom’s idea of valuable reading began and ended with the Bible. My husband despised reading, it ranked right up with cleaning sink drains or taking out the garbage. Even my friends would rather watch videos than open a book. When my sons were born, the first thing I introduced them to, after diapers and mother’s milk, were words and books.

As a writer, my son’s words fell like a balm on abraded skin. We live too much of our lives in isolation. The opportunity to discuss books is like a gift from the gods. To have my own son make a special effort to call me from work and say, “I just read this great description. . . .”

I almost cried.

I remembered all of the times when he’d say a word, a perfectly placed word. Regardless of what we were in the midst of — verbal combat, cooking lessons, bedtime, or unzipping him from his pajamas -- I’d comment, “Great word. Excellent. I like that word. Perfect.”

Sometimes I’d hear him make the same comment back to me. But, it wasn’t until he called me from his job to share a descriptive passage that he made the jump into sharing written words with me.

Bless you Dean Koontz. Bless my son’s boring job that gave him time to read. And bless that unique descriptive passage that prompted him to pick up the phone.

“Listen,” he said. “Like a herd of snails headed for a gourmet restaurant.”

We laughed at the visual image of a herd of snails, of someone herding snails, of their little faces reflecting the horror of their fate, their antenna dipping low. Their even slower one-footed progress. Can you drag one foot?

The passage may not be a literary giant standing beside mutterings from Anna Karenina or Oliver Twist or Lord Polonius, but for me they are golden words.

It was a moment. An interlude in a life that passes too quickly. A speck on the grand scale of war and peace. But, it ranks up there with his first steps, first words and first car.

Someone said that just when kids get to be interesting people, they leave home. I hope my son, who has turned into a fascinating young man, will continue to call home and say, “Hey Mom, I just want to share with you.”

Happy Mothers Day! And I hope you all receive as sweet a gift as I did. "I just want to share...."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Dancing Horses, Who Knew?

Do horses like music? I can’t imagine such a beautiful, perfect animal not also appreciating a catchy tune. Thanks to YouTube, here is a video of Anky van Grunsven, the queen of Kur, giving a gold medal performance. I think the horse is into the music, don’t you?

I’m hearing from owners and horse lovers that, yes, horses are natural music lovers. From a horse in Indianapolis who dances to Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” to Kur (Dressage set to music,) and equestrian ballet, horses have been jamming.

Anotoine de Pluvinel choreographed and Robert Ballard provided the score for “Le Carrousel du Roi,” an equestrian ballet in 1610, which was part of the engagement celebration for Louis XII of France and Ann of Austria.

In 2000, crowds appreciated a re-enactment of Le Carrousel du Roi sponsored by Kate van Orden, assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

In a more modern interpretation than Le Carrousel du Roi, JoAnna Mendl Shaw put together dancers, horses and riders for her Equus Project. On their website, the concept is described as “a unique form of choreographic investigation that partners dancers with horses and their riders." It "merges the artistry of dance with the athletics of equestrianism.” They are teaching two clinics in June: A June 9-10th clinic for Equestrians and June 18-22nd, a Dancers' Intensive that introduces dancers to the artistry of dancing with a four-legged (equine) partner. Find out more on their website.

Janet Marlow's Relaxation Music for Horses: seems to be the recording of choice in many horse barns. Feel free to add your opinion to whether horses like music or not.

P.S. Note the addition of cinnamon roll recipes on the previous blog for Wednesday, May 9, matey.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Not Your Grandma's Quilts

Quilts are my heritage. The women in my family have been making quilts even before they made the trek from Switzerland to the United States.

Mom spent the 1930s, the Great Depression, making pies for hobos and the constant stream of hungry, unemployed men who walked past the farm where she lived with her parents. When not feeding someone, she stitched flower garden, star of Bethlehem, and double wedding ring quilt patterns out of assorted fabric scraps for her dowry.

She taught me to stitch squares together and make a doll quilt before I was old enough to write my name. Since then I have written about quilts more than I have stitched them. Quilting and quilts became popular again in the 1970s, and each year brings a bouquet of unexpected new quilt techniques, patterns and equipment. The rotary cutter probably did as much for quiltmaking enabling quilters to cut faster and more accurately.

The quality of work in the quilts exhibited at even your little county fair or hometown shows is phenomenal. Quilts, considered a country craft or folkart, have entered the art world. Fabric art quilts are not my grandma’s quilts. Now quilts hang on the wall as often as they cover beds.

