The Art of the Apron

Stella bellaWhen I visited my friend, Stella, in Santa Fe a few years ago she made me a pie. (My friend is pictured on the left, with her daughter Branwyn and holding the American Girl Doll is her daughter, Ilora.) 

I pretty sure the pie was blueberry lavender, but I’m absolutely certain that before Stella rolled out the dough she first put on an apron. Her apron was the bib type, no frills but cute, and the minute she put it on I knew the pie would be amazing, and it was. There is something about a woman putting on an apron in a kitchen that instills confidence in ones baking or cooking abilities. As I sat at her kitchen table and watched her shape the dough, I felt as if it could have been 1923 or 2015. Women wearing aprons is timeless. 

I felt surprised that Stella even owned an apron. I never have, not really. The only aprons I have ever worn are those assigned to me at my waitress jobs. And I’ve disliked them all. But then work aprons have nothing to do with my cooking, which actually is a good thing because my talents don’t involve the kitchen. However, I can eat pie very well, thank you.

apron bookI found this book in the discard pile at the local library and it triggered memories of aprons. Generally there are two types, the ones that go around the waist and ones that are worn like a bib. I remember my grandmother always put on an apron even if she was making coffee. Hers had frills. My mother would come home from her job at the fancy dress shop and tie an apron around her waist before she started cooking. Hers had ruffles, too. 

And yet I could find no photo of any of my relatives, or friends either, wearing an apron. I should have snapped one of Stella that day in her sunny  Santa Fe kitchen. I have no photos because women always took of their aprons before allowing their photos to be taken. That’s my theory. Today trendy chefs are proud to have the apron on as they pose beside perfect plates of small servings of food, but I bet most women would still take off her apron for a photo.  I’ve only seen men put on a bib apron if they were barbecuing. 

grandmaHere is my mother and grandmother with my older sister, and brothers. Women in the 1960s wore dresses to hang out around the house. Today it’s yoga pants and t-shirts. If this photo was taken right before a family meal, I bet the aprons were left on the kitchen counter. I wish I would have saved my mother or grandmother’s aprons. They didn’t seem important then as they do now to me. But I feel that way about a lot of things from my childhood. 

The woman who wrote the apron book had a bunch of apron photos and stories. By now, everyone knows I’m useless in the kitchen, but I wouldn’t mind having this apron. It would be fun just to wear. I wouldn’t want to get it dirty. 

apron book 2It’s an apron with money attached by bows to the fabric. Now that’s my kind of apron. In my writer’s group we do prompts to jump start our creativity.  A prompt involving an apron would be a good place to get started writing , especially someone wanting to write a memoir. Think about that next time writer’s block hits. 

Finally, in the back of The Apron Book I found this envelope. Inside is a pattern to sew a basic bib apron. I’m such a bad seamstress that in Home Economics in high school I paid someone to sew a purse for me.  I think I can confess that now as my teacher is likely passed away. So I won’t be sewing my own apron, but there is a part of me that wishes I could sew my own apron, and then I could wear it when I microwave my cup of tea each morning. I definitely would include ruffles and maybe even sequins.  

apron 4

 

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Books We Keep

book shelf      Whenever I see photos of the space where a famous author writes, I always try to see what books are kept close to where he or she works. Sometimes there are no books in sight, other times there are stacks. I don’t like to keep many books. I find books, read them, but then I give them away to friends or donate them. Beside this small collection of books in my office, I have one small  book  shelf downstairs. 

book areaI don’t judge people who collect books. In fact, I like to go into people’s homes and see  shelves filled with books. I always assume the person must be very smart. Using that logic, I wouldn’t look very smart to a visitor. I’m assuming, as well, that the people in the home have actually read all the books and they aren’t just there for show. I doubt that happens often unless it’s one of those big splashy coffee table books which always seemed too much like bragging to me.  Or maybe I was just envious because I didn’t have a big enough coffee table to keep a big book.  Do they even make coffee table books anymore?  Usually people who collect books love to read. They just don’t want to give them up when they are done.

