Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Future Quinn by Barbara Quinn

I’ve mentioned before that I'm going to be a grandma. What a thrill it still is to write those words. My son and his wife recently found out that the baby they are expecting is a boy. If the technicians are right we’ll welcome the little guy at the end of October. I would have been equally happy with a boy or girl when I had my son, and I felt the same way about this grandchild. But knowing what the gender is makes the event that much more real and closer.

I’ve already started shopping for baby boy things. Oh, there are such cute little items that were not around when my son was born. Little booties made to look like sneakers. Adorable sunglasses and hats that make me smile when I see them. My husband is looking forward to buying a Wiffle Ball and bat for the babe. And I can’t wait to read stories to him the way I read them to my son. Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories was one of his favorites. We wore out our copy of Good Night Moon.

All around us the world may be topsy turvy. People continue fighting time worn wars. Politicians keep jockeying for attention. And the cost of food and gas are going up so much each week that I’ve reverted to my penny-pinching first married ways. Those lessons learned in the early days of marriage are coming in quite handy now. But all that pales in the face of the fact that soon there will be a new baby boy in the family.

How lovely to look forward to meeting my grandson in the future!

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Get-Away by Angie Ledbetter

I'm in New Orleans and it feels surreal to be here. I have not been away from home in a really long time, so it took a day or so to begin to relax, to stop the constant worry over my kids and family. "What if something happens while I'm gone?" I've been asking myself. But since I committed to attending this writer's conference eight months ago, I might as well enjoy it to the hilt and try to have a little trust and faith. And if I'm needed back home for some reason, I'm only an hour away. This circular reasoning makes me feel a little better; a little more able to relax and enjoy the rhythms of a strange, good place for awhile.

The conference is being held at the Monteleone on the edge of the famous French Quarter. I wish everyone could visit here with its gilded appointments, luxurious rooms, view of the Mississippi River, rooftop pool and revolving bar - the Carousel. Horse-drawn buggies wait out on the street to take visitors and tourists to famous places. Five star restaurants and delicious hole-in-the-walls are steps away. A lone saxophone player makes music a few blocks down. In this area at least, Katrina's devastation is not noticeable.

I appreciate this vacation from reality and the people who have worked so hard to put the conference together, especially friend and writer, Deborah LeBlanc. I'm very grateful to be with friends, to have time to recharge my batteries, to meet with other crazy writer people, to pursue my dreams and goals. Thank you to the service industry people who made my trip wonderful. You made the hotel live up to its image -- "New Orleans' Timeless Address." I enjoyed learning a bit of your stories, and if I were a millionaire, I'd share my largess with you!

If you ever get a chance to visit New Orleans, consider stopping over at the Monteleone for a night, a meal or a drink as you spin slowly and unnoticeably around. You won't be sorry. http://http//

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gratitudation For My Spouse or Something Like That by Kat Magendie

If you all have been reading my last couple of YOG posts, you will note I’ve given my husband a bit of a hard time. So, I am here to write about how grateful I am that he does his own laundry, cooks, gets up earlier than I do and flicks the coffee switch that grinds and then brews our Deep Creek Blend, and all that jazz. I sit to write and notice a copy of Reader’s Digest, and right beside it my MORE Magazine. I pick up the MORE and thumb through it, and then I flip through the Reader’s Digest. Wait! No! I am writing a YOG about how gratitudinational I am for my husband, seeing as how I’ve been making fun of him just a teeny bit in my last few YOGs, or at best, seeming as if I was hootin tootin glad to have all that alone time where I danced and sang and had a really clean house without drips and fingerprints and the whole bed to myself.

I settle in my chair, laptop in my lap—yes, that’s where I use my laptop, in my lap. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do? Why else is it called a laptop if I’m not typing on it while it rests on my lap. Actually, it’s not directly on my lap, since I use one of those little mini “writing tables,” the ones with a soft padding underneath, mine has happy little flowers that reminds me of the sixties, even though I am not a sixties flower child, since my teen years were in the seventies. What was I writing about? Let me backtrack, let’s see: writing table, laptop, hootin tootin, MORE and Reader’s Digest magazines—oh! Yes, I was writing a YOG post about how grateful I am to my husband. How Roger supports my writing, how he every so often goes to Baton Rouge by himself so I can have the house all to myself and lie across the bed without kicking him out of the way because he takes up too much space and I’m all scrunched over to one side and he says I take up too much of the covers but that is not true because what he does is gets too hot and kicks them to my side and I have so many piles of covers that I push them to the other side and they end up—wait. Hold up. Oops, I did it again. I digressificated. And, dang, if I’m not at the word limit where we try not to yammerfy and blabbervate on and on, thus boring the heck out of YOG readers. Well, maybe later I can return and write about the gratitudation I have for my spouse, as soon as he quits distracting me from writing about him by shouting out the answers to Jeopardy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Great Expectations by Nannette Croce

I enjoy traveling alone. I don’t mean alone, alone––I usually take some kind of tour with people of like interests. What I mean is traveling without anyone––relative or friend––who knows me well enough to expect me to behave in a certain way.

Before my daughter was born, I traveled alone on business sometimes, but then I had to be business me. Then for almost 13 years I never left home without my husband and/or daughter. I never left the wife me or the mommy me behind.

It was 1999, almost 10 years ago now, that I took my first trip “alone.” It was a tour of Indian War battlegrounds in Montana and Wyoming, ending at the Little Bighorn. There were other single women on the tour, but they were just that––single. The idea that I left my family behind made me somewhat of a curiosity to the men who regularly left their families behind each summer to drive the vans and coordinate the tours for little money, but loads of adventure.

I’ve taken several themed tours since, and women leaving families behind is no longer an anomaly. It’s not about pretending to be someone we’re not. It’s about who we really are when we live outside of others’ expectations. It’s not about dancing on bars, at least not for me. Sometimes it’s about skipping dinner with the group to go to bed early, but with no apologies, no compromises, no disappointing someone else who doesn’t want to eat alone.