I wrote an article for Quilters World magazine about activist quilters and their art quilts that make a statement. I fell in love with the exhibit, Changing the World One Thread at a Time, curated by Thelma Smith. The men and women who made these quilts believe in voicing their opinions in cloth, but do not skimp on the quality.

And don’t forget Hollis Chatelain’s award winning fabric art. I fell in love with the faces, the mothers and children, in Hollis’ quilts. If you enjoy machine quilting – her skills will blow you away. Look at this.

Last night I discovered a new website and quiltmaker, Nancy Eha, who creates the most amazing beaded quilts.

And don’t forget Eileen Doughty who introduced me to activist artists and Thelma Smith's exhibit. Eileen's landscape quilts provide a new perspective. She started out as a cartographer, so that may explain the new view.

If you travel to Houston the last week of October, check out the mother of all quilt shows, the International Quilt Festival. The best of the best, new cutting edge merchandise and fabrics and techniques are unveiled here. And quilters from around the world congregate, teach and take classes, exchange ideas and best of all -- they talk quilts.

The quilting community is a happening place, the new art scene, but best of all, it is still a sea of friendly faces who make items whose heritage include warmth, comfort and family.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

What's on your mind, matey?

Have you noticed that whatever is on your mind shows up all around you?

When the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie came to theatres, my husband and I checked it out. We watched the near three hour movie, squirming a bit before the big finale, but didn't realize how saturated with pirates, lore and treasure we had become.

In addition to the movie, the advertising blitz for the movie, and the merchandise everywhere, there was my husband's favorite joke. He tells and retells a favorite until everyone he knows has heard it at least five times.

"What's a pirate's favorite restaurant?"
He pauses, his blue eyes twinkle, a smile twitches. Next his face scrunches up in his version of pirate aplomb as he delivers the answer, "Arrrrrrrrbys."

And then there is the pirate's favorite singing group - CC Rrrrrrrrrrr. And the favorite place a pirate shops for toys: Toys Rrrrrrrrrrrrrr Us. The piratical utterance "Aargggggg" reverberates.

Pirates lingered in our thoughts and resurfaced during our Sunday morning ritual of pastries and politics. After more than thirty years together, my husband and I have become decidedly comfortable and sedentary. Sundays we savor every bite of a large bakery fresh cream cheese frosted cinnamon roll, sip fresh-ground coffee brewed just the way we like it and indulge in a string of political TV news programs.

Our three cats know they must get fed before Tim Russert starts talking, or they're on their own until Chris Matthews, Bob Schieffer and George Stephanopoulos say goodbye.
I can't remember a time when Bob Schieffer was not on television bringing us news from Washington. He's covered every presidential campaign since 1972 and became CBS network's chief Washington correspondent in the '80s.

But between bites of cinnamon roll and sips of coffee, my spouse and I saw him in a new light. That particular Sunday, Bob had interviewed the ambassador of Syria and another from Israel and was asking some columnist from the Washington Post to comment.

Bob said something about someone arming someone. After all of those political shows, forgive me if I nod off now and then. In fact the man he was chatting with had just minutes before chatted with news man David Gregory, who was sitting in for Chris Matthews on another network.

But I came immediately to attention with Bob's comment. I do believe his ancestors raised their shaggy heads.

Could it be? Look closely at Mr. Schieffer. You might see what we did when he said, "Arrrrrrmed."

This grandfatherly man with the crinkly smile and air of respectability. This man who regularly chats with presidents, dictators, secretaries of state, and foreign ambassadors. This man who is a host of a no-nonsense CBS news show since 1991. This man would arrrrrguably look quite comfortable wearing an eye patch, clenching a knife between his teeth and yes, even with a parrot on his shoulder.

I walked outside to clear my head and who should I see but Thomas our neighbor two doors down. He was barefoot, working in his yard. He wore an old shirt with the sleeves ripped off, his pants legs rolled up to his knees. His earring peaked from beneath a bandanna he had tied around his head.. And, I'm not sure, but just before I rushed back into the house and slammed the door, I swear I saw a scabbard lashed to his hip. ###

If you want to make your own Cinnamon rolls, check out this recipe on the Food Network or this Cinnabun Clone recipe by the Gordon Family.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Tuesday Travel: Hidden Secrets in Central Florida

Since coming to Florida almost three years ago, each day uncovers a new surprise.