I’ve been to many estate sales and looked through cartons of dusty books. Likely the person couldn’t bear to part with favorites. I always think that’s a shame that books  went many years without ever being open, pages yellowed and all crinkly.  Alas, even I have a few favorites that I can’t part with.

random thoughtsWhile I was in college, many moons ago, a man named Clinton gave me this book Random Thoughts from the Cosmos that he had self published, before self publishing was so popular as it is today.  I’ve kept it all these years because — it’s so quirky.  One night Clinton came into the little jewelry/kite, and other odd stuff shop, where I worked in a run down neighborhood in Denver. (That run-down neighborhood is now expensive and filled with trendy shops and trendy young people.)  The shop was  next to a funky coffee house busy into the wee hours of the night with starving artsy types. I remember Clinton had grey hair, and I thought he was just some nice old man. I took the book to be polite. Now I wish I had asked him to sign his book and talked to him about his random quotes which are all written in beautiful cursive writing. The quotes are sometimes funny, sometimes serious, not politically correct at times, and very often true. Here’s an example. 

r thoughts

There are other books I keep because an author has signed the book, and I feel bad parting with any book that has been signed. Even if I wasn’t the one who had the author sign the book, as is the case of Wild Mind a book by Natalie Goldberg I bought used last year at  Powell’s Book Store in Portland. Apparently some people can let go of books that are signed by an author! So now it’s mine. I like the heart Natalie drew above her name. Cute. 

wild mind

There are also books that I keep because I like to give them away. Whenever I come across a copy, I buy it.  I always seem to have an extra copy of Bird by Bird.

Anne Lamott Okay here I go pushing this book again, but I feel the same way I felt about it when I first read it as a required text in a writing class, again, many moons again. Even if you don’t aspire to be a writer, this book is a great read and truly does contain instructions on writing and life. It’s funny, too, and I always appreciate funny.

strunk and whiteI don’t know why I keep this. Oh yes I do. My journalism teacher, Mr. Pearson, treated this old standby for writers like our journalism bible. We had to read it, study it, discuss it and take tests on it. He wanted the concepts cemented in our minds.  I think I keep it because just looking at the cover reminds me of Mr. Pearson who shaped me as a writer. It’s as if my mentor is alive again, reminding me to be concise, clear and accurate. I can hear him say, too, slow down. Good writing advice as well as good life advice. 

Some people have zero books at their house. Gasp. But then we all have different interests and you could look high and low at my house and never find a sewing machine, an easel or any type of sport’s equipment. Do tap dance shoes count? Probably not. We are all different. That’s why there is more than just one flavor of ice cream though I wouldn’t mind if there was only chocolate mint. 

I’ll end with a quote from Random Thoughts from the Cosmos. As I age, I understand better this book written by an old man.  I think I’ll keep this book as I travel through the cosmos into my elderly years. 

thought

 

 

Women Who Read

neal diamond     Last Friday night I took this photo of people holding their cell phones aloft at a Neal Diamond concert. It was my first Neal Diamond concert. Considering this is his fiftieth year on stage, I thought time just might be running out for me to hear him sing Solitary Man or Sweet Carolyn live.  While I was there I met several of fans who had been to his concerts multiple times. Seems I was late to the game.

    Each one of those lights represents a Neal Diamond fan. If only all writers had such a loyal and large fan base.  Okay maybe Stephen King or J.K. Rowling could fill an auditorium, but even they don’t get to actually see all the people who enjoy what they read especially as they are writing.  Bookstores host readings, but a writer is lucky to get more than thirty people, unless they write blockbuster best sellers.  At its core reading is a solitary pursuit. As is writing. 