Sometimes I enjoy a romantic trip with my husband or a weekend with a friend, but sometimes I just want to be me––the me no one “expects” me to be.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Slowing Down Mid-day by Barbara Quinn

In Sicily they still shut down mid-day for about a 4 hour break. Other than restaurants and bars everyone is at home enjoying themselves between the hours of 12 or 1 to 4 or 4:30. Then it’s back to work again till 8 PM. That means there are four rush hours. Outside the big cities it’s not very crowded and the tiny roads are able to handle the rush home. How wonderful to be able to be with your family mid-day for a meal, a nap, and a little love. Life has a different rhythm. The dinner hour often begins at 10 PM and afterwards there is a “passeggiata” – a walk around the town square or along the ocean where all ages take a healthy, long stroll. I enjoyed joining the crowd walking along, studying the shoes which are the best giveaway to nationality. (We left the sneakers and baseball caps at home!)

As tourists, the mid-day hours were a good time to take a drive out to the countryside. We drove past shuttered shops and were often the only car in remote villages. Even the gas stations were closed. Luckily some of them have machines that will take your cash and allow you to fill up. One day we put in more money than we needed. The machine spit out a piece of paper that we stared at. A young boy on a bike came over. Eventually we understood that he wanted to help us out. He took the receipt to a closed shop where he knew the owner and returned with our cash. We were more than happy to reward him with a tip. Then we headed off to a local bar for an espresso and a chat with the few locals who were hanging out.

It’s fascinating to see how different cultures approach life and to learn that there are many ways to fill the twenty-four hours of each day. We commute too long and far to adopt this lifestyle in the States. Could you imagine the local mall shutting down between 12 and 4? But what a thrill and pleasure it was to be a part of it for a short time.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Salute by Angie Ledbetter

It's Memorial Day in America. I send out thanks to our soldiers serving in different places, keeping peace in hostile lands, living amidst danger and threat of harm, building hospitals, roads, and training foreign troops. As I drink my first cup of coffee today, I think of you all who do not have coffee, who are away from loved ones on your tour, and I appreciate your sacrifice.
To the veterans - many who have been forgotten or languish in V.A. hospitals or nursing homes, I hope you are honored today in some way. I hope you have visitors and parades and parties.

My gratitude goes to the families who are separated from the military men and women they love and long to see while they are on maneuvers, tours of duty or training. I feel for those who must pack and move to a new post...again. *Waving to my stepdaughter and her family as they contemplate packing everything to move cross country once more.*

Today I remember and appreciate the armed service folks. They give a lot, sometimes they give all. As I have the freedom to pack and travel to a writer's conference shortly, I know in my heart it is you who have secured my pursuits and made this land safe. Thank you. I am grateful every day.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Land of a Thousand Dance Moves by Kat Magendie

Recently, while my husband was in Baton Rouge, I cleaned the house (see previous YOG post). But before I picked up rag, vacuum, sponge, I slipped into the player a mix of CD’s labeled “Fun Music.” It’s an eclectic blend that my husband doesn’t enjoy as much as I do—he loves his jazz, and so do I, but there are times I am bored with Jazz, bored of what I also deem as the “Elevator Music,” music he listens to in the car when he’s not listening to jazz. And, my main requirement for the music’s enjoyment, which my husband does not like, is to play it very loud. How else can I experience it properly? It’s the same way in my car—I must turn it up to obtain maximum pleasure from all the thumps and fwumps the music offers.

I push “Random.” And Wait! The first song happens to be one of my all time favorites: Wilson Pickett’s “Land of a Thousand Dances.” Well, one cannot be still when Thousand Dances is playing. I shake, I shimmy, I rotate, I want to watusi, alligator, and mash potato as the song instructs, but I don’t know what those dances are (and I vow right then and there to learn those moves). I do my own wild jittery dance, laughing to beat the band, “Na na-na-na-na na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na na-na-na-na.” Once Dances is over, I begin my wiping and dusting…until! Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” blares from the speakers. Well, how can any woman clean house during Respect? I pretend I am in a karaoke bar with an audience. I point, I pose, I sing out: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out what it means to me, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Take care, TCB,” and then I gyrate to, “Oh, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me.”

And then it’s back to cleaning. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy shouts “King of Swing!” right as I’m about to vacuum. Well, one can’t vacuum during Big Bad Voodoo Daddy—“When you feel your bones a shakin, and your temperature is risen… .” I do a quieter, but no less energetic, cleaning job until one of my least favorite songs comes on—it is a woman’s strange rendition of “Girl from Ipanema,” except she’s singing it as “the boy from Ipanema” and it doesn’t have the same charm. The music helps the time go by swiftly when I’m cleaning, or driving, or maybe just goofing off. I bow to you Musicians and Singers, thank you all—I blow to you a kiss, a shimmy, a bust-a-hip move...Watch me work, now!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tolerance by Nannette Croce

We are a very diverse group we YOG women, not to mention our guests. Not long ago we had an e-mail conversation, our equivalent of the water cooler, where we discussed our varied beliefs or lack there of. Angie and I represented the two ends of the spectrum, she with her strong faith and I with my atheism. Kat and Barb were somewhere in between.

What a joy it was to discuss our differences openly and honestly with no fear of rejection.

I mentioned at the time that I don’t broadcast my atheism very often. Not because I’m ashamed––I come from a proud tradition of political thinkers––but because I don’t like being linked with those atheists who see themselves as the sole voice of reason and condemn anyone who does not agree.

What I despise is proselytizing and intolerance by anyone. To me believing or not believing or what you believe in is a matter of choice. If it brings comfort or, better yet, encourages someone to reach a hand out to others, faith is a good thing. If it closes minds and creates enemies, it’s a bad thing.

I have known highly moral individuals on both ends of the spectrum and am aware that historically both faith and atheism have been used to excuse inhumane behavior. However, if our little group is indicative, and I believe it is, tolerance generally trumps intolerance, no matter what the media tries to tell us. On an individual basis we accept differences more than disdain them, and often acceptance of one individual multiplies into an acceptance of an entire group.

