every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope


Naughty or Nice?

Dear Santa




I have been a good girl (except when I told people off, but they deserved it, because I am NOT a doormat).  Actually, I have been mostly nice all my life, which is a really, really, really long time, considering my AARP-eligibility status.

I never talked to strangers.

I always came home before dark.

I never smoked behind the gym.

I never drank under the bleachers.

I was faithful to my high school sweetheart for 42 years.

I adopted a child when I was 47 and didn’t have the strength.

I wear tasteful, preppy clothes.

I’ve been kind to many, many animals, including dogs, cats, birds, a rat named Bernice, Franklin the box turtle, and a really nasty iguana named Jezebel.

I’ve been gracious under pressure and stood up to bullies, for myself and for others.

I always put money in the Salvation Army bucket.

I volunteer for numerous non-profit organizations.

I go to church every Sunday.

I strive to be a lady.

I drive a hybrid.

For Christmas, I would like a license to be naughty.  Not “cheat-on-my-taxes” naughty, but “let’s have fun without guilt” and “throw caution to the wind” naughty.  I’ve never thrown caution to the wind, but it sounds exciting.

I want rhinestones on my nails, which is a risky choice for an Episcopalian, but, hey, we respect the dignity of all people of every lifestyle, don’t we?

I want the courage to wear a two-piece bathing suit, in public, before I die, on a beach where someone that I know might see me. (Wearing one last September doesn’t count, because I was in Mexico.)

What do you think about a tattoo?  I’m undecided, because it would be soooo baaaad, but I don’t like needles and change my mind so often that I surely would regret it in the morning when the Champagne wore off, so, probably not.  Never mind.

I want to be guilt-free when I take a penny from the “give-a-penny-take-a-penny” container on the counter at my local convenience store, so I can give the clerk exact change.  Yes, I donate pennies, selfishly, because I don’t like all that copper rolling around in the lint at the bottom of my purse, but it’s agonizing to think that I’m taking a penny from someone who might really need it.

I want to throw on my skinny jeans and high heels and rock out as much as a sober, 63-year old woman can…well, for an hour or two, anyway.  (My knees can’t handle much more than that.)

I want to change lanes on a whim without signaling, like every other moron on the highway, and have people slam on their brakes, like I do, to avoid me.

I want to say “no” to things that I don’t want to do.

I want to walk out of boring meetings.

I want to send back inedible food in restaurants.

I want to return a dress when I get home and decide that it doesn’t look as good as I thought it did in the dressing room.

I want to tarnish my heart of gold and bend my spine of steel.  I’m tired of being the last woman on Earth doing The Right Thing all the time.

Oh!  And please bring me whatever else you think that I would like and/or need.

                                    Your friend kind and loving friend,

                                    Suzanne  xoxo 

P.S.  By the way, Santa baby, I’ll be home on Christmas Eve after midnight with oatmeal cookies and spiked eggnog, if you’d like to deliver my request.  <wink, wink>

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Cookies: Bah, Humbug!

FullSizeRender (18)I try to keep everything simple at Christmas time, otherwise, I’m easily stressed out by shopping and gift-wrapping, Christmas cards, decorating, food, and parties.  Maybe not parties.  I love parties.  I’ll do my little bit of shopping, and I think I’m going to use every leftover Christmas card from the ghosts of Christmases past.  Surely, you don’t remember what I sent you five years ago, do you?  I’ll put my tree up a week before Christmas (yes, I realize that would be, like, now) and pull out my nativity on Christmas Eve.  But I’m not a big holiday baker.  I don’t get the appeal of Christmas cookies.

On Facebook this week, many of my beautifully organized friends are posting photos of their scrumptious cookies and advertising cookie parties.  I admire them, and I told one of them, “You’re a better woman than I,” because, really, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do at Christmas, bake beautiful cookies from family recipes to warm the heart and resurrect fond memories of Christmas past?  Oh, I am such a cookie Scrooge.

In early marriage, I made rolled butter cookies and spritz cookies, because I thought you just had to provide your family with cookies at Christmas.  My Mother did.  I just don’t have the patience.  It takes you days on end to make about 500 dozen cookies, and they’re all eaten within a few days.  If I had to go to a cookie exchange and take a recipe, the other bakers would be pretty disappointed.  I’d either take my non-traditional chocolate chip cookies (with coconut and chopped pecans) or my oatmeal cookies.  Those are the only cookies worth making, and I only make the chocolate chips once a year, at the most.

I only like crispy cookies (hence the hint of coconut in the chocolate chips to give them a little extra crunch).  Crispy peanut butter cookies are good (slightly burnt), as are crispy lemon, and lace cookies and even those little French almond tuiles, which you cool around a wine bottle to look like a roof tile.  But, they’re all too much trouble for me, the lazy baker.  Cookies?  Meh.  You might as well buy a package at the grocery store.

Good luck with that.  I wanted to show you a picture of the perfect Christmas cookie, as opposed to the lame ones that I would make, so I went to my local Wegman’s, which knows how to bake dozens of different breads with just the right crust and elegant tarts with crystalline glazes.  Apparently, a color-blind person was decorating the Christmas cookies.  The icing on the snowmen cookies was slightly yellow, and we all know what yellow snow means.  The Christmas tree cookies were olive green, as if they had been standing in the living room on the 13th day of Christmas and were about to go up in flames.  The snowflake cookies were royal blue and sunshine yellow.  And, worst of all, Santa wore a rosy lavender hat.  All of the colors had a drab, gray cast, sort of like they got covered in soot when Santa fell down the chimney with them.

Now, I’m a creative person.  I appreciate different visions of the world, because that’s what adds joy to life, but, when it comes to Christmas, I’m a purist.  I finally found a package of cookies that looked like someone cut them with Grandma’s cookie cutters and sprinkled them with red sugar (Santa) and green sugar (trees).  They even had cookies for idiots like me that were entirely plain and labeled, “Decorate-it-Yourself”.

I, however, rolled my cart over to the dairy section and bought a roll of sugar cookie dough for $2.99.  It showed them sliced and baked and in the shape of stars.  I assumed that the dough could be rolled and cut.  How else could you get that star shape by slicing a roll of dough?

I hauled out cookie cutters that hadn’t seen the mini-lights of Christmas in decades, 13 in all, a baker’s dozen.  Two red plastic ones belonged to my grandmother and must date to the 1940s or 50s.  The aluminum ones are early marriage, c. 1972.  The Nutcracker is from the 80s; the hippo from a set of animal cutters I acquired from Williams-Sonoma in the 90s.

With enough flour on the granite counter, the dough rolled out to 1/4″ easily, although it seemed a little soft.  I carefully pressed the cutters into the dough, then removed the excess from around them and removed the dorky hat from the gingerbread man.  I slid a metal turner under each cookie and eased it onto the cookie sheet.  They all made the transfer except the red plastic holly.  The dough clung to little ridges inside the cutter.  So much for lucky number 13.

Unfortunately, they didn’t smell like butter or sugar or vanilla or lemon extract, just commercial cookie dough.  I decided to brush them with my cure-all for baked goods, Grand Marnier, and popped them into the oven.

When cookies collide.

When cookies collide.

Uh-oh — they were too close together and turned into Pangea; you know?  That supercontinent from which all the other continents broke off?  Santa appeared to be delivering a star.  The Nutcracker oozed into an aerial view of a sports car with its doors open — or a feminine hygiene product with wings, maybe. (I’m an eHarmony reject, remember?)  They browned beautifully, but they still tasted like commercial cookie dough, a real waste of Grand Marnier.  I pulled them apart.

One cookie stole my heart.  I’ve always wanted a hippopotamus for Christmas.

I want a hippopotamus for Xmas!

I want a hippopotamus for Xmas!