The first day we arrived here to house hunt, the day after Hurricane Charley visited, the anoles -- little lizards with detachable tails -- taught me about surviving disasters and going about business as usual.

Mention Central Florida and people think: Orlando. And that leads to Disney World. But Florida is so much more than theme parks. This past February, my husband and I discovered a well kept secret: Polk County.

We felt the breeze freshen and smelled orange blossoms as soon as we crossed the county line. Located next door to Orange County with Disney and theme parks galore, Polk County seems like the country cousin. With 626,634 acres devoted to agriculture, including citrus groves and 554 lakes, much of the land remains under-developed or reserved for pasture. But don't let that country facade fool you. Some of the sweetest treats lurk near those citrus groves.

Lang's Sun Country Groves run a quaint little cafe and gift shop: Taste of Florida which is located halfway between Haines City and Lake Alfred at 5900 U.S. Hwy 17& 92. There they serve the freshest produce, including their own blend of fresh-squeezed orange juice from fruit grown in the family's groves. They ship produce all over the U.S. and we were told that Oprah, and Martha Stewart prefer Langs products. When visiting their cafe, order the grapefruit pie, a recipe perfected by the original owner, Mary Lang, who continues to do the pie baking. She hasn't given the rolling pin over to the next generation, yet.

Sadly the cafe closes in May when the citrus harvest ends, but opens again in October or November.

Davidsons of Dundee, located on U.S. Hwy 27, in Dundee, specializes in unique citrus candy that they make right on the premises. Visitors to their gift shop can watch the candy making process through large glass windows. You may have seen them featured on the Food Channel.

For a special dining experience, make reservations at Chalet Suzanne: 3800 Chalet Suzanne Drive in Lake Wales. The chalet and adjacent motel look like it was built by some architect gnome on hallucinogens. But that's part of the charm. Inside nothing matches -- chairs, tables, place settings -- all mix and match in a romantic setting that has drawn celebrities and plain folk alike. If you get the owner to reminisce, you're in for a treat. Chalet Suzanne also comes with an airfield where guests can fly in for dinner and fly back out again. Expect to spend some serious money at this stop.

And there is more to Polk County than food, although I've barely begun to mention all of the delightful little diners and cafes and country breakfasts....

But when you aren't eating, visit some of their entertain venues: Historic Bok Sanctuary, Cypress Gardens, Fantasy of Flight Museum....

For more indepth information about Polk County and what it has to offer -- at prices much nicer to your pocketbook than the theme parks, check out

Monday, May 7, 2007

This day belongs to you

Monday, Monday will it be good to me or prove I can’t trust that day? The Mamas and the Papas asked those questions about the time I graduated from high school. And even now we can’t predict what it will bring.

The families in Kansas whose community was destroyed this weekend, face a bleak Monday. Most of us can be thankful that we don’t live in Kansas, and at the same time we need to say a prayer for those who do, especially those in Greensburg. And while we’re thinking of them, let us find ways to help those devastated by that F-5 tornado. Although, they are such good examples. Even in the face of such devastation, they find something to be thankful for. Disaster usually brings out the best in us. Maybe it is the good times or the everyday trials we have more difficulty with?

Simply helping someone in need, whether family, friend or stranger, will add some good Karma to your work week.

Monday was always laundry day around our little Ohio farming community where I grew up. If you did not have a line full of laundry by 7 a.m., you were a slacker. And there really was a competition to see who had the whitest whites. But the point is that each Monday we arose early and washed away the blots and splotches, dirt and debris of the previous week. Everywhere you looked, you could see evidence of clean laundry. The whole town slept on fresh sheets that night.

It is a good day to start over again. To give it another try. To renew vows of oh, something like a diet challenge, and get back on track. A good day to say you’re sorry or wish someone well. A good day to start something new. Or a good day to just do the best you can.

Lyricists have made money on this day’s unpredictability: “Manic Monday,” “Blue Monday” – catchy songs. But there are a few things we can control on this Monday.

You can chose to smile instead of frown; sing instead of curse; embrace instead of snub; work instead of procrastinate; love instead of hate. Monday is the perfect day to follow that idea forming in your head – the one that tells you to step outside of your comfort zone, take a chance, and grow.

Regardless of what day it is, it is always the day to be good to yourself. Give yourself a little credit for the positive, good, smart, decent things you do, the productive accomplishments and don’t just beat yourself up. Say something nice to yourself right now. Go ahead. Now smile.

