My Reflections on the new Star Wars: Light vs. Dark

My husband and I waited out the first few weeks of its release and finally went to see the new

Star Wars

movie at our locally owned theater. We sat comfortably in our seats munching the most delicious movie popcorn in town surrounded by maybe fifteen other audience members. It was heavenly.

After viewing two and a half hours of smashing planets and beeping droids, I have a few reflections on this continuation of the iconic story.

Rey. This character is one bad-ass. She kicks and fights and climbs her way out of all sorts of arduous situations. She deftly flies the Millennium Falcon alongside Han Solo. She wields a light saber like a pro. She sheds tears, but is never the “damsel in distress.” My favorite part is when she tells Finn to quit holding her hand. She then grabs his and quickly saves both of their lives. I love this girl! Now all the toymakers need to do is get off their sexists butts and create a killer Rey action figure. Geez, what’s the problem, boys?

Princess Leia. This tough former bun-wearing girl has turned into a smart and decisive general. She’s still sassy and full of heart, protecting those she loves. What little girl doesn’t dream of becoming a princess general? 

Han Solo. Sigh. Oh, Harrison Ford as Han Solo, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love your smirk and sarcasm and your tremendous loyalties. I love your enduring friendship with Chewy and the way you still look at Leia. And that vest. Oh my, I love that vest. 

Luke Skywalker. All graybeard and wrinkles and tortured soul, you are still my dreamboat. 

The story.

Star Wars

is a classic allegory of good vs. evil, light vs. dark. Nothing is really new here. The story has been around since humans began grunting tales around the campfire, but now there’s spaceships and interplanetary travel instead of knights in armor and kings on quests. We cling to them because evil surrounds us, but we need hope. We search for good. Who will save us from destruction? Is it a savior or do we dig deep within ourselves to find the answer?

These stories have been told over and over again, just with different settings and characters. J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, Suzanne Collins, and many other authors have penned narratives set in extraordinary locations. The main protagonist is given a struggle, a task, a duty that will ultimately save the world from evil. Surrounded by loyal friends, this character fights the ultimate fight.

These fables give us the prospect of hope, that the power and light is within us all. There may be darkness, but promise always lies just beneath the surface, whether it is in the form of teenage wizards standing up to the dark lord or resistance fighters blasting away at stormtroopers. 

And who doesn’t need a little hope in the form of Han Solo taking control of his old Millennium Falcon? I know I do. Another sigh...

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside of us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

Sirius Black,

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

(Full disclosure: I took this picture from an old DVD I found. I realize it’s

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Part III,

instead of

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Part VII, 

so stand down, Star Wars nerds. I just didn’t want to break any copyright laws.)

My Writing Life: “Squirrel!"

CeCe’s Musings


My definition of work has changed since I retired. I no longer rise at 5:15 AM to shower, throw on makeup and clothes, eat breakfast, and get on the road by 6:45 AM. I no longer am in front of a classroom by 7:45 AM with my hand over my heart mumbling the Pledge of Allegiance. I no longer have to devise lesson plans or grade essays or deal with unruly adolescents.

Now the day usually begins before dawn. I pull on the old robe, slide downstairs to my desk, and get out my journal. I began writing these morning pages this summer after completing part of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I never finished her course (it just wasn’t for me), but I kept up with the daily writing. It’s more of a morning writing mediation than a journal, and I have only missed a few days in the past seven months. It wakes me up and gently slides me into my day.

Even though I write every morning, I am still struggling with creating a workable writing routine. Just like those dogs in Up, I am distracted by every squirrel. I need another cup of coffee. Look at that funny video on Facebook. Those cats need to be fed. Maybe I should check the weather. I need to text one of my sons. I’d better take a walk. Isn’t there laundry I can put in the washer? I wonder who has posted lately on Instagram? Should I clean the bathroom? Oh, look, I’m on Facebook again. Squirrel!

The only way I can be a writer is to write. I must write every day with some intention. I’ve committed to compose a blog post three days a week, and I have sort of stuck to that. Those damn holidays got in the way, but now that the colored lights are packed up for another year, I have no more excuses.

So here and now for the blogging world to see, I am setting writing goals that will then morph into my writing life.

1. Continue with morning pages.

2. Publish three blog posts a week.

3. Commit to writing a minimum of 500 words a day. Weekends are optional, but if the muse hits, grab it.

4. Work on my book three days a week. Carve at least an hour each of those days to write, research, revise, or edit pages.