I’m not entirely down on commercial cookie dough.  You may recall that I keep Nestle’s Tollhouse cookie dough in my freezer for emergencies — like when I don’t have anything else to eat for breakfast.  I break off four little cubes, bake them in the convection oven until they get soft, and then flatten them with a fork, so they’ll get crispy.  I also push two pecan halves into each cookie.  Voilà!  Home-baked cookies!

If you’re as lazy as I am but need to leave something for Santa, my oatmeal cookies are the perfect choice.  You dump the ingredients into a food processor and drop them onto a cookie sheet (use a silicone mat so you don’t even have to grease the pan). Santa would appreciate them with a glass of spiked eggnog, I’m sure.  Nothing like a little fiber after a long night in the sleigh.

Oatmeal Cookies 

The number of cookies varies according to the size of cookies that you make.  An ice cream scoop makes a big fat chewy cookie — the kind that keeps Santa and Rudolph strong all night long.  A tablespoon makes a smaller, crisper cookie — my fav!

½ cup brown sugar, packed

½ cup white sugar

½ cup butter, softened

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 Tablespoon milk

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup quick-cooking (not instant) oats

Preheat oven to 350°.  Prepare cookie sheets either by greasing or just use a silicone baking mat.

In food processor, cream sugars and butter.  Add egg, vanilla, and milk.  Pulse until blended.  Add all remaining ingredients except the oats and pulse just until moistened.  Add oats and pulse twice, just to evenly distribute the oats.

Drop cookies two inches apart on sheet and bake 8-10 minutes, until golden brown, depending on how large you make the cookies.  Remove immediately from the oven and, using a metal turner, transfer to a rack to cool.  (Cookies will stick to the sheet if allowed to get too cool.  If this happens, return to the oven for two minutes to reheat and loosen.)

Didn’t I tell you it was easy?  Ho-ho-ho!  Merry Christmas!




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Dolce Natale

image‘Tis the season to party, and this is a big weekend for me, a tea, an open house, a dance, and a concert reception. Ideally, I would contribute “finger food” to the refreshments at three of the events, so I’m trying to kill four birds with one stone, because, as you know, I am essentially lazy.

One of the invitations requests that “If your name starts with A-M, please bring a savory treat; if it starts with N-Z, please bring a sweet.  Hmmm…Is it acceptable to choose the category you want to provide by either your first or last name? Or does it just have to be your last name? In my case, it doesn’t matter, because both my first and last names fall in the “sweet” category. Ok, what to make…what to make…

Generally, I don’t bake cookies or even cupcakes, if I can get away with it. (See next Friday’s post for my lame excuses.) For instance, I wouldn’t participate in your PTA’s cookie exchange or your neighborhood’s cookie walk (I saw that on a sign, recently, and have no idea what that entails).

In the olden days, the Veterinarian and I used to throw huge parties at the drop of a hat. New Year’s Day? Open house for 75-100. Cast party? Buffet for 30 from 11pm to 4 am (and sometimes breakfast for those we forced to spend the night on our sofa). We always had a dozen recipes that people expected to find on our table, with my Amaretto Cheesecake at the top of the list.

Since I live alone and don’t entertain any longer (in my home, I mean; I’m still entertaining on stage and internet, right?), I haven’t made an Amaretto Cheesecake in at least five years. But that’s not finger food, is it? Or, is it? I’ve made it in 6″ versions to give as gifts, but, can I turn it into a mini-dessert?

Fast forward 10 hours

Well, I made them last night, and they were pretty good for breakfast this morning with a double espresso, so I think I’ll spread a little holiday cheer today!

Amaretto Cheesecake – yields 12 slices or 24 individual cheesecakes

For one large cake, use a 9-1/2″ springform pan.
For mini-cakes, line regular-sized cupcake tins with cupcake papers. (This is a great way to use up odds and ends of holiday cupcake papers, because they will be discarded before serving.)


1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, finely ground (I use the food processor.)
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup melted butter

In a large bowl, thoroughly toss together the crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon. Stir in the melted butter.

For one cake: press mixture into the bottom and 1/2″ up the sides of the springform pan.

For mini-cakes: drop two teaspoonfuls of the mixture into the bottom of each paper and press only into the bottom.

Chill prepared crust in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

To bake, preheat oven to 375.


24 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1/3 cup Amaretto liqueur

In bowl of mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until fluffy. Beat in the sugar, thoroughly, scraping the bowl and beaters. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the Amaretto. Pour into prepared springform pan, or spoon 2 Tablespoons of batter into each cupcake liner.

Bake one large cake for 45-50 minutes. Bake mini-cakes for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Centers will fall and possibly crack. Not to worry! Raise oven to 425.


It’s ok if center falls and cracks, because you’re going to cover it with the topping.


For one large cake:
1 cup sour cream
1-1/2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon Amaretto liqueur

For mini-cakes:
2 cups sour cream
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur

Spoon topping into the fallen center of the cakes and smooth with a knife or spatula. Return to hot oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Immediately garnish with chopped, toasted almonds. Cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours.


Just before serving, run a heated knife between the crust and the rim of the springform pan. (To heat the knife, run it under hot tap water and quickly dry with a clean towel.)

For mini-cakes, remove the cupcake paper. This works best if the cakes are very cold, because the fat in the butter and cream cheese sticks less to the paper when it is cold.

Garnish the cakes with either shaved dark chocolate or mini-dark chocolate chips.


Yahoo! Yoga Pants!

Yoga pants memeOne of The Daughter’s fashion magazines recently recommended that young people search their parents’ closets for tracksuits.  Remember them?  They were either slinky polyester with Adidas stripes, stiff nylon, or tacky velour.  Darn! I just gave my last set away.  It was lavender, and I thought it made me look really old and out-of-date.

What do I know?  I’m in love with yoga pants!   That’s right.  Yoga pants.  Who says old ladies can’t wear yoga pants?  I wear them, and by many reference points (AARP, my local senior center, Regal cinema, Social Security, the Goodwill on Tuesdays), I qualify as an old lady.

Well, I’m here to tell you that they can be worn, but there’s a right way to wear them, especially if you’re over 16 and haven’t seen a yoga mat from the downward dog position in your life.  Flared yoga pants are better than leggings, because leggings end at your ankles, clinging like plastic wrap.  When you’re suddenly overwhelmed by heat, you can roll the flares up over your knees, plus they accommodate your sneakers and balance out the width of your hips.  Tracksuits just billow around you and make you sweat.

Yoga pants, like many fashion trends, are a mine-field of potential disaster.  While I like to express myself through my clothing, I’m also careful about the message that I send (eg., today, I’m Tasteful Lady, tomorrow, I’m Work-Out Girl, or whatever).  I googled “Yoga Pants Disasters” and noticed that, in every case, a longer shirt, covering the hips would have solved the problem…or maybe a mirror and a rational mind.

A man recently referred to me on two different occasions as “spunky” and “a classy lady,” so you can rest assured that I know what “tasteful” means.  Here are some other clues:

Crop tops and sports bras:  In the privacy of my own home, I love to wear sports bras with my yoga pants.  I plank.  My upper arms aren’t bad.  My abs are a little iffy; ok for the beach, not ok for the mall.  (I don’t have a plastic surgeon on retainer.)  In public, I keep them covered with a hip-length jacket or sweater, because I don’t need the attention and don’t have a navel piercing to show off.

Bad Yoga Pants 2

Bad, bad, bad — just trying to prove my point.

Underwear:  I know you don’t want to see my old lady panty lines, either above the waist or digging into my upper thighs, so, if my top doesn’t cover my hips, I wear low-rise panties (which is kind of a thrill at my age, actually) or lightweight Spanx.  Yes, I do hate Spanx, but I hate panty lines more.  And all of my yoga pants are thick enough so you can’t see through them.  I can’t afford Lululemon. (Really?  $428 for a synthetic “Cashmere” sweater at the brand’s affiliate Kit and Ace?)

