Saturday, December 20, 2014

Stuffed French Toast

Inspired by Mama Kat's Pretty Much World Famous Writer's Workshop, I'm going to share a story about a holiday-inspired recipe.

A bunch of years ago, when Christmas morning meant only parents at home, they figured that everyone should do their own thing then meet at their house for a late breakfast. Children could wake their parents and open gifts before dawn while the rest of us could saunter in around 10 to eat.

I wanted to bring something that would be filling and yummy. I searched for such a recipe and found "Stuffed French Toast" from  Cooking Light. It was a recipe makeover and it sounded yummy.  Assembled the night before, it would be perfect - all I had to do was bake it while I got ready and then bring it with me. Perfect.

It was a hit pretty much right out of the gate. It is very filling and even tastes good cold. Works with or without maple syrup.

So, that's how this became the dish I brought each year. My family tends to be pretty accepting of whatever anyone wants to make--everyone will try what you bring and while not every dish is a hit, we're a polite group. I always liked this dish, but didn't realize how much my brother Michael did, until I thought about changing it.

A couple of years ago, I mentioned to my mother that I'd found another breakfast casserole-type dish to make for Christmas. My mother is generally very open to things, but when she hesitated I was curious as to why. She likes the dish, but I didn't think she cared that much. Her response: "Let me check with Michael. He might not like that." OK mom...go for he'd notice. My mother soon passed along the message from Mike that I was not to substitute nor was I to change the dish in any way and don't think about it again.

That was that. I make the dish every year for Christmas breakfast and never again will I attempt to replace it. My family is important to me and when they are happy, so am I, even if I'm only making French toast once a year for them.  If you aren't sure if what you do matters - I say to you - just try to change something you think isn't a big deal and see for yourself how important it is to someone else.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Out my window

Inspired by Mama Kat's Pretty Much World Famous Writer's Workshop, I chose to write a haiku about what I saw outside my window.

I love haiku.  Some people are so super clever with them.  I'm not, but I still like them.  I think what appeals most to me is the order required -- three lines with the syllables counted for you in each line:

5 syllables
7 syllables
5 syllables

Nice and neat.  No need for rhyming (forced rhyming is just wrong)

Here's what I saw outside today - I even took a picture:
     Sun makes it look warm
     Twenty Degrees is just wrong
     When will spring be here?

It's cold here, but fall in New England is generally cold.  We've already had a dusting of snow and loads of frost.  I have even already worn my down jacket.  

Back to the haiku.  I thought of one for coffee:
     I love you coffee
     You help me to face each day
     Without you - I growl

See?  You obviously do not need any talent.  Just have fun.  Why don't you give it a try. Write about anything, just follow the pattern.  If you think can't - I say to you - if I can, anyone can.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Shifting Gears

There was a period of time from early 2012 until late 2013 when I was not employed. During this time, I launched a small on-line business. I combined my love for taking photos with my husband's interest in expanding his wholesale engraving business into the retail realm.

To get started, I made sure I had inventory, a website, business cards, a business license (which was an expensive pain the a$$ to obtain from my town), a Facebook page, and a brand before I launched. I previewed at a church fair. I passed out business cards. I tried every way I could think of to resurrect the lost art of note writing (does anyone write notes anymore or are we all so dependent on email to communicate?). And then I waited.  

I received some orders -- always from people I knew and to whom I shall be forever grateful for showing their support. But there were no orders from people I did not know. I followed all the guidelines the website company set out to increase traffic. No luck. I had a sale. I contacted my local Patch and they wrote a great story for me - terrific free advertising. Cue the crickets.

I like my photos. I love note cards. I love having engraved items -- they contain special messages that no one else has. I honestly thought we'd have a nice steady stream of activity. People need to re-learn the art of note writing for sure.

I never expected the business to cover our mortgage, but I had hoped to make a little go of it -- or at least to recover the start-up costs. I'm no quitter, but finally enough was enough. Operating at a complete loss feels bad.