The day belongs to you, make it count.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Indian Trash

Since moving to Central Florida a couple of years ago, we have avoided the usual entertainment outlets. Instead my husband and I have tried to find the old Florida, what was here before Disney, before housing developments transformed the landscape into miles of cement.

My first trip to Florida, like many Americans with new automobiles looking for a place to go, was in the late 1950s, early '60s. I, a bookish eight-year-old, traveled with my parents and older brother to visit an Aunt and Uncle in Pompano Beach. It was a summer of firsts -- first view of the ocean, first encounter with sand burrs, first kumquat picked fresh from the tree, and first breath of fresh salt air. For my brother it was his first encounter with beach parties and bikini clad beauties and other firsts he would never tell me about.

For decades I proclaimed that I didn't like Florida -- too humid, too buggy, the usual complaints. But now that my husband's job dragged us to the region, we can barely remember living anywhere else. Yesterday we found one of those spots that remind us that Florida has a history beyond theme parks and Spring Break.

Traveling Scenic Highway 1, we stopped at a little park near a small farming community named Oak Hill. The park, protected by the National Parks Service, is named Seminole Rest. Not one piece of trash marred the surface of this little gem. An unblemished cement walkway meandered through this spit of land that fronted onto saltwater: Mosquito Lagoon, making it handicap accessible. The first thing I noticed were the little Fiddler Crabs sidestepping along the waterline.

Plaques told us that the Timucuan Indians visited this place, harvested clams from the water and discarded the shells in what became an 18-foot high mound. The Wesley Snyder family bought the land, protected the mound from pillaging by the highway department. Many similar mounds were used as road bed for the burgeoning highway network back in the 1920s-30s.

The Snyder's also maintained the caretaker's cottage, built shortly after the Civil War and the main house, built at the turn of the 20th century. The atmosphere is one of peace, calm which seems in contrast with the harshly wind-sculpted oak and pine trees growing on the mound.

We will return to this spot -- a land fill of ancient times. The Timucuan Indians visited this spot about 1400 BC, and resided there even earlier as evidenced by shards of pottery mixed in with the shells.

Here's information about Seminole Rest:

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Confessions of a failed Flylady

Whenever I make a to-do list, 'get organized' is on there somewhere.

The list itself is an effort to tame the chaos in my life. HGTV's line up of programming includes several devoted to getting people organized, eliminating clutter, following the ideal: 'a place for everything and everything in its place.' I watch avidly as these people de-clutter their entire house and life in only a half-hour.

Definitely not reality TV.

Admittedly, I feel much calmer, more in control, more creative when I can reach out and find exactly what I want. No sorting through stacks of papers or magazines, no emptying contents out of a drawer, no retracing steps in hopes that I will remember where I put the darn thing. I enjoy being organized, I don't enjoy 'getting' organized.

And then there is the worry of discarding something valuable -- I've watched too many Antiques Roadshow segments. I would have thrown out that ugly blanket worth millions, or the cast iron toy with the paint flaking off. Anything that looked like the 1950s -- gone. The old programs and playbills -- trash.

A couple of years ago, we faced a job relocation. The necessity to downsize to fit into a new house resulted in our first and only garage sale -- a massive thing. Thirty years of my life laid out on tables in the garage and spilling out into the driveway. Clothes I'd hung onto for three decades, my children's toys and books. Did I mention they are adults, now?

My cousin, an expert garage sailor (as in she sails through garage sales finding the most amazing bargains), came to help. If anyone knew what prices to ask, how to arrange, what to sell, she did. After all she is the one who just visited a sale and came home with a like-new couch, two end tables, a lamp and a glass statue for less than it would cost to buy the glass statue new. While I was crying over 'things', she zipped through the sale items, putting like items together, pricing groups rather than individual items (all glasses are five cents, all books 25 cents, that kind of thing).

People came and pawed and some even bought. But at the end of the sale we had a truck load to take to a thrift shop. By that time sentimental attachment had been replaced by a 'just get rid of it' attitude. I didn't give a darn about the Antiques Roadshow and the million dollar trash that I could be giving away.

As my husband and I unloaded the truck, a strange thing began to happen. I felt lighter. My energy returned as the boxes disappeared into the building. By the time we jumped in the cab to head home to the empty garage, I had lost pounds of burden off of my shoulders.

Free of clutter, free of responsibility for all of those things, I could feel the difference. My step was lighter, my smile a little brighter.

