Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Power Of A Simple Thought, Conveyed ...

Once upon a time, I bought a card. Just because. To send to someone someday.

On the front: "I thought of you today ..."

and inside: "... and wanted you to know."

I mailed that card a week or so ago. To a friend who's gone through a lot in recent years. A just-because card for her to find amid her junk mail and bills.

A few days ago, I turned on my phone as I do in the mornings and an email appeared in my inbox, from another friend.

It was short, just 20 words, five of which were these:

You were on my mind.

What a lovely sentence. What a lovely sentiment.

And so, so appreciated.

He knows I've been dealing with a lot, especially in recent months.

The thing is, so has he. Been dealing. With a lot.

Most folks are, really, on any given day.

But that simple gesture meant the world to me.

And this morning, I thought about the card I sent and the email I received. I hadn't considered them together until that moment, but what we put out into the world really does return.

And the impact of a simple gesture may be immeasurably profound.

If you're thinking about someone, let them know.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Generosity and Gratitude ...

"Generosity is way of being in the world — a way that says, 'I have more than I need, and I will take the overflow of myself and share it with others.'"
— Elizabeth Gilbert,
on Facebook,
about two hours ago

Yes, exactly. That. That right there about generosity being more than one needs and sharing the overflow with others.

That is the essence of why I am writing this post, and I didn't know about that quote until moments ago when I popped over to Liz's Facebook page to grab the link to something she wrote a few days ago that I really, really, really needed to read.

(Speaking of links, I am resisting the urge to pepper this post with links to demonstrate the awesomeness with which events have unfolded in recent days. But the very least I can do is make it easy for folks to find the things I mention, so I'll include links at the end of this post.)

This story begins, really, 10 years ago. That's when Liz published Eat, Pray, Love. And while it surely does not seem like 10 years ago, I remember reading her book and loving her book and appreciating that her writing style seemed very similar to mine, which gave me a nice bit of hope that I, too, could actually publish a book someday.

Unwitting generous act, number one. Thanks, Liz.

Over the years, there have been many other unwitting generous acts, so enumerating them feels daunting. Suffice it to say that there have been a lot.

And that brings me to the new year.

Mike Dooley, he of The Daily Tut, which I have been receiving in my email for many years, is offering a 30-day Infinite Possibilities Project to kick off 2016.

I love Mike. I bought his "Playing The Matrix" course last year and have watched some of it but then put that viewing on hold because the person with whom I'm watching had to tend to other things in life, so I'm waiting until we can resume.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post about this being my year of being scared, of this being my year behind a microphone. And one of the behind-the-mic ideas I put forth is the creation of a podcast.

On Day 6 of Mike's project, he suggested jotting down some steps that would move each of us in the direction of our dreams for the year. On my list, I wrote:

"3. Check out podcasts on iTunes, subscribe to a few, and listen! (I think shorter is better.)"

On Day 11, he suggested that we avail ourselves of resources. And the very first resource he linked to was Liz Gilbert's podcast "Magic Lessons."

Which rang a bell because sometime last year I submitted a topic to Liz and her producers. Obviously, I was not chosen to be one of her guests but I had forgotten that the podcast was forthcoming.

It's not forthcoming any longer. It's done. (And each episode is rather brief, which is nice, since I was thinking that shorter is better.) That it's done is a lovely thing, because, should I want to, I could binge-listen to the whole series. But I'm not. I'm listening to two at a time, given that the structure is "Liz talks to a 'normal' person about a creative challenge" and then "Liz talks to a friend and fellow 'known' person about the creative challenge presented in the previous episode."

Today, I listened to Liz chat with fellow "known" person John Hodgman, who many folks know as PC from the fab Mac commercials a few years back, or from "The Daily Show" or from many other roles and projects as John has done a lot.

Which is important, for the purposes of this post and my life.

He and Liz chatted about getting bored with creative pursuits once we master them and how many of us pursue many ventures in our lifetimes, that we master one thing and then move onto the next thing.

And finally, finally, finally, two little parts of my brain met each other at long, long last and formed a very important thought:

I've done stuff.

Which doesn't seem like a revelation on its own but I have spent literally most of my life trying to figure out what I am meant to do.

And in the meantime, I have been doing stuff.

I moved into my first apartment when I was 24. So for nearly half my life, I have been living on my own and supporting myself. For the most part.

Which means that my "quest," as it were, isn't about figuring out what I am meant to do.

It's about figuring out what I am meant to do next.

And that, my friends, is a game-changer.

That relieves the pressure.

Because while I've long suspected that I was never meant to do one thing and while I really dug the idea of slash careers – doing this and that – that felt a bit disjointed to me, as though I wouldn't really be giving my all to any one thing.

But the idea of doing things sequentially? Well, that's my whole life. I do a thing, I get bored with it – sometimes because I don't like it but often because I master it – and I move onto the next thing, out of curiosity. Which is Liz's prescription for all of us, to follow our curiosity, not our passion. Because for a lot of us, our passion isn't clear. And the pursuit of identifying it can be really, really, really frustrating, if not maddening.

Which brings me to another moment of gratitude for Liz: she wrote a post a few days about about what we're meant to do with our lives in which she explained the differences between hobby, job, career, and vocation.

Whoa. Yes. Where the hell was that post when I was, oh, 18?

Many, many years ago, a friend suggested that a job can just be a job, a means to an end that enables us to pursue other things we love in our free time.

I rejected that idea flatly. I had bought into the idea that we should earn livings doing what we truly loved.

Well, that's nice work if you can get it. And many do.

But for some, a job is just a job.

And that, I'm finally learning, is just fine.

I offer a range of word-related services. What I do five days a week is not a career. Nor do I want it to be.

I am not climbing a ladder to the top. I will not be ousting a CEO.

