Butter, Sugar, Love

I’ve discovered that I’m not much good at blogging.  The lack of a deadline, combined with the intangibility of an online post as opposed to an actual physical piece of print, is difficult for me to deal with, although I am trying to do better.

What I am good at is Christmas.

The planning, decorating, shopping (which starts January 2), and the baking.

Especially the baking.  I roadtest recipes all year long on my more-than-willing lab assistants at home, and compile a huge, overly ambitious list .  Prep work starts the first of November, when dough is tucked away in every available corner of the freezer.  Then on Black Friday, while everyone else is out risking life and limb at the mall, I swath myself in a suitably festive apron from my collection of vintage kitchen wear, and start production.

Growing up on a small dairy farm in the 1950’s, we didn’t have much money to spend on gifts for friends and neighbors, but that didn’t mean they were neglected at Christmas.  There was enough money for flour, sugar and spices, and we had plenty of butter, eggs and milk, so we baked.

Perhaps my first memories of Christmas are olefactory – the scent of sugar cookies, anise seed, cardamom, honey.  When the cookies and fruitcake were done, we waited for a dry day, difficult to find in the winter, and my mother would make homemade divinity using an old-fashioned egg beater to whip the egg whites and syrup till the mixture was so stiff she couldn’t turn the handle and had to finish with a wooden spoon.

No one who mattered was forgotten, from the neighbors who helped with the harvesting in the summer to the elderly ones who didn’t bake for themselves any more due to illness or infirmity,

So, I give away most of what I bake each year – that is, what I can salvage after Jon gets his share of cookies and of coffee after hours of snow removal.

I do it for the pleasure of a warm kitchen, filled with the scents that remind me of holidays past –

I do it to honor the traditions of my mother, my grandmother, and all the farm women who gave gifts made by their own hands –

I do it for love.


fasten Your Seatbelts, It’s Gonna Be a Bumpy Ride!

As I write this, Jay & I should be – that’s should be –  lounging in front of the crackling fireplace at the JD Young Hotel in the quaint little market town of Harleston, UK.  Instead, Jay is at the baseball game, where he will enjoy himself much more alone than he would if I were along, and I am vacationing at the keyboard.

We boarded the American Airlines flight to London at 7:05 pm, and were about 3 hrs out, well over Newfoundland, when the captain came on the sound system, using that voice you use when trying to convince your child to put the rattlesnake down gently and back away without getting excited. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are, unfortunately, turning back to O’Hare. We have some ‘concerns’ with the hydraulics, but don’t worry, we can fly like this for a lonnngg time.”

What he meant was, ‘we could fly this way for a long time, but landing might be a biiggg problem.’

When we finally did land, amidst ambulances, fire trucks & assorted emergency vehicles, it was 1:30 am.  It took us till 3 am to get vouchers for a cab & hotel , collect our bags & get rebooked to another flight, another hour to find a cab that would take the voucher, and another hour and a quarter to drive all the way to Waukegan & find the Ramada Inn where we were vouchered to stay. We had to be perpendicular by 11 am to catch a cab back to OHare, where we were greeted cheerily by the AA rep & handed our ticket info for British Airways, where we were rebooked.

We took the rail transit to the international terminal, waited another hour and a half, and then – and THEN . . . the abjectly apologetic Brit Airways rep informed all of us that there were no seats for us, as AA had “grossly overbooked” last night, and we could possibly fly to Manchester that night, where we could “find a way” to London once we landed.

Exhausted and exasperated, we looked at one another and decided to call our travel agent, who, bless her heart, was able to finagle our money back for part, but not all, of our trip, and we trudged across the way to the ground transit station to wait for a bus back to Milwaukee. We were both happy  not to be at the bottom of the Atlantic, but we were still aggravated. 

This is the second time I have flown  American Airlines, and the second time it has stranded me somewhere by canceling a flight. It will most certainlyl be the last.  In September, when we plan an escape , we will be flying Milwaukee to either Boston or Newark and taking some other airline to the UK. 

Fool me once, shame on you – 

Fool me twice, don’t bother to apologize, just wave bye bye to my business.

Is That Medium Well Done?

Went with a friend on Sunday to see a medium who specializes in contacting the dead for their loved ones still present in life. Since I wasn’t grieving at the time, & as I talk to my loved ones who have moved on all the time (do they answer me? I think so, but then I could be crazy), I went more out of curiosity.

This particular woman seemed to do a good job of connecting for people, although some of her messages started out being a little vague. (“Is there a “Robert” here?” “Bob?” “Bobby?”) The people who got messages seemed deeply comforted, which is, after all, the point to these readings, but it concerned me a bit that after the session, while she was mingling with the crowd, I shook her hand and gave her my name and she didn’t seem to be able to look me in the eye.