I am grateful for the friends and acquaintances who accept me for my acts and deeds rather than my beliefs.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Life Sicilian Style by Barbara Quinn

For the past nine days I’ve been in Sicily with its sun-drenched beaches, stunning vistas, and warm people. I was lucky to see the orange-ribbons of lava from Etna streaming down the mountain to the sea. Overhead a full moon lent eerieness to the nightly drama.

This was my first visit to Sicily and it did not disappoint for Sicily is both a world apart and familiar at the same time. It’s a lovely, confusing, and harmonious blend of cultures. Besides the large Roman influence, Greek and Arabic culture are great on the island. From architecture to food, the many cultures blend and recombine. Byzantine mosaics and Greek temples are as plentiful as the bars that serve tasty espresso for less than a dollar. They speak Italian, however the Sicilian dialect is unto itself. E.g., what we call Limoncello is Limoneddu in Sicily. Happily most Sicilians were able to understand my limited regular Italian.

CusCus is one of the dishes with an Arabic history that is prevalent. I had swordfish, and also spagola, a long thin fish. Both were rolled and stuffed with pine nuts, breadcrumbs, and raisins. Nutmeg is another popular spice. Almonds – mandorle - are used in more ways than I ever could imagine: almond wine, almond flavored granita - an ice that is perfect in the hot afternoon, and pasta with almonds. I rarely saw a piece of garlic. When it was used it was used lightly. These authentic foods of Sicily haven’t made it to America. Sure we have fried calamari and cannoli, but we don’t have mini cassata which are tasty almond and ricotta cakes, or pasta with fava and calamaretti - the tiny calamari the size of a thumbnail, or nespole, which are loquats.

Someone needs to open a real Sicilian restaurant in New York! Till then I’ll remain grateful for the sights and sounds, and for the unusual tastes that paraded across my palate. I’m also grateful that there are still places like Sicily where you can step seamlessly into another culture and learn that there’s more than one way to live, love, and eat to your heart’s content, all the while having the threat of disaster in the form of a smoldering volcano hanging overhead. Talk about learning to live for today!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Simply Thursday by Angie Ledbetter

"Success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well." ~ Jim Rohn

Ah, just an ordinary day toward the end of a week. But today feels different. There's a slight cool breeze (weird for May in Louisiana), the kids are at school taking their very last finals, and my husband's at work. I've got a bit of free time and the possibility of a nap. All good things, especially the quiet. Man, how my priorities have changed.

It seems like just a few years ago that a nap would've been the very last thing I'd have looked forward to. Or quiet time. Or being able to imagine my kids old enough to be out of the house without me. But life's one big old circle, and I've gone back to enjoying some of the same things I once did as a young child -- including the naps.

I will not squander my free and quiet time on this Thursday which has no appointments or plans penciled on my calendar. I'll work on my manuscript, maybe putter out on the patio a bit, read a few chapters of the book I'm currently lost in, take a long bubble bath, and yes...go for that nap. I don't consider these unexciting things a waste of time, but a recharging of batteries.

Today is simply Thursday. Today is a simple Thursday. I'm grateful!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Alone Time by Kat Magendie

Sometimes it’s nice to be alone, completely alone. Although I have plenty of “alone-time,” seeing as I have no children at home, I work from home so there are no crowds of people around me, and my husband mostly stays out of my way when I’m working. But! He is still here, he still walks about, does his thing, takes up more than half the bed, says the answers to Jeopardy aloud, gets up earlier than I do and “quietly” (not) goes about the little log house doing whatever; or he cooks dinner, which I should not be complaining about, however, there are times I want no food smells, no clanging pots, no crumbs or drips he has not noticed that I clean up. I cannot in good conscience complain about my husband, for I know he does many things other husbands do not do, like his own laundry(!), however, there are still times when I wish to be completely alone, as in the house all to myself for more than a couple of hours.

Which is why, when Roger went to Baton Rouge and I stayed behind, the first thing I did that very day the left was to clean the house. Yeah, funny, huh? But it was as if I was preparing the house for Me. For My ways. I dusted, vacuumed, wiped, sponged, aired out, and I washed every item on the bed. Then, when all that was done, I sat down on the couch, with a salad, and watched television with candles burning in my spotless house. That night, I slithered into my lavender-scented sheets, and at first I scrunched “to my side,” but then! Wait! I had the bed to myself, and I lolled about, throwing my arms and legs out willy nilly. The next morning, I made my coffee, wiped up any drips, and admired how clean and orderly things still look hours and hours later. Wow!

Yes, there are times when I am grateful to be completely alone. I wonder, and I don’t see why not, if my husband feels this way when I go out of town and he has the house to himself. I imagine he thinks, “Ha! I can make food fingerprints, dribbles, and crumbs without her tsking me. I can have real sausage, and bacon! Ha! And I’ll watch Jeopardy fifteen hours a day and shout out all the answers. I’ll listen to my Richard Harris album that she detests. I’ll not shave. I get the whole bed to myself, including the covers!” Gratitude for alone time—it’s an equal opportunity thing.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Window to My Past by Nannette Croce

Last week we had one of those early warm days here in southeast Pennsylvania. The temperature reached 80 but without summer’s stifling humidity. So despite a prediction of rain, I kept my window cracked when I went to bed that night.

I woke in the night to a soft spring rain patting down on the leaves outside my window, interspersed with a rustling breeze that sent the blinds tapping against the sill. A wave of nostalgia washed over me as I remembered the days before air conditioning was standard in most suburban homes. In the summer, windows remained open through all but the most fierce summer storms. Then we’d shut them tight, sitting in the hot oven of a house watching rain sheet down the glass until it left as quickly as it came and everything opened again feeling cooler and fresher.

On clear summer nights we played outside until we could make out nothing but shadows or our Moms called us in early for a bath to wash the scent of grass and dried earth from our knees and elbows. Even the adults sat out on porches and patios as long as possible to catch the breezes.