Belts:  I have a pair of “dressy” yoga pants (an oxymoron, if there ever was one) with belt loops.  What is the point of belt loops on yoga pants?  The pants are so tight, they aren’t going anywhere.  How can you do crunches while wearing a belt?  Doesn’t the buckle pierce your navel?  Is that how the yoga moms get jewelry in there?  Ouch!

Pockets:  Several pairs of my yoga pants have tiny little pockets.  I’m not sure why.  I couldn’t get my car key in it, so there’s certainly no room for a cellphone.  Except for a Kleenex, why would you put anything in the pockets of yoga pants?  Why would you create more unsightly bulges?  “Oh, dear, Suzanne really should get that lump on her hip removed.”  I use a jacket with pockets.

Color:  There is only one appropriate spandex color for most old ladies, and that is black.  That being said, I have a brown pair and a dark plum pair.  But…no floral prints, no stripes, and, God forbid, no powder blue.

Hip-huggers:  There is only one place to wear hip-hugging pants, and that is around the hips.  I NEVER pull them up to my waist, because that creates that crotch crease named for the foot of the Ship of the Desert.  (A little puzzle to exercise your brain.)  Eeek!  I spend so much time pulling down at the thighs of my pants that the dents in my pants look like I have cellulite.  Again, better to cover my hips.

Footwear:  Never wear loafers or flats or high heels with your yoga pants. Never.  Ever.   I’m not sure why I even have to tell you that.  Around here, women wear flip-flops with their yoga pants most of the year, but I am one of those silly and boring women who prefers Uggs, which are just one step above slippers.  So, sue me.  Socks with yoga pants?  Probably not.

Length:  A common complaint about yoga pants is that they’re too long.  When I was passing through Miami International Airport awhile back, a young woman came out of a restroom stall wearing yoga pants that were frayed and wet around the hem from dragging on the floor.  When I looked down, condensation from the tropical humidity had created a sea of God-only-knows-what swishing around.  It made me woozy to think about it.

Singing in yoga pants and a hip-covering top.  Who knew?

Singing in yoga pants and a hip-covering top. Who knew?

Sleepwear:  Sometimes, when I come home and put on my comfy yoga pants, I sleep in them.  However, I don’t wear them the next day, unless I’m holding down my sofa and writing.  It’s tempting to go from day to night in the same pair of pants, but, remember, it’s just one small misstep from comfy to frumpy.

Doesn’t it just figure that, by the time people our age embrace a fad, it’s “out”?  If tracksuits are now “in”, you’d better drag out your Bedazzler.  Nothing says “1980s” like a rhinestone-studded velour track suit with shoulder pads and mile-high hair, unless it’s a teddy bear-appliquéd sweatshirt.  And please, please, please, no fuschia velour pants at your age with “Princess” embroidered across your bum!


It’s been three months since I let my Match.com subscription expire.  In the beginning, there was some withdrawal.  I didn’t miss it when I was on vacation, but I didn’t realize how entertaining it was.  Oh, I don’t mean the dates.  They ranged from pitiful to downright creepy.  The profiles and photos were pretty funny but not $140 worth of funny.

My last date tried too hard to sell himself.  At least three times during our second date, he told me that he was “very wealthy” (his exact words).  This was during dinner in his country club’s formal dining room at 7pm, for which I had dressed up.  He ordered first, from the sandwich menu.  I recalled that he was the same guy who made me buy my own coffee the first time that we met (during which he ordered nothing, which should have ended our potential relationship right there).  I followed his lead and ordered a single lunch-sized crab cake with saltine crackers.  It came with a handful of potato chips.  I treated myself on his dime to a glass of house chardonnay.  How else was I going to make it through the evening?

Mr. Very Wealthy also didn’t listen.  He prefaced nearly every sentence with the exclamation “Jesus Christ!”  I subtly told him that I was the Senior Warden at my church and explained that it is the lay leadership position.  It went right over his head.  Then, I told him how important my faith is to me.  He still didn’t get it.  That’s clueless.  I wasn’t going to shout, “Stop it, you cretin!”  When he walked me to my car, he said, “Well, Suzanne, what do you think?”

“I think not,” I smiled kindly.  “We just don’t seem to have enough in common.” He appeared shocked when I told him I didn’t want to see him again.  Hope I didn’t break him with the little crab cake and cheap chardonnay.

Unfortunately, I had just been groped in a rough, forceful manner on a second date with a college instructor who told me, when I gently objected to his “ardor” (my word, not his), that I had “liked it” and had “misunderstood.”  Nope.  I hadn’t.  And I wasn’t even wearing yoga pants.

Match wants to help me.  They’re going to give me 50% off, if I sign up by tomorrow at midnight.  They send me that offer at least once a week, so I’m in no hurry.  I keep meeting lovely people who met lovely people online, but it’s just not for me.  I feel guilty laughing at the dating prospects, but, when I responded to some of them, I couldn’t help but think that they were insincere.  I had to ask myself if I equally was clueless about who I am.  Do I value myself too highly?  Am I nuts?  Am I unrealistic?   I’m just going to stay out of the fray for a while.

By the way, Karma is taking care of the man who stalked me about a year ago, one body part at a time, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!


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Christmas Shopping

Oops!  I missed Black Friday.  I was busy recovering from Thanksgiving and just couldn’t drag myself out of the house.  That’s not quite true.  I could have dragged myself out of the house and into the car, but I wasn’t sure where I’d go where people weren’t snarling over consumer goods and parking places.

Now, I’ve missed Cyber Monday.  I’m probably missing some significant sales today, too.  The pressure is just horrendous for me to consume irrelevant stuff this time of year, but I will not succumb.  I don’t really need to, since my shopping list is blessedly short, but I find Christmas shopping a very dangerous opportunity to over-spend — mainly on me!

Should I fight someone for the last large-screen HD internet- and Bluetooth-ready television?  Until Verizon gets its act together and installs the Fios cable service tomorrow that I ordered last week and wasn’t installed on Friday, as scheduled, and wasn’t installed yesterday, as rescheduled, I have no need for one.  I’m not sure that I could wrestle one into my car.  The Daughter buys whatever she wants, when she wants it.  My Sister has a limited tolerance for electronics; My Mother, no tolerance of any kind.  That settles it.  No electronics.  No Hoverboards.  No Drones.  No Droids from “Star Wars.”

Should I knock over small children to get to the toy department?  The BFF is the only “child” in my household, and she’d rather have a nice, bark-covered stick to chew on than a Cabbage Patch Kid.  On second thought, she just might like to chow down on a CPK.  [Are CPKs making a comeback?  Target seems to think so.  They’re also advertising that creepy little Mario guy with the Burt Reynolds moustache.]

Walmart (where I’ve shopped only 3 times in my life; once in Florida for lint rollers, once on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for aluminum drip pans, and once nearby for a plush reindeer), suggests “Pokemon 2015 Trainer Kit Deck”  “2-Player Learn-to-Play Set”  “Now $8.99.  Was $9.98.  Save $0.99.”  Wow.  A whopping $0.99 savings. That would be worth driving around for 30 minutes trying to find a parking space.  I never would have bought that, because the description is ridiculous:  “Two 30-card decks, each with a specially selected foil card, two guided game booklets, 2-player playmat, damage counters and Special Condition markers, a game coin, an illustrated deck box, and a code card for the Pokemon TCG Online!”

Not one word of that description tells me anything.  It appears that in order to play this game, you have to spend a minimum of $8.99 (plus $6.95 shipping if you don’t either pick it up in the store or qualify for free shipping by buying another $41.01 worth of stuff, plus sales tax) to learn how to play the game and then buy the game itself.  Nope.  No way.