The thing is, I really don't want to quit, so I'm not going to - I do need, however, to shift gears. Today, I closed the website down and moved the note cards over to an Etsy shop (here). I am a little sad, but it is the best thing to do right now. Keeping my paws crossed that this is the better way to go.

If you ever feel like it's time to quit or to give up a dream - I say to you - don't. Re-group and make adjustments, but never give up.


Saturday, September 6, 2014


Inspired by Mama Kat's Pretty Much World Famous Writer's Workshop - I went with:

2.) Find a photo of your grandmother’s hometown and share it.

I want to share a photo I found (on Google Earth) of the house where my grandmother was born, and, I want to share my grandmother.

Her name was Josephine (we called her Mimi), born in Revere, Massachusetts in March 1909.  She was one of 11 children - named for a baby sister who died tragically not long before my grandmother was born.  Two of her older siblings (one did not survive her first year) were born in Italy and the other children were born in the house in Revere where they were all raised.  Her "baby" brother, Ed, still lives in the house.  My great-uncle is 92 and is still as active and busy as ever.

When I think about the stories she told us and what my dad and great-uncle filled in, there's no way to sugar-coat it -- she lead a hard life.  Her dad died when she was a young teenager and she had to leave school to help support her family.  She started out making sugar/flour sacks and eventually became a seamstress.  For a time in her early 20s she even designed clothes.  My grandmother certainly knew her way around fabric and the sewing machine.  She made so many of our clothes when we we young.  I have memories of my sister and I in matching dresses that she made....white summer fabric with small daisies for trim.  We each had a summer set - white with a strawberry design - shorts & sleeveless top to match - with these fabric strawberries for trim (she liked trim).  I know we had other things but those outfits are planted firmly in my mind right now.  She used to cut out patterns on her dining room table -- this heavy wooden monster of a table.  I can still hear the sound of the scissors on the table - it was a sound I loved.  One of my cousins has that dining room set and has taken beautiful care of it.

She married my grandfather in 1937 - ancient to be married in those days.  They had 4 children.  My parents live in the house where my dad was raised & where my siblings and I were raised.  Around 1950, my grandfather built a summer house in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  We spent may happy summer days in that house.  My aunt and uncle still own that house, and live just next door to it.

Funny story about the date of my grandparents' wedding.  In 2010, my husband proposed to me on August 22nd -- which would have been their 73rd anniversary.  Of course, he had no way of knowing that, but I was so happy to share that special date - it made me feel close to them.

In addition to the sewing machine, my grandmother could crochet beautifully.  I wasn't interested in learning for a long time, but when I was finally ready, the teacher appeared.  I was pathetic at it for a long time and never developed the skill that she had, but she always encouraged me and helped fix my mistakes.  Once I even called her to complain about how something I was making wouldn't come out right and she knew over the phone what I was doing wrong without even looking at my work.  As she grew older and her eyesight failed, she couldn't see up close.  She continued to create beautiful pieces because she knew how the stitches felt.  I still use the first hook she gave me.  Everything turns out better with that hook.

Sewing, crocheting -- all took a backseat to Mimi's pizza.  She made it (of course) from scratch and it wouldn't last.  We ate it hot and we ate it cold.  Most often we'd be walking around eating it - who needed a dish?  It was so good.  My cousin Cheree can make it just the way our grandmother did.  I think a gift of pizza from Cheree to me is way overdue.

I loved spending time with Mimi.  Summer nights in Plymouth with my sister and cousins watching Lawrence Welk.  Sitting at her kitchen table watching her frost cookies.  Listening to the intricate lives of the people on the soaps she watched (her stories).  Finding large print word search books as her eyesight began to fail.  Crying with her after my grandfather died -- he drove her crazy but she wouldn't have lived her life any differently.  How long it took me to convince her that, despite my leaving the Catholic faith - a faith she remained 100% devoted to - the Protestants were not a bad bunch and I could still be a good Christian without a Pope to guide me.  Trying, without success, to comfort her after my uncle passed away -- she would never be the same and would follow him 8 months later. 