IMG_0401 (1)There are so many books from which to choose. There is a lot of competition and writers toil alone  with the hope that someone, somewhere, will take the time out of their busy lives to read. I never really picture a person reading my work, but perhaps that is a mistake.  After all, I’m writing for living, breathing, and paying, humans.  Hopefully. Always have hope. If I wasn’t it would be journal writing which is fine but be careful because we know those can be found and read, too.  Remember Bridges of Madison County? Talk about unintended audience. I started thinking about the people in my life who are avid readers. Not necessarily of my work. I just know they like to read. 

sara

My friend Sara here, wrapped in toilet paper which is what women do at wedding showers, is an avid reader. She reads a lot of non fiction, her tastes are varied and she doesn’t settle for shallow, trite books. We went to hear Gloria  Steinem speak last year when she was on her memoir tour. Now Gloria sure had an audience, but the audience of women didn’t hold cell phones in the air to make her return to stage.   Wine glasses. Not really.  Anyway, Gloria Steinem said she doesn’t limit herself by only having friends her own age. Her view is that she just had to wait until some of her friends were born. I feel that way about Sara. She keeps me in touch with the latest smart reading around. I stay hip with Sara.

laura and debbieOn the right is my friend Laura and she reads fiction. A lot. She is one of the most prolific readers I know. She bought me Night Circus for my birthday last year, and I loved it. I trust her judgement, and we tend to like the same fiction. I can’t keep up with her. Her reading habits  put me to shame. My high school friend, Debbie, on the left doesn’t read. At all. Writers would never be able to make any income if everyone was like Debbie. However, Debbie beats me at Scrabble every time. Every time. She out spells me. Also, I know she would have loved Neal Diamond. Laura — maybe. Variety of friends is the spice of life. 

andreaI work with Andrea and she recently gave me a book called Winter People. It was nothing I usually read. I don’t like scary  books all that much. However, I liked the book’s stark, white cover with an etching of a house. Isn’t that funny how we sometimes chose books for the cover? She likes that particular author a lot, reads all her books, and she was so excited about Winter People.  Her enthusiasm was contagious.  I read the book just so I could talk to her about it. The book was scary, involving ghosts and an evil little girl. Andrea likes supernatural, scary books, and her encouragement allowed me to expand my reading horizon. She is a avid reader, as well, and an independent young woman who has a bright future. And she surprises me by reading my blog. 

high school girlsI‘m uncertain who my readers might be, but I know they are women. I classify myself as writing women’s fiction. I just never think a man will be interested in what I write. I have had male editors, male writing teachers and now and then a guy will read my blog, but I think I write more for women. Above is a photo of the women I went to high school with at our reunion a few years ago. I’m not saying what year I graduated. Let’s just say it was when bell bottoms were in style and Neal Diamond had number one hits.

I can have moved far away, traveled many places, met a variety of people, but I  don’t want to escape from my past and what makes me who I am today. These women I understand.  We share a lot in common. We grew up together and survived our teenage years. They are all  funny, witty and gorgeous. 

desk 2Even if I don’t know for certain who reads my work, maybe a few men do,  it helps as I sit alone in a room writing to imagine a reader.  I feel less alone believing I’m not alone.  

 

 

 

 

The Secrets We Carry

resturant table     An empty table at a resturant is a blank slate. A happy family might occupy it for awhile, then a couple celebrating an anniversary, and next business associates winding down from a day of meetings. At the table people laugh, argue, looked bored or just want to eat and run. One thing in common is everyone wants to be fed and there are times it is not just physical  hunger.  

     Servers are never quite sure what he or she might encounter as we go from table to table serving people’s needs. Encounters can be brief, just details of a food order, or people will share personal details. I’ve listened to a lot of stories. Perhaps it’s the intimacy of providing food, a necessity for us all, that often triggers the loosening of boundaries and sharing of personal lives. Or maybe it’s the alcohol! One thing is certain, each table has a story.  Some stay with me and others I forget. Recently, I saw the story of a lifetime unfold.

     The other evening I waited on what I assumed was a typical group of six women. When will I learn the lesson to never assume! The youngest woman was likely in her thirties.  I know for the certain the oldest was 92 as she played the starring role in the real life drama. My first impression of ladies getting together just to chat and eat was soon corrected.  For the first time, the 92 year-old woman was meeting her 73 year-old adult daughter she had given up for adoption. Well she had met her, of course, as a baby many years ago in Washington when she gave birth. But their time together was brief.  Now the older woman was hard of hearing but for 92 she still had her facilities. The daughter had oxygen tubes in her nose, but she smiled a lot and had a gentle, kind demeanor. 