I know the same feelings come when weight is lost whether it be in the form of things or fat.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I'm on a diet challenge. Last week I felt the pounds melting away. Last week I ate the salads, worked the treadmill, drank the water, and today, I must get on the scales. One thing stands between me and success -- that damn pizza and beer I wolfed down last night in a moment of weakness.

So what is the verdict? Did I lose? Did I (God forbid) gain? Did I just stay the same?

Scales are a fearful thing.

Maybe I'll go clean out a couple of drawers; a closet or two; my crap, I mean craft room, instead.

Interested in decluttering tips? Visit:

P.S. I lost five pounds.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The pause that refreshes

This leisurely morning I feel like an actor in a coffee commercial. I smell the brew, carry a mugful to my favorite location, look out over the vista and take a sip. Ahhhh. It is a moment that not only connects me with a Maxwell House and Folgers advertisement, but with coffee drinkers through the ages.

The first coffee break was taken before 1000 B.C. with goats and goat herder all imbibing. Legend has it that Ethiopian goats discovered the caffeine rich berry while grazing. When they began dancing, the goat herder took notice, tasted the beans and did his own two-step.

It is said that a Monk saw the happy little band of goats and herder and brought some of the berries back to his pals in the monastery. That night a miraculous thing -- they were all wide awake for midnight prayers.

Through the years coffee was served with every major event in history. No place on earth seemed free of its effects. Even Bach, that dour-faced, bewigged composer, wrote a light hearted cantata about a girl needing her caffeine and her protective father coming between her and her coffee. Learning of Bach's delight in coffee, my attitude about him has lightened. After all he also gave us Ode to Joy. I bet he wrote that ode in the morning, right after his first cup of coffee.

Homer mentioned coffee in his writings and we've been writing about it ever since.

It was 1952, about the time I entered the world, when a savvy ad writer coined the phrase 'coffee break.' Mom had been drinking her morning coffee throughout the pregnancy, so I suppose I was a coffee drinker before I was born. I grew up adoring the aroma but not able to handle the taste. It wasn't until I took my first job in a newsroom that I started drinking coffee.

Newsrooms run on coffee. There was a time when it was coffee and whiskey. But the newsroom, like the Wild West, has been tamed. Coffee gave us an excuse to walk across the room, ruminate over a cup, and take it back to our desks where we cranked out some of our best writing between sips. We socialized around the pot. Amazing how many reporters could fit into a tiny kitchenette waiting for morning coffee.

Turkey, if I remember correctly, had the first coffee houses. Westerners came late to the coffee pot, having enjoyed the drink for about 300 years. These houses were the one location where men AND women could gather together and share a drink and conversation. They may well have been the first step toward equality of the sexes. Yet when coffee appeared in the Western world, it played havoc with England's favorite teatime and the king banned that noxious brew. America, quite the opposite, ran on coffee.

The strong brew holds ferment in its depths. Ferment as in revolution. In the 1760s several men began meeting for coffee at the London Coffee House in Philadelphia. There they conspired to overthrow England's rule, planned the Boston Tea Party, and eventually laid out the blueprint for the independent nation. That must have been some strong cups of coffee!

Coffee is the great equalizer. Men and women, even newsroom hierarchy. Everyone from the publisher on down to the lowly editorial assistant took their turn at the coffee urn and shared the joy of that first sip.

I would like to think that a world that can embrace a single brew (although the recipes and preparations vary greatly) should be able to come together and figure out how to coexist peacefully. Maybe all world peace needs is a good cup of coffee.

Now that I can raise my mug to on this lovely sunshiny morning: world peace.

For more coffee history, visit
or read Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast. Kristine Hansen and
Travis Arndorfer have a new release:
If that doesn't soothe your pallet for coffee, here are a few more titles:

NPR has a fun essay about the history of coffee breaks, including clips from coffee music including Johann Sebastian Bach's Coffee Cantata.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

And the winners are....

Today's blog will be short, because there are award winning magazines and articles to read.

The American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) named the 2007 winners of their annual competition. Every year they chose top magazines in various circulation categories, best feature, best design, best essay, best photography, best investigative reporting, best photo journalism....well, you get the idea.

So rather than bore you with my unworthy little blog today, let me point you in the direction of the winners. Read magazine writing the way it should be done. I recommend reading the best essay by Michael Donohue in the Georgia Review: "Russell and Mary."