But I relish the luxury of working from home. I enjoy meeting truly interesting people and helping them accomplish things they do not feel they can accomplish on their own.

And I value, greatly, the freedom that this life provides: the freedom to spend time with people I care about, the freedom to spend time listening to podcasts and writing blog posts and putting together pieces that I've not been able to fit together before, the freedom to pursue the next creative thing.

And maybe the day will arrive when I will indeed wake up and realize that I am earning a living doing what I truly love, whatever that thing is at the time.

But in the meantime, I am more aware than ever that I lead a truly interesting life.

And I am deeply grateful for the messages that have arrived in recent weeks and the connections that have formed.

"Magic Lessons" was s podcast conceived to explore questions and conundrums about creativity in advance of the publication of Liz's book Big Magic, which I checked out of the library last year. And then I quickly realized that it was a book I would want to own, so I bought a copy.

And then, for Christmas, I bought four more, and gave them to my nephew, my other nephew, his girlfriend, and my niece.

They're all pursuing careers in creative fields. May Liz's wisdom and generosity arrive in their lives at times when it can do them a great amount of good, perhaps save them some confusion and/or angst.

Links to stuff I reference above:

Magic Lessons: Liz Gilbert's podcast

Liz Gilbert's Facebook post on Generosity

Liz Gilbert's Facebook post on Hobby, Job, Career, and Vocation

Mike Dooley's Infinite Possibilities Project

Mike Dooley's Playing The Matrix Online Course

The Year Of Being Scared

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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Year Of Being Scared ...

I don't like scary movies. I fail to grasp what's pleasurable about paying money to sit in the dark and wait for something scary to appear on screen. I don't buy the "but it's not real so it's safe!" rationale.

I also don't like haunted houses. I once had a friend scare the living crap out of me in my basement. That was enough for a lifetime. Granted, in that case, I didn't know what was coming, and in going to a haunted house, I'd be paying for folks to scare me, but still.

I also don't like roller coasters. I don't mind the speed and the drops but I hate, hate, hate the initial climb. That feeling of leaning backward and the possibility of falling is more than my brain will tolerate. Being stopped at a light on an incline in a car in San Francisco is enough for me.

I like safety. I like the known. I suppose that makes me boring to some degree, perhaps to a great degree, but I've never much seen the charm in risk.

I have no desire to jump out of an airplane. Dropping me in the middle of the wilderness and leaving me to find my way out? No thanks. I'll be happy to handle a snake if you like but anything with more than four legs needs to stay the hell away from me unless I have my Dyson nearby.

But as my lovely friend Nona Jordan reminds me, we can do hard things. That lesson landed in my life at just the right time last year.

And the last couple years have been exercises is better grasping the value of my work.

A few years ago, a job situation I was sure would happen did not pan out, and it was a blow at the time. Angelo, who is very wise in many ways, wrote to me that night:

"You have too much talent to have another job where you're plugging away. You've done that. A lot. It's time to scare yourself. Big scare. There will always be chocolate to make things better when you feel like it's too scary and it will feel like that sometimes."

"It's time to scare yourself. Big scare."


Since then, I have had some scares, though not of my own making, which make them very different kinds of scares indeed.

But as this new year arrived, I mused about what I want 2016 to be, and I thought, "What if this year was all about being behind a microphone?"

I love to sing. Singing in front of an audience scares the bejeezus out of me but I've done it. Recording is much safer but my engineer friend isn't available for sessions anymore. I've found a studio that might suit my needs. And even singing in front of a new engineer makes me a little squirmy so that feels like a reasonable place to start here in the new year.

I once tried my hand at voiceovers and discovered that I am quite possibly the world's worst auditioner. Speaking is much less scary than singing but it's a performance just the same and my perfectionism is a bitch. Thanks to technology, though, auditions often happen at home now, which makes the prospect much more appealing.

I have been pondering a podcast for some time. Not from a "This is my ticket to fame and fortune!" perspective but from a "That might be interesting to try and it would cost me about, oh, nothing" notion.

I like speaking in front of groups when I know what the hell I'm talking about. I gave an impromptu presentation at a conference years ago that went so well that I was asked to prepare a presentation the next year. When I did the 3-Day events, I was happy to speak to groups of first-time walkers in advance of the events to answer questions and assuage fears and offer encouragement. The idea of being a paid speaker appeals to me, though I suppose I should have some expertise to offer for which folks would pay.

So, in that vein but in a different way, I think it would be a hoot to try stand-up comedy. I had folks laughing when I gave the impromptu presentation. Later that day, when I appeared in a video montage of the weekend's events, the room erupted in applause. I turned beet red – Unexpected attention! Eep! – but I appreciated their appreciation. So I think it would be fun to prepare five minutes of material and get up in front of a crowd with low expectations. I mentioned this idea to a friend recently and she said, "Really?" The idea of being on stage is not her cup of tea. I adore the view from a stage. I just need to get more comfortable with the performing part.

Perhaps I'll try them all. Perhaps I'll settle on one. Maybe one will scare me sufficiently that I'll feel I've fulfilled my terror quota for the year.

But, as Angelo mentioned, there will always be chocolate to make me feel better.

I should probably buy some stock in Ghirardelli.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Wee Blog Post About All The 'Merry Christmas' Kerfuffle ...

May I point out that Christmas is a day? December 25th is Christmas. Why all the consternation that folks don't say "Merry Christmas" for weeks leading up to December 25th?

We don't wish people "Happy New Year" during the six weeks leading up to January 1st.

We don't wish people "Happy Valentine's Day" during the six weeks leading up to February 14th.

We don't wish people "Happy Easter" during the six weeks leading up to ... whatever day Easter falls on that year.

We don't wish people "Happy 4th of July" during the six weeks leading up to July 4th.

We don't ... well, you get my point.

