Friday, July 24, 2015

Oh Oh The Places You'll Glow!

My Grandma Jo passed away almost exactly 2 years ago.  One of the things that I always remember about her was her pretty jewelry. She had a nice combination of costume things and modest gemstones with occasional smatterings of diamonds that she enjoyed wearing. As a kid, our Saturday mornings had pretty much the same routine-put pennies in my pink pig bank, make a cake, eat cereal with canned milk, and then clean her rings with a toothbrush. So when she passed away, I received some things, like a few of her costume brooches with plastic pearls and printed flowers that I enjoy wearing with my scarves and jackets.  My personal taste in jewelry is much different than everyone else in my family. I love my big sparkly, some would even say gaudy, statement pieces that swallow half of my hand and make my décolleté sparkle like Paris while my mother, sister and aunt have more modest jewelry collections.  Little gold diamond pinky rings are pretty much only to my taste and to my grandmother's, so when it was offered to me because no one else would wear it, I was thrilled. I remember this particular ring in a chic supporting role while she held a cup of Sanka and ate a piece of cake with a paring knife.  Of course it fits me perfectly, I have her hands.  As a kid, I bit my nails to the point of bleeding, and it made her so crazy that she threatened to put chicken poop on my fingers.  Rings didn't look very nice on me at the time. After retiring from the shoe factory after 52 years, she pretty much only left home to go do the shopping and spent the rest of her time at home with her Chihuahua eating Utz Party Mix. Her pretty baubles didn't go very many places, they were for her pleasure and she didn't care who saw them if anyone.  I, on the other hand really like to get out and about and travel, so my jewelry comes everywhere with me. We just returned home from a cruise last week, and I wore her diamond pinky ring almost every day. Each evening I got my picture taken in a pretty dress, and it is in almost every picture. I have traveled many places around the world with it; it has seen white Caribbean sand, busy streets of Times Square during Christmas season, holidays, fancy dinners and parties where it reflected the bubbles of my champagne, all things that she never experienced and, well probably never dreamed of either. I think about these things when I wear it.  I think about her.  I'm sure I don't clean it enough to suit her.  Just like my grandmother and eventually me, it will get dirty, tarnished, and the stones will get old and cloudy, it will be sometimes neglected, but never lost without a slender digit to call home. There is always another adventure, another cup of instant coffee to hold. And when I am done, I will pass the baton, or in this case, the toothbrush to someone else to continue the journey. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wrinkles in Time: What I've Learned So Far

Happy Birthday to me.  

Big number 36 is fast approaching.  I like to think I'm holding up pretty well overall, but there are obviously some issues associated with middle age.  Some observations I've made over the past few months have come from both supportive and not-so-supportive family and friends. Sometimes I learn the most about myself and priorities by the latter.

1.  I'm putting on weight.  Good thing layers are in style.  And according to Jimmy Buffett, wrinkles only go where smiles have been.  Who says I'm pessimistic? 

2.  The number of varicose veins you have correlates directly with the number of sarcastic comments you really really want to make in the course of a day.  

3.  Even at age 36, poop jokes are still funny.  

4.  My husband can now trade me in for two 18 year olds.  

5.  There is a strange dynamic that exists- I definitely care less about what others think of me, yet I find that I am becoming more opinionated, even harshly critical.  Too early to be a crabby, bossy old lady, I need to be at least my mom's age for that (her sense of humor remains intact fortunately). More than 50% of my gripes are little things, and less than 10% of them are any of my damn business.  

6.  In many aspects of life, such as saving money for retirement, raising children and getting an education, "shit just got real'.  It really is the moment of truth, time to see how badly I have screwed up over the last 15 years.  

7.  My teenage stepsons don't get O.J. jokes, they haven't the slightest idea who Christopher Reeves is, and singing "I'll tell ya what I want what I really really want!" when placing my order at a restaurant goes over like a lead balloon.  

8.  BINGO with my mother, aunt and sister is starting to become something that I am looking forward to.  When I was a kid, Mom and Aunt Sharon were thrown out to the fire hall parking lot for being mouthy.  Sounds like my idea of a good time.  

9.  I am told that I have reverted back to the teenage mentality that I know everything.  Either I will eventually grow out of it or others will come to just accept this as fact.  Either way, I consider it personal growth.  