Then, there’s this little gem in the tights with her fanny hanging below her jacket.  Of course, what else but a hunk of molded polyvinylchloride could wear that outfit?

Pickup OnlyPickup only

The puppies are cute, but “Pickup only”?  Yeah, kinda looks that way to me.  Maybe if she put on some pants, she could get a real job.  And they said Barbie was a tramp.

Where are Raggedy Ann and Andy with their soft bodies and embroidered hearts?  Where are the Lincoln Logs?  Doesn’t anyone want an electric train set?  Chinese Checkers?  The other day, someone,  obviously as old as I, asked what happened to Colorforms.  When I was a kid, they came in exciting shapes, like Batman and Star Trek and Barbie, and you put them into comic book-like scenes.  I bought the only set that I could find for The Daughter.  It was a huge set of basic shapes and colors organized in pages in a spiral notebook, and it was Very Expensive, sold through the catalog of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  My 10-year old self was in heaven.  Hers was nonplussed.

Colorforms“Like, what do you do with these?” she asked.

“You make pictures on the shiny black board with them.”

“You, like, stick them together and build stuff?”

“No, you arrange the shapes into pictures, with houses and people and pets and trees.  Anything.  You can tell stories with them.”

“Like, I can do that on the computer.”

“Stop saying ‘like.’”

“I never understood the appeal of Colorforms, either,” The Veterinarian had the audacity to chime in.

“OK, fine,” I snapped, “they’ll just be mine, and I’ll lull myself to sleep with the boring Colorforms.”  I haven’t seen them since and couldn’t tell you what happened to them. I wish I could. They’re asking $25 on eBay for a well-worn, incomplete set or $75 at Amazon.com for a new set.

Should I spring for a white faux furry vest for The Daughter?  It’s kinda cute in a retro, Sonny-and-Cher way.  I’m just not sure what she wears these days when she isn’t wearing scrubs to work.  We always play a game when we’re in Target together.  We walk through the girls’ clothes, and I point at outfits and say, “I would have bought this for you.”

Sometimes, she’ll say, “Well, I wouldn’t have worn it” and counter with, “Would you have let me wear this?”

The answer to that one still is, invariably, “No.”  I’m not real fond of rhinestones, spandex, and bare midriffs in children’s clothing, unless they’re meant for the stage or the swimming pool.  Don’t like them on most adults, either, for that matter.

My shopping email inbox received 109 emails from Saturday to Monday evening.  I let them pile up so I could count them.  Most of them were from clothing stores, which is the most dangerous place of all to cyber-shop, but it’s also the most fun.  I choose the clothes (mostly for myself), put them in the “shopping cart” or “bag”, and go on to the next site.  I haven’t really purchased anything, but, somehow, my urge to acquire is satisfied.  I used to play this same game with catalogs, but cyber-window shopping is much more satisfying.

This morning, I heard a network broadcaster, on my small, non-internet-ready, Bluetoothless television, say that retailers use cookies to track when you have placed items in your cyber shopping cart but not completed a purchase.  He said that they will send you an email showing the item saying, “Did you forget about me?  I’m feeling rejected in the shopping cart.”  Oh, pull-eaze.  It’s bad enough that, when I walk into a mall, items scream “Buy me!”  “Buy me!” “You’ll be [choose as many as you want] taller, younger, hotter, thinner, __________ .”  (The shouting from Victoria’s Secret is especially annoying.)

Of course, actually shopping in a store is pretty dangerous, too.  I’m adept at dodging the model-wannabes trying to douse me with the latest celebrity fragrance.    On Monday night, around the dinner hour, I almost let one spritz and sniff me.  As I walked through the perfume department in Macy’s, I heard, “Hey! Having a good time?”

I looked up to see the women’s Chanel counter manned (in every sense of the word) by a cute young guy in a — get this — suit and tie — catnip to a woman over the age of 20.  I kept walking but looked around to see who he was talking to.  There was no one else.  He made eye contact.  At least, I think he did.  I was distracted by the dimples.

Thank God, I had just washed my hair and was wearing make-up to have my passport photo taken.  I assume he was confused because I’m short, like a teenager, and, I thought, not unattractive in my gray tights, my black suede Uggs, and, unlike the little plastic dog-walking floozy, my puffy jacket was covering my considerable fanny.

Did I want to be spritzed by a handsome guy with bad eyesight selling women’s perfume?  Oh, you bet I did!  But, I refrained.  I am just not delusional enough to smell like a cougar.  I kept moving and smiled breezily like that model in the old “Charlie” perfume commercial (google it).

“I am now!”  I replied to his question. He laughed.  It’s always a good day when a 63-year old woman can make a young man laugh with her, not at her, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!





APHS Class of 1970

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June 16, 1970

Dear APHS Classmates of 1970,

As you gather tonight to commemorate the 45 years since we graduated from high school, for a variety of reasons, I will be at my current home, 500 miles away.  However, my heart will be with you!  Part of it misses the trials and tribulations of learning about life in our middle class community outside of Detroit, and the other part has moved on.  I have reached that time we used to talk about, “when I grow up.”

Our parents survived the Great Depression (“We didn’t know we were poor,” my mother still says) and atrocities during World War II that we, their children, are only now learning about.  They didn’t complain or whine.  They took advantage of the GI Bill and got on with life, and they taught us to do the same.

Our homes were modest, with entire families sharing one bathroom and two and three kids to a bedroom.  We rode our bikes all over town without parental supervision (or helmets), entertained ourselves with chalk on the sidewalks, played Four Square in the street, walked to the nearest playground to throw a ball or swing or play tag, and even danced in the street at block parties.

When we wanted to talk to a friend, we stood outside their doors and called their names through the screen, which is what your mother did when she wanted you to come home.  Of course, when the street lights came on, you knew you’d better get home or be in trouble.

We sat on the porch and read books from the library or played board games or cards.  I had a girlfriend whose mother didn’t want her to play cards, so my mother would look the other way when we sat for hours on my porch, playing Old Maid, Go Fish, Rummy, Hearts, Pinochle, Euchre (google it), and even Poker.

Most of us attended church regularly, primarily at St. Francis Cabrini or AP United Presbyterian.  Some of us straddled both religious communities. I, for one, will never forget standing up to the bullying Sister Rose of Lima in CCD class.  [Irony of ironies, we were taught the “Baltimore Catechism,” and I now live in Baltimore, where they look at me like I have two heads when I tell them that Bob Seger played at our high school dances.]  I was married by the Rev. Dr. Wanzer Brunelle of APUPC, as were several of you.

Everything in Detroit revolved around the auto industry. Some of our dads worked for one of the Big Three automakers.  Some worked at one of the steel plants.  My dad worked as a civilian for the Department of the Army, negotiating contracts for parts and then vehicles for the military; cars, jeeps, trucks, tanks, and, eventually, even the Humvee.  The Veterinarian’s family ran a freight airline that shipped automotive parts around the world.

Some moms worked in the offices at the nearby Ford Motor Company or as bookkeepers for small tool-and-die makers.  Some were nurses; some were teachers.  Some of them were the original Rosie-the-Riveters, building airplanes during the war.  Most of them were room mothers or worked with the PTA.

When I sing “June is Bustin’ Out all Over” from “Carousel” with the Deer Creek Chorale, I remember 1969, when the Concert Choir presented it during our junior year.  I wasn’t in it, because, in those days, I chose to work backstage, building sets and doing makeup, aspiring to be a thespian (and I still have the certificate from Mr. Helms to prove it).  I couldn’t have gotten cast as myself in any high school production, although I did get cast one time as a Munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz,” because I was short and had that crazy short haircut.  But who knew I’d grow up to sing multiple times at Carnegie Hall, act, dance, direct, and work in performing arts management for 35 years and now write this wacky blog, relating how my no-nonsense upbringing serves me well, 63 years later?

