Thursday, July 31, 2008

Oh What a Crock by Angie Ledbetter

I woke to the delicious aroma of a roast cooking this morning, at first thinking it was a dream. Then I remembered I'd put that roast in my beloved crock pot last night so it'd be ready for my daughter and friends to take on their beach vacation. On busy days, my trusty crock is indispensable, and it also helps me save money as I can buy lesser cuts of meat and still have them come out tender and yummy when everyone lands home from work, school, etc.

What a wonderful invention the crock pot is! With a few simple ingredients and spices, meals practically prepare themselves, and I appreciate anything that cuts down on my time in the kitchen. For years I had the old type that was all one heavy piece and a pain to wash. The one I have now is like a huge crockery serving bowl that comes out of the heating element base with ease. I just pop it into the dishwasher and it's ready to go again. Even if I still had only the old 25-year-old model, there are now crock pot liners available which make clean up a breeze. We use these in the school baseball concession stand to heat chili and nacho cheese, and boy does it make cleaning them so much easier.

If you've thought crock pots were only good for making dishes for big gatherings or for keeping something warm for a gathering, or for chili in winter only, it's time to think again. Cooking in a crock pot is fun and produces wonderful meals...like that roast simmering away slowly in my kitchen. All I do for that is add salt, pepper and lots of garlic, cook each side on high for 30 minutes or so, then simmer away until people are ready to eat. If you want gravy, you can add a can of lite cream of mushroom soup after the browning stage. For crock recipes, surf the Net or simply check this site: http://http://familycrockpotrecipes.com/

Oh, great crock pot, I'm ever so thankful for you!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Dog Filled With Gratitude for its Life Lived, by Kat Magendie's Old Girl

Good Old Girl Kayla, with Young Dog Jake, and their Woman - painting by Roger Magendie

My people are missing me, but I’m right here. My people were always good to me. I had lots of petting and tummy rubs, and my food was always there for me to eat twice a day, and a treat every night. I knew many words, but mostly I knew my people’s face and the way they spoke to me with happy and glad and good. Sometimes, they’d get mad at my barking too loud at things, but that was my job and I had to do it. They never stayed mad for long, because they loved me too much. They still love me; I feel it as I hover near. When my woman first held me, I was just a pup and she showed me things and cared for me the most. I am my woman’s and she is mine. My man had a deep voice that talked to me and told me I was beautiful; I was and am. My woman, though, my woman was my friend and I was her friend and I smell her sad sad sad; I smell it and I hover near and try to let her know that all things are good. My life was good because of my people.

I am not sick or getting old any more. My shoulder quit hurting. My insides that had the bad things in them aren’t bad anymore. My woman and my man didn’t know I had bad things growing inside. I could not tell them. But, I was happy and good. Up until the very last days I was there, I didn’t feel so bad at all for an old one. But then, I was tired and did not feel so well. My woman petted me and rubbed my tummy and talked softly to me. I had to go to the man in town. I knew it was almost my time gone. I sniffed the wind. I thanked my woman with my eyes.

My woman cried and cried, especially my last day, but more so now. Cries and cries as if her heart will break. While I was still there, I tried to look at her with my eyes full of things I wanted to tell her, but I cannot speak and she cried too much. She will remember though, after a time. My man cried too. My man stroked my fur and told me I was beautiful. My woman said I was always a good girl, her good old girl, best always girl, always her friend. Young Dog will miss me; he knew I was old.

My last day, I sat out and sniffed the wind until it was time to go back to the man. The man tried to save me, but I knew it was my time to leave. My woman and my man wanted to save me. It was not to be so. I was with my people a long time, and we had three houses while I was with my people, but the last house was my favorite. All the smells and other animals and sounds. I did not like the storms and the wind, but my woman would pet me and tell me all is well until I would sleep. I hover now, and am feeling strong as I did as a pup, even more. I am a part of everything now and everything is a part of me. I am a part of all the things I sniffed at and looked at and tasted and heard. My woman still cries and cries and cries. My man cries. My woman walks slowly from room to room and I follow her, try to tell her: My Woman, I thanked you every day and you thanked me every day. We thanked each other by our friendship. By the walks we took every day. By the food you gave me and the thankful eyes and singing yodel I gave you. By the apple treats I munched happy happy happy. By the pettings you gave and I received. By the tears I took inside my fur. My woman, don’t cry. I am still hovering near. I am still your best friend. I am still a part of everything you touch and hear and see. I am your old girl, always.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gratitude for What's in the Fridge and Freezer by Barbara Quinn

I like to stock up on food items that I can fall back on during the weeks when food shopping becomes impossible due to too many other obligations. And one of my favorite dishes to make from what I find in my fridge, pantry, and freezer is Jambalaya. I acquired a taste for the dish when my son went to school at Tulane. It was love at first taste and the best part is that the dish can be made so many ways with many different ingredients. I usually have the basic ingredients on hand. Canned tomatoes, garlic, ham, frozen chicken breasts, chicken broth, onions, and the spices are mainstays in my household. I am truly grateful for Jambalaya. Here’s a recipe that you can modify to your own taste depending on what's in your pantry and fridge:

Jambalaya

2 Tbsps. Olive oil
1 Cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, whole
1 cup cooked chicken, cut up
1 cup diced ham
¾ - 1 pound sausage (andouille is preferable. Can mix Italian and andouille.)
2 ½ Cups canned tomatoes broken up with their juice
1 Cup rice
1 ½ cups Lo-sodium chicken broth
½ tsp. thyme
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
¼ tsp. chili powder
1 ½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. hot pepper sauce

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion and garlic. Cook on low heat till onion is tender. Add chicken, ham, sausage. Cook five minutes. Add tomatoes, uncooked rice, chicken broth, thyme, chopped parsely,chili powder, salt, black pepper, worcestershire sauce, and hot pepper sauce. Put all into a large casserole. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 and ¼ hours or until rice is done.

You can add shrimp, clams, green peppers, or whatever else you like. This is a great dish to make ahead for a crowd. Enjoy!