Generally, TV’s significance dwindled in the summer months, at least until after dark. TV was summer reruns except, for us kids, the shows we couldn’t stay up late enough to watch during the school year like The Untouchables or one of the “eight million stories in the Naked City” or maybe a summer replacement variety show. We all had to agree because there was just one TV and three channels to choose among.

I’m grateful for my air conditioner on those 100 plus days, but I’m also grateful for those open windows to my past.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Exercise Buddies by Barbara Quinn

I go to the gym three or four times a week and let me tell you, it’s a struggle to get my butt there. I’m much happier reading a book, or writing, or sitting outside and soaking up the sun. But the exercise is good for me, and I do feel better when I complete a workout.

I feel better not only because of the exercise, but because of the lovely group of women in the cardio-strength class I attend twice a week. I’m grateful that I have time with these ladies and I look forward to our time together. They are all ages, from mid-thirties to early seventies. Each one brings a dash of uniqueness to the constant conversations which help us pass the time. We talk while we sweat through our step and aerobics. We talk while we do our weights. We chat before and sometimes we go for coffee after. And so I’ve come to know all about their children, and grandchildren, their parents and grandparents. One woman came back this week after a bout of strep and mono. Everyone wanted to know what had happened. Another’s daughter has decided where to attend college at Tulane where my son went, and we discussed that. The teacher’s daughter sliced her foot on a hot tub and advice was given. We talk politics, and religion. We share recipes and recommend books, movies, restaurants. And most importantly, we laugh.

There are different levels of friendships in life. All of them are valuable and keep us connected. I owe much to those people who allow me into their lives and who are there in times of need. The friends you share the good news with are as important as the ones you share the bad news with. And the friends you exercise with, well, they too are truly special!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The 4 Fs by Angie Ledbetter

I see a recurring theme and common thread in many of my gratitude posts. Funny, these are the same things packed into my co-authored inspirational book too -- Family, Friends, Faith & Food -- and also the important things passed down through generations in my family.

Family: I wouldn't be who/where/what I am without them. My parents and grandparents, in particular, have molded me and given me the values I still hold dear. Thank you!

Friends: Some of my dearest friends I've had since kindergarten or my early days in Girl Scouts. They lift me up when I'm down and make me laugh often. Thanks to you, friend who lent my mom your "magic blue cape" for her journey through illness; thanks to all of you crazy writer women whose words inspire me daily; and thanks to all of you who've been there to share laughter, hugs and sadness. Oh, and I appreciate all you who've helped my kids through school, Scouts, sports, and other events when my husband has been unavailable because of work. All of you together have created a beautiful stream of companionship that continues to flow through my life.

Faith: I'm deeply grateful for my faith. It gets me through rough patches, gives me hope always and is a guiding principle I lean on often.

Food: Whether Cajun, Italian, country cookin', or some new concoction, I love my food. Preparing and eating good food gives me comfort and allows me to share the fruits of my labor with others. Food is the connecting element I find in many of my best memories and gatherings. I'm glad I can cook and thankful for the opportunities I have to commune with the important people in my life over a full table.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Gimme Them Beans by Kat Magendie

I grew up with home-cooked food. I sound almost dinosaurian, but I never knew the difference, as there were many other kids who grew up when I did who didn’t eat at fast food joints. Our family never had a lot of money, what with five kids and a daddy who part of the time of our childhoods was attending college. That meant no restaurants were on our menu, either. The only exceptions came in later years when we lived in Baton Rouge—when we went to the Piccadilly on Government Street on an occasional Sunday, when Mother bought home hot tamales from that hot tamale place on North Boulevard, and the one and only time Mother stopped at a McDonalds (I was a teen) and came home with bags of hamburgers and French fries while we kids stared with fascination and lust over the previously unknown mystery held under those golden arches.

Our meals consisted of lots and lots of beans. Many many beans. And you’d think I would be tired of them, but I am not. I still love beans, particularly pintos, which was Mother’s bean of choice. There were butter beans, crowder peas, blackeyed peas (which I hated, because I thought they smelled like dirty socks), baby limas and big limas, navy beans—all eaten with cornbread sopping with butter. South Louisianians have their Red Beans and Rice, but my mother is from Arkansas, and my daddy from Tennessee, so we ate what many would consider “Country Cookin’.” When we weren’t having beans, we had rice and gravy, succotash (which meant lots of leftovers stirred together to make this stuff that didn’t taste half bad), chipped-cream beef on toast (that strange beef that is cut in strips and has the texture of softened rubber, but somehow Mother made it taste good), and more beans, beans, beans, glorious beans.

Thanks, Mom. Because I grew up eating all those beans, and because we didn’t eat out at fast food joints and restaurants, I have the arteries and heart of someone half my age, maybe younger. When I had my carotid artery sonogrammed, the technician fell in love with it. She gushed, “Oh My God, oh. Oh, this is the cleanest prettiest most beautiful artery I have ever seen in my life! Come look at this, Joe! You have to see it!” My heart is strong, too, and I am healthy as that clichéd horse. Gratitude is fickle, some things aren’t appreciated in their time, but later, when the results rear their pretty arteried head.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Graduation Day by Nannette Croce

If all goes as planned when you read this I will be at Skidmore College for my daughter’s graduation. As you can imagine on such an occasion, I am waxing nostalgic––not about my daughter’s life, but my own.

I have a good memory for times past (not for things that need doing). This has provided me, at each stage of my daughter’s life, with an understanding of what she might be thinking and feeling. And right now she, like me at the time, can’t imagine a day when the thought of dorm life sends chills down her spine and ending her night at ten is preferable to starting it at that hour or later.

On my first job I shared an office with a fellow alumna of George Washington U and was horrified to learn she hadn’t been back to DC in four years. Washington, DC was my second home. I planned to return soon and often.

In the end, it took me five years and since my time there coincided with the Metro construction (yes I am that old), the city looked completely different the next time I saw it. I went back with my new husband. We had a little more money to spend. Though not flush, we could splurge on some of the restaurants I had to pass up in my student days.

Five years earlier I couldn’t have imagined turning up my nose at that deli we all frequented or preferring dinner for two and a glass of wine over a crowded bar.