Christmas is a day. Yes, stores start decorating for in July now, but it's still a single day. That's it's been commercialized grossly doesn't change that fact.

And yes, there is a wintertime holiday season, during which other holidays occur, which is why some folks, some years ago, started saying "Season's greetings" and "Happy holidays."

It's inclusive. Inclusion is nice.

If you're a Christian and you'd like to say "Merry Christmas" for weeks on end, feel free. But if someone says something else, it's not meant as an offense. Really.

Well, some people might meant it as an offense. Some people are jerks.

But most of us don't mean it as an offense, OK?


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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Seriously, This Is The Most Beautiful Cover Letter Ever ...

I'm not in the market for a "real" job these days, though who knows when something fantastic may appear on my radar. But it occurred to me yesterday that it would be fun to write a cover letter in Trumpese. Trumpspeak, if you will. I posted my idea on Facebook, which prompted a fellow wordsmith friend to reply, "DO IT!" "I might write it as a blog post, if nothing else," I replied. So here I am. And hey, if a fantastic job opportunity comes along, I'll be ready to apply.

December 17, 2015

To Whom My Concern:

This very excellent letter is in response to your job posting for an editor. Nobody edits as well as me. Seriously. My editing is so beautiful. Also, I have the best command of the English language in history. See where I wrote "Nobody edits as well ..."? Most people would have written "Nobody edits as good ..." because they're losers and dummies. Why would you ever consider hiring them? I'm the best. Everybody says so. Especially my mother. My mother is the best mother of all time. Seriously. Mother Teresa was a hack compared to my mother. That lady always wore the same outfit. You know why? Because she lacked style, that's why. I have great style. But I digress. "Digress." See? That's a smart word to convey "I got off the subject," though, really, no thought of mine is ever off the subject because everything I think is important. That's why you're still reading this. Because you know I know more than you. You're lucky I'm still writing this. Someday, you'll be able to sell this letter for a lot of money. Seriously, so much money.

So you should hire me because I'm great. And I know a lot. My I.Q. is really, really high. My intelligence is so great, it really can't be measured. Those I.Q. tests, they're for losers. Except for the ones I've taken that have revealed my huge intelligence. Those tests were beautiful.

Of course, when you hire me, you should start cleaning out your office immediately. Seriously. I learn everything very fast. I will learn everything about your loser business in a day. And then I'll take over. And then I'll sell the company and make a huge profit. That's what I do. My huge intelligence compels me to make so much money.

Really, you should just sign your company over to me now. That way, your employees won't see you move out of your office when I take over. You see, I am a very, very compassionate person. I knew the guy who invented compassion but he was a loser, so I deported him. I knew I could make compassion huge. So huge. And gold. Gold is the best color. Silver would be gold if it could be, but it's too low energy. Silver will never be gold.

But loser people need metal, too. See? Huge compassion. I can't believe how nice I am. I probably shouldn't be so nice. You don't deserve it.

You know what? I don't want to be an editor at your loser company. But you can still have this letter and sell it for a lot of money. If I were you, though, I'd frame it and hang it up in your loser office. People will be very, very impressed that I took the time to write this letter to you.

I'm also shipping 1,000 framed head shots for you to hang up in your loser office so everyone will know you know me. The gold frames are the best and very, very classy. Of course, I expect you to pay the enclosed invoice immediately.

You're welcome,

Beth Kujawski

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

All I Want For Christmas, 2015 Edition ...

Running errands the other day, I found myself behind a woman headed to the same store. As she neared the doors, she noticed an older woman on her way out, using a walker. The woman in front of me opened both doors in an effort to be helpful, but, of course, was then standing in the middle of the open doors, blocking the older woman's way. "I've got this one," I said, and we each stood aside and held a door. The older woman, as adorable as you can imagine, looked at me and then my door buddy, a bit surprised, and said, "Thank you! Thank you very much! Happy holidays to you both!" We wished her happy holidays, too, and everyone went about their ways.

And that is all I want for Christmas, please. More of those simple moments of kindness among strangers, taking a few seconds to extend a hand or a smile or a holiday wish.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

A Wee Tale About A Wee E-Book ...

I come from a long line of bakers and writers. Not professional bakers nor professional writers but women in my family have a knack for both. And I, thankfully, have been granted both knacks. Which I took for granted for a long time.

I thought about becoming a pastry chef, but a couple of days spent in a professional kitchen cured me of that notion. And I thought about opening a bakery, but I really don't want to have to bake every day.

But I wrote. And I baked. And I shared what I baked. And one day, one of my editors asked me to write a holiday-cookie story. So I did. She dubbed me The Cookie Queen. Which is why my other blog, The Cookie Queen's English, is named as it is. And the reason I created that blog was to chronicle my holiday baking that year. And then I wrote more holiday-cookie stories in successive years. And then I baked for Angelo's blog for three years.

And then, last year, I thought it might be fun to publish a little something related to cookies.

And so I did.

A year ago today, December 9, though Amazon lists the publication date as December 8.

I've joked with folks that my wee e-book – or wee-book, if you will – has earned me tens of dollars. (So much for self-publishing being my path to fame and fortune.)

But this morning, on the anniversary of its publication, I took the time to call up each month's royalty report so I could add up the past year's sales.

The grand total, to date?


I love that number. I love it because it is, indeed, tens of dollars.

But I also love it, truly, because it's seventy-four dollars and forty-one cents that I earned from something I wrote and put into the world.

Not a freelance assignment (which pay far better). Not a blog post (which pays nothing at all).

But evidence that I can, indeed, sit at this machine and clack words onto a virtual page and package them in some form and some people – some of whom aren't even related to me or counted among my very dear friends – will happen upon it and plunk down two dollars and ninety-nine cents.

And a month or so later, Amazon will transfer a royalty payment into my checking account.

Very small royalty payments.

