Saturday, January 24, 2015

Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

sliced bread

"The last best thing. An American inventor named Otto Rohwedder devised a machine that sliced a loaf of bread into individual slices. First sold in 1928, it was touted as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped,” which led to popular phrase “the best thing since sliced bread.” All of which raises the question, what did people say before “sliced bread”? “The best thing since indoor plumbing” was one phrase. And before that?—“since powdered wigs?” “Since moveable type?” “Since fire?”
See also: slice
Endangered Phrases by Steven D. Price Copyright © 2011 by Steven D. Price"
 
Heh. Of course, I always understood this expression. Truly. But until recently, I didn't really take it to heart. As many of you know, the hunk bought me a KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook so I could make bread. My elbows and shoulders protest vehemently when I try to knead bread by hand now.
 
I'm very picky about how my bread tastes and for several months I've been spending my mad money on artisanal breads because I pretty must despise the gluey taste of most commercial breads. Anyway, I've been making bread. A small loaf doesn't last long, even with two people so about every three days, I whip up a new loaf. And of course, every loaf has to be sliced by hand.
 
I'm pretty good at slicing bread. But the hunk? Oh, brother. His slices are fat, skinny, slanted, broken...Well you get the idea. So I can truly understand how wonderful a bread slicing machine must have been. Just imagine how many more slices of bread were possible from a loaf, when every slice was the same thickness!
 
We won't be investing in a bread slicer. But I definitely appreciate the inventor, Otto Rohwedder. I wonder if he had any notion how much he changed life for millions of people? It's not always the huge inventions that make life easier.
 
 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Inner Peace

"Try to lead a life with less stress." That was the advice my doctor gave me a few years ago, right before discharging me from a hospital stay for acid reflux. Quite frankly, I couldn't see how I had any control over outside factors like my job, my children, the too many bills with too little money. All I saw was the complete lack of reason in his directive. If things had continued on that track, I suppose I would have been dealing with a bleeding ulcer by now.

But the hunk was transferred from New York to Baltimore. In a little over four weeks, every single obligation I had was gone. Vanished like the wind. I resigned my job, resigned my church position, moved my kids (all adults) out of my home, and ended up in an apartment with no responsibilities. It took me six months to finally settle down, finally unwind.

This is what I learned. The world didn't end. My old job went on with someone new performing it...possibly she was even better at it. No one missed me to any extent. All the other folks I was absolutely sure were depending on me...weren't. All the tasks I was positive were life 'n' death important...weren't.

A friend I've met since that part of my life once asked me how I could live without worrying, without anxiety. How could I be so darned ZEN? I ask myself two questions. Do I own this problem? No? Then I move on. If 'yes', then the second question comes into play. What can I do about this? Sometimes, the answer is not a thing. If there's something I can do, then I try to do it.

About 90% of the time, I don't own the problem. Really. I might wish I could help out, but most of the time my help is NOT needed--or wanted. Too often, we want to meddle when we shouldn't. Too often, we try to control events and lives that are not ours to control. Too often, we should smile and move on.

If we do all those things, then we will have time to put our efforts into helping where it's really needed. Inner peace.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Olde Blaguer

Heh. And we thought blogging was something new. Apparently, it's been around for a while. 

A lot of people ask questions about blogging, as though there is one true way to blog. Like religion, there is no one true way. It all depends on what you put into it, what you expect to receive from it, and why you do it to begin with.

What should I write about? How often should I post? What if no one reads it?

Yeah...what if no one reads it? Or, if they read it, what if they don't respond? I would say that all goes back to your reason for blogging. Are you blogging so a zillion folks read it and post controversial comments? Or is it more of a sharing-your-thoughts kind of deal? The truth is most people don't comment on an informational blog or a sharing thoughts blog. They read it--and then usually go on their way. 

The best you can hope for as a response is their continued patronage. Let's face it, there are a million blogs out there. If someone chooses to read yours, then that's pretty cool. If they also write a comment, then that's even better. But the days of your average, non-controversial blog attracting a long string of comments are past. 

When I first started blogging, I used to have around ten readers who commented. Now, the post has to really strike a chord with readers to attract more than one or two comments. 