10.  Some of my efforts to stay young and modern end up really demonstrating how middle aged and out of it I really can be.  I still say "Cool beans!" when the guys come home with good news, and I fight the propensity to call my grandson "Little Dude".  I know I can't control the world, and protecting our little ones from all the evil that will inevitably tempt him is not possible, but if things go smoothly in his upbringing, he will go through life without ever seeing a Pauly Shore film, thus maintaining the high IQ with which he has been blessed with by virtue of genetics.  That's a job well done.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Autumn Awesome: The Cool Comfy Fall Style I Live In

I wrote this as a "job interview" as a freelance writer for an online fashion magazine.  I didn't get the job, guess they couldn't handle me.  

I love summer.  I love the sunshine, I love my garden, I love the birds and the little backyard animals I see as I sit on the porch and drink my morning espresso before the intense heat of the day sends me heading for shade.  Its always my busiest time of the year because the kids are out of school, the lawn is at its neediest for mowing, and tenants in my rental houses have a tendency to use their rent money to take vacations.  Its easier to take the good with the bad when you're wearing adorable little sandals and linen in a variety of pastels that make me feel as light and cool as the breeze at dusk.  I am always sad to see summer leave; in fact, its very much an anxiety.  Even at age 35, I still feel the same panic I did as a kid because school would be starting soon.  But an interesting thing happens: every July, I start seeing the fall fashion roll in.  Suddenly, I am missing my leather boots and comfy cardigans.  As the flowers shrivel, my wardrobe possibilities open.  I am most drawn to new patterns, cuts and silhouettes that give me a young and modern take on my wardrobe staples.  My style is definitely classic- I love timeless styling and fit with some trendy modern touches.  I'll be headed out later today and my outfit is already picked out- a vintage Armani silk and cashmere fitted jacket with a pink and purple Coach silk scarf tied loosely, Hollister slim fit jeans and my beloved Buttero riding boots.  That's pretty much me in a nutshell.  The jacket was one of my beloved thrift store finds that never goes out of style.  It needed an update for this season, so I rolled up the sleeves to just below the elbow showing 2 luxurious inches of light blue silky lining.  In the interest of timeless beauty and fit (and always considering my hourglass figure that I enjoy so much) here's what I've got my eye on for fall.

Old Navy 3/4 sleeve Jersey dress

For me, the knee length hemline screams classic beauty.  The ruched sides and the stretch of this one are very forgiving and add a soft comfortable visual.  Think Marilyn Monroe running out for coffee.  Truth be told, I have already purchased this in all three colors.  Take advantage of the free shipping over $50.

Moma Buckled Flat Boot

A good pair of leather boots in a timeless style is a great investment.  I haven't decided yet if I want to buried in my Butteros or if I want to leave them to my niece in my will.  I think that buckles and chains are too trendy, heel heights go in and out season to season and year to year.  Learn how to polish good leather shoes, or ask your drycleaner if they perform shoe polish and repair in house.  For such an investment, you'll likely have to get new soles after a few years.  Don't cheap out on the upkeep.  Good polish and good replacement soles when needed will keep them looking great for years.

Handmade scarves

The French girl in me almost always has a scarf on hand.  From wool to silk to synthetics, different weights, patterns, and ages.  I have everything from vintage silk Givenchy, another thrift store find, to the purple wool one my stepson brought home from Afghanistan for me. I like a little bit of a story behind my scarves, whether it was a cherished gift from a loved one in a far away land, "I got it for $2.99 at Goodwill!" or, as above, the items are handmade and profits benefit charity.  For me, it really is the key component to making my outfit a little different each time I wear it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Too Fat for Fendi

Too Fat for Fendi

My French heritage tells me that I should not be having this discussion in public. But my redneck upbringing says hell with it. 

I am packing on the pounds. I think at this point I might be considered slightly overweight. It really breaks my heart because the Joseph Altuzarra for Target collection is coming out on September 14, and though most of the clothes will be available in my size, they won't look the way I want them to.  I am too big on top for many of Diane von Furstenberg's famous wrap dresses. Along with what I feel is rather uncontrollable weight gain, I'm having some other issues that I think I need to sort out medically first. Towards the end of the month I go to the doctor for the first time in three years. I'm going to ask for some blood tests to make sure that it's nothing physical. If I'm clear, I know the problems are all in my head, which is where the hard work is. 