But royalty payments nonetheless.

And if I earn small royalties, perhaps one day, I will earn slightly larger royalties. Or even much bigger royalties. Perhaps royalties large enough to pay my bills.

Who knows.

But my weebook has been a trial balloon of sorts, the kiddie pool of publishing, the means by which I have begun to wrap my brain around the idea that thoughts in my head can become words on a page that can become a commodity.

I know that writers have been earning money for a long, long time. This is not a new concept.

But it was new to me. Freelancing is a different animal. Freelancing is still a form of a job.

This is solo. And it's scary. But it's also cool.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

So Long, Shoulds ....

It began with my birthday. That one day of the year, I reasoned, would, at last, be spent doing what I most wanted to do and not be spent doing what I expressly did not want to do.

And so that was the day that I began to shed some of the most engrained "shoulds" that have dictated most of my life.

I have more to release but even in just these two-plus weeks, I feel a difference, a lightness.

"Shoulds" are insanely weighty.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Nudge From The Universe ...

This morning, while putting on coffee, I informed the universe that I would write something today, something intentional. Something of some length. Not just tweets. Not just comments. Something. Perhaps a post.

And once my coffee was done brewing and I had it in hand and settled in on the love seat in my living room where I've taken to clacking again, I made my morning rounds and discovered that today is I Love to Write Day.

Well, love might be overstating it. Most days, anyway. There's a reason Anne Lamott uses the phrase "shitty first drafts." I reckon no writer loves creating shitty first drafts. But they're necessary. Though perhaps they need not be shitty. A framework, though, is the point. We need to start somewhere, we writers. Painters don't paint masterpieces in one pass. They build layers on canvases.

Foundations. We all need 'em. Cars aren't constructed from the front bumpers back. They begin with frames.

And so it is with posts. And books. And poems. And songs. They all start somewhere. From nothing.

Last night, on my way home from the store, I was listening to Beck's "Dreams." It's a catchy tune. And until he wrote it, it didn't exist. And no other song ever written is the same as "Dreams." Even with a finite number of notes with which to compose, songwriters manage to combine them in ways we've never heard before.

Now that's a feat. We writers have far more words to combine than composers have notes. And as I once told a composer I knew, most folks are able to string together a few words to convey a thought but very few people in the world are able to string together notes to convey emotions. That's truly magic from where I stand.

But then, I suppose all creativity is relative. And that which comes more or less "easily" to each of us tends to seem less remarkable than whatever gifts we don't possess.

Last night, I watched "The End of the Tour," a film about David Foster Wallace at the time of the release of Infinite Jest, which I've long meant to read but never have. Perhaps I will someday soon.

The Redbox star rating it received was not kind, though I don't put stock into reviews. And truly, there's likely not a huge, interested audience for a movie about an author agreeing to a days-long interview by a writer from Rolling Stone.

But the writer in me was intrigued. The trailer I saw on another DVD piqued my interest. And I really liked the film.

Many, many, many years ago, when I applied for an internship at Chicago magazine, I imagined that working there was glamorous. I imagined cocktail parties with authors. I imagined that cocktail parties with authors would be glamorous.

I attended no cocktail parties with authors nor was the internship glamorous. It was a job.

A couple years later, I landed a job at the Chicago Tribune. Working until 4 a.m. in a nearly deserted newsroom? Not glamorous.

And yet, among folks I knew outside that world, there was the perception of something special about working in the media.

And I suppose there's some validity to that. Working in the media does provide some folks with access they would otherwise not have, and in that way, the media is a bridge between two worlds.

There are the people who sit in the bleachers at the Oscars, there are the reporters who ask the inane questions on the red carpet, and then there are the stars.

The writing world, though, has no such glamour component.

A billion people do not tune in to watch writers collect Pulitzers or National Book Awards.

Nobody cares what authors are wearing, most of all the authors.

The film about Wallace was a good reminder that any myth that surrounds writers is just that. And we, the readers, create it.

What continues to amaze me about writing, though, as silly as it may seem to anyone who reads this, is that I can sit here, as I am now, and I can clack words onto a screen through my keyboard, as I am now, and I can create and capture anything my mind can conceive, and then, depending on my intent and other considerations, I can sell the end result. For money.

Seriously. It blows my mind.

Also, I recognize that that amazement is ridiculous.

Writers have been doing just that for a very long time.

I have demonstrated this to myself.

I joke with folks that my little cookie e-book has earned me "tens" of dollars. (And that's true. It did not make me my millions, but that was never its intent. The point of the exercise was to simply do it, to have an idea and to see it through. Check!) But the other day, when I checked my bank balance and it was six bucks and change more than I expected it to be, I smiled when I realized that Amazon must have deposited my latest royalty payment.

Royalty payment. I earn royalties.

Very, very small royalties.

But royalties just the same.

In the end, it's a matter of confidence and belief in self-worth. It's a matter of hearing the voice that says, "Why do you think anyone would want to read this?" and pressing on, writing for, well, for the love of writing.

Perhaps the day has come to dust off the screenplay … .

Sunday, November 08, 2015

A House Is Not Necessarily A Home ...

I'm engaged in an ongoing project with someone I know. (As opposed to being engaged in an ongoing project with a stranger, which might be weird.) For the purposes of this post, it is relevant – at least to me – that that someone is male.

We've been convening here. The plan was to meet at his place, but to date, circumstances have aligned themselves such that it's made sense to meet here instead.

This past week, during a pause in the active participation of said project, the conversation wended its way around to his living space.

"My house has always just been a roof over my head," he said, and then he added, as he gestured to the space around him, "not a home."

For as long as I've known him – which is quite a long time – I've never thought of him as the kind of person who's mindful of his space. For as smart and thoughtful as I know him to be, environment never seemed high on his list of priorities. So long as his basic needs were met, he seemed OK with whatever presented itself.