5. Read and comment on other blogs. See what others are doing out there. Learn from them.

6. Embrace this new writing life. Don’t make excuses. Don’t feel guilty. Learn to love the process, not just the end results.

7. Find joy in every word. Write with love. Believe in my own power.



“Life isn’t about finding yourself.
Life is about creating yourself.”
George Bernard Shaw


Simplify, Simplify

Functional Chaos


The Santas have been gently placed in their appointed bins. The lights have been carefully rolled up. The ornaments and angels are now in boxes patiently waiting for next year. Christmas has been put away and the house is now simple and austere, ready for the new year. 

Some people spring clean; we new year cleaned. A natural disaster forced our hand in this endeavor, but it was long overdue. Our garage is now full of items that will either be tossed, sold, or donated. 

Getting rid of crap is similar to baptism. It is a cleansing of the soul. I glanced at boxes of junk I had moved from house to house that had never even seen the upstairs. Toss! Old dishes we never use? Sell! Bins of old children’s books? Donate! With every quick decision I felt lighter, almost as though I had washed away baggage from the past. 

De-cluttering is an ongoing process. Since I retired, I have given away most of my work clothes, and my closet is beginning to look bare. I like it. Just last week I placed four bags, including at least a dozen pairs of shoes, in the local charity bins, and I never looked back.

That’s the thing about simplifying. You rarely have regrets. Once it’s gone, you don’t miss it. 

Why was I hanging onto those old pair of boots? I hadn’t worn them in over three years. Gone. No one wants old, musty stuffed animals full of dust. Gone. What was I going to do with these paperback books? Recycle and gone. 

After everything was boxed up or placed in a pile, I washed and vacuumed the floors, dusted the furniture, and rearranged a few items. The only thing remaining from the holidays is strand of twinkle lights on the mantel. I love to keep these through the winter to light up the nights and remind me that even in the darkest of times, life is full of sweetness and joy.




“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.
It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.
Our life is frittered away by detail...simplify, simplify.”
Henry David Thoreau






More & Less

CeCe’s Musings: A Brand New Year


January 1: a new year, a new beginning, a new road. Many people believe in New Year’s superstitions that either bring good luck or summon doom if they are ignored. I tend to believe you make your own victories. Life is full of serendipity. You have to be the one to recognize it.

So, instead of dwelling on a lucky break, I am going to embrace my own karma. This year will be the road less traveled, and to paraphrase Robert Frost, that will be make all the difference.

What is out there? Adventure, creativity, solace, some pain, much joy, stories, music, a few tears, lots of smiles, and love, love, love.

I am going to begin this journey with my More & Less List

No resolutions, just more of this and less of that.


This year I want to

write more and feel less guilty when I don’t.

walk more and sit less.

be more generous and less selfish.

bake and cook more fabulous food and eat less junk.

drink more great wine and consume less swill.

laugh more and worry less.

create more and hurt less.

love more and judge less.

read more great literature and spend less time on social media.

meditate and practice yoga more and be less stagnate.

travel more and be less afraid.

be more present in the moment and remember to never be less than I am.


“Say everything you’ve always wanted
Be not afraid of who you really are
‘Cause in the end we have each other
And that’s at least one thing worth living for”

“This is the New Year” by A Great Big World







That “B” Known as Mother Nature

I’m pulling a J.K. Rowling today; I decided to move my writing desk to a local coffee house and confront my demons with words. (Well, my coffee house is more of a national bread chain, but whatever.) My Lord Voldemort is not a power hungry wizard, but instead, that destructive creature known as Mother Nature. She pulled a fast one on us yesterday, and we’re still dealing with the aftereffects. Our heater and water heater are off while the drying off process continues, so instead of hiding upstairs with our overworked space heater, I’m spending a few hours here with the warm brew and the chattering pods of senior citizens.

That Mother Nature….what a psychopath. There are times she is gracious, like when the pink spring flowers peak through the soil. I adore her on those sunny days. I give thanks to all she offers. I sing her songs and praise her dazzling work. But oh….when storms fly, snow piles up, and water rises, I cuss that bitch. How dare she wreak such havoc on us. Doesn’t she realize the destruction she causes? What’s her freaking problem?

We humans think we have power over Mother Nature. We build dams. We construct earthquake proof buildings. We buy sump pumps and generators and snow blowers. We know where to go in a tornado. We are warned about flooded roads. How silly we are. If Mother Nature wants to cause chaos and calamity with one swoop of her all-powerful hand, it will happen. We just have to duck, clean up the debris, and hope our homeowners insurance is up to date.