I try to comment when I read other writers' blogs because I see a response as a form of appreciation for the time they spent putting the post together. Whether it's informational or promotional or even an interview, it took time--time that could have been invested in some other pursuit. Therefore, I want to let them know I value the time they invested in reaching out.

My blog is a sharing-your-thoughts kind of blog. At the end of the day, I hope that readers go away with something new to think about. And maybe even a smile. 

Blessings.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Never Happy

Some folks are never happy. Never. If there is any possible negative viewpoint on any life event, they'll find it. I'm not referring to those who are in a temporary life slump due to illness or catastrophic circumstances. I'm talking about those folks who are so determined to view everything through the worst possible lenses.

In the past, I had a neighbor--we'll call her Minnie--who came over far more frequently than I really wanted her to so she could share the latest familial disaster with me. When I resorted to not answering the phone or the door, she stood on the landing outside my door and yelled, "I know you're in there!" Well. Yes, I was, but it's not illegal to not answer your door--or phone.

I've noticed there are people who are never happy with the actions of others. When they have the opportunity for constructive action, they don't do anything. But they're really noisy with their opinions. Our President (love 'im or hate 'im) cannot not do anything. Anything, that doesn't bring down an avalanche of criticism. If he just sat in his office twiddling his thumbs, someone would criticize that.

A well-know author resorted to explaining her viewpoint on her writing and career because there's always someone who isn't happy with her books. Really. WHO held down these clowns and made them read her books? Quite correctly, her reply was, "Bite me." If you don't like a book, song, TV show, movie, the most effective way to express that is never spend your dollars on whatever has your panties in a twist.

I have nothing against protest or dissent. Most folks involved in protesting one thing are positive about other things in life. But there are a few, very negative, very bitter people who are unhappy about everything. If it's raining, they want sun. If the sun is shining, it's too hot. If someone offers them cake, it's too sweet, too chocolate, too dry, too moist, or the frosting is the wrong flavor.

Here's my philosophy. I woke up this morning. Every morning I wake up is a good day. Whatever happens today, I will cope with it because I'm alive and that's good. If it's raining, the grass will grow. If the sun is shining, the grass will grow. If it's snowing, it will eventually melt...and the grass will grow. Life is good.

Oh, yeah. Coffee makes life better.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Instructions for Dummies

 I don't know...Seems like it would save time if you just wash it with the kid still dressed...Sort of a two-fer, ya know?
 And yeah, most Moms know how to do it, but what if we don't wanna? I mean, I have other things to do than someone else's laundry. Right?
Hmmmm. I don't believe I want it to be my job. If you can't follow the instructions...then go naked. Actually, don't worry about the instructions. Just skip all that crap and go naked from the beginning...

Friday, January 9, 2015

Cooking Bacon Naked

The thing about retirement is you never have to get dressed--unless you're going out. When you're retired, no one comes over to see you. They're all working. Or shopping. Or doing other stuff that requires clothing... like gardening or mowing the lawn.

So, back to the bacon. Cooking naked has certain hazards. You can't get too close to the stove (or oven). Things tend to splatter and spit when you're cooking. Come to think on it, using a mixer can be hazardous, too. Cake batter, in particular, has a tendency to spray in a chaotic fashion if you're not careful. The up side (if you're naked) is the body is easy to clean. The downside is hot splatters can be painful.

On most folks the stove top is right at the level with their belly. This is good because the important stuff below the belly is safe. However. If you're a lady, there could be difficulties for the top. Which is why... I leave all that naked cooking up to the hunk. It's a win-win situation.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Perspectives

Blizzard of 1967 in Chicago. A friend posted a comment on her timeline about schools closing for the extreme cold temperatures. Lots of people pitched in with their own opinions. It costs more to heat the schools, some kids don't have appropriate clothing, it's colder standing still than it is walking...blah, blah, blah.

I was a senior in high school the year this picture was taken. The Chicago schools were closed the actual day of the blizzard for an in-service day. It was graduation day for the Winter 1967 class--Chicago schools had mid-year graduations back then in addition to the standard June graduations. I was at school to help set up the choir chairs for the graduation scheduled for that evening. Fortunately, I had made arrangements to stay with a friend who lived across the street from the school because I didn't get home for three days. That was a Thursday. The school was closed ONE day (Friday). We were back in school on Monday.