mother with babyThe woman had gotten pregnant by a married man in Washington state where she lived. Her father and mother told her she could keep the baby, but she decided to put the little girl up for adoption. In those days there weren’t a lot of single mother’s raising little girls alone, especially if the child was conceived by a man who was married. The story itself wasn’t that unusual, but what was profound was to observe a mother and daughter meeting one another as strangers meet one another. Politely but with no history beyond biology. 

family from 1960sWithin a few weeks after giving up her baby, the woman met a nice man. There, at the table, with the daughter she had given up for adoption so many years ago across from her, the woman said,”he told me we could keep the baby girl, but I said no.” I looked at the woman who had never known her birth mother until that moment and wondered if she felt stung by that admission. The woman just nodded. Later, I asked if she had a happy life, and she said she had wonderful parents. I believed her. Both were now dead.  

The woman who had the baby out of wedlock married that nice man and had more children. She never told any of the children that she had a baby that she had given up for adoption. They still don’t know and she’s uncertain if she wants to tell them. She said they will be upset with her.

At the table were the woman’s two younger sisters. Well no one was young anymore. They said they knew their older sister had gotten pregnant all those years ago but they were too young to truly understand. She had gone away for awhile, but then returned. No one in the family mentioned it ever again. And so the secret was buried in time. It might have always remained buried if the State of Washington hadn’t opened up birth records.

Washington birth certificate

   The two daughters of the woman who had been adopted told their mother they wanted to find her biological mother and their grandmother. The internet did it’s magic and there they were all in Arizona meeting at the resturant where I work. 

The six of them sat at the table for a very long time talking, sharing stories about family.  Takes awhile to catch up after seventy years. The woman who had been giving up for adoption said now she knew where she got her quirky sense of humor from after listening to her biological mother’s stories. Both women shared the same smile.

At one point the 92 year-old woman leaned across the table to her daughter and asked, “What did you say your last name was again?” I tried to imagine what it would be like to ask such a question of one’s own child. The woman politely told her biological mother her last name and then they ordered dessert.

 Will the woman tell her children she had a baby out of wedlock all those years ago? Will this newly formed family stay in touch? I’ll never know. Time to move on to the next table. 

tea in a resturantEvery evening I meet people, often for just a short time, but still  I learn so much about our shared humanity, our joys, our stresses, our loves and losses. It’s similar to when I worked as a journalist except there is food and wine involved.  We are all so different, and we are all so the same. If that makes sense.  And we all have secrets. Some we never tell. Some we tell our loved ones and some we tell strangers.

Working as a server, and as a reporter, meeting so many people,  has made me a better writer and for sure a better person. It is a gift to walk beside one another as we share a moment on the path of life together and tell stories and sometimes long held secrets.

two older women

 

Eye of the Beholder

burning tree    I like pretty art. Call me simplistic, and some may, but I have trouble understanding modern art and not just because it’s often not pretty.  The art, such as the piece above, challenges me and makes me think. That’s not such a bad thing. But there are often times I flat out do not get what I’m seeing. Last Sunday at the Phoenix  Art Museum, which has arctic-like air conditioning and thus a great place to be on a hot summer day in the desert, I wandered into the modern art area. The photo of tree, whole and then reduced to ashes, might represent humans who, like the once mighty tree, will one day turn to dust. I often wish I had the artist beside me to explain. 

dead people

      Did this artist get inspired by yoga? Or is it that pesky concept of death again? I’m not even going to try to guess with this one. In the photo, the woman gazing down at the prone body with her arms crossed is wondering the same thing herself…or maybe she “gets it.” I don’t. Near each piece of art work is the name of the artist and some explanation of the artist’s vision but, again, I often leave scratching  my head trying to understand.  Art like this doesn’t leave me in awe, but it does make me ponder metaphorical meanings.  