Monday, July 28, 2008

No Sweat by Angie Ledbetter

Don't ever let anyone fool you about "ladies" not sweating; only glistening, or whatever that stupid saying is. I can vouch for the fact that most or all of us real women sweat like hawgs under the right circumstances. I had one of those days myself just yesterday.

My sons' high school football team attends a 5-day long boot camp each summer to prepare for the season. Even though there are 70 or more boys on the team-- and I say that loosely, because many of them are over 6 feet tall and 300+ pounds of solid rock -- a lot of the parents are unable to take vacation or miss work to come and help out. As I like to support as many of the school activities and sports as possible, I volunteered for a day of KP duty at boot camp. Up early and on the road for the hour trip, I was unprepared for what awaited us parent volunteers at the primitive old Campfire Girls campground. (I'd helped out there a few summers ago when I actually had a son playing on the team, but it must be like childbirth amnesia...you forget exactly what took place, and turn the event into a blissful time in your memory.)

With temperatures approaching 100 degrees by 9:30, I thought how smart I was to have worn a rolled up bandana around my neck to catch any unsightly sweat threatening to roll down my neck. Likewise, I wore a really dark shirt to hide perspiration stains. The bandana was around my wet head by 10:00, and the black shirt only increased my body heat as some of the other moms and I cut industrial sized ice chests full of watermelon, cantaloupe, apples, oranges, and I forget what all else. Then we bagged peanuts and pretzels until our hands ached. After arranging a serving line of cold cuts, chips and water bottles, we watched in amazement as the team buzzed in at 1:00, said grace and attacked the tables and ice chests like a swarm of starved locusts. All that work, and the food was all gone. Then it was time to start preparing supper.

After my 10th or 12th gallon of water, I was drenched on the inside as well as the outside, but it was a good day. On the long drive home, I was grateful for the day; thankful parents were available to participate in their kids' activities; and happy to have been at Camp Ruth Lee for the day working with friends. As I sunk into my comfortable bed, I was mighty happy to crank down the A/C low and not have to worry about mosquitoes dive bombing my head as I tried to sleep. Oh, and I can't remember the last time I was so thankful for a plentiful water supply.

Tomorrow I'll be helping repair the school's band room. It suffered damage from exploding cases of soda and now needs cleaning and repainting. Then there's the baseball concession stand that's been broken into twice and had fire extinguisher foam sprayed everywhere. I may treat myself to a new white t-shirt and bandana soon, and I'm already telling myself what's a little sweat between friends?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Warm Blackberry Cobbler and Cold Ice Cream, by Kat Magendie

This has been the best blackberry year since I moved to my mountain. The vines are heavy with blackberries, those blue-black heads dripping lush and full and ripe. All I have to do is walk along our road and pick like mad. I have to watch for the bad among the sweet: mean stickers that tear at skin and clothes; bees (although I’ve never been stung picking blackberries); and the one I watch out for most of all, snakes, particularly copperheads. Snakes can hide within the thick brambles and when you step closer, or reach in your hand STRIKE! snake bite! I’m careful, and knock on the clich├ęd wood, I’ve never been bitten.

After I have enough, I head back home, old Kayla plodding alongside me. The blackberry juice drips from the holes in the plastic container that previously held local tomatoes, and I wish I’d used one without holes so as not to waste a drop. Back at the log house, I carefully wash them. There is no worry of pesticides here, for we do not use them; we do not use any kind of fertilizer or pesticide or anything artificial, for we let the mountain take care of its own. I wash away dust or any bugs. Once washed, and a few eaten of course, I place them in the refrigerator for later. I’m going to make a blackberry cobbler, and on top of the cobbler, while it’s still good and warm, I’m going to place a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Then, I’m going to sit down and eat every bite. The cold cold ice cream over the warm warm blackberry cobbler, with its juices thick and syrupy and the berries plumped and soft and the cobbler crust crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.

There is something that surely feels like a special gratitude for the things our Earth provides us. And, when picked and washed and cooked with our own hands, the gratitude and love for the natural things of the earth is more acute. There are many cobbler recipes out there, but here is a basic one my mom made for years with much success that is foolproof, easy, and doesn’t require many ingredients:

Preheat oven to 350. Melt one stick of butter in a Pyrex dish. Mix together: 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon salt, and 1 cup milk. Pour mixture over the melted butter. Top with fruit (if you like the fruit sweeter, sprinkle sugar over it. Also, for this recipe, use about 1 ½ to 2 quarts fruit). Bake until crust rises to top, and gets golden brown and bubbly, approximately 30 to 35 minutes. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Gratitude for Zucchini Madness by Barbara Quinn

I enjoy going out in the early morning and harvesting my herbs, zucchini, and zucchini flowers. The bright yellow zucchini blossoms definitely are happy, their faces turned up to the sun. This is the time of year when they go into insane production phase so it’s good to have lots of recipes for them.

While I enjoy cooking, I’m a fan of simple, healthy dishes. Here’s a dish that is tasty and doesn’t require you to spend a lot of time over a hot stove. Plus it uses bunches of zucchini. And I am grateful for that.

Zucchini Bisque

2 Tblsp. Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion
1 Cup chopped carrots
4 Cups chopped zucchini
2 Cups Lo-Sodium chicken broth
¼ tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. marjoram
Two or three sprigs of fresh thyme, stripped (or ½ tsp dried)
Two or three sprigs of fresh tarragon stripped (or 1 tsp. dried)
Sea salt
White pepper
½ cup Skim Plus milk

Chop vegetables. Heat olive oil over medium heat and add carrots, zucchini and onion. Cook until onions wilt. Stir in chicken broth, herbs, sugar, white pepper, and salt. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Puree in small batches in a blender. Pour back in pot and add the milk. Adjust seasoning to taste. (e.g., more tarragon or salt). Reheat and serve.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Connecting and Reconnecting with Friends by Angie Ledbetter

One of the things that makes me happiest is spending time with friends. It makes me feel good to hear of their successes, unexpected "wins" in life, good news, or whatever brings them joy and fulfillment. Conversely, when one is experiencing problems or setbacks, I want to do what I can by lending an ear or shoulder for support.

