A Walk in the Park

sleepyhollowpathToday, March 30, is national Take a Walk in the Park Day.

We’d no doubt be better off if this wasn’t an activity that required a national remembrance. I’ve lived almost exclusively on the East Coast and yes, we need reminders to “take a walk in the park.” To “smell the roses.” We are a production-driven culture.

Our son was born and spent his formative early years in western Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh, almost a stone’s throw from the Ohio border. I’m glad he did. Our friends there knew to take walks in the parks, smell the roses, enjoy time with family and friends. Pittsburgh natives consider themselves part of the East Coast. This fascinated me, because in addition to being geographical inaccurate, Pittsburgh does not feel like the East Coast to me; this was one of the biggest, and appreciated, differences.

But back to the East Coast, Massachusetts to be specific, this past weekend. Having enjoyed a family get-together Saturday evening, my husband and I set out on a sunny Easter afternoon to take a walk in the park. Where we live, trails and woods and open space are abundant. We are fortunate to have an incredible national park with miles of trails a few minutes from our home. This was my envisioned destination, but we got to talking, and drove by the turn to the closest entrance to the park. Minutes later, we were driving by picturesque Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, a historic landmark that offers the resting places of Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, for starters. I suggested we park, and walk there. This wasn’t as strange an idea as it might sound.

When I was younger, cemeteries were to be avoided. Creepy places with possible phenomenon that we didn’t understand and that could be very dangerous. Most of us have formed our ideas of what happens in cemeteries from horror movies. But upon moving to New England, I discovered beautiful cemeteries with woods and trails that connect the cemetery “parks” to the greater network of trails. Some of our dog-parent friends even chose cemeteries as their first destination to exercise with their canine companions off-leash, undisturbed on quiet paths under the trees. With our dog by my side–or not, when she happily raced and cavorted across the lawns–I began to discover the enfolding allure offered by these picturesque cemeteries, laid out along winding paths on landscaped grounds guarded by large tracts populated by wise old trees. A peaceful oasis where we lay our loved ones to rest.

Was it the East Coast in me? Before we’d walked very far, my mind wandered back to a concrete, brass-tacks issue. I observed that we had made no purchase or reservation for a plot of land where we were to be buried. Where did my husband want to be buried?

sleepyhollowAnd just like that, on that sunny Easter afternoon, a day traditionally to rejoice in resurrection and life, I unintentionally disturbed the peace by cracking open the lid on the many unsettling aspects of death. The next ten minutes covered the claustrophobia of being put in a box and buried, the burning hell horror of going up in flames even though ashes were probably preferable to a rotting body, and where did the ashes go then? For all of us who have close loved-ones who have passed away, we’ve come face-to-face with the challenges of plotting this after-death chapter. The exercise can be quite rough. My parents never made any decisions. Their children are still trying to.

And then, my husband and I tabled the discussion for another day, or year, or decade. On what day and date will we have needed to decide? That is, of course, the biggest uncertainty.

And a most convincing reason to take a walk in the park. Often.

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Thank you, MSNBC; Thank you, John Kasich

msnbcI confess to being an MSNBC junkie. My secret pleasure. No one except my husband knows how much time I spend with my MSNBC family.

Like any family, the MSNBC family has its dysfunction, and that’s part of the charm. Chris Matthews currently has a marginally better hold on himself: he’s been letting the people he interviews talk without talking over them, which he does repeatedly, and often at length, until you wonder why this guest is even on the show if we are not going to be able to hear a word he or she is offering.

Can Rachel Maddow truly be as engaged, interested, intelligent, and considerate as she appears to be on air? If there is a serious broadcaster with a more engaging presence, I don’t know who it is. Watching her interviews is a joy.

Brian Williams, not so much. I didn’t watch him in his incarnation before the fall when he was put on leave for elaborating on dangerous and heroic things he never did. I struggle imagining him as the top-rated newscaster he supposedly was. He’s now part of the MSNBC family, and it’s not all smooth. Brian, get over yourself. I’m glad you still have a job, but quit with the condescending lean, the too-cool-for-school sideways smirk, and offer more enthusiasm than the large rock that sits in the woods in my backyard would. And the “uhs”? You’ve landed more in a minute than us broadcasters-in-training landed in our ten minute Agriculture Education presentations back in college (mine was on the benefits of yogurt, a campaign I generously designed for the American Milk Association) on our first time out! I want you to succeed. Learn how to interview, and practice speaking without a trillion “uhs.”