Please click on the following link where you will find the list of winners and links to the various magazines and articles. After reading these offerings, it is awfully hard to settle for the slap dash efforts that pass for journalism elsewhere.

And don't just read the winners, read the nominees -- little old Field and Stream has some impressive writing. Enjoy!

Happy Dancing Today

If you feel the earth shake, never fear, it is just me doing my happy dance.

I have several reasons today to be shaking my tailfeathers and most are related to writing successes. Not often do the planets align to give me several bits of good news in one day. Maybe it was the full moon, but I saw two of my writings posted online and two editors sent emails today to say, "Yes! I WILL buy your submission."

Happy Dancing! Happy Dancing!

My review of the fun and charming liturgical mystery The Alto Wore Tweed by Mark Schweizer is posted at Gumshoe Review:

The author published through St. James Music Press, so the book may be difficult to find other than from his website:

Mark Schweizer and his protagonist Hayden Konig have such wonderful humor and I can't remember the last time I laughed out loud at a book. Portions of The Alto Wore Tweed had me laughing till I cried. And it is a first in a series with delightful titles like his most recent The Bass Wore Scales.

The Gumshoe Review is a delightful site to explore. It has many more books to recommend and the staff loves to discuss mystery in all of its many sub-genres.

My second piece of good news in print appears in the Home Forum section of The Christian Science Monitor. One of my essays that slipped easily from my pen and was my favorite from the moment it began to come together is online at: and is in the Monitor's print edition, too.

I have enjoyed working with this organization and its editors for several years and never fail to get a thrill out of seeing my work published in such a respectable and respected market. (The editor let me know today that she has accepted another essay for the Home Forum section, so more happy dancing!)

It seems like I rarely go very far from home to find the inspiration for an essay. For this "Pirouette of Man and Machine," I only ventured out to the road in front of my home to watch the road crew perform their ballet. It is a little different perspective on the road construction that usually elicits frustration and slow traffic.

I could go on and on singing the praises of this day. But I have assignments to work on. Nothing gets the endorphins pumping like a deadline.

Hope your day is filled with as much good news.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Regain the wonder

Five days a week, I work in a library shelving books. It is the perfect job for observing people's behavior. One constant source of entertainment is the kids.

Most of them are naturally fearless and curious and ready to try anything. I've plucked two-year-olds from the upper shelves where they have climbed while their parents' backs were turned. They delve without hesitation into fantasy and think nothing extraordinary about dogs talking and cats wearing hats. They soak up new experiences like sponges and are constantly hungry to learn and do and try.

Nothing is beyond their realm of possibility. The books written for children draw upon that "what if" and "it could happen" and "why not" way of thinking.

When did we outgrow the wonder of this world? When did we lose that sense of adventure, that curiosity about everything around us? When did we learn to resist change rather than embrace it?

Steven Pressfield wrote in his book The War of Art that "Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance."

For me as a writer, one of the most difficult aspects of my work is to write. The physical act of putting butt in the seat, hands on the keyboard and mind to the task. Instead I will surf the Internet, answer emails, do the laundry....but I resist doing what will give me the most pleasure and yes, the most pain.

I have a couple of successful ways to overcome that resistance -- at least toward writing.

1. Give myself permission to write whatever I want for 20 minutes. Timed writings. I put my fingers on the keys, close my eyes and just start typing whatever comes into my head. I don't stop typing for that time period. I don't correct, I don't edit, I don't censor. Its freedom and ultimately freeing. And the best part, many times I have the nugget for an article or an essay hidden among the jibberish. I'm always amazed at where free thought takes me.

2. When all else fails and resistance has me by the throat. I turn to the children's department at the library and read. I usually begin with Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin. A Dr. Seuss book frees my fearful spirit, as does anything by Shel Silverstein.

Recently while assisting the librarian with children's story time, she read my new favorite: Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp by Carol Diggory Shields. Anyone who can rhyme those multi-syllabic names and describe those mighty lizard beasts dancing has my respect. And gratitude.

Because once I've forgotten about responsibilities and reality and immersed myself in the world of cows that type and dinosaurs that dance -- there's nothing stopping my creative.

Isaac Newton may have been right about "an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by another force." But I bet he didn't think of kid's literature as a 'force' to start the creativity ball rolling.

Next time you resist doing what you know you really need to do, want to do -- check out a kid's book. It is liberating.

Oh, and while you're at the library -- thank a librarian. They love it.