And me? Yesterday, lulled by the sound of pumping water, I camped out in front on the fire with my old knitting needles and a twisted ball of yarn, reviewing my knit one, pearl two. Today, we dry off. Tomorrow, we begin to clean. Mother Nature teaches us patience while she slaps us upside our heads. She may be a malevolent bitch, but she can be also be a compassionate fairy princess. I can relate.


“People need to be cautious because anything built by man can be destroyed by Mother Nature.” - Russel Honere


Own The Blues

This morning I woke up with a case of the melancholies. It was one of those days I could have easily crawled right back into bed clutching Netflix, Gilmore Girls and a little One Tree Hill, but, thankfully, I decided wallowing was not on my to-do list.

So I grabbed my gloves and hat and headed out for a brisk walk to clear my head. I needed some time to sort out why I was feeling low. Was it the mournful Christmas songs muddling my head? Or the piles of presents that still need to be wrapped? Perhaps it’s the unseasonably warm days we’ve been having or those damn perky Facebook updates I can’t seem to ignore.

Often, though, there isn’t a clear reason for sadness. Some days I just wake up to dark clouds and rainy moods. If I acknowledge the blahs for what they are, they often don’t stick around for long. This is what happened today.

I decided to own my blues and put them to good use. I made a charitable donation to a worthy cause, ate lunch with my sister at a place we never frequent, and then cuddled with my cats on the couch. Each of these helped lift the funk just a bit.

John Lee Hooker once said that all blues tell a story and each line has a meaning. I’m not sure what my story is, but I’ll try to embrace it as it unfolds, melancholy and all.





Parenting the Adult Child: What I Don’t Know

CeCe’s Musings


“All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” - Havelock Ellis

What is the trick to parenting adult children? This road is new to me, and I’m still having trouble with the GPS. When do I reach out? When do I step back? How hard do I hold on? When should I let go? What is my role now? What’s the right thing to do?

I often feel as though I am stuck in some type of limbo with no clear directions. I’ll call and get one word or two responses, “Yes. No. Uh huh. Yup. See ya. Love you, too” It’s never seems to be enough. I send a quick text, “What’s new?” “Nothing.” Sigh.

Our jobs as parents are never done, but the description changes when these children reach adulthood. We are no longer needed on a daily basis. They now have their jobs and friends and loves. There may be a breathless and panicked phone call requiring a bail out or sage advice, but the contact hours have been cut back dramatically. Our homes are quiet. Our lives are simpler. Our hearts often ache with the memories of read-aloud books and bedtimes stories and bath time.

There are thousands upon thousands of books written on parenting babies, toddlers, tweens, and adolescents, but the shelf on parenting adults appears to be empty. There are no John Rosemonds or Dr. Spocks in this category. We are left out on our own with no wise mentor to lead us in the right direction.

So what’s a momma to do? Trust she has raised independent people who are now creating their own adventures in the world. Know she is in their hearts. Love them without smothering. Practice holding on while letting go.

It’s all I’ve got, and it will have to do for now.




“Perhaps it takes courage to raise children.” John Steinbeck, East of Eden









My Cookie Struggle

Pie and Other Earthly Delights


I seem to have a gentle grasp on the art of pie baking, but cookies have always been a struggle. They either are too gooey or the edges are brown. I’ve even tossed entire burned batches into the trash. I envy those who can crank out dozens of delicious treats that look and taste fabulous. For me, though, this is not the case. I can follow the Tollhouse recipe on the back of chocolate chips and the peanut butter cookie one on the label of Jif, but that’s about the extent of my repertoire. But that doesn’t seem to stop me from trying.

When I was little, the only Christmas cookies we made at our house were sugar cookies. We rolled out the dough, used our ancient metal cookie cutters, and then iced them when they were cool. It was such a treat. I inherited those vintage cookie cutters, but through my many moves they were lost in the shuffle. A few years ago as I was browsing an antique mall, I found some that looked exactly like ours, so I snapped them up!


I attempted to revive the cookie tradition when the boys were little, but their attention spans were the size of gnats. They spent maybe five minutes throwing sprinkles at each other while I ended up icing and eating the majority of the cookies alone in the kitchen. Ho, ho, ho.