When the Class of 1970 last gathered in August, 2010, The Veterinarian had committed to give a lecture at a veterinary conference in San Diego before the reunion date was set.  Ever annoyingly conscientious (to me, anyway), he fulfilled his commitment, and we missed the 40-year reunion.  One year later, he died.  If I could tell you how he spent the years 1970-2011, you wouldn’t be surprised.  The nice boy with the snakes and lizards and mice became a veterinarian known internationally for his expertise in avian medicine.  He was greatly respected by his colleagues and loved by his clients.

Dozens of you, from whom I hadn’t heard since high school and even some since elementary school, contacted me on Facebook.  Many of you maintained that electronic friendship and unknowingly gave me the courage to keep going through some really challenging times.  I am grateful for your support.

As I told The Daughter, when she lamented her wallflower status in high school, if you peak in high school, you’re screwed.  The information you learn, the people you meet, and the experiences you have stay with you for the rest of your life and propel you to greater things.  I am who I am today because of Allen Park, Michigan.  I like to think that I still haven’t peaked.

Have a wonderful time tonight!  Give out hugs from me, and remember, peace is still what you make it!


Suzanne (aka “Sue” — that’s another story)

P.S.:  For my non-Spartan friends, this is the only day of the year that I’ll say “Go, Blue!”


Thanksgiving Fantasy

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Thanksgiving past, table for 10, with the works, including place cards

Oh, God, I dread Thanksgiving.

And here it is, staring me in the face. I guess I have to clean the house this morning, after I get the stuffing made, the bird stuffed, and the dough for the rolls rising.

And find the skinny little candles that go in all the amber glass turkeys that march around the center of the table.  I’ll drag out the Lenox and my grandmother’s turkey platter and my silver and my Italian jacquard tablecloth with matching napkins that only see the light of day once a year.  That goes for the Lenox, too.  The Waterford stays in its storage box these days, while the equally fragile Riedel on the ridiculously long stems appears.

I see that I still haven’t dragged out the thousands of dollars worth of autumn candles and wreaths and other decorations that are stored upstairs.  Where’s the cornucopia that the Daughter painted in the third grade?  Good thing that I observe Advent, which starts Sunday, so I won’t be decorating for Christmas any time soon.

At some point, I need to change these yoga pants into something chic-but-grease-resistant and wash my hair.

Place cards.  Do I go with place cards, since we’ll have a guest, The Daughter’s beau?  Or is that over-kill?  There are only five of us this year, and most of us remember our names and pecking order at the table.  It’s over-kill, and we don’t want to frighten off this nice young man who bought me flowers at the ballroom dance debacle.

Oh, no!  I should have cleaned the ovens!

Does anyone really have that warm-hearted, sit-around-the-antique-pine-table-in-ladder-backed-chairs-with-a-smiling-lavender-haired- Grandma-in-a-lacy-apron-presenting-a-platter-of-bronzed-turkey-surrounded-by-fancy-cut-oranges-topped-with-maraschino-cherries-kind of Thanksgiving?  Did they ever?

Does anyone actually eat squash?

I don’t like turkey.  I don’t like cranberries.  I don’t like Jello.  And, most of all, I hate that slimy green bean casserole.  We don’t eat it any other day of the year, but, sadly, my family expects it on Thanksgiving because it was The Veterinarian’s favorite.  Years ago, another family always came for Thanksgiving dinner, and my friend recently told me that her now-married daughter doesn’t consider it Thanksgiving without the green bean casserole.  My own Daughter is now in charge of making it, because who can’t dump mushroom soup in green beans and top with canned French-fried onions?

I’d rather be remembered for my unique pumpkin pie which has ground black pepper as a key spice and candied ginger in the whipped cream topping.  The Daughter is going to make little pumpkin tarts.  Her date is going to make lemon bars for the family members who don’t eat pumpkin pie.  My Mother will make her candied sweet potatoes and charge me with toasting the marshmallows without burning them.  My Sister will make the cranberry mold, which is spectacular and which I can’t pull off.

I’ll get to flip the bird, not because I love to say that, but because The Veterinarian discovered that it gives a juicier breast to cook it upside down and then flip it.  I always held my breath, watching him flip a 24-pounder, but, without him and our friends, it’s just a 15-pounder this year.

Thanksgiving 2014

Thanksgiving 2014, with unironed tablecloth, table for 4

It will all be perfect, because there will be alcohol.  Trapped in my house for six hours, no one will be driving.  I charged the Daughter’s Beau with bringing a bottle of Prosecco under $20 to go with the brie and crouton appetizers (thank you, Wegman’s) and my Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup. (See?  I answered my own question about squash.)  There will be a pinot noir with the turkey and an ice wine with dessert.

Then, I’ll box up the leftovers in every spare plastic container, unless they remember to bring their own.  I’ll throw the turkey carcass in my huge stock pot, cover with water and a lid and bring to a boil for 20 minutes.  Then, I’ll turn off the heat (without uncovering) and let it sit on the stove overnight, when I’ll finish the stock.

I’ll hand wash the Lenox, silver, and crystal, throw the linens in the washer, start the dishwasher, and hit the sheets.

Finally, I’ll give thanks that I survived another Thanksgiving, another chance to be together with loved ones. If I’m lucky, there will be another chance next year.  Same time.  Same place.  Same menu.  Same love.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Cozy Crock Pot Cider

In years past, I always made this hot cider.  You have to omit the rum, if you have kids running around unattended, or, maybe not, if you want them to fall asleep.  (Just kidding!)

½ gallon apple cider

1 quart orange-pineapple juice

2 sticks of cinnamon

12 cloves, tied in cheesecloth

1 cup dark rum (or to taste – optional)

Combine all ingredients in crock pot and heat until warm, about 1 hour.

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What I did for Love

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The Paula Deen look.

Happy 70th, Mark!

Hey, there!  Remember me?  The insane little woman with the smart mouth and great shoes?  The Champagne Slut who can’t get a date?  I thought I’d check in and let you know how busy I’ve been, just when The Holidays get underway and render me fully frazzled.

I’ve been doing really crazy stuff, like wearing yoga pants in public, platinum blonde wigs, and really awesome dance shoes.  And a black velvet, rhinestone studded halter dress (thanks to my excellent plastic surgeon) that no dignified 63-year old woman with a pudgy tummy should be caught dead in (maybe I should call that plastic surgeon).

When we last chatted in September, you may recall that I had agreed to participate in the major fundraising event for our local center for the arts, as a “Dancing with the Stars”-type amateur.  I got free dance lessons from a renowned professional ballroom trainer.  I got to buy a pair of $185 pink satin shoes that I will never wear again but are almost as comfortable as my Uggs.  I got to browbeat my family and friends to buy tickets and cough up money for my cause, because I had agreed to raise a minimum of $5,000.  It turned out to be the easiest part of the challenge.

So, you may ask, what was I, clearly not a dance novice, doing in the group?  I had been rejected in previous years because of my dance training.  Finally, I was old and feeble enough to level the playing field.  I haven’t had a speck of cartilage in either of my knees in over 20 years.  And, of course, there was that time when I fractured my patella in two places.  And I have degenerative lower disc disease (aka “sciatica” or, as I like to say, “I gots the lumbago”).  Plus, they told me that I wouldn’t be judged.  I had nothing to lose and everything to gain for a cause that I dearly love.  I was really excited to get started.  I hadn’t danced in 20 years (a production of A Chorus Line, a show about what some of us do for love).

“You’re the oldest dancer this year,” the instructor, 12 years my junior, explained at our first private rehearsal.