It’s not that I doubt the existence of . . .something  beyond here.  Three years ago J & I went to a B&B for our anniversary, an old Victorian house being restored in Lake Geneva, WI.  We were the only couple staying there, and the owner lived offsite. We went to sleep early, but it was beastly hot in the room, so I pushed off the covers and nodded off wearing only my long t-shirt.

Sometime in the night, someone  tugged at the right side of my shirt as tho to pull it down over my legs. I rolled over toward the tug, realizing that J was sleeping at my left, and opened my eyes. I didn’t ‘see’ anyone in the usual way, but I sensed a woman, very thin with a rather unkempt updo and old-fashioned clothes standing at the bedside, very unhappy with me sleeping exposed, and very distraught.

Still drowsy, I tried to ‘talk’ to her, telling her that we were guests in her home, that we were sorry to have upset her, that we would be leaving in the morning, and that everything was all right.  After a brief period, she seemed to simply not be there, so I pulled the sheet up over myself, rolled over against J and fell back to sleep.

The next morning, when we were having breakfast, J said to me “I can’t believe you slept through that woman screaming in the night!”

I truly hadn’t heard a thing, but the moment he mentioned it, I knew who it was.  He told me that he woke out of a sound sleep and it sounded so loud that he bolted out of bed and went downstairs to search the house. When he returned to the room he was so rattled that he locked the bedroom door and it took a while for him to fall back to sleep, all this from a  man who simply does NOT believe in ‘that sort of thing.’

I waited till he was done, then I told him about the prudish lady tugging at my shirt.

I have had enough encounters over the years with things that are unexplainable to be unable to discount psychic phenomena, mediumship, etc.  What I do know is that I only own what feels real to me, which is what we all should do.

Even if it doesn’t fall into the realm of logic.

And on it goes . . . .

In my last post, I addressed the “accidental” deaths of many young men due to apparent drowning after drinking at bars.  Since then, there have been 2 more incidents, the latest in downtown Milwaukee where a young man said goodnight to his girlfriend, supposedly heading home, and vanished, turning up during an early thaw, in the water a mere stone’s throw from where he was last seen.

Another unfortunate “accident”?

One would like to think that law enforcement isn’t that stupid, but given the recent Boston Marathon tragedy, in which the feds apparently thought the Russians were overreacting when they reported the Tsarnaev brothers for possible terrorism, maybe ‘them boys jest ain’t that bright!’

How many more of these incidents is it going to take before SOMEbody in law enforcement starts paying attention?

One of my readers has a theory that the FBI already believes there’s a serial murderer out there and is quietly watching to see what will happen next, but  it certainly doesn’t look like that’s the case.  One of my dear friends has a son who just turned drinking age and went out to a bar with his buddies to celebrate the big event.  All I could think of was how thankful I was the campus he attends isn’t near any rivers, lakes, etc.

When I think of all the parents who have gone through the same nightmare of waiting to hear what had happened to their sons, it robs me of sleep.  Maybe they are the ones who will have to join together and do something, because whatever is supposed to be happening to stop these “accidents” isn’t .

Well, Stanley, this is another Fine Mess You’ve gotten us into!

Gone and done it at last – as of tomorrow at 5:00 pm, I will have been officially retired for 2 weeks.

In the end, it wasn’t as hard as I’d anticipated – the lure of a long, warm, busy summer full of rummage sales/projects/farmers markets, etc. coupled with what seemed to be a rapidly waning amount of actual fulfilling work made it simple, although not any less traumatic.  I have to confess to being a bit bored already – I’m used to managing my time to squeeze things in; now, I have what seems to be a luxurious amount of time.

Philip Chard, a local columnist, wrote a great piece in this morning’s paper – yes, I STILL prefer a real newspaper with breakfast.  Philip’s focus was on regrets, and how, as we get older, there are four basic things that people about to step out into the Great Mystery beyond this life say have caused them regret:

1.  Not having lived their own lives

2.  Not having invested more in important relationships

3. Not having honestly and respectfully expressed their feelings, and

4.  Not choosing to be happy

Heavy stuff.  I’m betting that all of us have been burdened with one of the four at some point in our lives.  I know I have, although I won’t confess to which one.  They are all arguable, of course; we feel pressured to live up to others’ expectations, we are so busy, we can’t say what we really think because it might hurt someone else’s feelings, it’s more important to make others happy than that we are happy.  In the end, or perhaps I should say when you are getting closer  to the end, all those excuses seem pretty lame.  The bottom line is that this is the life you’ve got – you’d better make it count.

I know I plan to.



These “Accidents” are no accidents.