When my daughter swears she’ll attend every reunion and maintain contact with every friend, I nod. Living the future can be more fun than knowing it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On Gratitude by Maria Grazia Swan

A long time ago, when I was going through my divorce and felt for sure I would never be ‘whole’ again, I used to calm myself to sleep by counting my blessings.

I still count my blessings almost every night, not out of desperation but more out of habit. A happy habit. And the numbers are constantly growing. While in my time of despair I would only find comfort in a few major blessings, now that time and maturity have sharpened my sense of gratitude, I have enough daily thanks to click through the beads of an entire rosary.
No, I’m not going to bore you with my long (and very personal) list. But I would like to share something I consider ‘seasonal gratitude’. Please don’t laugh when I tell you that I’m grateful we’re in an elections year. No kidding.

Why?” you may ask.

If, like me, you follow international news, you are well aware of the massacres happening in Kenya following their elections. And certainly the Bhutto assassination made an impact regardless of your take on foreign policies. So I’m grateful that we live in this great country, the United States of America, where we can openly discuss and vote for whomever we want without fear, regardless of skin color, sex and country of origin. Amen!

Maria Grazia Swan is the winner of a Women's National Book Association award whose matchmaking has brought together a number of happy couples. She's now the go-to source for many online and print relationship guides. She is the author of the recently released,
Boomer Babes-True Tales of Love and Lust in The Later Years ( Dorchester Publishing).

Visit her website:

Big Foot Barb by Barbara Quinn

In the midst of an intense weekend of pitching my latest novel, I looked in the mirror and saw a bright red rash spreading across my nose. I’m an allergic type so this was not unusual. Then the rash grew, and grew, and measles-like spots started appearing, first on my chest, then my arms, my back, and stomach. And my poor feet began to ache, especially my left one. I thought I’d been walking too much. No shoes were comfortable. I looked at my ankles. They were filled with fluid. Same for my hands. By the next day all my joints were stiff and filled with fluid and I was bright red and spotted everywhere. I soldiered on through the conference. There was a lot of pollen in NYC and I thought perhaps I was having a particularly bad case of pollen sensitivity.

Thank heavens for makeup and long sleeves. I covered up the red face and got some Cortaid cream to stem the itching. And I downed benadryl. Since my adrenaline was pumping, the usual antihistamine fog was not that bad, though it was definitely there. That swollen left foot really ached across the top.

Once the conference finished and I headed home, whatever had moved into my system took up even more space. My head throbbed and a fever rose. I couldn’t go down stairs since my ankles could not bend. I started dropping things because my fingers couldn’t hold onto them. Off I went to the doctor. I spent time at the hospital having blood drawn, urine sampled. One guess is that I had a bout of Fifth’s Disease which is a viral disease that crops up most often in childhood.

After a few more miserable days, the redness and symptoms subsided. When my feet began working properly again I was relieved. I gained a real appreciation for something I’ve always taken for granted: the simple act of going down the stairs without having to hang on to the banister and thump my feet from step to step. And I’m grateful that I was healthy enough to fight this weird disease off! Life is hard and navigating it when you are ill is an incredible challenge. My hat is off to all who suffer from debilitating conditions. Remember that movie My Left Foot where the fellow could only communicate via his left foot? Well, my left foot still swells up on top, but I'm grateful that it's the only part of me that doesn't work. That's nothing to complain about.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How Grateful are We? by Angie Ledbetter

A Chinese proverb most often attributed to Confucius says, "Don't curse the darkness -- light a candle." I love that quote and say it to myself sometimes when I'm tempted to curse more than just the "darkness." ;)

When tempted to wallow in misery or sadness, I step outside whatever environment is causing the intense feelings of bleakness and get a glimpse of something refreshing. Today I sat outside in the early morning. The sun wasn't out of bed yet, but you couldn't tell it by the varied bird calls and songs filling the air. A cool breeze played in the outstretched arms of my Dad's mature fig tree. I'd gotten a decent night's sleep and had an aromatic first cup of coffee in hand while I breathed in the smells, sounds and sights surrounding me. I steeped in the light of the coming day instead of its mostly dark beginnings. Ahh.

Something else I've found refreshing is taking a gratitude test. Although there are many, this one is only six questions and scores come back immediately. Now it's official -- I'm immensely grateful -- the quiz proves it! And that reminds me that I'm thankful for this blog. It gives me frequent opportunities to look around, over, under, and beyond the moment to find treasures I'd probably otherwise miss.

Take the Gratitude Test

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Good Fire by Kat Magendie

The most tangible of all visible mysteries - fire. ~Leigh Hunt
Somewhere, someplace far away or not so far away, someone named or never named, cocked their head, raised high their arm and with a quick descending pound, struck a flint they had no idea was a flint, and created a spark. The spark was interesting, so they did it again and again, watched as the light bounced off the rock. Maybe they laughed, maybe they ran to get their friends and family to watch, maybe they were afraid and thought some god played a trick on them. Whatever happened in this long long ago, someone someplace named or unnamed created a spark that would then create a controlled fire. I want to thank them for it. They will never know my thanks, never know that what they created out of earth’s humble offerings would change the way human’s light their spaces, prepare their food, and create warmth. I am imagining there was no fanfare, and I am certain there were no research grants, there was no name written in history books, nothing to mark that day the spark created what human would come to appreciate.

I can imagine before these long ago people created the spark they knew as good fire, they may have known of the big fire that swelled and grew out of control—lightning strikes a tree in a forest and the trees burn, one after another…big fire was not seen as a help to human, but instead something to be feared. A fiery hot god breathing smoke as it ate its way through anything in its path.

But that day of the sparkling flint arcing from the pounding of rock was a controlled event, something the human did from his or her own hand. From those humble beginnings, I am sitting in front of my fire on a surprise-chilly spring day, with a lemongrass candle burning on the counter, the kettle on to boil for tea, asparagus ready to be broiled in the oven for my salad. If my lights go out in our high windy day on the mountain, I’ll light a lantern for light. I will remain snug in my little log house, warm and safe and happy with my good fires. It’s difficult to name gratitude for something I know can also create such pain, but all the same, I stare into the fire and am calmed.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Herbal Remedies by Nannette Croce

We gratitude gals love our herbs.