And perhaps that was true in the past. But maybe years of living that way have taken a toll. In any case, he's no longer satisfied with shelter. Now he wants a home.

I've offered to help him on that front. For starters, we could change a lot in a weekend with a few cans of paint. We shall see what he wants to do.

But in the meantime, since the day of his "not a home" gesture and compliment, I've been even more mindful of my space. Like many, I suppose, I live with a mindset of what I'd like to do, improvements to be made, items to be purchased. (I could really up the cozy factor of this room with a full-size area rug. But choosing one opens a whole can of worms, as is often the case with a space.)

I'm more mindful, though, of how much I really do love my house, my home. It is welcoming and comforting. And, as the cold weather arrives, I am very grateful for its coziness.

As I sit here, typing, this is my view:

My view is actually wider – thanks, peripheral vision! – but that is what I face directly. Behold the evidence of my love for grey and brown. There are stories behind every item. Not every story is compelling, per se, but nothing in that image arrived in my life in a mindless, passive way. Everything was either given to me with lovely intent or chosen by me for a specific reason or, in the case of the pillow, made by me because I couldn't find just the right pre-fab thing.

Nothing was purchased passively. Nothing materialized simply because I felt the need to spend money, to buy something one day when I was out and about.

I'm not a fan of too many things, so the existence of six items on that small pie safe is actually quite a lot for me. But they've all found their ways there over time. They seem to enjoy each other's company.

And yes, I have a strand of Christmas lights on my lamp. Most of the strand is piled on the shade's spider. The rest hangs down because the outlet is near the floor.

I'm always sad when the holidays are over and I put my Christmas tree away. A few years ago, I decided to maintain a bit of the glow.

I'm never very far away from the thought that I surely do not need this much space, even though my home is humble by many measures.

But is a home indeed. And for that, I am very grateful.

I hope you have a home, too.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

An Appreciation, Not A Review ...

I don't read reviews.

If I have the sense that I want to see a movie or read a book, I do. If it's awful, so be it. If it's great, good. But reviews give too much away in their reviewing, and I'd rather not know.

I have, in the past, I believe, written reviews, which were not really reviews, and were instead critiques, for better or for worse. But I have ceased writing those, some time ago. Maybe I didn't like something but that doesn't mean you won't love it. Likewise, I can love something that you'll find total dreck.

It's a crap shoot, really, how we receive the creative output of others. As Thomas Dolby once sang, "Two and two make five and a quarter. That's why people fall in love."

(That said, if you Google me, you may find that I've written in the past about my bafflement of the adoration surrounding The Shipping News – I just couldn't get into that book but it was widely praised and lavished with awards and most people loved it, so that failure's on me – and you may also see that I had unkind things to say about Mario Puzo's The Fourth K, but seriously, in that instance, people should be spared.)

This post, though, is about Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, of which I am one-third of the way through, but I was moved to slip the due-date receipt in between pages 92 and 93 and tweet at her, but the computer was being poky, which I took as a sign that I should take the time to write a post and tweet the link instead. One hundred and forty characters surely would not suffice.

Because, oh, Liz gets me. Because she gets herself. Which means she gets every creative-type person out here, which means she gets everyone, because everyone is creative in some way.

Still, it feels very personal, this book. (There's advice in the writing world to write as if you're writing to one person, so, mission accomplished, Liz!)

And while there is plenty of interesting information of the "Really? I didn't know that. Huh. Well, that helps me to think of this in a different way" variety and plenty of gentle "Don't be so hard on yourself, dear one" kindness, there is also – at least in the way I'm reading it – a healthy dose of Liz sitting across the room from me, listening to my litany of excuses past, rolling her eyes every so slightly, and verbally swatting down every single one of my lame explanations with a "Yeah, and?"

"Yeah, and?" indeed.

I'm giving myself a little talking to, and it's going something like this:

"Get over yourself, Beth. You're no different than every other person who's ever paused in the face of fear or flat-out shut down. Your lack of creation isn't something special. It's no measure of what could be. It's banal. It's common. You've been looking for confirmation for most of your life. And you've received it and you've still failed to produce. Because the positive opinion of others is nice but it doesn't matter. It guarantees nothing. It's not protection. It's not a shield. It does not inure you from criticism. If you really want it, do it. For the sake of doing it. Because you'd rather look back at your crappy clay Mothers' Day ashtray and be glad that you made it than regret that you didn't have it to give."

I checked out this book from the library because I made a deal with myself that I would read books first and then decide if I want to own them, because in the past, I had spent far too much money and consumed far too much shelf space with should-reads that went unread until I finally gave them away.

So now, I date a book first, as it were, and then decide if it warrants a more permanent place in my life.

I'll be heading out to buy Liz's book this afternoon.

Right after I return this copy to the library, where it's one day overdue. Someone else is waiting to read it (I know this to be true; I couldn't renew it because of a hold) and I hope that that person gleans something meaningful from it about their creative life and their creative truth.

Thank you, Liz. Consider this is my Patchettian virtual kiss.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

In The Moment ...

My love for fall, as I've expressed before, cannot be overstated. It is the best of all the seasons, though it has only three with which to compete. But even in a much larger field, it would win. Every time. The crisp air. The colors. The shortening days and the glow of light that beckons folks inside. The comforting foods. The lure of throws. The moment when chill gives way to warmth.

I am very much a fall-palette person. And so today, when I saw a particularly lovely tree, I promised myself I would return to capture it, that I would take a walk on this grey, cold day, and capture its subtle loveliness. Today. Lest I procrastinate and return to find it any less lovely.

And so I did.

I misjudged the temperature, though, and was not well-dressed for the walk. And so, upon returning home, I poured a bit of Scotch and appreciated its warmth all the more for having just been outside.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Baking On A Sunday (Morning and) Afternoon ...

