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

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Simple Wisdom From A Very Dear Friend ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 17, 2015

Realization ...

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 05, 2015

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

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

Friday, March 27, 2015

Makes Beth Happy, March 27 ...

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

No explanation needed, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spumoni! ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ooh, yes, please!

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

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I Am My Mother's Daughter ...

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Another Farewell ...

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

Today, I am writing about my third.

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Enduring Love Affair ...

As the day wore on Friday, I pondered dinner.

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

What I did not have was pasta.

And any desire to go to the store.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I ate it.

And thought of this:


I Gave The Post Office Another Chance ...

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


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

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

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

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

For now.

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

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

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

Friday, March 13, 2015

Ten Years Ago Today ...

... I wrote this:

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

Jeff's site is now

Everything else has changed.

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

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

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

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

And people bought it!

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your writing brought him back.

"Your writing brought him back."

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

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

But of course, that is not the case.

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

And what better outcome than that could there be?

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

This has always simply been a place to share.

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

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

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

Let's see what the future holds.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Donna Day 2015 ...

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

And that is what this post is about.

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

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

So, so many of us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Especially if folks like you contribute.

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

Consider these statistics:

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

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

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

And then, please, contribute to this extraordinary cause.

Choose hope. Every day.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Farewell, Flannel! ...

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

Friday, March 06, 2015

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

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

"Your friends at the United States Postal Service"

Oh. Well. Let me rethink my plan.

OK, "friends," we need to talk.

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

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

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

Here's what happened:

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

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

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

And then I received nothing.

For two days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That, my "friend," was really maddening.

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

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

Guess who filled out the survey?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uh huh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this is not the first time this has happened.

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

I deserve better. We all deserve better.

Next time, I'll try UPS.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

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

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

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

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

And I spied this:

Vintage Metal Atom Model – $4,795

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

And then I checked the dimensions.

Would you like to know the dimensions?

63"W x 55"D x 42.25"H

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

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

Do people in France have very poor vision?

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

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

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

Friday, February 13, 2015

Adventures In Food Coloring ...

I had this idea, see?

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

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

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

I made the dough.

I cut it into fourths.

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

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

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

Uh oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope. Drop, drop. Green.

Wow. Green does not degrade. Green stays green.

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

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

And I put the baking sheet into the oven.

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

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

So I opted to just shoot the pink.

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

Unless Tim Burton calls.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder ...

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

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

So this morning, I snapped a few.

I like the colors.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

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

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

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

Nope, I really don't.

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

I don't use starters.

I don't use a baking stone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope, probably not, I said.

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

Don't kill the yeast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baking bread is enormously gratifying.

And your family and friends will think you a genius.

Don't kill the yeast.

Friday, January 09, 2015

How Can I Help You Express Yourself? ...

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

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

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

1. She's really writing two books.


2. The second book should probably happen first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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