One of my favorite quotes is from my youngest stepson who at age 13 said to me "We would get along much better if you would just let me do whatever I want". It's a good thing he's cute, otherwise he would be dead by now.  I don't think I have to explain to you why that was so funny (and I did laugh, which made the tense situation even worse regrettably) and also why it's so true about everything. If I'm unhappy with exercising and not eating the things that I want to eat, would I be happier at 300 pounds because I did exactly what I want to do?  I would certainly be enjoying the food, but that happiness and satisfaction is transient. I really don't care what society thinks of me. I'm too old for that bullcrap. But I do care about what my husband thinks of me. When my husband tells me that I'm beautiful, I really take it very seriously. I believe him, and I wanna be that way for him. I also believe him when he tells me that a certain bathing suit doesn't look as good as it used to. It's hurtful, but I also appreciate his opinion and don't resent him. Honesty always makes me happy. I think it's important for me to be a positive role model to my stepsons and to my grandchildren. I have a granddaughter now, and like my niece before her, I would like to instill in her a healthy body image and attitude about food, exercise and weight. I want to make sure that I'm able to roll around on the floor with my grand kids. The day I was doing somersaults with my grandson on the living room floor was a memorable one. Hanging upside down the swingset with him? Yes, that was a good day too. I looked my best 20 pounds ago, can I get there again? I'm almost 36 now; in our society, that's really not old.  I would have to work hard. Is it worth the hard work? That's the rub. 
Screw society stereotypes of what a woman should look like. I am not an airbrushed model. I can understand the pressures of Hollywood movie stars. They make their living by looking their best at all times. Even when walking the dog. Work can dry up very quickly in that industry, and the expectation is to have an unsustainable lifestyle that forces them to work. A vicious cycle that I'm glad to be unaffiliated with.  I would look like Elle Macpherson if I could afford a personal nutritionist and trainer. Pay me $1 million to take my picture, and I'll reconsider a more aggressive diet. But I'm a landlady. Do I need to be back down to 110 pounds?  With so much disease in my family, it would be good for me to ensure that my weight stays down. If I don't,  I'm screwed in more ways than in my wardrobe. It always comes down to what my barriers are. Frankly I think my barriers are just laziness. Too many temptations in this western society. I know these are my issues. Could I eat dry lettuce and chicken breast all day every day for the rest of my life? Yes. Would I be happy that way? No. I want to drink good wine by the gallon.  I want to eat homemade pasta. Alton Brown's chocolate ice cream recipe made with raw milk is to die for.  

I'm supposed to end this with some kind of conclusion or some point to take action on that would be of interest to you. I really don't have one.  I'm unsure as to what my next move should be. Do I accept my fate and enjoy life? Do I make a significant lifestyle change just to be able to wear clothes that I really can't afford anyway?  I'm going to die of something in the end. I already gave up the cigarettes. I can't give up the iced coffee too. That will kill me faster than the high blood pressure I am almost certain to inherit. What's my real yin and yang? I guess I'm not alone, otherwise everyone would be skinny.
A pretentious and juvenile way to put it I guess would be a personal journey down the fashion runway of life. I know I don't have the energy to wear the 5 inch heels, so I guess I'll just find something that I'm comfortable and confident wearing. 
Is it worth spending our lives getting dressed up if at the end of the show we don't get to keep the clothes? 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Thirsty for Something: Make Your Own Booze and Appreciate It, Too

There is something to be said for homemade booze. 
Here's what I've been up to.  

First I chose to make limoncello, a very traditional Italian liqueur.  I used a potato peeler to peel about two dozen lemons, then my favorite paring knife to fillet off any of the white pith that may add unwanted bitterness to my concoction.  I dropped these peels into a jar to mingle with two bottles of 151 proof grain alcohol for about two weeks. Next, I drained them, then added sugar water to the mix and left it in a large pitcher for these favors to marry overnight. Next, I bottled. Friends and family have been enjoying it as an aperitif for the past three weeks. I have a taste every evening as I'm making dinner for my husband and me.  For me, it's a celebration, a little giggly pat on the back for a good day of work.  How better to reward myself for a successful day of labor in my kingdom (my rental properties of which I am queen) than with a little drink that I made with a few hours of my own labor? I keep it very cold in the refrigerator and serve it in a small cordial glass with a stem so that the warmth of my fingers doesn't prematurely deprive me of frosty cold pleasure. It makes me happy because I think that just maybe the heat I feel on my arms might actually be warm tropical sunshine instead of the gas burner of the stove threatening to singe my arm hair. In the same way I pretend traffic noise is distant ocean waves when I am sitting on our porch, I think of my homemade limoncello transporting me to another place, somewhere that things aren't produced en mass without attention by uncaring strangers, but to a comfortable place with cozy chairs where things are thoughtfully crafted, designed for enjoyment by and with the ones I care about most. 