Several times in the last week, I've gotten to share in great moments with others. A dear friend is right now visiting her sister in Florida, enjoying a much needed vacation before her teaching job resumes shortly. Tonight I ate supper with another great friend whom I'd lost touch with for a few years. It was really great catching up and spending time together like we used to. After our meal, she came with me to visit my parents, which extended our fun by an extra hour.

I'm looking forward to joining a longtime friend for a day of work at our kids' school football team's annual boot camp this weekend. Although it's no pleasure cruise preparing meals and snacks for a hungry, sweaty, hot football team in primitive campsite conditions, the camaraderie and fun more than compensate for the long hours of work. I've reconnected with an old school friend also, and we've begun meeting for lunch once a month or so. It's such fun to relive our glory days and compare notes on the present.

My gratitude cup overflows whenever I think of friends -- those companions of the heart who are always there for you and vice versa. Life would be empty and dull without them. So, here's to you, great friends from elementary school years up to you newbies I've found in the present, and especially those who share the crazy world of writing with me. Cheers, and thank you for enriching my life!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sometimes Gratitude is Hidden, But it is Always There, by Kat Magendie

Kayla limps down our road, becomes tired easily and lies upon the grass. I stroke her thick fur and talk softly to her. I tell her what a good dog she’s always been, my best girl. I say, “Don’t get any older, girl. Don’t leave me.” And I know it’s a selfish thought, but I am feeling ornery. Intellectually, I know everyone must eventually leave; and eventually, every one of us will leave someone who doesn’t want us to leave. But my heart this morning is saying, “Stop Time. Just for a little while.” I say to Kayla, “It’s tough getting old, isn’t it, girl?” Her muzzle is turning gray. Her bones stiff. As I pet my dog and look at her signs of aging, I think about how one day I will lose her, and that makes me think of losses and disappointments. How I am aging, how my husband is aging, how my parents are aging, my brothers—all of us who have this history together. There are no guarantees, however, since I lost my younger brother when he was a young man, and I chalk that up as another bad thing life can hurl our way. I let my thoughts turn darker, inward—the novels still un-published and how much I want them out there, read, enjoyed by others. I try not to feel envy for the authors who are already published, but it comes anyway and shames me with its intensity, for I am also happy for them, glad they have met their dreams and goals; yet, I think, why not me?

I tell Kayla, “I have to write a YOG post and here I am feeling negative and dark and sad and with dreams I haven’t fulfilled and I’m getting older, too, and I don’t want you to be old and I don’t want anyone I love to leave and…damn.” She pants, and looks up at me with her soft brown eyes and I have the sudden urge to cry, my eyes burning, my throat closing. I remember her as a puppy. I remember my brothers and me as children, my parents young even though we thought them old. I want more days; lots more days. Doesn’t everyone? a voice counters. Quiet, I say. Let me have this melancholy. It’s mine.

The mountain breeze touches my face. So much to be grateful for, yes, I know. But for the moment, the gratitude hides behind the disappointments and fears. Sometimes, melancholy has its purpose. Sometimes it makes me appreciate even more when the fog lifts. Sometimes gratitude is hidden, but it is always there.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Beautiful Sunny Day by Nannette Croce

A few months ago I sat in my lawyer's office drawing up Powers of Attorney and a Living Will, those documents that deal with the most unpleasant events––not dying, but living in limbo. As part of my Living Will the lawyer noted I could add a comment like, "You'll know I'm ready to let go when I can no longer...read a book...listen to my favorite piece of music...laugh at a good joke." Mine was, "When I can no longer appreciate a clear, sunny day with a gentle breeze."

The operative word here is "appreciate." There may be a time when I physically cannot "enjoy" that weather, but I hope I will still "appreciate" it. I know many people who don't. Both old and young, they complain about the rain and the snow and the cold and the darkness, but come a truly perfect day, and they don't even bother to open the blinds let alone a window.

A couple of years ago my uncle was dying of cancer. During summers he had spent a great deal of time on the patio of his apartment enjoying the warm sun and watching the world go by. When he entered the hospice in the spring, for as long as he could, he sat in a recliner by the window, taking in the warmth of the sun. It was a lovely spring that year with little rain.

The day he died, they called me at 4:00AM to tell me he was failing. I went to the hospice and sat in that chair watching the sunrise and appreciating the warmth and beauty of that particular day, not just for myself, but on his behalf.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Zucchini Days by Barbara Quinn

I don’t plant much in my garden anymore. I have lots of herbs, and a few zucchini plants. And boy do those four zucchini plants take up room and produce like mad. I grow them mostly for the flowers. I can find good tomatoes and other veggies in my local farm market, but those zucchini flowers are elusive and very expensive if you do find them. Each morning I go out and harvest a bunch.

So what do I do with all those flowers? They are good to add to salads, and to zucchini bisque with fresh tarragon, and also to zucchini fritters which make a great accompaniment to grilled fish or meats. A major treat is fried or stuffed zucchini blossoms. Italians fry the blossoms in a simple thin water and flour batter called pastella which is similar to tempura batter. You sprinkle them with salt and enjoy. Tonight I’m going to stuff half the blossoms with mushroom, breadcrumb, pine nuts, and raisins. I’ll stuff the rest with leftover polenta mixed with a little parmesan. Then I’ll bake them in my toaster oven. What a terrific time of year.

Here’s a recipe for fried zucchini flowers:

2/3 Cup of water
1 Cup flour
Pan with one inch of Canola oil
A dozen or so zucchini blossoms.

Place water in a bowl. Sift the flour into the water and use a whisk to incorporate till mixture is a thin paste. You can experiment with consistency. Wash the blossoms and dry on paper towels. Cut open one side and remove the inside pistil. Leave them whole if possible. If too large cut into two pieces. Heat the oil on high heat. Dip the flowers into the batter and drain a bit, then put into the oil. Brown on one side, then flip to the other. Remove to paper towels and drain. Sprinkle with salt. Serve hot. If done right, they should be crunchy good!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Art Therapy by Angie Ledbetter

Searching for graphics for issues of Rose & Thorn Literary ezine gives me a chance to pour over artists' offerings every now and then. The works of master photographers, digital/graphic artists, great painters, and all manner of artistic genius captivates me for hours sometimes. Having very little of that talent myself, I'm intrigued by the beauty or surprising elements others use to bring their imaginations to life.