I don’t buy mine at a nursery but at one of the annual sales the Philadelphia Herbal Society regularly holds in my area. They sell unusual herbs and hybrids you can’t find in your, pardon the pun, “garden variety” home store.

Purchasing the desired herbs is a bit like getting on the choice rides at Disney World. The line begins forming an hour before opening. Strangers make conversation while scanning the alphabetical lay-out from a distance to estimate the location of their “must-haves.”

My first stop is always the lemon grass that grows as a beautiful fountain-like spray in the middle of my garden and flavors many Asian dishes. Next I hit the nasturtiums as PHS always offers new and unusual colors. Finally I move to the zinnias (they sell flowers as well) and work backwards, checking for any new flavors or hybrids along the way, like parcel––a cross between parsley and celery that saves buying a whole head when you need just one stalk. Along the way I buy the standard stuff, sage, rosemary, and end at the sweet basil which is always well-stocked so I can get there last.

My purpose is to purchase herbs, but despite what usually turns out to be bad weather, the most pleasurable part is standing in line for the opening and the cashiers, meeting people with whom I share a common interest, comparing prior sales, and always, always laughing. No one seems to grump when a box falls apart or someone else grabs the last spiced basil. You win some; you lose some. It’s all part of the game.

Traditions come in big and small. This small one means a lot to me.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Herbaceous Thoughts by Barbara Quinn

It’s time for planting my herb garden here in New York. This weekend I hit the garden store. What a delight it was to roam up and down looking at the beautiful flowers and drawing in the wonderful scents. In my neighborhood, the purple lilacs are already out in full bloom. The fruit and vegetable stand has dozens of branches of lilac displayed in the front of the store. And last week when I was in NYC the corner flower stands had cherry blossom boughs propped in cans to take home. What a wonderful idea. When we ate at a Moroccan restaurant the place was filled with the cherry blossom boughs. The downside is the wretched pollen that makes my eyes water and nose run, but that’s a small price to pay for the beautiful sights of the blooms. On the way to the garden center, I noticed that the ground was covered in the spent blossoms. The petals swirled through the air, nature’s confetti thrown in honor of spring.

My tarragon and sage have already come back without any help, poking out of the ground with the first warmth of the season. The sage has taken over far too much of the garden already. So has the mint, which I try to keep off in a different spot since it is the most territorial of herbs.

At the garden center, I picked up a couple of large pots of basil. You can never have too much basil in an Italian household. One of them went to my Mom who is 87 and still cooking for herself each day. I’m grateful for all her lessons, in cooking and in the garden. It’s her voice in my head that guided me in my search for my herbs. “Look at the bottom of the stem and be sure it’s not yellowed or black. Check beneath the leaves for critters. Is the plant happy looking?” After the basil, I selected Italian flat leaf parsley. “We use the flat not the curly," Mom said. Then thyme, oregano, and rosemary. Some of each went to Mom, a Mother’s Day gift she’ll enjoy, almost as much as the pizza well-done that we downed at Roma's on Saturday, accompanied by a pitcher of beer. Yep. She still loves her beer and wine.

Thanks for all the lessons, Mom, not only in the garden but in life. Who else was going to teach me how to save my Parmesan rinds to flavor soup and then serve them up for a tasty treat? Or how to roast peppers over the gas flame of my stove and then put them in a paper bag to steam before preparing?

I’m looking forward to muddling some of that mint for us for a spring Mojito!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Journey by Angie Ledbetter

I've thought a lot about the end of our physical existence lately. Although it is agonizing to watch a dear loved one at the end of their time, even in the last days (or weeks or months) of decline, I find things to be thankful for.

There's nothing nice about brain cancer, or any terminal illness. There is, however, a beauty in the end days if we look closely enough for them.

Being a caregiver gives me a chance to return to my mother some of the same things she gave me in my earliest years: unconditional love, pampering, tender bodily care, hugs, favorite foods, and the comfort of being near.

I also realize the blessings of Mom's own personal battle with the deadly tumor -- she is not suffering physical pain, her long term memories and personality remain, she still has her joyous sense of humor and laughter, and her family and friends have gathered closely to be with her often. Those who love her have been able to spend precious time with her. I know of others who have not been so fortunate. A friend's brother who has this same glioblastoma tumor, located in a different lobe of the brain, are dealing with very negative personality changes. How hard that must be on his family. We all know nightmare stories of pain and suffering. Every day, I am grateful that this is not my mother's journey, and am reminded that in death, there is beauty; there are things in which to be thankful.

I thank all of you who are praying for Mother and for our family. It means a lot. It means the most. *smile*

Friday, May 9, 2008

Great Idea by Kat Magendie

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. - Carl Sagan

The sky is a perfect clear blue. Overhead, a big fat crow caws. I tip back my head, stare at him; he stares at me. My dogs lift their heads. We stand, animals listening, living, being. We are great ideas.

Long ago and far away, a tiny atom Exploded—Big Bang—and hurled matter out and beyond. Some of that matter became our galaxy. Not an infinite universe? But an infinite idea. Dark Matter surrounds invisibly, yet one can see the dark. No energy, but mass. Could right now dark matter hover near, over, above, through us? Would we feel it? Know it? Sense it? The universe’s density: ratio of visible light to mass. Density mass is low—much of matter in universe is dark. The universe: with a beginning, a middle, an end—just like any story, just like any living being. The universe—a great idea.

I feel my feet upon the ground. The ground is real. I am real. My dogs are real. I breathe in the air. I let out the air. The sun touches the top of my head, heats it. There is a bird’s nest, abandoned, in the Poplar tree. On the ground, a dead worm, and underneath my foot, live ones I cannot see, but I know are there. A chipmunk scurries. Great ideas.