This evening, I corked seven bottles of orange wine made from an old folk recipe. A few weeks ago,  I juiced the oranges and poured them into a two and a quarter gallon crock from an antique market.  To this I added yeast, a piece of toast (yeast makes the magic happen, people!), and a couple of other things, and I left it sit happily corked in the garage for 3 weeks. Having spent an hour sterilizing my equipment in preparation, I am please to announce that it rendered 7 full bottles.  Corking them with the rubber mallet wasn't the best part; I admit that I did not have the patience for my Portuguese free standing corker to arrive in the mail. They are now down in the basement in the bar units that were once shoe racks for our kids.  They will rest for a year, and then they will be ready for me to enjoy. Such an exercise in patience for me! Well, maybe I'll be OK. There was enough left in the crock to make a third of a bottle that I parked in the fridge. What's my plan? I'm thinking a backyard party for next year, a homemade wine and food pairing in my pretty little yard with my veggie garden and my koi pond. That really is a big part of the enjoyment of wine- the sharing of the experience with others. Food and wine has a way of bringing people together.  The need to eat and drink is something we all have in common.  It's meant to be. 
Nothing is sadder than a lonely wino, especially one who doesn't appreciate what the hell he's drinking.  
As I write, I lay in bed half stunata on my orange wine.  As I continue my education in enology, I'll be able to calculate the alcohol content in my creations.  I'm currently not fit for math. But you know, I am relaxed, I feel creative, I want to share what I am feeling. I'm having an experience. 
I created something. Cool experience, and I'm enjoying it. 
I'm looking forward to sharing it. 
It's gonna be a long year. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Good Mom Bad Mom: A Procreation Deliberation


We all have one.  

When I say we, I mean every living being on this planet. Reproduction is fundamental to our survival as a species.  Everyone runs on the same cycle of birth to childhood under the protection of the parents, to puberty and adulthood, when the reproductive cycle begins again.  Sorry feminists, but the ancient sentiments of man finding a good cave and spearing a yak for his woman who will be barefoot and pregnant for life do still exist, maybe not so much in our American culture, but we didn't write the book on raising kids.  Or maybe we did.  When I searched for books with the words "raising a child', it brought up 29,000 results.  In its rudimentary form, reproduction and parenthood sound quite simple and natural, but the world is full of people who will tell you what you're doing wrong.  

My husband is half Sicilian and half Korean, and his 80 year old mother would still cut his meat for him if she wouldn't get the malocchio, the evil eye, from him.  He will tell you with equal amounts of tenderness and embarrassment that when he was 22 and in medical school he had to ask someone how to laundry.  My mother-in-law and I have a caring relationship, but I don't think she would mind if I told you that she doesn't like that I made her grandsons, my stepsons, do their own laundry at age thirteen.  That's a cultural difference between she and I.  She was a housewife who worked hard to provide all of those physical comforts to her husband, son, and now grandchildren (typically accompanied by "Stop spoiling them, Mom!").  Her mother died and she became the "woman of the house" at age nine, cooking, cleaning and washing clothes on river rocks for her siblings and father.  That's where she comes from, and I have to remind myself of that when she shows up with garbage bags to haul her grandsons' smelly clothes to her house.  It is a caring and loving duty that she undertakes.  