In my era, girls wore SKIRTS to school. Slacks weren't allowed. Think about that.

At that time, there were no school buses. If you didn't want to walk, you rode the CTA. But that cost money and we didn't have money for bus rides. I received fifty cents for milk for lunch for the week. My student pass for the bus allowed me to ride for forty-five cents. Do the math. One ride, no milk for the week, my choice. Then there was the wait--on cold, windy corners--for the bus. So the individual who said it was colder waiting for a bus, than walking, was mostly correct.

Of course, things are different now. Many children don't have a hot breakfast before they go out the door. My mom was up every morning, making sure I had a hot bowl of oatmeal or cream of wheat, plus toast before I left for school. Every morning. It was waaaaaay before the days of microwaves and packaged foods.

Another commenter on my friend's post mentioned how poor kids didn't have coats, scarves, gloves... Well, we were poor. Until I was a senior, I didn't have any clothing bought for me. It all came out of the missionary barrel at church--or from my cousin. I was thrilled to have it. Things were recycled--not through thrift shops where they cost money--but through local churches. I wasn't worried about what my peer group was wearing. Neither were they. We had other stuff going on. The Vietnam War was in full swing. Our fellows were worried about whether their number would come up in the draft. Girls were anxious over whether their boyfriends and brothers would have to go. Mostly, we did our best to get on with life.

A lot more was expected from kids back then. We had chores. We had responsibilities. We had civic duties. On the weekend we had church. Free time? What was that? We didn't own a TV. After my homework was done, I would sneak in a few minutes of reading before 'lights out' was declared...at 9:30 PM. By then, I was so tired, sleep wasn't an issue.

Looking back, I wonder how things would be different if we could redo the seventies. What if we didn't have microwaves and all the other conveniences that have somehow moved the center of the home from the kitchen to the living room in front of the TV? What if we didn't have electronics that allowed us to separate even more, accepting the false idea that we were more connected? What if cell phones had never been invented? Would we be more involved with our families?

Frankly, I don't know. Without the Internet I would be isolated. Health issues keep me indoors, away from the possibility of infection. It would be a lonely place without the ability to reach out across the world. I think that old world is long gone. We can't compare our youth with the youngsters of today. There are new terrors and new problems for today's parents. Oh, we can shake our heads and say, "Back in my day..." But this isn't then. This is now.

And they close schools because it's cold.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Write Stuff

Wow. We've nearly reached the end of 2014. I can't say it's been a stellar year for me, but I've certainly had much, much worse. This is the second year in a row I haven't finished writing a book. I would like to break this trend in the coming year.

I've noticed a preponderance of posts on Facebook about writing rules...grammar rules...punctuation rules... Now, I have nothing against rules, in general. But sometimes rules get in the way of writing. This morning I read a list of ways to determine if you're a grammar nerd. One of them was 'mentally correct books you're reading'.

Here's what I've observed through years of reading lots of books (on average about four hundred books a year): If you are more interested in 'correcting' the story than reading it, you're wasting your time. A story should grab you by the short hairs and drag you along for the ride. It should involve your heart and soul so thoroughly you barely have time to breathe as you flip page after page, racing to keep up. You lose yourself in a real story. Nothing matters. Punctuation. Grammar. Vocabulary. Nothing matters except the story.

If that's not happening when you read, why are you doing it?

When I'm editing/revising my own work, the way I know I have it right is when I get so involved in reading the story, I forget to edit it. Think about it. If you aren't caught up in your own story, why would anyone else be?

That's the kind of stories I want to write in 2015. The write stuff.


Monday, December 29, 2014

The Late Christmas Child

My last Christmas post for 2014...

Christmas 2003. It was a busy, busy year. In June we moved from New York to Maryland because the house hunk was transferred. Moving is always stressful, but this time it was particularly so because we lived in our last home for nineteen years. So much stuff. So much stuff to sort and get rid of or throw out! Then in mid-September Hurricane Isabel roared into Maryland. Fortunately, we were not near the flooding, though one of the trees behind our building ended up on our balcony.