On the whiteboard in my office, in the lower, right-hand corner, I had made a list of folks for whom I wanted to bake.

This list had been here, oh, about 10 months.

This afternoon, I erased it at last.

Stars have aligned and weather has cooled and logistics have, um, logisticed themselves, so today was a day to bake and tomorrow will be a day to deliver.

I will never not be a bit amazed that this:

plus time becomes this:

It'll be good to see the recipients tomorrow. It's been too long.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Drive-Thru Tale ...

Yesterday's weather arrived courtesy of central casting: sunny, cool-yet-mild, and breezy, the perfect day for outdoor chores.

And so, uncharacteristically for me, I did outdoor chores.

Once done and smelling like exhaust from the mower and covered with a fine veneer of leaf dust from sucking them up with the mower and then emptying the bag over and over, I hopped in the shower. Sufficiently shampooed and face-scrubbed and such, I pulled my wet hair into a ponytail, clipped it up on the back of my head, and proceeded to put on a fetching ensemble of white athletic socks, white stretchy pants, and my first-ever 3-Day long-sleeve T-shirt, from the Atlanta walk in 2001. The only thing on my face was moisturizer.

Dinner would come from a drive-thru. Ain't no way I was setting foot in a store.

But what to have? This was always my ridiculous conundrum, even before I gave up grains. But giving up grains winnows the choices down to joints that offer salads.

So help me God, while I am very grateful for the ease with which I can procure immediate, edible food, some days, I can't face another fast-food salad.

I ran through my options in my head, from furthest away working in, and ruled out, well, pretty much everything, even having relaxed my grain rule for the evening to allow for ... something.

Somehow, I settled on Nachos Bell Grande from Taco Hell. Yes, there exists in nature the inclination to eat Taco Hell and not be falling-down drunk at the same time.

Mind you, it had been, literally, decades since I'd enjoyed the culinary extravagance that is Nachos Bell Grande. But that's what my brain settled on, so off to Taco Hell I drove.

There was one car at the speaker, seemingly ordering, a car behind that car, and then me.

I sat. I waited.

I sat. I waited.

I sat. I waited.

Apparently, the driver of the car at the speaker was in the middle of a therapy session, not ordering food.

I backed up slightly, cut the wheel, and pulled away.

Sigh. I had to figure out another option.

As I drove along the main drag dotted with every fast-food joint known to man, I ruled each one out.

At a stoplight, I looked at the Long John Silver's up the street and thought, "I could really go for fish and chips."

And then I said, "No, Beth, you are not eating an all-fried meal."

But then I had fish on the brain, which is strange, because I really don't much like fish. Seafood, yes. Fish, not so much.

I passed the few remaining options and happened upon McDonald's, the last stop on the fast-food strip, my last option.

I pulled in.

One other car had pulled in in front of me, and was driving through the middle of the parking lot, not pulling into a parking space, not in the drive-thru lane. Eventually, she veered toward the speaker. I peered at the menu board. The fish desire remained, so I was on the verge of ordering a Filet-O-Fish meal, against my better judgment because a Filet-O-Fish sandwich has been winnowed down to about half of what it used to be, back in the day. (Note: I am now well old enough to refer to many things that existed "back in the day.")

Remember, I am very aware of the luxury of having such immediate access to food. I marvel that McDonald's goal is to have customers spend no more than 90 seconds in the drive-thru lane, and most days, damn if that's not the case (in my limited McDonald's experience since learning that stat). That such a feat is achievable owes great credit to the streamlined operation inside a McDonald's establishment. But customers also play a role. The fact that I can pull up and say, "I'd like a Number Eight with a medium Coke" and some friendly person rattles off a total in a half a second is part of the 90-second miracle.

The woman in the car in front of me, unfortunately, missed the class on drive-thru etiquette.

What follows is a rough transcript of what transpired. I didn't record it, of course, but I have a very good memory for dialogue.


The gal on the speaker offers the usual McDonald's greeting and is met with silence. The woman in the car appears to be conferring with her passengers.


I'm here. Can I take your order?

Do you still have the McRib?

Yes, we do.

I need a McRib meal. Does that come with large fries or small fries?

Small fries. But we can make them large.

OK, I need one McRib meal with Dr Pepper and four McRib sandwiches. [Pause] And two large fries. [Pause] And a chocolate shake.

What size?

Large? [Pause] And do you still have caramel sundaes?

Yes, we do.

And one caramel sundae. With nuts. [Pause] And how much are your ice cream cones?

Eighty-five cents.

OK, I'll have an ice cream cone. [Pause] Wait ... .

At that point, having dented my skull, I'm sure, from clutching my head, I pulled around her car and yelled, "GO INSIDE" as I drove away.

(Honestly, people, if you're going to use the drive-thru, know what you want or, at the very least, be able to make a decision relatively quickly. If you have no earthly idea what the hell you want, park the car and go inside where you can stand back and stare at the menu for hours if that pleases you.)

I drove home, Nachos Bell Grande-less and Filet-O-Fish-less, which was fine, really, as I shouldn't be consuming that stuff anyway.

And dinner became three-quarters of a bag of baby carrots and a hunk of cream cheese from a brick of Philadelphia I had lurking in the fridge.

I should probably cook something today.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Maturity, Beth Style ...

There has been rain.

The past two nights have seen their share of showers and storms. And I – despite the awesome plumbing solution in my basement that should prevent my basement from every flooding again – cannot sleep when it rains. I get up to check the radar and then I'm up for hours, babysitting the map.

And so it was Thursday into Friday and again Friday into today.

I was proud of myself for waking up, hearing the rain, and turning over to doze off again. But at some point, the rain began to fall more heavily. And so I flipped back the covers, sat up, twirled my ponytail like I do, and attempted to clip it up in some fashion.