This January she will be gone 10 years.  I knew I was so lucky to have a grandmother still at age 41.  I miss her so very much.  I wish she could have met my husband - he would have charmed her socks off.  She always knew I would get married, but reminded me that the good ones were hard to find and to be patient.  I wish I wrote down her recipes - there are things I miss and cannot make the way she made them (Cheree....bring me pizza).  I wish I started to crochet when I was 8 instead of 35.  I wish I wish I wish....

We all know that life is short and people are precious.  Most of us don't learn that lesson until way too late.  If you think you have plenty of time - I say to you - no you don't.  Write the recipe down and make it.  Learn to crochet or sew or whatever.  Record your family history -- good & bad.  And if you have someone to teach you something, let them.  You won't regret the special time you spent together.



Thursday, August 14, 2014

So...where does the cake topper go?

Inspired by Mama Kat's Pretty Much World Famous writer's workshop

2) Write a blog post inspired by the word: cupcakes

When I was young, I had my entire wedding planned out.  I knew who would wear what, what I would wear, how I'd have a big cake, what the first dance would be, how the entire day would go -- and then how my entire life would go afterward.  Time passed almost exactly not at all how I planned.

Turns out, not getting most of what I had wished for was exactly right.  In my mid-40s I met the perfect man, we bought a house, got engaged and planned a two-part wedding.  Thankfully my tastes have changed since I was 22 and the wedding planning was fairly simple.  Part one was the wedding, performed by one of my dearest friends with only 6 other people present, and exactly three months later came part two, the reception.

After the wedding, we had a lovely dinner and a very simple cake.  I found a cake topper that was perfect and which sits upon our mantle.  It is an Irish framed trinity knot and on the bottom it reads: May your hands be forever blessed in friendship and your hearts joined forever in love.

The reception was a little bit larger (around 100 or so people), held in a historic barn on a beautiful July afternoon.  The one thing I really really really wanted, rather than a wedding cake, was to serve wedding cupcakes.  Two bite cupcakes.  I love cupcakes.  I think they are more fun than cake and they look so festive.  I honestly thought finding them would be a snap.  Turns out, that was the most cumbersome part of the entire process.  So many bakeries - so few who would make and deliver 250 cupcakes.  Oh, many would make them, but not deliver.  So...I was supposed to move the cupcakes?  Honestly?  Where - in the back of my Saturn Vue?  On the way to my reception?  Sure.  Right.  Forget that.  When I did find a bakery willing to deliver, the cost per (pretty small) cupcake was more than the per slice cost of  larger cake.  It was crazy.

As fate would have it, one day on Facebook, my childhood friend Michelle posted that her two sisters, Bridget and Jannine, were launching a very special baking business.  They did not have a storefront.  They made handcrafted artisan desserts and baked goods.  I saw the website and I believe my mouth watered and I might have wept a little.  Their work was beautiful.  And the oh man...incredible.  Oh - and they made two-bite cupcakes - which they would deliver.  SOLD!

I contacted Jannine and, due to our schedules and my bad timing, we were not going to be able to connect to do a tasting.  I can honestly tell you that I had no problem with that whatsoever.  I believed in their skills...these two are serious artists.  So I ordered four different flavors without a tasting and was 100% relaxed about it.  Some people felt it necessary to tell me I was insane to do that - what if they didn't taste good???  My response was pretty much - what if?  I believed all will be well.

Our wedding reception was in July 2011.  To this day, those cupcakes still come up in conversation and the discussion always goes something like "...those were the most AMAZING cupcakes I EVER had..."  Every time.  Not only did they wow our guests, they thoughtfully put one of each flavor into a little box for us to freeze, so that on our first anniversary we would have wedding cupcakes to eat.  We ate them the next morning.  There was no way those babies were going to last.

This past autumn, Bridget and Jannine turned off their ovens.  I am still sad.  After the wedding, we ordered a number of birthday cakes (see one here) and an anniversary (blackberry/blueberry) pie from them.  They made each event so very special with their artistry and the love you could taste in each bite.  The best part was being able to connect with both of them - I love them - such a wonderful bonus.