On my way downtown last week, I stopped and spoke briefly with a gentleman holding a large poster that said Have You Seen Tom Hecht?, one of many people lining Water St.  I expressed my concern & hope that he would be found safe, but, like many of us who have been paying attention  these past few years, I already was pretty sure I knew the outcome – they’d find him, sooner or later, in the water.

This whole frightening mess started on September 28, 1997 when Charles Blatz, 28, went missing in LaCrosse, WI.  They found him October 3, 1997 in the MIssissippi – “no signs of foul play.”

Then came:  Anthony Skilton, 19 – missing 10/10/97,found 10/20 -in the Mississippi; Nathan Kapfer, 20 – missing 2/22/98, found 4/4; Jeffrey Geesey, 21, missing 4/11/99, found 5/24.

The venue changes: Craig Burrows, 23, missing 9/29/02 Eau Claire, Wi, found 10/06 in Half Moon Lake; and Michael Noll, 22, missing 11/6/02, not found till 8/19/03 , again in Half Moon Lake.

The pattern skips from one place to another – Nathan herr, 21, Sheboygan in 2003, back to LaCrosse with Jared Dion, 21, back to EauClaire in 2004 with Joshua Snell, 22, to Madison with Kenji Ohnri, 20, then back to LaCrosse and on and on . . . .

One very lucky young man, Cullen Fortney, 21, found himelf in the Mississippi on January 8, 2006, with no idea of how he ended up in the water.  He managed to reach shore and head for a hospital, where, admittedly drunk, he was checked over and found OK.  He recalled leaving his friends at a bar, then nothing till he woke up in the icy water.

My faith in law enforcement is sketchy at best – in Milwaukee, you’re probably better off to call a priest than the police, so at least you’ll get last rites.  When I last called them because one woman was beating another bloody with a broom handle in front of my house, they came 2 hours later- apparently I was supposed to ask the women to wait !  So, as you might imagine, listening to the crap being distributed about these stunningly obvious crimes makes me furious.  I can only imagine what the parents of these young men must have gone through – and are going through still.  The last “accident” before Tom Hecht’s death was in Stevens Point, not that long ago – at an average of 2 per year, there’s bound to be another one coming up.

There are a number of links you can visit for more info: www.weau.com has an article by reporter Mary Rinzel that offers what sounds like a pretty plausible theory posed by two retired NYPD detectives, and a chronology of the missing.  The bottom line is, warn the young men you love never, NEVER to leave a bar/restaurant/party alone. 

And don’t believe what you hear in the media – these are no accidents!

In Memoriam

I recently received word via the retiree grapevine that a former coworker died on February 12th.

To be kind, I won’t use her real name, and in truth that doesn’t matter – anyone who reads this will recognize her, for Roz was a complex and difficult person. 

When we met, I found her interesting and quirky, with a borderline addiction to books like myself.  I thought there might be potential there for a friendship – but soon enough I realized that there was something not right.  Roz had a peculiar talent for saying the wrong thing at the right time; during our tenure as colleagues she told a single female co-worker that she was “lucky men didn’t find her attractive,” as they were all pigs; called another co-worker a “man-whore”;  informed our boss, one of the finest, kindest & most caring people I have worked for that he was the “worst boss ever”; and asked me , 3 days after my mother’s death if she was “a gossip like you are?”   (She also once asked me if , growing up on a farm, I had ever had sex with the farm animals.  Everyone within earshot was too stunned to react, but somehow I mustered the ability to respond, asking if she meant” our own farm animals, ‘cuz that would be SO WRONG!”)

At first we brushed her acidic comments to a lack of social skills, but gradually we began to realize that there was a method to her madness.  She would ask seemingly friendly, innocuous questions about our lives – volunteering little or nothing in return – and store the information so that later, when she chose, she could fire a volley to injure someone.  More than once, when her arrows hit home, I would catch her with a small, self-satisfied smile.

We all tried to be kind to her, to find some way of making her feel happier, or at least accepted – we remembered her birthday, invited her to the theatre with us, made an effort to include her at work in our general day to day interactions, but nothing helped.

She said inappropriate things to strangers, too, and in the end her behavior proved to be her undoing at work.  We were all giddy with relief when she left for another location – no more waiting for the next blow to fall, having to guard our conversations.

I could not say that I was surprised to hear of Roz’s passing; she made it clear in the 20+ years we worked together that she didn’t care about her health, and we had heard she was not well. What I did feel, and heard it echoed by coworkers who remembered her, was sadness.

Roz once told me about a movie she had seen and loved because it was “so depressing.”  Perhaps for her, there was only beauty in sadness and ugliness, but all of life is beautiful, beautiful and brief – I’m sorry she missed the good stuff. 

If there’s a next time, I hope it’s better. 

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