    In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron encourages writers to take themselves on artist dates to spur creativity.  Attend the opera, a quilting exhibition, or visit a historic home to find inspiration from another’s artistic work. It doesn’t mean we will like everything we see. There are some books people have encouraged me to read that stunk. I read one or two chapters and can not make myself read any further. Modern art is sorta like that for me, too. 

lady

After the modern art, I found myself in the portrait exhibit area. Now this painting inspired me because it is of a woman who was the mistress of King Charles. Not sure what century.  A long time ago as is obvious by her shimmering gown. She had five children with the king, and also several other lovers. She  died in her forty’s,  so she was one busy gal. Her dark eyes, creamy skin, wistful expression (another lover perhaps?) made me want to write a story about her. I wanted to make her come alive on the page and answer the questions about her life such as how did the king’s wife never learn about the five children her husband spawned with this beautiful dark-haired woman? Scandal is not reserved for 2017.

Scottsdale The title of this oil painting was Scottsdale, Arizona 1935. Really? Today Scottsdale has more plastic surgery offices than any other city in America. The days of horses, and Native American women in traditional garb, and dogs lounging in the street have been replaced with trendy restaurants, expensive malls, lavish resorts and a lot of Botox. Art is like a visual history book. I wish Scottsdale still looked like this, at least in a few places. The city could stand to lose a spa or nightclub and add a few horses.

    And then, just when I had written off modern art, I saw this on my way out. 

velvet tree

 The tree’s trunk is covered in velvet and that is rock salt as the base. The birds on the tree are clear containers filled with Windex. That’s pretty cool. Saying cool is not the most sophisticated way to explain art, but I looked at this tree for a long time. I have absolutely no idea what the artist was saying, but it didn’t matter, because it was fun to view. 

The lesson from all of this is that the artist writes or dances or makes modern art to please his or her own self first. If other people come along for the ride, fine. That’s a good reminder for any creative pursuit, or life in general. Some people will like it, some won’t. Bottom line is to be true to you.  

 

 

 

 

 

A Buffet of Mother’s Day Memories

hoffman-estates-jewel-2     This isn’t my mom, but it could be. Taken at the Jewel Grocery Store in Hoffman Estates, Illinois where I grew up, this is where my mom shopped every  Friday night after my dad brought home his paycheck. This is before debit  and credit cards filled everyone’s wallets, so she had to wait until my dad cashed his weekly pay check in order to buy groceries. My mom wore dresses to the grocery store and makeup as did most the women who pushed around a grocery cart at Jewel in the 1960s. (Now there are times  I go to the grocery store where I look as if I just posed for a mug shot. Who has time for lipstick and a comb, pantyhose, when all I am buying is detergent and dog food? I’d go in my pajamas if I could, and I have seen people in pajamas at Walmart shopping. My mom would likely be appalled.)

I don’t like to grocery shop, it’s just a boring chore to me, but as a little girl I loved going each week with my mom to Jewel with it’s shiny polished floors, and colorful boxes of food and fresh-looking vegetables. Seeing this photo from the historic archives of an Illinois library, made me remember those Friday night grocery store outings and, of course, made me miss my mom. Especially so with Mother’s Day right around the corner.

mom givng me a bathI’m keeping this photo small as it is myself  bathing in the nude. The only naked photo that will ever be seen of myself on my blog. (I want to keep my readers). Somehow bathing me in a plastic dish bucket on our kitchen counter doesn’t seem safe. Poor mothers. No matter how hard they try, they still get blamed for imperfections. I survived the bath, as well as any other missteps by my mother who, like most mothers, did the best she could. 

We all are so different, but we all had mothers. I’ve seen even the toughest guy soften when speaking about his mom. So often writers write about his or her mother and it’s obvious no matter how old we get our mothers  remain with us, in our hearts and minds, for good or for bad.  I have often wrote about my mother. I will miss her this Mother’s Day just as I have missed her every Mother’s Day since she died forty two years ago. Yikes! It never gets easier, but for me remembering my mom in my writing somehow eases the great loss, just a little.

mom and grandmaOur moms had moms, and this is my mother in front of my grandma’s house in Chicago. Every Mother’s Day,  our family took my grandma out to eat. This Sunday there is a fancy buffet at the hotel where I work. People will spend a lot of money  to eat, even drink champagne and hope that they made their mom feel appreciated. It’s one of the busiest days in the resturant industry. So much has changed in our world, but not wanting mom to have to go to the grocery store and cook, remains the same. And the resturant industry is grateful. Servers groan about that day because it is hectic, but it’s also lucrative. For the past four decades, I’ve wished my mom was alive so I could take her to a busy, over-priced resturant and make her feel special. 