Our younger daughter was pregnant, due in late December. We made arrangements to stay with our oldest son. Our daughter and her boyfriend were staying in a small room so Christmas was celebrated at our son's apartment. No baby. It appeared that the baby was in no hurry to arrive. We made arrangements to wait the baby out, but by December 29th, we were running out of our medications and reluctantly made the decision to go home the next day. That afternoon our daughter called, "Don't go yet! I've started labor!"

In a little while, her boyfriend called. "She wants you to be here when the baby's born." So we hopped in the car and made the forty-five minute drive across the Hudson River to the hospital. When we arrived, he was waiting for us and ushered us up to the maternity floor.
She didn’t quite make it for Christmas, but on December 29th close to midnight, the househunk and I were with my daughter and her boyfriend, present when Daisha Monet made her entrance. 

Witnessing the miracle of a new baby never gets old. The precious gift of a new life—especially at Christmas—is a reminder of the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

She's eleven this year. Happy Birthday, baby!!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve Tacos

We have tacos every Christmas Eve. Why? As a remembrance of friendship above and beyond the usual. In this vignette, I tell the story.


Christmas 1981. We lived in Houston, Texas, far from our families. My dad called to tell the hunk he needed to come home. His father was very ill. We could not afford for everyone to go and our daughters were both in bed with the flu. We decided he would take our sons with him (mostly because I knew he would have to make frequent stops if they were along). When they arrived in Chicago, my parents planned to take the boys to Indiana to stay with them.

I was fine until Christmas Eve. Then the loneliness engulfed me. My friends were all busy with their extended family gatherings. My extended family lived far away. My daughters were sleeping the holidays away, too sick to care if they had gifts or not. I was feeling underprivileged and deprived as I stood at my kitchen counter eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The telephone rang. My friend, Linda, inquired about my plans for the evening. I admitted that I didn't have much planned except a shower and bed. She told me to get my purse and coat ready. Lester, her husband, was already on the way over to pick up my girls and me. We were invited to her home for the evening. I protested that the girls were sick. She pointed out they could sleep at her house as well as mine.

When Lester arrived, we wrapped the girls in blankets and carried them out to the car. The trip to their home was only a couple blocks away so the girls slept through the journey and were soon cozily asleep in bed. We spent the evening quietly, playing board games, eating tacos, and singing along with Handel’s Messiah. It was a lovely peaceful evening. Just after midnight, Lester drove us home.

On Christmas Eve our family has tacos as a remembrance of that Christmas Eve spent with loving, compassionate friends. Of all of my friends, they were the ones who saw my need and acted. It was an action made more remarkable because they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not believe in observance of holidays… not even Christmas.

A miracle.


Anny

As a footnote... in 2011 I found Linda on Facebook and we've reconnected. Isn't life grand?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Long Road Home

Every year I reprint a few of the Christmas memories I've shared from the past. This is from Christmas 1989. May all those traveling this Christmas be safe...

Christmas 1989. “Please come if you can. Uncle Charles has terminal cancer and probably won’t be with us next Christmas.”

For many years in my family, holidays (Christmas and Thanksgiving) have been alternated with the in-laws. This year was not a our family Christmas, but the family was trying to get together anyway. It wasn’t a great year for us. My husband was on disability because of an accident at work. I was on unemployment because my company, Waldenbooks, had moved their warehouse operation from New York to Tennessee. The boys, recently graduated from high school, were out of work, since they had also been employed there. Jobs were scarce with 700 unemployed warehouse workers suddenly in the job market. I was attending school as a dislocated worker, hoping to obtain the skills for a new job.

“Please come.” Our car was shot. There was barely enough for a gift for each of the kids. Friends had provided Christmas dinner components for us. The trip from New York to Indiana was out of the question. Reluctantly, I called my parents with the news.

The kids asked us if we could talk for a few minutes. “Suppose we give up our present money…would we have enough gas money to get there?” one of them asked.
My younger son offered to change the oil and do a quick check up on the car. The older one pointed out that we could take turns driving. The car had very little heat…but my older daughter suggested that we could take extra blankets.

Slowly, one objection at a time, they showed us that we could make the trip. I called my parents in LaPorte, Indiana and suggested that they make some extra beds.