Cruising around art.com is like taking a mini-trip to a wonderful museum. Colors, images and ideas swirl before my eyes, sometimes making me forget everything but the enjoyment of the art. At that website and others like it, you can use the search engine to plug in any word and be instantly transported to the past, or soak up what modern day artists have created. And some of the works that are really intriguing are futuristic, so it's almost like boarding a free time machine into the world of art. What a great way to spend an hour or two without having to leave home.

I think looking at all this artwork has also encouraged me to try my hand at creating some visual poetry from pages of an old text book. Take a virtual art trip today and see if you're not similarly inspired. I'm grateful for those who can craft wonderful works of art to share with the world, and for this thing called the Internet which allows me to tour the cyber museums in my pajamas with coffee in hand.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Time Warps by Kat Magendie

I just returned from a trip to Portland, Oregon, where I visited my son, and his girlfriend and her family, as well. My youngest brother joined us later in the week, and we all had a great time touring downtown Portland, the coastal areas, and the falls. I watched my son and his girlfriend and laughed to myself at how even though he is a man of almost twenty-nine, I still at times treat him as if he is a kid. Alternatively, I looked at Tommy and noticed the gray sprinkled in his hair; my younger brother can’t be aging! Neither can I!

When I say, “Be careful there, Daniel,” I catch myself and then say, “It’s just a Mom thing, don’t take it personally.”

Daniel laughs and shrugs. “Yeah, I know, Mom.”

And then in the next moment, my brother is teasing me and I’m calling out, “Stop ittttt…stop itttt….” and then poking him and teasing him in return, both of us laughing and falling all over the place like ten year olds.

There is this weird thing that happens when I am with Daniel and with Tommy, or one of my other brothers, all at the same time. I’m this grown up Mom, but I am also this big sister. Tommy and I joke around and talk about things we did or said or experienced as kids, and I can feel as if I’m a child again, but then, I see this child of mine who has grown into a man and I feel my age; further, I see the age descending on my brother and my faces and there is a strangeling feeling of time warps and worm holes and color and a black and white television and eight track versus i-pods and rotary dials versus i-phones…a kaleidoscope of time and space and family memories from both the cycle of my life and the cycle of my son’s life.

I came here to write this YOG about how grateful I was to be in Portland, to see how well Daniel and Sarah are doing building their lives, how nice it was to have Tommy join us, how the weather and people and circumstances all joined to make the trip Grand—well, then I guess that’s just what I have done, in my own strangeling way.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

She's Leaving Home by Nannette Croce

My daughter graduated college this year, and now she's getting ready to move down to North Carolina where a friend's parents are letting them rent their townhouse cheap. Right now she doesn't have a job lined up, but thanks to her grandparents––planners that they are––we have about six month's worth of rent left in her college account we're sending her down there with. Some friends think we're being overly generous, but it was that or have her live home until she thought she could afford to leave.

Not that it's been so bad having her here. She is, in fact, much more pleasant to live with than before she left for school, but that decision of when you are ready to take the step to move out on your own and support yourself is a tough one. I'd rather she keep the momentum from college and just keep going. The incentive not to have to come home will be much greater once she's out there than the incentive would have been to leave once she got comfortable in her old home.

I'm grateful to my parents for allowing us to give our daughter this start, and I'm grateful to her friend's parents for giving her and her roommate this break. Life on your own can be tough, but I believe that the sooner she gets started, the farther she'll go.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Moving Day by Barbara Quinn

This past weekend, my son and his wife moved into the first place that they own, a cute two bedroom condo by the water, in Stamford, CT. We hauled and lugged things out of their rented place in White Plains, and hauled and lugged them in cars and a truck over to the new place in Stamford. My husband, son, daughter-in-law, her Dad, and her brother, and I spent the day getting the last of the boxes and stuff that we all accumulate into the new place. Much of the move already had been done by my son and his wife which my old legs were quite grateful for. This was the last push.

Once everything was in the new place we gathered around their kitchen table. I brought a meal that we devoured quickly: Zucchini bisque, jambalaya and a chef salad. (recipes will be in a future YOG post!) Working hard does make you hungry. It was wonderful to eat together under their new roof.

While we ate I reflected how the pile of things in the center of the living room floor was comforting. Sure, it was signaling hey, pay attention to me. Put me away. Now! But it also signaled a level of accomplishment. The little boy who used to need to be told to take care of his things, now had things he moved carefully. And he was moving to a place of his own, a place he and his wife worked hard to save for and worked hard to find.

This is their first home. They have a new baby on the way in October. It’s a special time of life in many ways and I’m grateful that they are feathering their new nest now before the babe arrives. Home ownership has its problems, but the nice thing is that you can fix them the way you want to. You can take pride in creating an environment that is uniquely yours. And then you can mess up the place any way you want!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Measuring Gratitude by Angie Ledbetter

Researching the effects of gratitude, I've found more good news in a recent study done at the University of California:

*Grateful people have more positive emotions and report better life satisfaction and vitality. They also claim less depression and stress.
*People with a strong disposition toward gratitude are more empathetic and take in others' perspectives. They're rated as more generous/helpful.
*Grateful people are more likely to acknowledge a belief in the interconnectedness of all life and a commitment to others.
*They place less importance on material goods.
*Those who feel "indebtedness" vs. gratitude report higher levels of anger and lower levels of appreciation, happiness, and love.

More information on the study can be found here: http://http://www.psychology.ucdavis.edu/labs/emmons/

Poking around the Internet also led me to a beautiful video on the gifts of today. It certainly made my day, and I appreciate the people who composed and host it for others to enjoy. Take a moment to fully see the gifts of today: http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Zl9puhwiyw

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Personal Cloud by Kat Magendie

I am home. I am in my own personal cloud. I look around at the fog come calling, out and around all the green that grows wildly on our mountain, and I have the most wonderful feeling of being completely hidden from the world. Up here on my mountain, with the foggy clouds around the log home a glowing cloak, and the wild green of plants, vines, shrubs, and trees, with the critters scurrying about for their breakfast, with the creek bubbling, with no car sounds, or people sounds, with all of that, I am alone. Sweetly alone.