In my imagination, I fly. I look down upon the cities with their lights on and their lights off. I see the sleepless man toss his sheets into knots. I see the woman who cried herself to sleep. I see the little boy sleeping peacefully with his teddy bear under his arm. I see the teenage girl reading a book she loved as a child. I see the wolf howl. I see the other side of daylight. Dark matter surrounds. Dark Energy pulls. I accept this. I accept the ways of life and of death. I had a beginning. I have middle. I will have an end…then a beginning and a middle and an end, and then round and round, outward and outward, faster and faster, until all is torn apart, until I am nothing but atoms swirling in a madness of other atoms. What an idea.

The mysteries surround me. I accept them. I am grateful for the idea. We are all a great idea.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Daydreams and Nightmares by Nannette Croce

"When one of your dreams come true, you begin to look at the others more carefully."

Lately I’m experiencing the convergence of dream types––the day kind and the night (mare) kind. In a few weeks I’m attending a writing workshop where, for one week, I will live the college life for the first time in 33 years.

In the day I dream of the workshop leader meeting me over coffee to (privately) praise my work. Casually mentioning she knows the editor of the New Yorker and, by the way, will judge the Best Story in the World competition this year––wink, wink.

At night I dream of being stranded, naked, in a dorm bathroom, forced to walk down the hall to my room––all my jiggling flesh exposed. Or sprouting a full beard because I have no light or mirror to pluck my chin hairs.

This is not really about the physical. I am not so vain I can’t spend one week not looking my best with people I don’t know. It’s really the opposite, that dressing professionally and talking myself up won’t do it this time. I have to produce.

By day I’ve dreamed of attending this workshop since I passed it up four years ago to attend my daughter’s graduation. It’s not Bread Loaf, but they don’t accept everyone. In my night dreams I worry. Am I really still good enough? The story I submitted was an old one. Am I too old? Can I handle the rigors? Can I produce in short periods of time with others around?

I guess I’ll have to see, but I know one thing. My worst nightmare is a life with no more challenges. Deep down, it’s challenges like this that keep me feeling vibrant and alive and dreaming.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Funny Women by Barbara Quinn

I spent a few days at an Algonkian Pitch & Shop Conference in New York City. This is an intense four day workshop where participants learn to perfect a pitch for a novel, and then give it to a series of editors. One of the best parts of the experience was being in close contact with a group of very funny women. I love humor, and being around funny women is an uplifting experience. I was with a group of 16. 15 of us were women.

Women love to laugh, love to have a good time. There’s a long tradition of female comics. I always loved Lucy, Carol Burnett, Goldie Hawn, and shows like The Golden Girls, Mary Tyler Moore, and Designing Women. Now we have Tina Fey and 30 Rock, Sarah Silverman and Amy Pohler, and many, many more. I’ve been influenced by funny comediennes since I was a kid. And I strive for that type of humor in my own writing. I learned from these women who had great timing and instincts for getting people to laugh. And I learned at the conference too. The conference was a lot of work, but it was worth the struggle. I came away with a much improved (and funnier) pitch. And soon the manuscript will be on its way to the editors who requested it.

Thank you funny women! Keep on cracking those jokes. Lots of us are listening. And some of us are learning too!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Down Days by Angie Ledbetter

It's not possible to be "up" and positive every day. It's not realistic to think you'll always have a glorious day or an attitude of gratitude either. Sometimes the best you can say is, "I'm glad I woke again this morning. Lord, help me make it through today!"

And there's nothing wrong with that. It's reality for most people populating this earth at one time or another. Stresses and worries pile up. No matter how fast we swat them away or resolve them, bad days are going to happen.
I don't mind so much, though. Without the down days, how could I appreciate the truly great ones? As human nature goes, if things were always golden, I wouldn't enjoy them as much. I'd take them for granted. So, in a strange way, Life's bad times serve their purpose -- they make me even happier when the good times come tap dancing in.

Today, or whenever things aren't going well, know it is only temporary (hopefully). Things will look and be different soon. Ride the ugly tides to a better shore and keep your chin up. Float or tread water and you won't drown.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Where's my Wheeee? by Kat Magendie

I watch the commercial that shows children playing. One little girl joyously runs with her arms raised in the air. The happy go lucky look on her face makes me smile. But wait, I am snapped up short. My smile falls. I look inward. I’ll never be a child again! I’ll never birth a child again, for that matter. Granted, at fifty-one, I haven’t been a child or birthed a child for many years, but the excruciating reality of my age suddenly smacks me in the solar plexus. Where’s my wheeeee?

I’ll never be a teenager again. I’ll never have my first kiss again. I’ll never be twenty, thirty, or forty again. I’ll never have a cycle again (okay that one has some good points, but that doesn't stop my angst). There are opportunities I let slip by that I will never be able to pursue again, or worse, things I’ve wasted or done with my life that I can’t do over—it’s too late for some things, it truly is. The thoughts swirl and jitter—all the things I will no longer be, feel, do, have. I am suddenly grieving. Watching that commercial with that child gets to me more than any twenty-two year old running amok on a sunny beach in a string bikini; who cares about her? I want to be the child with my arms in the air yelling wheeeeeeee!

I let this sink in. All the years behind me, will they be equal to the years ahead? Will I get fifty-one more years? And will I one day be one-hundred and two and think—think what?, that is a mystery. I better not waste it. Wait. There are things I want to do, things I can do that I couldn’t do as a child, or as a younger woman. And, aging has been good to me physically, as I am healthy, have kept a healthy body. Time sneakily traded un-wrinkled skin and firm knees for a snappy brain, a no-nonsense attitude, and the ability to say, “Not no, but hell no.” I know I have much to be thankful for in my life that I did not when I was younger. Still. The image of that carefree kid. I stop and smile. How many women have felt exactly as I am now? Hundreds. Thousands. Millions! Life—love it or leave it, and I’ll love it, thank you very much. I’ll feel grateful for what I have right this very moment. Why, I think I’ll go outside and run joyously with my arms raised in the air. Just because I can. What or who is here to stop me?…wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Raring to Go by Nannette Croce

Yesterday should have been a bad day. It was my day to do bookkeeping for my husband’s consulting business and the computer decided not to talk to the printer, or the other way around––whatever they were both in need of major counseling, which I left to my husband, the computer whisperer. For my part, having nothing to show for five hours of work I decided to take advantage of a break in the clouds and make a dent in the huge pile of mulch, that, every year, sets off a string of rainy days the minute it hits the driveway.