We traveled to LaPorte, stopping only for restrooms and coffee. Our car was a tight squeeze for five small people. We had six large people. The kids said that was a good thing as we all stayed warmer that way. Meals were sandwiches eaten in the car. In Ohio, we ran into snow. The car heater didn’t work well enough to defrost the windows so they began to freeze over. There were frequent stops to clear them, but we made it. After eighteen hours on the road we arrived in LaPorte. There was close to a foot of snow on the ground.

It was a great Christmas, rendered more poignant because of Uncle Charles’ illness. There were more family members there than at anytime before or since. Two came from Guam. Others came from all over the United States. Close to 70 people sat down for Christmas dinner. Afterwards there were games, carols, and visiting.

A couple of days later the trip home was longer as there was more snow to contend with. In Pennsylvania, the snow was so heavy that it melted on the headlights, creating a sheet of ice that coated them. We stopped frequently to clear them just so we had light. Cars were sliding off the road. It was night. Plows couldn’t keep up with the storm. The rest areas were closed. We had no money to stay anywhere so we kept moving. Twenty-six hours later, we arrived safely home.

Anyone who has traveled with teenagers knows that it’s impossible to travel far without petty squabbles and picking. However, our entire trip, bad weather, extremely uncomfortable conditions, with limited money, there wasn’t a cross word from anyone.

A miracle. Several, in fact.

anny
© 2007 Anny Cook

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Surprise

The end of that year was an incredibly turbulent time. In November on my fourteenth birthday, President Kennedy was assassinated. It was in the beginning years of the Vietnam War. The Cuban Missile crisis was not long before that. Uncertainty was everywhere. So herewith, the story of Christmas 1963.


Christmas 1963. That was the year that Christmas wasn’t going to bring even one gift…we thought. It was a poor financial year. I didn’t exactly know that we were poor. We had plenty to eat. We had clean, warm clothes. We had a warm, sheltering apartment in Chicago that my stepmother, Maxine, worked hard to make a haven for us.

Now that I am a parent and grandparent I realize how difficult it must have been for her to sit us down a few weeks before Christmas and explain that there wasn’t any money for gifts. If all the money she had managed to save was pooled, we could have a special Christmas dinner. Back then there were no such things as food banks or church assistance.

Soberly, we considered the dilemma, and then one by one, we agreed that a special dinner was the best use for the money we had. Once that was settled, we put it behind us and life went on.

A couple weeks before Christmas, Mum told all of us to hurry home immediately after school, as there would be a surprise. Friends of the family planned to bring each of us a gift and wished to be present when we opened them. So on this day, I slung my books into my locker at school and rushed home. Pounding up the stairs to our second floor apartment, I eagerly flung open the door—and froze in my tracks.

Every level surface in both the dining and living rooms was covered with gifts. Piles of beautifully, lovingly decorated boxes with bows and trinkets. A tree twinkled merrily in the corner. The melodies of familiar Christmas carols filled the air. Unexpectedly, Christmas had come to our home.

As I stood in the open doorway, I could not imagine what had happened. Certainly, we didn't get rich overnight. I shut the door before walking around the rooms gently touching the lovely boxes. Mum, more excited than I had ever seen her, urged me to look in the kitchen where two boxes of groceries, a ten-pound ham, fifty pounds of potatoes, and a five pound box of chocolates sat on the table. A special Christmas dinner indeed!

In a little while, when my brothers came home from school and my dad arrived from work, we opened the gifts. Of all the Christmases in my life, this is the one I can remember every single thing I received--not because I was a greedy kid, but because they were all gifts of sacrifice from strangers.

Our family friends were a minister and his wife with a church in Indiana. One of their church families approached them, seeking a family that wasn’t going to have any gifts for Christmas. The parents and children of this church family voted to give up their Christmas gifts so that a family, unknown to them, would have a special Christmas.

The minister and his wife undertook the responsibility of obtaining clothing sizes and special needs, plus transportation and delivery of the gifts. And they delivered our heartfelt thank you letter to the anonymous family.

As Christmas grows closer, whether we are rich or poor, I look back on that Christmas and know that we are blessed because we are together. Every year I remember the blessing of being loved unconditionally by strangers.

A miracle.