I can't quite see the distant mountains through the thick white, but I know they are there. Those strong, ancient, cradling creatures. Some of the most ancient mountains in the world, but I have told you that before. I say it again because it awes me. I feel special saying that, when it is the mountains who are special instead of me.

To my great great grandmother, I would seem so white. But, I feel her call to me in the howls of the wolf. When the moon is up and shows me the way, I will run where it points me, and become lost in the mists. A good rain comes, and the trees seem as if they are crying. I breathe in clean, wet, new air.

I am alone. The night descends. The dark covers me where once the clouds were. The stars are hidden, and my moon stays away. The trees still weep for me, but I hush them....Hush Trees....this pain will not last. Hush... Hush...hush. And they believe me. They cry good, not bad. I cry good, not bad. We are grateful for each other.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Surf from the Turf by Nannette Croce

I've never been one for turf wars––those competitions that inevitably break out in any workplace. Sometimes it is physical turf, like the bigger office or an additional district to administer. Sometimes the turf comes in the number of bodies someone supervises. Sometimes it's the turf of taking on more high-profile responsibilities and playing Hot Potato with responsibilities that bring more work and less notice from on high. The breadth of the job or the pay have little to do with it. I once worked at a single digit per hour job with a YMCA where we fought over who got the most visible bulletin board!

Naive as I am, I always thought the focus of any job was getting it done, and that the best way to do that was through cooperation. Take that bulletin board. I tried to suggest taking turns each month, and if someone had something they needed to advertise on an off month, we could trade, or in a bind, draw straws. Forget it. Every month every single department claimed they needed it more than anyone else, and the only one constantly stuck with the back board was me, who had developed the system.

These days I'm grateful to no longer need to work for pay. I do give my time to various volunteer positions. But when those turf wars develop, as they inevitably do, now I just laugh. What are these people fighting for? A larger piece of a non-existent pie? Usually the purpose of these volunteer positions is helping others. If some people won't do the job without the turf, I say, let them have it. The main thing is getting the job done, and I'm just grateful to have the time to give.

Monday, July 14, 2008

On Gratitude by Susan Breen

My debut novel, The Fiction Class, was published this year, and one of the best things about that, beyond the obvious, is that it gave me the opportunity to express my gratitude toward those I love. Right there in the acknowledgements page. Believe me when I say that I agonized over those acknowledgements—how many relatives to include, how many friends. Do I mention everyone from play group? (No, but I wish I had.)

Which brings me to my next book—which I am working on now—and my next acknowledgements page—which I have already started thinking about. I feel a little like Santa with his list. Who’s been bad and should be struck off? (Just one person, and let’s not talk about that.) And, more importantly, who should I add. I’ve made a lot of new friends this year as I’ve traveled around, going to events and readings and conferences. Many of them are involved in the book world—not the editors and agents, who have always loomed so large to me, but the librarians and booksellers, who make it all happen.

Two of my favorites are Roy and Yvonne Solomon, who run the Village Bookstore in Pleasantville, NY. Not only do they run a lovely bookstore, (and they put out cake for readings!!!), but they have supported my debut efforts in ways that seem to me extraordinary. For example, one night I was giving a reading at an adult retirement community. Roy was there, with a box of books, but it soon became clear that we had a problem. It turns out that people who live in adult communities do not carry around cash, which is not good if you are trying to sell them something. Roy could have just taken the box of books and sent it back to Penguin, but instead he told the residents that he would accept their IOUs. He would give them the book and trust them to mail him a check.

So as I think about gratitude, I have to give thanks to those who value books and authors and who treasure reading. There’s nothing better than that.

Susan Breen lives with her family in Irvington, NY. Her debut novel, The Fiction Class, was published by Plume/Penguin in February and she teaches creative writing for Gotham Writers’ Workshop in Manhattan. (www.susanjbreen.com)

Playaway by Barbara Quinn

Today I’m grateful for my local library’s ability to embrace new technology. I love to read and thanks to the library I have always read voraciously for free. The library has also always been a source of movies and music providing a great way to be able to sample new artists. Whether it’s the classics or best sellers you can find it on their shelves.

And now my library has a new gadget available that has books on tiny players the size of a thick credit card. The players are called Playaways. Have you seen them? What a dream come true!

I took out a couple this week, and tucked one in my purse. Each player holds one book. Now I always have a book with me since it’s easy to carry and the thing only weighs about 1 ounce. Five hours of listening pleasure in a one ounce device. I’m engrossed already in Ian McEwan’s Black Dogs. All you need is a set of earbuds and you can listen anywhere. I took mine to the gym and to the doctor’s office. You can purchase a car adapter if you’d rather listen while driving without the earpieces. It has a speed adjustment so you can make the reader go faster or slower. And it picks up right where you left off when you turn it back on. You can move forward or back too. Best of all is there is no downloading and no software to contend with. You switch the thing on and it works. This is my type of digital book.

I have seen the future of audio books and I am here to tell you, it is promising! Thank you Suffern Free Library for being willing to offer Playaway devices to your patrons.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Birthday Girl by Angie Ledbetter


Today is my baby's birthday. I can't believe she's 19, which makes me about 127, and I'm grateful for all that she is -- delightful, smart, moral, vivacious and just generally awesome. She always makes me laugh with her quick wit and quirky observations, which make me wonder if she'll be a writer one day. Like me, she observes the little details and hears several conversations going on around her simultaneously. I couldn't be more proud of/for her and her accomplishments and drive, but the best thing about my baby is her kindness and compassion for others.
A photo-holic (also like me), her gift from Dad and I is a storage unit for all the pictures she's saved to her hard drive Photo Bucket so it won't melt down from digital photo overload. And I will spend time today letting her know how precious she is to me. We will celebrate the joy she adds to others' lives.