Life may sometimes go exactly the way you plan it, though more often than not you will detour over and over and over.  If you get anxious along the way -- I say to you -- skip the tasting and just let the road lead where it will.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Lots of Love

Everyone who knows me, knows about my love for cats.  I have blogged about it on these very pages (here, here,  & here).  I love them.  And I realize that not everyone does - I've heard about it on Facebook - how I post too many cat things.  I beg anyone who dislikes my posts to please unfriend me - things aren't changing on my end.

When I found my Winnie, she had been saved by a local rescue, Lots of Love Cat Rescue (LOLCR).  The Rescue works miracles and relies solely on donations.  They operate on the belief that no cat should be hungry or cold or unloved.  Simple and beautiful.  They are a ray of hope for homeless animals.

In 2013, when they were set to hold their primary fundraising event of the year, I donated a couple of framed photos for the auction.  The event is held at a local restaurant (The Flatbread Company).  On Tuesday nights they will allow local charitable organizations to hold fundraisers at their restaurant.  They will also donate a portion of all pizza sales during the evening.  It's really a win for anyone who and shopping and helping cats...what's not to love? 

This year, I again donated two framed photos and am attending to help set up and to shop and to eat pizza.  I am really excited for the event and the opportunity to help LOLCR.    I have also met some super cool people who help in a variety of ways and I am looking forward to spending time with them.  Their rescue of Winnie has turned out to be an amazing blessing for me and while I can never give back anything equal to that, I am happy to be able to do something.

By now you might be thinking, "that's nice De - have fun at the auction -- is there a point to this blog?".  There is.  I'm writing to ask everyone who reads this to stop and think about what you can do.  How you can help.  How you can make a difference.  If you're not sure, let me give you some ideas.  If you don't live near LOLCR, look around and find a rescue near you.

Money: the fastest way to help.  Send a donation.  Buy a gift card and send that.  So many of these rescues exist completely on donations and from fundraising.  They can guess and hope but they have no idea how much money they might take in.  What they do know is there will always be cats needing them and never enough money to help them all.

Support Fundraising Efforts:  You know the auction I mentioned?  Attend it.  Can't attend?  Think about something to donate next year.  Look around for something happening near you.  Maybe your favorite organization has an on-line store.  Buy a sweatshirt or a T-shirt or a mug.  Buy something.  Follow organizations on Facebook to keep up with what they have going on.

Donate items: Kitten season is upon us and rescues need help.  Towels.  How about a spring clean up of your linen closet.  If you think about, aren't there some towels you never use, but you know they aren't ready to be turned into rags.  Clean towels in good shape are invaluable.  Cat food.  You go to the supermarket, right?  Buzz up the pet aisle and pick up some cat food.  You don't need to buy a zillion cans - buy 4 or 5.  Put them with the towels and get them to a rescue.  If you have a chance to gather friends together, tell everyone it's a kitten shower and that they have to bring one cat-friendly item.  People will have fun with that and will help you build quite a donation pile.

Donate YOU:  You don't have time...blah blah blah...I know.  But you just might.  You have an hour on Saturday or Sunday or whatever day you have off.  You can bottle feed a kitten or clean cat boxes or hold a cat who needs extra love.  You are the very best gift you can give.

Do all or any of these things and you will be a hero.  "De De De ... 5 cans of cat food and some towels I don't use do not a hero make."  Wrong Wrong Wrong.  5 cans of cat food can be 10 meals.  Those towels will help clean or comfort a living creature afraid and in need of care.  You will be MY hero if you help.

We live in a crazy world and in uncertain times.  What doesn't change is the love people have for innocent animals and the generosity of the human spirit when it counts.  If you aren't sure you can help - I say to you - yes you can.  Find a way.  Be a hero.  It's not difficult and the rewards of knowing you have made a difference are endless.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Whoever is holding my hand ... I love you

When I met my husband, I was happy to learn that he had children - I did not have any of my own and really wanted to be a stepmother.  I was also pleased to discover that his grandmother, Matilda, was still living.  My own grandmothers were gone and I missed that special relationship.