I could go on about the brilliance of Steve Kornacki, and how fun his enthusiasm is to watch, as he crunches and expounds on his numbers in his button-down shirt and crew-neck sweater. About what a dinner companion Chris Hayes would make, able to engage in fascinating conversation on almost any subject we could hit. And the perfect balance Chuck Todd brings to every show he’s a part of. But what spurred me to write about my adopted dysfunctional family on MSNBC was their broadcast of John Kasich’s victory speech on the evening he took Ohio, which gave us nuggets like this:

“And if you are a neighbor, that means the widow who was married for 50 years who no one calls anymore, you want to change the world? You take her to dinner on Saturday night. She’ll wear that dress she hadn’t worn in six months…

“You see what I learned as a boy…is that the spirit of America rests in us…

“Our spirit is in believing that through our efforts in whichever part of the world that we live that we can change the world, that we can carve out a better future, that we can realize that those special gifts that were given to each and every one of us in here are something we can use to heal the world.”

I know, in a way, this has nothing to do with MSNBC, but in a horrifying primary season where candidates have reached new ugly, ugly lows in disparaging each other as individuals and as groups, and then gone lower, MSNBC produced this shining moment with John Kasich. I am grateful.

John Kasich, thank you for being in the world; MSNBC, thank you for sharing him.

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Better Than Chocolate?

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Is there a better candy than chocolate?

Easter may be eleven days away, but I doubt I’m the only one already thinking about Easter candy. If one is looking for a reason to fall off the candy wagon and eat an unfettered amount of candy, I don’t think there is an easier place to slip than Easter. It’s one day when the Easter baskets come out; one and done. And if we just got through winter, we need a reward; time to have some candy fun!

The fun starts with Peeps. I ADORE Peeps. I don’t find them edible, but they are unparalleled as a base for artistic creations. Jelly beans are a magnificent creation, supposedly a marriage of the sweet sticky confection originally named Turkish Delight and the shell coating of a Jordan almond. Flooding my senses with Skittles jellybeans is a real guilty pleasure. And you don’t have to twist my arm too hard to have me eating speckled malted milk eggs, another great invention.

I have yet, however, to figure out chocolate bunnies. I ate them as a kid, but really, with very rare exception, this is not good chocolate. Chocolate bunnies belong in the nostalgic Easter prop department; fun to look at, not to eat.

Then this begs the question: does Easter need to include chocolate? If it’s the best candy, then of course, but is it?  I turned to my panel.

B: Chocolate is one of the best candies, and therefore, earns a place at Easter and every other holiday. Along with Skittles and anything containing caramel or toffee.

D: I don’t think of chocolate so much as a candy, but a food group.  There is not a candy better than chocolate. Really, dark chocolate.  White chocolate is an abomination. Like white is the absence of color, white chocolate is the absence of chocolate. I think white chocolate is my husband’s favorite because he knows it is the one I will never eat. 

P: I am not a chocolate lover. I like Heath Bars more than chocolate bars but more often just go for jelly beans.

R: Yes: jelly beans. I can resist chocolate. I cannot resist jelly beans. When my kids were small, I would always have to go buy more jelly beans to make their baskets. No gourmet jelly beans; no spicy jelly beans. Traditional jelly beans. I toss away the second tier–blacks, greens, and yellows–and eat the reds, whites, pinks, purples, and oranges. 

I am not the only one thinking about Easter candy! Half the panel has reason to cheer for this time of year with its increased availability of jelly beans!!

What’s in your Easter basket?

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secretslogoIs revenge truly a dish best served cold?

I was on board when the Mike Kelley series Revenge debuted on ABC. Watching did indeed feel like a guilty pleasure for I do not condone revenge, and yet watching justice play out on this show was so incredibly satisfying. Until the ramifications rippled wider and wider, and the characters’ responses got crazier and crazier, and I tuned out. I wasn’t the only one; the show ended after four seasons. No question, revenge gets old.

I generally let life play out, believing what goes around really does come around and I don’t need to get in the middle and micromanage. That said, I do sometimes feel a need to push back to maintain or regain balance, to keep a person or a situation from going too far outside what I’ve judged to be an appropriate box. I’m surmising we all have this initial response, to “push back” or, to take it further, retaliate when we feel we have been wronged, mistreated, ignored, or injured.  Whether we chose to act on this instinct, and how is where the variety comes in!

So where did the panel stand on revenge?

B: Enticing though it may be, I think revenge is a dish better not served at all.

D: No (not best served cold). Hit ’em while it’s hot.

P: I can’t remember plotting revenge against anyone. Revenge is not something I think about.

R: Doesn’t matter when as long as it goes to the heart.