I appreciate many aspects of life and the people who add so much to my existence, but none more than the gift of my children and their unique personalities. So, Happy Birthday, "Little Donkey." I hope someone forwards this to you since you accidentally blocked my email account long ago. *laugh* You were definitely worth the 26 hours of labor!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Water by Kat Magendie

Of course we all appreciate our water. But today I am really appreciating my personal water. Anyone who knows me has probably heard, or will hear me talk about how I think “water will be the new oil.” Really, we can do without oil if we had to; meaning, if we suddenly were out of oil, or it was quite scarce, we would find ways to do without, or do the things we needed with another resource. But, if we are without water or water is scarce, then we are in trouble. We have to have liquid water to survive as a species. Most, if not all, of life does. Much of our planet is water. Most of our bodies are water.

So, what has me thinking so hard about water this beautiful mountain morning is the lack of it in our house. No, not the drought conditions that have plagued our area, I’m talking about our personal water. Yesterday, the water company called and said, “Your meter is going wild. It’s turning really fast. You’ve used (some astronomical number here) units.” I screeched, “We’ve used what? Our meter is what?” Upon checking, we saw indeed that our meter was turning crazily fast. We turned off all water sources and called a plumber. This is a small town. There are not a gazillion plumbers to call. We had two. One, a plumber who has been here before, and happens to be in Florida, but will return in two days. Two days. Huhn. The other plumber doesn’t have all the equipment he needs if there is digging to do, so he suggests waiting for the other plumber. Huhn.

We turn the water back on just long enough to fill containers with enough water to drink, brush teeth, wash hands, etc. Then we settle in for the wait. I am writing this at day one and a half. Every so often, I turn the handle to the sink, and nothing comes out but a hollow gurgle. I say, “Oh yeah…” and use the water I’ve saved. It feels almost pioneerish, this care with water, and it makes me recognize how much water we waste in a day. We turn the water on again to take quick showers—a “luxury” I am not willing to do without—and to refill any emptied containers. When the water is shut down, one has an awareness of how much we take our liquid water for granted. Therefore, my gratitude today is for good old cold clear clean liquid water. Water I bathe in, drink, wash my hands, veggies and fruit, make coffee with, and the list goes on. What would we do without clean water? Better think hard about that. Real hard.

(Update: Our "two days" turned into five, but, once we found a routine around it, we were fine. Sure is nice to be spoiled again, though. The leak was found and fixed!)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Replenishing Rain by Nannette Croce

Late spring and early summer in southeastern Pennsylvania brought perfect outdoor weather. It seemed each day dawned either cloudless or with only wisps of cotton floating across a deep blue sky. We enjoyed light breezes, mild temperatures, and little of the humidity so common in our region. But, enjoyable and conducive to outdoor chores as it was, by late June my garden was evincing the distress of weeks without rain.

I watered it every couple of days, but as our water comes from a well in an area where recent over building has lowered the water table, I'm always reluctant to spend too much water on gardening in times of drought, and drought was beginning to look like what we faced. Then, a few days ago, the weather suddenly changed. The skies didn't brighten in the mornings or at any time throughout the day, and a drizzle fell almost steadily from morning to night. The bad luck was it dampened a rare three-day July 4th weekend, and rained out the two parties we were invited to, but I didn't really mind.My garden immediately perked up. The leaves greener,the flowers more colorful.

It's easy to take water for granted. Throughout my lifetime short periods of drought have always been followed by overflowing reservoirs. The Pueblo Indians of the Southwest United States knew better. Rain is such an important part of their culture that rain designs often decorate their pottery. Now water all over the country and all over the world is becoming a precious commodity. One more victim of global warming.

These days I'm always grateful for a good, replenishing rain, even when it comes at an inconvenient time.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Pony by Barbara Quinn

Rock and roll is alive and well on the Jersey Shore. In Asbury Park, The Stone Pony still hosts some of the finest music being played. I am fortunate to be walking distance from this venerable rock hall for many consider The Pony to be the greatest rock hall ever. It’s been going strong since the seventies and fans continue to make the pilgrimage to the bleak brick building that holds the heart of rock ‘n roll.

The Pony is a living rock museum. It’s filled with signed guitars hanging on the walls, including one from Springsteen. The posters of the venerable musicians who’ve played cover the walls, tickets and flyers sit under the glass of the small tables. The place is a dark cavern with multiple bars and every age of patron, all with the same thing in mind: to hear the best play.

I went to a Southside Johnny concert at the Pony a few days back. Southside’s concerts are a tradition around the 4th of July. The band plays on the outdoor summer stage. Behind the crowd are the Asbury Park boardwalk, and the crashing ocean whose cool breeze blows over the shoulder to shoulder fans while night slowly descends. The grills are cooking the famed Windmill hot dogs and the bars are serving up every type of drink. People are smiling and swaying to the music. It’s an infectious, upbeat atmosphere.

Before the concert Southside Johnny appeared at the gallery across the street where he autographed memorabilia. I bought a CD, got his autograph, shook his hand and have added the disc to my collection, happy to have met one of the originators of SOAP: the Sound of Asbury Park.

Long live The Stone Pony!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Aging Gratefully by Angie Ledbetter

There's nothing in my face that speaks of beauty or youthfulness as I get closer and closer to the 5 decade mark, but on the inside, there is much I really like about myself. I am almost the person I want to be, doing what it is I was put here to do. How many people can feel confident saying that? Even as I wonder who that wrinkly, saggy, lumpy frumpy person is in my mirror some mornings, I eventually remember life has put the mileage on me through a huge variety of experiences, and then I am grateful for that person reflected back to me. And since I'm not Hollywood bound, I don't have to worry so much about my physical looks.

Being older means I've had more time to amass wonderful friends and to watch my children grow. Life memories are stacking up. The books I've read and music I've enjoyed are many. Age does indeed have its benefits, and one of the best is that I've learned to be gentler with myself. I've learned to quash the inner critic who wants to constantly remind me that my youth is past, like that's a terrible thing. I won't fuss at myself as often for eating an extra cookie or for my less-than-perfect housekeeping, or even the garage sale doodad I think looks so wonderful in my living room. Instead, I am grateful for the joy these things and realizations bring me. Being kinder in my self-analysis, I remind myself I'm entitled to a few of these goodies.