I walked into the TV room, where I'd left my laptop, and as I walked through the doorway, I felt a bit of my hair fall out of the clip.

I proceeded to check the radar. The rain was nearly out of the area. I stayed up for awhile. I headed into the kitchen to grab the ice cream and a spoon. I returned to the couch and realized I'd grabbed a fork. I returned to the kitchen to make the swap, and then settled onto the couch to watch TV and lick the ice cream lid.

Eventually, I headed back to bed. I woke up at 9 a.m. I never sleep until 9 a.m. anymore. Those days are long, long gone.

I had chilled some coffee yesterday, so I shuffled into the kitchen to fetch a glass, add some goo, add some ice, stir it with a straw, and wander back to the laptop to begin my morning online rounds.

I watched the first part of "The Rachel Maddow Show" that was unavailable to me yesterday evening because apparently any amount of rain is too much for my satellite dish to bear, and eventually convinced myself to start my day.

I headed back into the kitchen with my glass and straw and my brain said, "What was that? Was that a spider?"

No, of course it wasn't a spider. Because my brain knows from spiders and reacts accordingly. It is already sure of no-spider status before I really check for a spider.

And I know this because when my brain does indeed register an honest-to-God arachnid in my midst, I scream and flail and frantically brush any spider phantoms off of me, then look around, panicked, sure that it's about to crawl on me again.

In reality, I know that at that point, the spider has scurried off to the nearest dark place where it places a call to its therapist, but in my world, spiders don't back down.

And so I turned to look at the wall where I might have seen a spider, and sure enough, there was no spider to be found.

Because it was in a web in the doorway to the TV room.

I had not felt my hair fall earlier in the night.

No, my hair had brushed up against the web. Or, God help me, the spider, which, God help me, could have decided to fetch a ride on my head and then crawl down my neck and oh, Jesus, why am I even thinking about this?!

The aforementioned "maturity" from the the title of the post comes in here.

I stood there, staring at the spider, which was not insignificant in size, though was not quite a Buick*, and thought the aforetranscribed thoughts, and then proceeded to get the vacuum and suck it up. At which point I let the vacuum run for a good long time. It's s Dyson. That thing sucks more than, well, something that really sucks. So I figured that the spider didn't really stand a chance in there. Also, it was probably asphyxiated by schmutz.

I have no idea how it ended up in that doorway and I'm telling myself that it only spun that meager web last night.

But I am proud of myself for not lapsing into a spider-induced jerking fit. Especially since I walked into a chair yesterday and probably broke a toe. I don't need any other casualties.

I shall, however, be mindful to check doorways before I walk through them. And turn on some lights at night.

* The-spider-the-size-of-a-Buick from "Annie Hall" will forever be one of my all-time favorite images from a film.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Modernity, Beth Style ...

It was time.

I have some traveling planned for the fall, including a brief road trip, so it behooved me to act.

And so, I joined the iPhone generation.

I wasn't going to. I really wasn't going to. I can show you the bookmark on this computer (which itself is nine years old) for the replacement battery I was going to order for my Fisher-Price phone.

And then my phone received its own AARP card.

And the ghost of Alexander Graham Bell appeared to me in a dream and said, "Seriously, kid? Hell, I use an iPhone 4."

And so I ordered a phone.

And the nice UPS man delivered it.

And I set about activating it. An iPhone 6! I'm current! I'm current!

And while I was waiting for it to be activated, Apple announced the iPhone 6S.

I shit you not.

So I'll have the most current phone for a couple weeks, and then it's back to relative obscurity for me.

(Also, the same day that I activated my phone, I hooked up my new all-in-one device which offers wireless printing. So much technology at Rancho Kujawski! I'm practically bionic!)

I texted my niece right off the bat, my first official iPhone action. And I emailed a few folks. And I downloaded a few apps. And I looked up my blog on the browser.

I let it charge overnight and the next day, I found myself standing in the vitamin aisle at Walgreen's, noting that one of the vitamins my mom had mentioned needing was on sale, yet realizing I didn't know what "dosage" she took, and I snorted – softly, to myself; you're welcome, Walgreen's shoppers – thinking, "If I had a phone, I could call and ask her and save her a trip."

Yes, I've become accustomed to being phoneless in the world.

But that will change soon enough. I've ordered a very pretty case for my new charge.

But it will stay tucked away when I am in the car. I can understand the temptation. They're fun toys. But no. Not worth it.

In the meantime, I have at least a dozen followers already on Instagram. I should probably post a photo.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Celery Update: Because Of Course You Care ...

I've felt the hunger. I can sense the urgent need to know. "How is the celery end doing?!", I hear in the zeitgeist. Relax, dear zeitgeist. I'm here to let you know.

Regular readers of this blog – all three of them, give or take – will remember that on August 9, I posted this pic:

And then, so gleeful was I with the celeriness of it all, I posted this two days later:

And here we are, more than two weeks hence.

As of moments ago, the little celery plant looks like this:

He has been joined by a celery friend:

The celery friend is a bit showy in the rib department:

His end is bigger, so he has more energy to put forth, I suppose. He's like The Rock of celery ends.

I am learning that growing celery ends is not a means for gathering copious amounts of celery leaves but they're happy little companions on my kitchen counter. And I love this shade of green.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Whither Integrity? ...

I am far from perfect. Far, far, far from perfect. There's me, sitting on this stool at my kitchen counter, click-clacking away, and perfect is somewhere, I reckon, near Pluto. Or maybe through a wormhole and in another dimension. Did you see "Interstellar"? Perfect may be on one of those planets, where an hour is equivalent to seven years.

The perfect I'm referencing here is internal – personal perfect – not external, not the perfect home or the perfect car or the perfect haircut or the perfect outfit or the perfect makeup or the perfect whatever, but rather, how I exist in the world, how I interact with others, how I conduct myself, how I treat those around me as well as myself.