Shovel, shovel, shovel. Roll wheelbarrow. Dump mulch. Rake, rake. Then back to start all over again. It was tiring work. I can’t quite say I enjoyed it. What I did enjoy was having the energy to do it.

I don’t like quitting a job until it’s done or I’ve reached a reasonable stopping point, but when I hit 50 my energy level suddenly crashed. Sleep issues caused by menopause and stresses left me lethargic. Studies indicate, and I verified, sleep deprivation leads to carb cravings. Never one to snack before that, every hour on the hour now found me munching on hard pretzels, crackers or potato chips. The extra pounds made me more lethargic. A job that would have taken me hours, now took days. Was this the beginning of the rest of my life?

Apparently not. It’s over now. I manage to sleep a good eight hours most nights, and when the sleep came, the cravings left along with the extra pounds.

I’m exhausted from my day’s work, but I managed to mulch along the entire front of the house before quitting. A job well done and I’m thrilled I had the energy to do it.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Diversity Rocks by Barbara Quinn

The other night I was too tired to cook, and too tired to go out to a restaurant. My husband and I took to the streets of our small town of Bradley Beach, NJ in search of our meal. It’s a short walk to our downtown. Our first stop was the Thai restaurant where we placed an order for Tom Yom soup, and Quail with Five Spices and veggies. After chatting with the owner and his nephew, which is always enjoyable, we headed down Main St. again, this time stopping for the chicken tamales with red sauce at the Mexican spot. With those in our bag, the next stop was the Colombian restaurant where we picked up two of their special tiny individual corn with kernels bread, and a cheese roll that is the size and shape of a large golf ball. Once outside we ran into the owner of the Thai restaurant again who was taking a stroll. More leisurely chitchat and then he accompanied us to the Italian bakery where we picked up dessert: a cup of tiramisu, and a cannoli. Then we headed back to the Thai spot where our entrée was waiting. At home we had a fine meal, accompanied by a nice red from the Cote du Rhone, so France too got into our global dinner, which we topped off with an espresso and sambuca.

Bradley Beach is home to many different cultures. The foods are all authentic, just like the people who make them. There are also Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and American spots in the town whose population is under 5000 and is only .6 of a square mile large. I love living in a melting pot where everyone fits in and adds a bit of spice to the zesty stew!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Do You Remember? By Angie Ledbetter

I've been thinking a lot about memories and the ability to remember. Attending several important functions for my kids (an honors fraternity induction, a spring band concert, a confirmation ceremony at church, etc.), the digital and regular cameras have been in use frequently. I LOVE photographs. They are a means of hanging onto and capturing special moments. I have a new screen saver on my monitor -- my middle son (in tux!) wearing the Bishop's purple beanie at his confirmation. No matter what happens, I have that little encapsulated moment to relive again and again. I am truly grateful for that.

Our last high school reunion was such a success, we've decided to meet every summer in addition to the 10-year gatherings. Again, tons of photos accompany these events, plus we enjoy strolling down the memory lane of our Glory Years when we're together.

Being of a certain age -- that age where "Sometimers" makes memories and remembrances fuzzy -- I'm making a conscious effort to engrave important moments and times on my mind. When my life slows down, I'll want them available even more when, hopefully, I'll revisit the fun, exciting, sobering, spontaneous, hilarious strange times of Today.

Treasure your important moments NOW, but also lock them away for safekeeping for tomorrow. We're not guaranteed anything in life past this one single moment. I see this with my precious mother who is fighting brain cancer. Her short-term memory continually erases itself like a computer program gone mad. I'm thankful she retains older memories and knows who we are. I cannot imagine the loss of those, as so much of our basic personality and essence is tied up in our brains' memory banks.

Today, live fully, live wildly, live joyously. Take photographs with your mind and camera of these times and things and people you love. Someday, your remembering may be more important than ever.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Dreaming of Gratitude by Kat Magendie

In my dream I hovered over the mountains, and I was like the mists. Below I saw the wolf panting as she ran for the joy of it, for the stretching out of her limbs that she'd kept folded in hiding. I watched her sniff the ground, then the sky, and off she ran again, back to her hiding place. And over there, look, there is the mouse trembling with relief, undetected, safe, his tiny nose quivering. He lives another time of his life! There is smoke rising from the old house in the valley. Very old Mr is up early, feeding wood to the fire so Very Old Mrs will be warm when she arises, and he has the coffee brewing, that dark rich smell lifting the hair on his arms in his pleasure, and Mrs will return his kind with her kind, she will take three eggs from the ice-box and scramble them with a little milk and a little salt and pepper, she will toast the bread lightly, and she will place their breakfast on the scarred kitchen table, and Mr will pour two cups of coffee, and they will sit across from each other with no words, only the sounds of eating and sipping, and the smoke rises from the chimney and I see it and I see them and their entire lives before, but their lives after is an incredible mystery.

And I drift and wait, and I do not know what I am waiting for—

—until the sun breaks through the clouds, and the fingerling rays touch here, and there, and I rush to stand in one of the rays, but the sun falls back into the clouds before I can get to my spot, and I hear laughter. I cock my head and listen and I hear the creek, and I hear the cardinal's cry, and I hear the rustling of the squirrels, and I hear the branches saw together, sawing a song of nature, oh the symphony of nature fills me with gratitude. Inside my log house are many things I love. Outside my log house are many things I love. Inside my log house are many things I own. Outside my log house I own nothing. Right now I am thinking of you, and right now, as you read this, you have knowledge of me. Isn't that incredible? Just by writing my words I have an awareness of You, and You, just by reading my words, have an awareness of me. See the power of imagination and language? The power of the word? Thank you for reading my words; I am grateful for You, and for dreams that open up the world of imagination and awe.

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