I do not wish to leave this life before I fully understand the great freedom and beauty of being older. That has happened to some I know, and it is sad. I don't want to have regrets and what-ifs hanging over me. Yes, I might well look crazy wearing an elf or Santa costume at my age or any age, but what if I'd cared more about what others thought? I've have missed so many opportunities to let loose, to laugh with abandon. Not caring so much is another benefit of age, and I want to embrace it daily.

Soon, I plan to don a bathing suit, something that has produced nightmares in the past, and jump into a lake or sun myself for a bit on the beach. I'm getting there in my "not caring" age, and can't wait. I know when I do that young faces will show disapproval, but so what? They will age too, and I wish for them the freedom to abandon self-consciousness when they reach midlife in order to more fully enjoy as they please.

My heart has been broken and tears have dampened my pillowcase, but the sadness I experience also means I have loved and I have given my heart to others to break. I know without doubt this is a better choice than holding on to it greedily so as not to be hurt. Disappointments are much better than regrets. Tears also soften the heart, make one understanding and compassionate toward those who hurt. So even bad times serve a bigger better purpose when we look past the present.

Today I realize the gifts of my wrinkles, of the gray in my hair, of the jiggly bat wings attached to my upper arms, for it is possible to buy some measure of youthful looks, but not the beauty of experiences and years which naturally age us, and I wouldn't pick differently if given the chance. See...it's just easier being positive when you have some age on you. You know the broken date for this weekend is not fatal. You realize a little cellulite will not ruin your life. You know if a friend hurts you, it's not the end of the world because you have others to spend time with and you know you'll work things out eventually. Being older doesn't mean you are always right, but it does mean you have perspective and a better ability to apologize when you are wrong.

I like getting older and the person I'm becoming. Knowing I am no longer an immortal teenager or youngish adult, I don't waste as much time or take dangerous chances. Age has taught me not to look back in regret or spend too much time worrying about what will be. I look forward, literally, to what's to come and what is now, and I am thankful.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Appreciation Made Simple by Kat Magendie

I must tell you that last night, I went outside, and I looked up, and there was a single firefly, or lightening bug as we called them as kids. I had just had that memory surface like an old song, and there one was, come winking to me as if it wanted to say, "We are still here, same as you." I watched it fly off and I smiled. Then I searched for Old Moon, and there, between the trees, Moon played hide and seek. I laughed, because it is hard for Moon to hide its ethereal charms. I howled at it, very low and soft, just to let it know I appreciated.

I appreciated the night. I appreciated the firefly coming to me. I appreciated the moon playing hide and seek. I appreciated the silence and the wind in the leaves. I appreciated my husband and my friends and my life and my family, and my son who is wiser than he knows and writes like he has an ancient soul when he lets himself into that place. I appreciate the day and the night. The wind and the rain. The red and the purple. The rough and the smooth. The sleep and the waking. The different and the same. The cool and the warm. You and me. Us and them. We and they. I appreciate.

I am awed and amazed and thankful as I appreciate.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sunshine Patriots by Nannette Croce

In the most literal way we are all "sunshine patriots" in the US. Turning out on a midsummer day to wave flags and ooh and ahhh at fireworks. The finish of this July 4th weekend and recent remarks by Senator Barack Obama has me reflecting on patriotism.

Many of us today associate "patriot" with the veterans whose graves we decorate on the first official summer holiday––Memorial Day. Our military does make the ultimate sacrifice, but in the eyes of the Founding Fathers "patriots" are also those pesky protesters of every war. It is common, today, to speak of questioning our government as a right, but to the founding fathers it was more than that, it was a duty. It was the People who would keep their government honest, by constantly questioning its actions. The government served at their will. The People ran the country, not the Congress, not the Judiciary, and certainly not the President. Nothing would have horrified the supporters of independence and the framers of the Constitution more than the notion that patriotism requires marching in lock step with whatever the President or the Congress decides to do.

So what does this all have to do with gratitude? I am grateful to those enlightened individuals who put their lives on the line (had the outcome been different they could have all hanged for treason) in the cause of this truly revolutionary idea. I express that gratitude by reminding myself and others what it all really means and what it requires from us to keep it working as our forefathers intended.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Opera by the Ocean by Barbara Quinn

Every summer the town I live in on the shore, Bradley Beach, NJ, puts on a program called Opera by the Ocean. These are free nights of listening to opera sung by local performers, and students. I’m grateful that the town sponsors this program, and grateful that the performers show up each season to sing for their fans.

I love sitting outside on a warm summer night and listening to classic arias and duets. The pavilion where the singers perform is on the boardwalk right beside the ocean, which makes a wonderful crashing accompaniment to the music and singing.

The programs would not be possible without the dedication of a group of opera lovers. The singers and their accompanist show up whether the evenings are eerily fog-shrouded, crystal clear, or terrible windy. The cool breezes off the ocean often become quite chilly by evening’s end. But the performers put on their show with good humor. They explain the operas and songs as they go. And there, scattered in the mostly older crowd, I see wide-eyed children, soaking it all in. How wonderful that the next generation of opera lovers is being schooled in this lovely setting.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The 5th of July by Angie Ledbetter

The smell of sulfur and the litter of fireworks all over the yard mingle with the morning sun coming up over the lake. All the kids and their friends are still asleep from all the frantic lighting, throwing, shooting from bottles of firecrackers, water dynamite, and fireworks of every description. They'll have a lot to clean up after they wake up and have breakfast, but I suppose the yard chores are worth the excitement and expense of watching those colored rainbows explode in the sky and reflected again in the water.

Seeing the trash and smelling the leftover aroma of harmless colorful explosives naturally brings to mind the deadly explosions of warfare and heavy artillery. It's the day after the US celebrates its independence, but there are many who did not get to party, BBQ, spend time with friends and loved ones, or even have a decent meal -- our soldiers and support personnel. It has always been so when sacrifices are called for, and I imagine it will always be so.

Yesterday and today I remember these people who fight and have fought for our freedoms, for they are the ones who have allowed my family to spend frivolous, enjoyable time together away from home and work. Words are inadequate forms of gratitude for them, but they will be remembered in prayer by many. I am ever-grateful to veterans, current military people and their families.