What a great job interview question! Wouldn’t you like to know the predilections of those you work with?
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Fortune Cookie Game

Happy Chinese New Year! I am steeped in Chinese culture this year because I am hosting an 18 year old boy, Kim Sun, for the entire school year. When he arrived in September I made a pact with my good friends, Marybeth and Irwin, who are also hosting a Chinese teenager, JZ, that all of us would go out for Chinese food every Thursday night. We have made good on our pact and every Wednesday or Thursday we start the round robin texting/Wechatting about who can come, where we should go and what time works for everyone.

The number of invitees have grown to include my friend Kathy and her boarder, Hao. We also invite Jill, a lovely Chinese woman I met at Kim’s agent’s house, and her six year old son, Hanyuan. So now, there are up to 9 people who join together on Thursday nights to share a Chinese meal and conversation.

Our local restaurant is Asian Gourmet – a fabulous Taiwanese restaurant that we all like. The Chinese among us say that it is “quite good” “almost like home” and we Americans think it is very “authentic” and “delicious”. I make a reservation on Thursday so we can all sit at the big round table with plenty of room for all the food. When we arrive, the two teenagers and the six year each get to choose a dish (Hanyuan orders seafood hotpot every week!) and then the rest of us fill in with a couple more dishes , some vegetables, rice and maybe an appetizer like beef wrapped in scallion pancakes or pan fried dumplings. When the food is served we pass and taste and comment on all the dishes. We order different things (except the seafood hotpot!) every week so there is always a great variety.

At the end of the meal when the waiter puts the nine fortune cookies on the table, everyone comes to life – especially Hanyuan (who is bored at the adult talk but loves the two teenage boys who have taken him under their wings). Hanyuan does the unwrapping of the cookies – opening the paper, breaking the cookies in half and pulling out the fortunes. He then passes the slips of paper to the 4 Americans. The four of us take turns reading the Chinese word printed on the paper and the Chinese folks try to guess what word we are saying. It is uproarious! Our Chinese is so bad that sometimes noone can translate what we are saying. Other times we say the Chinese word correctly, by chance I am afraid, and one of the Chinese yells out “pear” and we are so thrilled that we have said the foreign word correctly that we high five and get excited that perhaps we are learning some Chinese after all. Hanyuan just laughs at us when we make mistakes – he thinks we Americans are quite foolish when we totally mispronounce a simple Chinese word like “cat” or “pig”.

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Nail Polish Dos and Don’ts?

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When black nail polish hit the fashion scene, I had reservations. I love dark and Goth in its own place and time, but not for everyone anywhere. When black nails became common on the red carpet, that dampened the whole counterculture rebellious effect of  black where we didn’t expect it, like on lips and nails. Were I prone to dressing Goth at the time, I might have moved to pink and tulle and rhinestones. Then out came iridescent blue and green nail polish, Swamp Thing finger-tips for the masses. I judged those colors unattractive enough to be short-lived, and they were. But expanding nail-polish color boundaries to the extreme has made us more open to color variation, and anything that encourages personal style is a net plus.

I have a favorite shade of gray nail polish. My eighty-six-year-old aunt says this color, on my toes, makes me look like a corpse–and somehow that just enhances my enjoyment of painting all ten toenails that very shade! On to the question of the week:

Is there a certain age beyond which a woman should not wear an unnatural color of nail polish?

B: A certain age? No.  A certain reason–as in, trying to look like you are the same age as your daughter, or granddaughter? Yes.

D: No. When I hear a question like that, I ask myself, would anyone ask something like that about a man?

P: No. I think whatever color a woman thinks looks good on her she should wear… sometimes colors one might associate with youth are not strictly for the young, as in Advanced Style, my favorite blog!

R: Oh God, no. Live till you die. Maybe not a mini-skirt or a bikini. But nail polish? Go wild, baby. 

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Seven Plates at the Table

denisesevenplates      When a fellow writing group member publishes a book, we don’t necessarily snatch it right up so we can read it because we basically have “read” it, some sections numerous times. And yet…we still like to see the final product, after the edits. So I leisurely started Seven Plates at the Table by Denise Waldron (also one of my Secrets of the Universe panel members) this past weekend, and ended up reading to the end before the weekend was over! This final product is a winner.