I shrugged.  I had met my fellow “celebrity” dancers, a roster of lovely people dedicated to fostering the arts in our community. There was the distinguished retired general, the bubbly business owner, the charming couple who met on Match.com (seriously, I don’t want to hear about it), the young woman who had danced in one of my productions of The Nutcracker 30 years ago (I am so freakin’ old), and the adorable teenagers who could be my grandchildren.

“Yeah, I could tell.  As long as my knees hold up, I’ll be fine.”

“Besides dancing,” he continued, “I’m going to teach you to have stage presence and connect with the audience.”

“Not going to be an issue,” I replied.

“I’m going to try to shake you up, so that if something happens while we’re performing, you won’t be flustered.”

“Not going to happen,” I smirked.  “I’m pretty cool.  Look, I’m 63 years old and have been performing since I was 4.  Nothing throws me.  Not wardrobe malfunctions.  Not actors forgetting their lines.  Not an audience member vomiting in the front row.  Nothing.”

I was once doing “theater-in-the-round” when, despite instructions from the ushers, an annoying patron wouldn’t keep his feet out of the aisle.  During an entrance in the dark, I leaned over to him and said, “Get your feet back under the table.”  When the lights came up, I was standing onstage, in character, looking him dead in the eye.  Those feet never appeared again.

The instructor looked skeptical.  “You’ll be doing the foxtrot.”

My Mother taught me the foxtrot when I was a kid dancing to Frank, Bing, and Doris on her 78s.  I didn’t want to be the nice girl.  I’m always the nice girl.  I really wanted to do the Cha Cha or Rhumba or something really — dare I say — sexy.  The Shrew in My Head grunted in disgust at my self-delusion.

“Hmm, sounds slow and boring.”

“Not the way we’re going to do it.  Think Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire gliding across the floor.”  Images of a short woman (me, not Ginger), overwhelmed by feathers, sprang to mind.  “I want to challenge you because you don’t seem to normally move in that flowing, elegant way.”  He must have seen me in “Waltz of the Flowers” in 1981.

He demonstrated a few simple steps, as if he was teaching “Jazz 101.”  I repeated them flawlessly.

“Well, you have good lines!” he said.

“I told you I was a dancer,” The Shrew in My Head rolled my eyes.

After six weeks, he was hauling me around the dance floor doing “twinkles” and “passes” to a song by Metallica that had been re-recorded to sound like a vintage 40s tune.  Every week, he added something new and a little harder.  One week, it was turns.  I am not a turner.  Never have been.  I made the mistake of telling him.

“Good,” he smiled.  “We’ll have more turns.”

“For God’s sake,” I complained, “don’t let me fall down.”

“You aren’t used to having people tell you what to do, are you?” he laughed.

Once, during a rehearsal break, he asked me, “Who are we going to be?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, are we the 30s or 40s?  Or, maybe, Singing in the Rain?  Like a black and white movie musical.”

“What are we wearing?”

“That’s what I’m wondering.  The other ladies are wearing traditional ballroom gowns.  I thought you could be different.  A little flashier.”

“No feathers.  I’m too short for feathers,” the image of a waddling duck swam around my head, “and I’d like my upper arms to be covered.”  Duck lips are the only acceptable poultry flesh on aging women.  I thought about Bedazzled capri pants and a turtleneck to hide the wattle that is my neck.

“I wasn’t thinking of that,” he answered.  “Instead of a full skirt, maybe something straighter with a slit.  How are your legs?  I don’t think I’ve seen them.”  I looked down at the yoga pants that I wore every week to rehearsal.  I’m more Jane Powell than Cyd Charisse.

Paula Deen back

$14 and a few rhinestones

I drove right over to the Goodwill store and bought the beaded black velvet halter dress for $14.  It met with his approval, but he thought it should have more rhinestones.  I bought Swarovski rhinestones and glued them on (half of which fell off).  I bought the platinum wig for $40 and will wear it again when I’m in the old-age home, I’m sure.  I agonized over spray-tanning.  I bought a vintage pair of clip-on earrings (they are to-die-for, btw).  “Give ‘em the old razzle-dazzle.”

Then, it all went to hell in a hand basket.  One week, one of the 8 million trees on my property fell across my lane, and I had to cancel my rehearsal at the last minute.  Two weeks later, I came down with bronchitis.  I went to rehearsal after six days, thinking that the virus had stopped shedding.  It hadn’t.  I gave it to the instructor and didn’t see him for two weeks.  My dance didn’t have an ending.  Not until last Tuesday.  Two days before the technical run-through.

“All right,” I marched in.  “Let’s get this done.”

He started to teach the new choreography.  More turns.  Rather, pivot turns, which ended in another turn and a run around and another turn and me on the floor for the finish.  Or something like that.  I never could remember.  It seemed like something from Dirty Dancing.

“Wait a minute — my leg goes — where? Between your legs? And your knee is going to be where?”  Because I am so damn short, I ended up straddling his knee.

[Let’s pause for a minute, so you can visualize that.]

It just didn’t work.  I went home, dejected, and tried to practice, but there were no knees at home with which to practice.  I returned on Wednesday to rehearse, wearing the blonde wig, safety-pinned to my hair, and the clip-on earrings.  I needed to know that they wouldn’t fly off my head during the turns.

“Um, this pivot thing,” I stammered, “I just don’t get it.”

“Oh, you’ll never get it.  You’ll only get it when you’ve been doing ballroom dance all your life.”

And that’s when my hackles went up.  The Shrew and I were both indignant.

“So, why am I doing this?”  I demanded.  I said much more, but I won’t repeat it here, because it was mostly profane, and I, after all, am a lady.

“Let’s go,” he held out his hand.  We went over and over it for 40 minutes. Instead of crying about it, I started preparing myself for the disaster to come.  At Thursday’s tech rehearsal, the dancers saw each other’s pieces for the first time.  I would have killed to be doing the waltz or the cute little Cha Cha or the zippy Mambo.  My ending was a disaster.  Twice.  After rehearsal, the instructor asked if anyone wanted to run through their dances again.

“I’d just like to learn the end of mine,” I immediately spoke up.  He worked with some of the other dancers.  I waited and waited.  Then, he turned off the lights.  Disgusted, I tore off my dance shoes and pulled on my Uggs.

“Oh!  Did you want to go over your ending?”

“No, if I’m never going to get it, I’d rather call it a train wreck and prepare myself,” the Shrew and I were really worked up.

“No, come here, and let’s do it.”  I stomped across the shiny wooden floor in my Uggs.  We started to walk through the final moves, but the soles of my boots stuck to the floor.  I kicked them to the side and stood in my bare feet.

“Plaster the inside of your right leg to mine,” he went through the motions slowly.  I followed him without thinking, trying not to cry.  In the last move of the dance, I easily turned under his arm and stretched out as he slowly lowered me to within an inch of the floor.

“That was it, wasn’t it?”  I was amazed.

“That was it,” he agreed, looking exhausted.  I took pity on him and called it a night.

Dancing for the Arts Finale

Virtually finished. Photo Robin Sommer, Images of Sommer.


The next morning, I emailed him an apology.  I’m a Type-A personality.  I expect a lot of myself.  Mea culpa. Blah, blah, blah — but sincere blah.

We all practiced before Friday’s preview show.  My ending was better but felt out of control.  On Saturday, there was another preview in the afternoon, and the pivot turns seemed to be coming together.  Between shows, before the black-tie Gala in the evening, I watched my beloved Spartans beat the Buckeyes and felt all the energy leave my body.  I just simply didn’t care any more.

The instructor and the emcee wanted my permission to tell the crowd that I was an e-Harmony reject, erroneously thinking that I might be embarrassed about that.  Can’t you just see me rotflmao over that one?

“Of course, you can!  Thousands all over the world have read about it on my blog (Why I’m a Proud e-Harmony Reject).  A few more in Harford County can’t make any difference.”