Thank you for your decision to stand between us and threat. Thank you for your ability to protect the innocent and oppressed. Thank you for making it possible for me to look over the landscape and see the deeper meaning of the celebration and for the knowledge that after every celebration, there is still work to do. May the glory of this early morning sunrise be somehow transmitted to you and the ones you love.

Friday, July 4, 2008

I Still Got All My Fingers by Kat Magendie

When I knew it was my turn to write a YOG and the date landed on Independence Day, I quaked. For how can I compete with all the many things that will be said and written and done in honor of this day? I thought, “What am I grateful for when I think about July 4?” And what came to mind is this, and I apologize profusely in advance for it, but this is what I thought, “I’m so grateful my brothers and I never blew off our fingers.”

That’s about as profound as I am at this moment, sitting on a beautiful summer afternoon, my feet bare, my summer capris that are soft and comfy, my t-shirt. On such an important day, a day I should be writing about tears and sweat and glory, all I can manage to write is how glad I am we kids did not take those firecrackers, hold them in our hands, light the little teeny wick, and then before we could throw or put them on the ground, the firecracker’s wick burns faster than we ever thought, and KABOOM! there goes a finger or two, blown to smithereens, blown to bits, pieces of skin and bone and blood spurting. Well, that’s what our mom always said, “You kids better be careful with those firecrackers! You’ll blow your dang fingers off! You hear me? Kids? YOU HEAR ME! YOU BETTER BE CAREFUL OR YOU’LL LOSE YOUR FINGERS, EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM. YOU’LL HAVE NOTHING BUT STUMPS! I DECLARE I WILL TAN YOUR HIDE IF ANY OF YOU COMES HOME WITH A BLOODY STUMP INSTEAD OF FINGERS!

And we kids would run off laughing, both terrified and excited. We’d light those firecrackers and always came home with whole fingers, unburnt. Until the day Tommy held on a liiiitttttttle too long. KABOOMITY! And then the scream. And then the rest of us, David, Mike, Kat, Johhny, crowding in for a look at Tommy’s bloody stump as he hollered and jumped around like his feet were on a hot griddle. We made him show us his hand. All his fingers were there! Burnt but there. Not a bloody stump at all! Mom lied! Well. Huhn. But after that, Mom wouldn’t let us light fireworks unless an adult was around. So, of course we obeyed (not). Of course we never lit another firecracker without an adult (not). Of course no one was ever hurt again (not). So, I am thankful I never blew off my fingers on the Fourth of July.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Speedy July by Nannette Croce

July, and suddenly it seems like the summer is speeding away. For the past four years my summer has begun at the end of my daughter's spring semester at college, around mid-May. For a while it seems like June will never come, and when it does, I'm often thinking, wow, it's still June. Summer hasn't even officially begun. Then July happens and everything speeds by.

By July 4th the daylight is already waning a little earlier––good for the fireworks crowd, but it makes me a little sad. I begin to stay out longer watching the fireflies that often disappear from my area in late summer. Soon the cicadas will be announcing the dog days of August, soupy days when it often feels better to remain indoors. When weeds seem to pop up at twice the normal rate and the weather makes it more of a chore to pull them.

But, I remind myself, it's really only the beginning of July. Were summer a child it would just be attempting its first baby steps. Today we entertained family and did what we can't do during the winter, cooked on the grill, sat outside with paper plates, an enjoyable time with quick, throw-away clean up.

Why look ahead when I am at the height of the season? Why not enjoy what I have right now?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Play Dough by Barbara Quinn

One of my first memories is of playing in the kitchen at my mother’s feet while she cooked dinner. To keep me occupied she threw together some flour, water, and salt, and rolled it together till it formed a ball. It was my own wad of play dough without any chemicals or additives. Sometimes she added food coloring. I prepared the same dough for my son when he was a toddler. The dough and the pots and pans beneath the counter held far more attraction for him than his toys. He loved banging the pots and pans with a wooden spoon, and loved donning the colander as a helmet. That colander still has dents in it from the times he climbed on top.

Here’s one of my family’s favorites for a real dough. I married a fellow of Irish ancestry and decided that I’d learn to make a good soda bread. This recipe has made its way to a number of the Irish relatives households:

IRISH SODA BREAD

2 Cups Flour
3 Tblsp. Sugar
½ tsp. Baking Soda
½ tsp. Salt
3 Tblsp. Butter
¾ cup Buttermilk
1 Large egg
½ Cup raisins
1 tsp. Carraway seeds

Sift all the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Cut in the butter. Add the egg, buttermilk, raisins, and caraway seeds. Mix lightly, then knead with your hands until it forms a ball. It should come away from the sides of the bowl. Add a little more flour if necessary. The dough will be sticky. Grease a pan with butter. (A nine inch metal pie plate is what I use.) Place the ball into the center of the pie plate and cut a cross in the center of it. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. It should be slightly browned. Remove from pan and cool on a rack. It’s great with sweet butter!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Daycations by Angie Ledbetter

Sometimes it's just not possible to leave home for a vacation, a dose of fresh perspective or battery-charging. When that happens, it's time for an at home daycation. The best thing about these surrogate escapes is they are free and easy to take. No gas or reservations needed. Here's how:

1.) Unplug all electronic and cellular devices as if you are disconnected from everything/everyone and in Tahiti or Bora Bora.

2.) Sleep in. (Stay up late the night before if that'll help you rise at a later hour the next day.)

3.) Have a leisurely brunch when you arise. Take a tray outside if that's pleasing, read a book while you eat, or munch in front of the TV.

4.) Take a long bubble bath. Snooze in the tub if possible.

5.) Watch a good movie on DVD or take yourself to the movie.

6.) Do NOT do any of your regularly scheduled chores!

7.) Play mindless games on your computer.

8.) Late lunch or early dinner with a friend.

9.) Complete your daycation with whatever your heart desires and you do not get enough of regularly: swimming, walking, lounging, napping, reading, etc.

10.) Before bedtime, put your next daycation date on your calendar!

I love and appreciate these stay-at-home "trips," and have one scheduled again in about a month. Hope you can plan one for yourself too.

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