Even though Dad took care of almost everything,  I always felt like my busy career oriented mom was accessible.  She finished her bachelor's degree when I was in elementary school.  During my teenage years, she traveled three evenings a week from her full time job to her master's program three hours away and back home to Perry County.  She was raised by her schoolteacher grandmother. Her mother, Grandma Jo worked at the shoe factory for 51 years.  It was natural for me to start work at 16.  Because we worked at the same place, I was always expected to work hard and be on time.  She was quite tough on me, never hesitating to unmercifully chew me out in front of staff if warranted.  And when I went home, I did my own laundry and was expected to help around the house. Admittedly I stunk at it.  I still have a hard time keeping a clean house and dirty laundry from overflowing, but guess what, so does Mom.Mom taught me her work ethic. "I don't have time to be scared, I have $%!? to do" will always be my favorite Mom-ism.   I have the luxury of working from home, something she was never afforded and maybe would never want anyway.   

For me, it's important that my stepsons know the value of a buck, how to work for it, and how to take care of their basic needs without relying on others.  We perfected the fried egg years ago.   
I think I do all right.

I don't think my mom has many regrets.

My mother-in-law thinks she has done a good job.  

Is there such a thing as a good mother?

Is there such a thing as a bad mother?

Who is to say which parenting styles are right or wrong?

My mom always told me that there's a difference between a mom and a mother, so maybe its a subconscious choice that one makes?

Maybe the children are the judge, but as someone with five stepsons, I will tell you that just because they're mad doesn't necessarily mean you did something wrong.

So am I a stepmother or a stepmommy? I guess I'm concluding that only I can decide, and my opinion is the only one that should count.  

Don't agonize over it, Erin.  Go start the fire and clean the cave.  Keep it simple.     

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Fungus is Among Us: Preparation for Woodland Adventure

The time has come.  I must prepare myself.  
Hiking boots. 
Jacket and hat. 
Maybe the camo.         
My bag. 
My walking stick.  
I anticipate the hunt.  A trip to the wilderness to uncover my thus far elusive prey. I see it in my dreams. I smell it, taste it. I crave it. Once you know it, you will want it too.  
Yes, my friends. The season approaches. The treasured prey I speak of...the morel, also called the hickory chicken, dryland fish, or sponge mushroom.  My Perry County cousins post photos on social media every season of their fist sized beauties. I am envious, salivating and motivated.  I prepare by reading about their hiding places. I burn their image into my mind with photographs as they can be difficult to see. I wait for my suburban lilacs to bloom, and I will know the time is right.  The blooming of the dogwood trees is another good indication.  My busy schedule the past two years has not made much room for the hard target combing of my 14 acres.  By July, I typically regret that it did not have a higher place in my Springtime priorities. But this year will be different. I am going to make the time. If you do an Internet search, you will find that foragers do not share their morel gathering spots. When people find them, they typically keep their stash a secret, some going so far as to wear camo and "Army crawl" through the woods to the riches, which of course can change season to season, further elevating the thrill of the hunt.  Most afficionados collect them to enjoy their goodness at home, some people sell them to local stores and restaurants for a premium price to be eaten by diners who frankly don't quite understand what they are eating. I, on the other hand, am extremely greedy. I want them all for myself. How convenient that their season begins just as I am cleaning up the grill! These babies don't make themselves easy to find either.  Their tall, hollow honeycomb caps blend in with the leaves perfectly and you could step on them without even noticing.  The rich black dirt around fallen trees is a great place to start looking.  Wet and warm is best, all is dependent on rain and temperature.  They can be dried and preserved for future use, but alas this humble writer is too impatient and hungry for such nonsense.  A favorite preparation of mine is to clean them well in a sink of cold lightly salted water (salt will help pull out any dirt and tiny critters), chop and create an earthy risotto to serve with a grilled steak and veggies (my meal is not complete without some green).  Add a glass or two of Cabernet and I am in Heaven.  
Or maybe you might like them fried with butter and garlic. 
Or on a rustic whole wheat pizza.  
I would love to puree them and mix them with semolina for homemade pasta.  A tagliatelle tossed with garlic infused olive oil maybe? 
I'm getting giddy! Holy mackerel! 
No, not mackerel, wouldn't go at all.  But chicken, yeah.  A light marsala with rustic red skin smashed potatoes.  
Any way you choose, it is a meal that is savored and appreciated for what it is.  
It is a labor of love.  
An exciting find.  
An adventure.  
Like Indiana Jones...and the Temple of Shroom.  
I crack myself up.  
On a serious note, if you decide to give it a try, do your homework.  Accept no substitutes.  
Happy Hunting!