After my dance (which was finally good enough for my limited standards), I was interviewed by the emcee, a local reporter, who asked if it was true that e-Harmony hadn’t been able to find a date for me.

“Actually,” I corrected her, “after I took their personality test, they told me that they wouldn’t be able to find a date for me and never tried.”

Dancing for the Arts Auction (2)

At 63, still an e-Harmony reject. Photo by Robin Sommer. Images of Sommer.

To my shock, she called over the evening’s auctioneer to take bids for a date with me. I glanced over to where The Daughter and her beau were sitting.  The Daughter’s eyes were like saucers.  [My entire family puts up with a lot of crazy stuff from me.]

“Well, ok,” I thought, “I’ve been on so many crappy Match.com dates, I can have coffee with anyone.  And at least this one will be for a good cause.”  I got into the spirit by allowing myself to be paraded around the dance floor, blowing kisses, and posing with my leg sliding out of the slit in my dance dress.

700 bucks, people.  I brought in 700 bucks.

And now, the rest of the story.

It was a stunt to raise a few more dollars.  There was no date.  They just forgot to tell me, I guess.  Oh, foolish me!  I can’t even get a fake date!

Long story short, I AM a good sport.  I have incredible stage presence.  I never break character.  I have more experience living gracefully under pressure than any one person should have in a lifetime.  As one of my friends said to me this morning, “I believed it because I know you’re such a good actress.”

I am a great comedienne, because I understand that comedy isn’t pretty.  Think about it.  Anyone who appears onstage looking like a Paula Deen impersonator and doesn’t die of embarrassment is either a comedienne or has no shame.  And probably deserves whatever she gets.  However, I prefer to be the butt of my own jokes.

You know, I was planning to be cremated, but I’d love to be laid out in that wig and dress.  The mourners would probably think it was all a joke and expect me to jump up at any moment into a sappy rendition of “What I Did for Love.”

I’ve appeared onstage in lingerie and revealing dance costumes.  I’ve sung solos that went horribly wrong.  I once even prematurely revealed the name of the murderer in an Agatha Christie play because my brain had wandered off to what I was going to eat after the show.  Fortunately, the scene was so boring the audience didn’t notice, but the horrified looks of my fellow actors are permanently etched on the inside of my eyelids.

Life seemed so much more boring this morning, my trot a little less foxy.  I raised $6,500.  My fellow dancers, combined, raised over $102,000.  When you throw in the silent and live auctions and the raffles and other donations, we brought our community a little closer to building a center for the arts.  So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

Event photography of the Center for the Arts gala fundraising event, Dancing for the Arts on November 21,1 2015 at the Maryland Golf and Country Club, Bel Air, Maryland. Photography by Robin Sommer, Images of Sommer.

Geez, I’m short! Event photography of the Center for the Arts gala fundraising event, Dancing for the Arts on November 21,1 2015 at the Maryland Golf and Country Club, Bel Air, Maryland. Photography by Robin Sommer, Images of Sommer.

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Grandma’s Pancakes

Pancakes doggieOne of my most treasured possessions is a well-seasoned cast iron skillet that I inherited from my maternal grandmother, aka The Kentucky Grandmother.  In its 70+ years, it’s seen her fried chicken and fried green tomatoes and fried pork chops, as well as my fried roast beef hash and my not-fried shrimp etouffé.  It’s seen a lot of cornbread, as well as the lightest pancakes with the crispiest edges.  You can see this humble pan holding fancier fare, like Caramelized Salmon and Blackened Prime Rib in this blog.

The Daughter asked for her own well-seasoned cast iron skillet for her birthday.  Together, we chose an American-made skillet for $12.00 at T.J. Maxx.  I told her that I would start the seasoning job, but that a really smoothly coated skillet comes from years of use.  I was fortunate to receive Grandma’s, but, for a wedding present, a friend gave us a new cast iron skillet containing a Pineapple-upside-down Cake[i], which is almost quite-right after 43 years of use.

Pancakes butter

Buttering Grandma’s skillet. The Daughter’s new skillet has a convenient second handle.

I started by wiping it with oil and heating it overnight in the oven at 300°.  I’ve been cooking everything in that pan since I bought it; bacon, potatoes, fish, hamburgers, and steak.  That’s right, I’ve been frying stuff that I have no business eating, but that’s what a good mother does for her child.  This morning, we’re going to make pancakes.

A treat of waking up at My Grandma’s house was smelling coffee percolating on the stove (remember that?) and coming downstairs to her lightweight pancakes with the crispy edges that only a hot skillet can produce.  I’m not talking crêpes.  I’m talking pancakes that she made from the traditional Aunt Jemima mix, doused with Log Cabin syrup.  Sure, anyone can buy the mix and pour it into a pan, but, after trial and error, I discovered how she achieved the light and crispy effect with extra milk and lots of butter.

In the opposite order of a usual recipe, I’m going to give you the technique first.  Be sure to turn on the exhaust fan, because there will be a lot of burning (ie, smoking) butter.

I always use two skillets, so I don’t spend all day making breakfast for other people and have no time to enjoy my own cooking.  Place them on the burners over medium-high heat and heat for two minutes.  Test the pan by placing one teaspoon of butter in the center of the skillet.  It should sizzle immediately and start to turn brown.  Run the butter over the entire bottom of the skillet, using more butter, if necessary, until thinly filmed.  To make pancakes, place another one teaspoon of butter in the center of the pan and immediately pour one cup of prepared batter into the center.  It will spread out into the butter, which gives you those crispy edges.

Pancakes edgeWhen the top of the pancake is covered in bubbles, lift one edge.  If it’s brown, carefully flip it over.  Because the batter is thin, it may run, so your results may not be picture perfect.  Because I don’t like fat pancakes, I also flatten them a little more with the turner before serving.

The first pancake is always a dud, which we call the “doggie” pancake and is always reserved for — well, nowadays — the BFF.

One day, I ran out of Aunt Jemima mix, got creative in the kitchen, and produced my own recipe, based on one from the classic Betty Crocker cookbook.  If you don’t count the copious amounts of butter in the pan, it’s mostly fat-free.    With the help of a little apple cider vinegar, I created the tang of buttermilk.  Now, it’s the only recipe that I use.

Pancakes finishedGrandma’s Pancakes

1 cup skim milk

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 egg

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

Lots and lots of salted butter

Pure maple syrup (I like the really dark kind.)

Pancakes batterIn a blender or mixing bowl with a spout, whisk together the milk, vinegar, and egg.  Mix in the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until smooth.  The mixture should be the consistency of gravy.  If too thick, add a little milk.

[i] The Veterinarian wanted a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake for our wedding cake, which didn’t make any sense to My Mother, who, after all, was paying.

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Watching for over 500 years...

Watching for over 500 years…

The Daughter and I have been busy doing nothing this week in Cancún, which, as you may have read, I am really good at doing.  This is not our first visit here, and we were looking for a relaxing trip to end a period of turmoil.  We could have gone to one of the Delmarva beaches, significantly closer to home, but, oddly, it’s cheaper to come to Mexico, even with the cost of airfare or frequent flyer miles.

I was first here in the fall of 1984 with the Veterinarian.  We were on a badly-needed vacation, the first we had in 12 years of marriage that didn’t include family or friends and the first of any kind in over three years.  Fearing the cost of hiring a relief veterinarian and potentially losing clients, he didn’t want to take time off.  I pointed out it was them or me, which was a great incentive.  I put him in charge of the plans.

At the time, Cancún was underdeveloped and an exotic destination, long before it became a haven for spring breakers and wet t-shirt contests.  Touted by a travel agent as an “American-quality” resort destination (i.e., the water was potable), its major appeal was and is the wide white sand beach and the bargains on lodging and food.  We stayed at the Sheraton Cancún, which, the travel agent told us somewhat apologetically, was far from town, surrounded by marshland.  It sounded great to us.  The most exhausted people on Earth, we didn’t care to partake in the nightlife.  That’s right; we’d be making conversation with one another 24/7.