I remember the day I met her.  She lived in a giant senior complex.  Her apartment was lovely and extremely neat (she loved to clean).  There were many treasures on display she had collected on her travels.  I was instantly charmed.  She was not at all anything like my own grandmother, but I could not wait to get to know her.

I was blessed enough to be able to spend time with her and to get to know her.  I learned a little about her early life - about her beloved husband Sam - and about how strong a love story can remain, even when one partner is gone.  I learned about her family's journey from Poland to South America then to New York.  Matilda had the most wonderful New York accent -- I could never get enough of it and sometimes asked her questions just to listen to her.

When Brad and I got engaged, we decided we would have a small wedding, with my folks, his mother & stepfather, our officiant Sandra, her boyfriend Steve, and Matilda.  Initially, we weren't sure where or when we'd get married.  We did set a reception date for July 2011, but our wedding date was up in the air. 

In January 2011 Matilda's health was a little off.  We decided to have the wedding as soon as we could pull it all together, because having her there was so important to us.  We also decided that having the ceremony and dinner afterward at the complex where Matilda lived would be just the thing to do.  No having to worry about her traveling - she'd pretty much be home.  It was easier to plan than I thought.  I was home dealing with a herniated disk and wasn't able to dress shop.  An internet purchase, a few calls with the catering manager of her complex, a flower order and we were good to go.  

On a pretty April afternoon, we got married in the chapel at Brooksby Village in Peabody, Massachusetts.  During the ceremony I could see outside the chapel a bunch of Brooksby residents watching us and waving and smiling -- it was so sweet.  We had dinner in a small private dining room there and it was wonderful.  We were so glad we did things the way we did them.  

In addition to loving the sound of her voice, I loved Matilda's attitude.  She was always a lady.  She wouldn't speak badly of people -- even people who didn't deserve a kind word.  She would recognize that they must have something to deal with that makes them the way they are and you really just have to feel badly for them.  She also had a silly side and boy did she love to break some of the rules at Brooksby.  Residents weren't allowed to bring food from the dining room up to their apartments.  They have take-away services, but when there was a brunch or something, no food could go up.  Once when we were there for brunch, Matilda nudged me and handed me something under the table.  It was brisket wrapped in a napkin.  She told me to hold onto it until we got upstairs.  Compliance person that I am - I was horrified.  I reminded her of the rules and she just gave me that heart-melting smile and told me not to worry so much.

Another thing she did all the time was to tell people she loved them.  She had no trouble mouthing it across the table, or just saying it.  She wanted to make sure you knew.  I find it sad that so many people can't share how they feel.  Not Matilda.  I loved most when she'd take my hand and put it against her cheek and say "I love you very much".  I can hear her now saying it.

Over the last couple of years there were more health issues.  Heart, lungs...walking went from slow to infrequent to hardly ever.  We used to go out to eat with her, off the campus, but then it became harder for her to go out.  She also told me she felt safer inside her apartment.  I hated seeing her slow down like that, but she was getting tired.

A few weeks ago she had a fall inside of her apartment.  She ended up in the hospital and doctors determined she would not be going home again.  We spent the weekend visiting with her - really saying good-bye.  And she knew that.  She told us she was glad we had the chance to say good-bye because not everyone does.  She was ready to go.  Her husband had been gone for so long, and she missed him.  The night before her move from the hospital to hospice, my husband went to see her.  She was awake a bit then fell asleep, so he sat next to her holding her hand.  As he was getting ready to leave, she woke a bit and said "whoever is holding my hand, I love you" before she fell back to sleep.

The next day, she moved to hospice.  Her doctors medicated her so that the trip would be tolerable and she remained that way from Tuesday until Friday April 4th, when her journey ended.  It brings me comfort to know that the last words Brad heard from her were about love.

If you have special people in your life - I say to you - let them know how special they are, because you are not guaranteed to always have them around to tell them.

Sleep well sweet Matilda.  I love you and will miss you forever.