Denise creates characters we recognize instantly. And because they feel like family, we want to know what happens from the first page. We’re worried that not-good things are coming for these basically good people. Greta, the grandmother wants Thanksgiving, and every other holiday, to play out like an animated Norman Rockwell illustration. George, her husband, prefers his wife happy so he can do what he does which is take the occasional electrical job and enjoy his semi-retirement. Their children Emily and Alan can’t figure out how they could be brother and sister since they are so different. Emily’s bought an old farm cottage and is raising goats, while Alan, a stressed-out financial adviser clawing up the ladder of success, lives in a big beautiful house with his perfectly-groomed fundraiser wife Isabel and their well-managed five-year-old son Henry.But George is hiding something. And so is Alan, something his wife couldn’t even imagine. It’s Carl, Emily’s new boyfriend, who begins to shake up the status quo. As facades start to crumble, everyone wants to protect Henry.

This is a quietly seductive book about the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell others, and the irreparable damage that can follow. Seven Plates at the Table is Denise Waldron’s second book, and she just gets better as she goes. I can’t wait to read her next book…

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Guns On The Train

secretslogo Does Bernie Sander truly believe that carrying guns and ammo in  luggage on a train is the same as carrying guns and ammo in luggage on a plane? 

One of the first times I watched Bernie Sanders on television as he started down his presidential campaign trail, the subject of guns came up, and Bernie Sanders likened guns checked in baggage on a plane to guns in carry-on baggage on a train.

I had an uncle in Maine who went moose hunting with friends once a season in Canada. I’m surmising they took the train and packed their guns. I understand that there are valid reasons why people travel with guns, but we live in a different world now, a world where ensuring community safety may necessitate infringing on personal privilege. Personally, I’d like to get on a plane without taking off my belt and shoes and watching my purse disappear down a conveyer belt and out of my sight while I’m imprisoned behind the scanner gate. With a dichotomy in solutions for the “gun control problem,” either increasing gun control legislation so getting a gun is exceedingly difficult for all of us, or expanding gun availability and legality so we can all carry a gun and be ready to shoot back, I wanted to hear what The Secrets of the Universe panel had to say.

B: TSA is now using methodologies, like Precheck, to create scenarios where we can keep our shoes on and our socks clean and still maintain the safety of the flights, but I can’t imagine a pre-check methodology that would permit a passenger’s ammo and gun in the main cabin and still maintain the safety of the flight. No guns in the plane, and no guns in the train. Bernie Sanders, you got caught out on this one.

D: I don’t want guns and ammo with me anywhere without my permission and my permission is never granted.

P: I don’t think guns and ammo should be anywhere in public. Bernie Sanders comes from Vermont, a gun-toting state, so he was obligated to his constituency to go there, but I do not think he believes it.

R: Equally bad. Just can’t bring the plane down, but can take everyone down in Baggage Claim. Let me know if people are carrying guns on my train and I’ll drive.

Someone looks silly here: either you, Bernie Sanders, for selling these two scenarios as synonymous, or us because we were expected to jump under that umbrella and agree with you? Uh-huh. Unanimous on this one: No Guns On The Train.

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Necco and I Celebrate Anniversaries all about Love

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This year Necco, the New England Confectionery Company, is celebrating the 150th anniversary of their pastel candy conversation hearts by asking people to share “stories of sharing, love, friendship and words from the heart.”

Today I’m celebrating the first day of my newest romance, I’m Sure, sharing this story about friendship and love, and words from a conversation heart. Pond designer Megan is not sure she can trust a man again, and Jason, a firefighter, is the poster boy for unpredictable. Is St. Valentine powerful enough to bring these two together?

Watch for a special appearance by a lavender conversation heart with pink letters spelling out I’m Sure.  But neither Jason or Megan are so sure in the beginning. Find out how a candy heart brings these two together in time for Valentine’s Day!  On sale today at:

http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=6631

 

 

 

 

 

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George Clooney, Universal Dream Man?

secretslogoIs George Clooney every woman’s dream man?

I ask this question because everyone seems to think so, including my widowed mother who as she approached her nineties, ripped a huge photo of George Clooney out of a magazine to keep in her kitchen. Betty suffered from dementia, but she still knew she wanted to wake up to George!

(Now, let me answer it for myself, since I am panel member “B.”)

B: Not for me. (Sorry, George.) The only thing I wonder about is why the media choose him to single out as the gold standard. Perhaps out of respect to his aunt, Rosemary Clooney, Hollywood royalty herself.

D: Every older straight woman and maybe some gay men.

P: George Clooney is undoubtedly extremely handsome, and I would not turn him down. Do I dream about him? No, but every time I see him, I think “He is one handsome man.” He is today’s Cary Grant.

R: Not now; he’s married. And so am I.

So if not George Clooney, then who is The Dream Man?

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