As our plane landed at the small airport, we noticed numerous vintage airplanes scuttled off to the sides of the landing strip, including several DC-3s that appeared to have crashed into the jungle.

“Drug runners?”  We wondered.

A pre-arranged shuttle took our travel group to their hotels, starting in the downtown area.  Most of the passengers got off at the Fiesta Americana Hotel, known for its fiestas and fun.  We were the only couple to make it to the last stop, the Sheraton, which, as described, was far down the beach from town.  The only hotel farther south was the Club Med.  [Remember their “swinging” reputation?  Whatever happened to them?]

The Sheraton’s main building was low-slung, suggesting traditional pyramids, and the outbuildings were finished with traditional thatched roofs.  Interiors were finished with stucco and bright terra cotta tiles.  It was casual but sedate and had so many amenities that we didn’t even need to leave the resort.  The concierge who welcomed us pointed out the swim-up bar and even a small Mayan ruin, consisting of two buildings that may have been used as watchtowers along the coast.  The hotel restaurant’s food was a nightly buffet of Mexican specialties from various regions, so, everything was at our fingertips.  The resting and healing began.

May, 2012

May, 2012

When we could haul ourselves away from the pool grill’s Margaritas and excellent hamburgers, we managed to fill my #1 vacation plan, “Leave no historic site unvisited because you might miss something.” We toured the ruins at Tu’lum and Chichén Itzá, which is probably the most miserably hot place I have ever been.  In those days, you could actually walk up the incredibly steep steps to the top of the pyramids.  I gave it a try at Tu’lum.  Going up was a snap for a woman with size 6 feet.  Coming down was a nightmare for a woman without depth perception.   At Chichén, I watched the Veterinarian climb the massive central pyramid from below, and, in a pale imitation of Indiana Jones, I allowed myself to be led into the monument’s interior, crawling on my belly to see the throne room and its magnificent jaguar.  Not a good choice for a woman who tends to be claustrophobic.  [None of this is allowed today, and I wouldn’t do either of them again, even if they were.]

On our last night, we succumbed to the concierge’s repeated recommendation of the “traditional” fiesta dinner at a restaurant “downtown” that was included in our vacation package.  We took a taxi into town, and, while I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, it was a meal made memorable by the floor show of our waiter and not by the food.

As he delivered a pitcher of watered-down Margaritas, our waiter began a rapid-fire inquiry into our hometown, what we had seen since our arrival, etc.  We sat back and sipped at the drinks and perused the limited menu options.  In a few minutes, he returned to take our order.  When he left, I leaned across the table to the Veterinarian.

“Was he wearing that eyeliner when he brought the Margaritas?”

“I was just wondering the same thing,” he replied.  “I don’t think so.”

The waiter returned with guacamole, salsa and chips and iridescent eyeshadow on his lids.  I’ve been in the theatre for 95% of my life, so I remained unfazed.

“Huh,” I commented, “he must be part of the show.”  We dug into the chips, the best part of the meal, and enjoyed the strolling mariachi.

Fifteen minutes later, our entrées arrived, over-salted, touristy-bland, and swimming in melted cheese. Oh!  And our waiter was wearing heels, fishnets, a spiked black wig, and one false eyelash.  I had to quickly look away because I was on the verge of losing my composure.

“It wouldn’t be so funny, if he’d put on both lashes,” I whispered when he’d left the table.  “That’s just tacky.”

“Eat fast,” the Veterinarian urged.  “Maybe we can get out of here before the show starts.”

No such luck.  And, yes.  It turned out to be a drag show, with the only sombreros on the heads of the heterosexual norteamericanos in the audience.  Our waiter lip-synched to Liza Minelli doing “New York, New York.”  When he brought us our flan and cafés méxicanos, we thanked him for a night we would never forget.

Just then, there was an explosion outside the open window against which I was leaning.  The fiesta’s grand finale began with fireworks, pinwheels spewing colorful sparks in every direction and clouds of smoke drifting through the window into the restaurant.

“We paid in advance, right?”  The Veterinarian shouted over the noise.  Between the smoke and my laughter, tears were rolling down my face, so all I could do was nod wildly.  “Then we need to get the hell out of here before the place goes up in flames.”  He dropped a generous pile of pesos on the table for our waiter and headed for the door.

So much for the traditional fiesta.

The next day, we arrived at the airport early and checked-in for our Mexicana airlines flight to Philadelphia.  We cleared customs and stood in the small waiting room, where all the seats were taken.

“Attention, ladies and gentleman,” a voice came over the loud-speaker.  “Today’s flight to Philadelphia is overbooked, and we are looking for two passengers willing to give up their seats and take a later flight to Philadelphia, stopping in Dallas.  Please contact a Mexicana Air attendant.  We will pay $750 per person.”

We looked at each other and couldn’t move fast enough, locating a man in a Mexicana Air uniform who assisted us through customs, where other passengers were trying to get out.

“We were here first,” a blond woman snarled.

“I’m sorry,” the airline’s agent said, “but these people were the first to contact an airline official, as instructed.”  He expedited our return through customs and to the ticket counter, where we were re-booked on a flight that left for Dallas two hours later and handed — are you sitting down, because you aren’t going to believe this one — 1,500 US dollars.  I am not kidding you.  The agent took us back through customs, where we sat in a trance.

“How much did this week-long vacation cost us?”  I asked.

“With tours and taxis and tips and souvenirs, I think about $1,200.”

“So we made $300 on this trip?”

He nodded numbly.

September, 2015

September 16, 2015

And that is how a trip to Cancún saved our marriage.  Alas, we never did get back.  There was always something else to see.  Something else to do.  Until 2012.  Seven months after the Veterinarian left us, the Daughter and I returned to Cancún, seeking rest.  A search on the internet found us an unbelievable deal on a one bedroom “villa” at the Westin Cancún.  I hired a service to pick us up at the airport.

Much had changed since 1984.  Although the airport was huge and modern, one of the DC-3s was still laying sadly on its belly next to the runway.  Our driver pointed out all the sights on our way to our hotel.  I didn’t recognize a single thing.  I told him about staying at the Sheraton on our previous trip.  He was too young to remember it.  But, in the back of my brain, something seemed familiar.  We pulled up to the guardhouse of the sprawling, modern resort, where the guard checked our names on his list and waved us through.  At the top of a ramp, massive glass doors slid open, and we walked into the lobby.  Through the glass wall on the other side, I saw the pool and a thatched, swim-up bar.

“Oh, my God!”  Tears sprang to my eyes.  I asked the receptionist, “Was the old Sheraton hotel on this property?”

“Sí, señora,” she smiled.

“And is there a Mayan ruin on the premises?” I still wasn’t sure it was the same spot.

“Yes, to the left.”

I couldn’t believe it.  28 years later, of all the hotels in all of Cancún, we were in the same place.   We had a wonderful, relaxing time.  I hired a private guide for tours of Tu’lum and Chichén Itzá.  He told us wonderful stories about what we were going to see, and the driver was waiting for us with wet chilled facecloths and bottles of cold water when we limped back to our van.   He told me how lucky I was to have been able to see the now-inaccessible parts and how other tourists and local vandals had damaged them.  I thought about the many traces of the Maya that have disappeared in the hotel zone and about the ruins on the property with new respect.

20150916_175356Now, we are back and headed to the ruins of the ancient watchtowers before dinner.  They sit on the highest point of land on the shore, facing the sea, still watching.  Yesterday, a Mexican naval patrol boat cruised up and down the shore until well after dark.  The more things change, the more they remain the same.  The turtles still nest.  We still find rest.  The hamburgers remain the best.  So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!