The Golden Rule is an exquisitely simple life philosophy, so I try to keep that in mind each day. Turns out, it's pretty simple to not behave in ways that would make me feel shitty. And I am a big fan of not feeling shitty and also of simple things.

I am paring back my life in many ways (even as I've been giving in to my nesting instincts of late). Some things really do require me to add to my possessions – I realized yesterday that my favorite knock-around pair of gym shoes are so bald on the bottom that I really should avoid tile floors – but for the most part, I want less. (The tiny-home movement fascinates me, though I'm not quite ready to live in 100-some square feet.)

And a part of that lack of materialism means that I'm not very much interested in money. Yes, I need it. And I'm learning some very interesting things of late about my relationship with it and how and when it shows up in my life and when and why it doesn't. But the pursuit of money in and of itself holds no appeal for me. I've never wanted to be worth X amount by Y date. Money does not equate to worth in my world. Money is a tool.

But there are others who do not share my thinking. And the pursuit of money, to my mind, drives them to do some shitty, shitty things.

Which brings me to the title of this post: Whither Integrity?

"Whither," if you're wondering (and weren't an English major), means "To what state?"

Or, put another way: what the hell happened to integrity? Where'd it go?

I've been thinking about it a lot of late, thinking about how fundamental it is, how foundational.

Without it, does anything else matter?

If you have to step on people to get where you're going, can you appreciate the destination?

Maybe some people can. Maybe some people lack fully developed consciences. Maybe some people just don't give a shit. Maybe some people are able to justify their behavior to themselves for the sake of their bottom lines. Maybe some people really can sleep soundly each night and look themselves in the mirror each morning.

Or maybe they can't but they don't realize it just yet. Maybe the day will arrive when they'll be aware of how they've behaved, the pain they've caused, the terrible trade-off they've made.

And then what? Is integrity recoverable? Renewable? Or is it a one-way street? Once you've sacrificed it, is it gone forever?

I guess it depends on your sphere, how willing others might be to forgive you, how willing others might be to give you a second chance. It's a tough proposition: if you screw someone who trusted you, how can they ever know that you won't screw them again? What if screwing people is simply your nature?

But then, what of those who've been wronged? Their guards go up, rightfully so. But how unfortunate. It's a double violation: the betrayal and then the guardedness, though at least the response is in their control. Still, how very human to trust a little less the next time. How very human and how very sad. For all of us.

Mistakes happen, sure. But malice? To willfully hurt someone? To sacrifice something so meaningful for something so fleeting?

That, I don't understand.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Little Celery End That Could (Because It Can't Not) …

This makes me inordinately happy!

Sunday, August 09, 2015

What's Meant To Be ...

I've been on a bit of a chicken-salad tear.

And as such, I've been cleaning and chopping a lot of celery. I like a lot of celery in chicken salad. I like the freshness. I like the crunch.

My mom makes a recipe for chicken soup that calls for a lot of celery leaves. When the recipe was first written, celery leaves were probably a lot more common than they are today. Today, stalks of celery are light on leaves. A lot gets hacked off and left in the fields.

But as I cut the bottom off of what was left of a stalk of celery (the whole bunch is a stalk, one piece is a rib), I remembered seeing a post about regrowing vegetables from root ends. And I thought of Mom's dearth of celery leaves when she needs them. So I thought I'd try to grow some for her.

I sliced a sliver off the bottom of the end, plunked it in a little ramekin, and added some water from my Brita pitcher. Filtered water seemed a better idea than tap.

I set it on the edge of my sink, and then on the counter on the other side of the faucet, lest I splash it with soapy water when rinsing dishes.

And the top began to dry out and turn a bit of brown. But barely. More like beige.

And then, a day or two later, I noticed that the middle was higher than the edges. The innermost ribs were up to something.

And then yesterday, I saw tiny leaves beginning to form.

And this morning, I saw what you see above.

I'm delighted by this easiest of all houseplants.

I'm delighted by the pale green color. I love spring greens. They're so hopeful.

I'm also reminded of what amazing things happen when we simply allow them to happen, when we get out of the way, when we're patient.

I add a bit of water to the dish every so often. That's my only role in this celery adventure. The celery knows what to do and can't help but do it.

There's a big life lesson in those little leaves.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Comparison ...

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

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

And then I paused the movie, exasperated with myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, I can. I do. I have.

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

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

And with perseverance and help, I prevented another flood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And admiration and appreciation.

And I do. Every day.

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

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

Being is only the beginning.

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

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

Another day.

So much possibility.

And incomparable.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Brownies ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time passed.

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

Soon thereafter, this tweet appeared:

Behold, the power of frosting.

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

I commented:

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

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

To which I replied:

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

And today is that day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Enough ...

I don't own a smartphone.

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

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

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

Isn't that amazing?

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

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

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

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

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

But I think I've used it once.

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

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

I love her for that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You get my point.

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

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

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

I'll probably downsize again someday.

I probably still won't own a smartphone.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

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

So, I have a thing for curling ribbon:

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

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

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

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

Until today.

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

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

I repeat for however many colors I'm using.

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

It's a rather quick process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Testing An Assumption About Wrapping Gifts ...

I love to wrap presents.

I mean, I love to wrap presents.

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

I also love to bake cookies.

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

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


Well, OK.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pulled a few photos to illustrate my points.

Sometimes I get theme-y.

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

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

Sometimes, I go simple.

Sometimes, I go flat.

And sometimes, I don't wrap at all.

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Thursday, May 07, 2015

What Might You Be Missing? ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can help you with that.

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

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

Let me know if I can help.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Almond Scones ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 03, 2015

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

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

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

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

Vintage Yellow Dining Chair – $995

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

Vintage Wedding Blaket Pillow – $495