   I hope my words travel upward and reach the angels and that my mom can hear me wish her a Happy Mother’s Day! And I wish the same to all mother’s, and I hope you all feel special on Sunday and that you are loved.

My mom.

mom

 

 

 

     

 

Out of Print

morning paper

       Above is a photo of the most despicable thief you can imagine. This man has been seen stealing, gasp, newspapers. He was caught on a neighbor’s security camera taking The Arizona Republic off the driveway.

      I’m not surprised he looks like an old guy. What millennial reads the print newspaper anymore much less would want to get up early in the morning to steal one? News can be found online with just a few taps on the cell phone. The print version of the paper has become as old fashioned as handwritten letters and the milk man. We didn’t have a milkman, but my friend Chris, her dad was a milkman. That always seemed like a fun job, going from house to house depositing dairy products though I imagine her dad had to  get up way early in the morning as do newspaper delivery people. Not much need for milkmen anymore, and in the near future home delivery service of newspapers, too. 

      A lot of people of my generation don’t bother to subscribe to the newspaper anymore, either.  I shudder for the day when the newspaper will come only via the Internet. Every morning when I wake up, after I walk Darla, (who of course is the best and cutest dog on the planet) I eat breakfast and read the newspaper. My day wouldn’t feel right without this much-beloved ritual. I love opening the paper, turning the pages, spreading it out and drinking hot tea.

My father would bring home the Chicago Sun Times every day after work. I would take it into my bedroom and read it from cover to cover. Highlight of my day, as odd as that might sound. Old habits and true loves never fade, and I loved the newspaper. It provided a written window to a bigger world beyond middle-class suburbia. 

goldieOne of the things I will miss if the print version of the newspapers ceases is receiving clippings from friends. Just recently, my dear 92 year-old friend, Goldie, who lives in Denver, and subscribes to the The Denver Post, sent me this clipping about a historic tavern in  Denver being sold to new owners. We both loved going to this tavern which was just down the hill from our neighborhood.  I ordered grilled cheese and she had a cheeseburger. The tavern had great pickles.  She wrote me a little note on the clipping. “Thought you would like to read this.” And I did. Sure she could have sent me a link, but finding it in the mailbox meant she took extra time for me and that always feels special when our loved ones think of us.

Marilee

    Then, a few days later, my sister sent me this article from The Chicago Tribune. She lives in southern Illinois now, but she still appreciates the news of her former home town north of her. This humorous article about the couple that were on a popular home fix up show, but were now divorcing, made my sister smile and she wanted me to smile, too, at the Chicago columnist’s wit.

   Recently, I met a woman and was discussing with her an article I read in The Arizona Republic regarding her  tour company. I happened to have the print version of the article with me. She was thrilled to have a version she could hold in her hands and slip into her purse.  Several people had read the story,  she said, but no one had the print copy. I was happy to give her the article, but also sad that no one had the paper copy. Another sign of the demise of the print version. 

Tracy  My friend, Tracy, often writes letters to the editor of The Arizona Republic. Next time I see her I will give her this clipping of her letter that appeared a few weeks ago. She only gets the paper on Sunday, but I think she goes to her mom’s house and gets the daily newspaper to read. 

my clips

    During journalism school, and during my writing career, I saved all the clips of my work. Now anything I write is online. I’ve kept some of my clips, neatly as you can tell, but I’ve thrown out a lot of articles I’ve written. Why bother keeping so much paper. And yet I love that I had the chance to see my words in black and white and not just on a computer screen. Call me old school. I don’t mind. 

    This morning as I was crunching on my cereal and flipping the pages of the newspaper I saw an article I want to tear out and send to a friend. I’m grateful I can still do that, and I hope now and then people will send me new’s clippings.

    Because it makes me sad to think of that one day there will be an end to my morning paper, I will finish with a picture of my adorable dog Darla. Just to cheer me up and anyone else who might feel sad about one morning not finding the newspaper on the front stoop anymore, not because some old guy stole it, but because it no longer exists. 

darla