Now I am retired and have all this creative energy flowing through my bones I thought, “Hey, you need to bake cookies so you can send them to the kids! Won’t that be fun and festive?” My inner voice is always cheerier than my outside demeanor. 

I ended up finding a butter cookie recipe on the King Arthur Flour website, gathered all the ingredients, and set out on my holiday adventure. This recipe is unique as it uses confectioners’ sugar instead of granulated sugar in the dough. I was skeptical at first, but after a test taste I was charmed with sweetness.


I baked the cookies in two batches over two days. The first one I topped with peppermint sugar and the second with icing. As usual, the cookies came out uneven, lopsided, and brown. Curses! But looks can be deceiving. These cookies are light and delightful, and you can cover up a plethora of flaws with red and green glaze.



I guess the lesson here is we are all a little sweet on the inside, even if our gruff exteriors tell a different story. 

Happy Holidays. 
Merry Christmas. 
Happy Hannukah. 
Merry Solstice. 
Festivus for the Rest of Us.

Oh, and here’s the recipe. I’m sure your cookies will look better than mine and I’m okay with that.

Holiday Butter Cookies
kingarthurflour.com

ingredients:
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup + 2 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature (if you are using unsalted butter, use 1 teaspoon salt)
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 3/4 cups flour

icing/glaze:
2 1/4 confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons milk (I ended putting in more)
food coloring, optional
coarse or colored sugar for decorating, optional

Instructions:
1. To make the cookies: Combine the sugar, butter, egg yolk, salt, and vanilla, beating until smooth. Add the flour, mixing until smooth. The mixture will seem dry at first, but will suddenly come together. If it doesn’t, dribble in a tablespoon of water. (I didn’t have to do this.)
2. Divide the dough in half, shape each half into a flattened disk, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight. When you’re ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator, and let it soften for about 20 to 30 minutes, until it feel soft enough to roll. It should still feel cold, but shouldn't feel rock-hard.
3. Sprinkle rolling surface and rolling pin with flour. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll it 1/8” to 3/16” thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut shapes. Re-roll and cut the dough scraps. Place cookies on ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheets. They can be close together; they’ll barely spread.
4. Bake cookies in preheated 350 oven for 12 to 14 minutes, until they’re set and barely browned around the edges.
5. Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool right on the pan. If you’ve used parchment, you can lift cookies and parchment off the pan, so you can continue to use the pan as the the cookies cool.
6. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough, rolling, cutting, and baking cookies. When cookies are completely cool, icing and decorate.
7. Icing: Combine the sugar, milk, and corn syrup to make a soft, spreadable icing, adding more milk if necessary. Tint the icing with food color as desired.
8. Spread icing on the cookies, using a knife to spread it all the way to the edges. Sprinkle with colored sugar, as desired. Allow the icing to harden before story.
9. Yield: about 5 dozen 2” cookies (My first batch make 4 dozen, but I used bigger cookie cutters.)

Tips:
*To flavor cookies in alternate ways, you may substitute the vanilla for 1 teaspoon almond extract. For extra strong flavors such as eggnog, butter rum, etc. start with 1/8 teaspoon, and flavor to taste.
*To top cookies with colored sugar before baking (no icing necessary) reserve the egg white from the yolk used in the dough. Mix the white with 1 tablespoon water. Lightly paint the cookies with the mixture, sprinkle with colored sugar, and bake. (I did this with my first batch. Delish!)





“There is no friend like a sister"

Friends, Family, and Functional Chaos

“Sisters function as safety nets in a chaotic world simply by being there for each other.”

- Carol Saline

I grew up the oldest of four - a traditional and relatively “normal” family of two girls and two boys. My sister and I shared a small pink room in a green pointy house on a tree-lined street. Since there was a four year difference in our ages and an even wider distance in our interests, we didn’t have much to say to each other. We coexisted in parallel universes. I read books while she giggled with her friends. I ran lights for theater productions while she donned her cheerleading uniform. I listened to James Taylor in the dark while she attended raucous parties.

There was a subtle shift in our relationship as we got older. The divide didn’t seem so wide. We drifted toward one another for companionship. First there were trips to bars where we bonded over sweet drinks and cocky boys with AmEx cards. We discovered our passions weren’t that different. We laughed and cried and forged an alliance. Then came jobs and weddings and babies, and for me, a divorce and new marriage. When our father became ill and we wallowed through the chaos and heartache that permeated those years, our sisterhood was a pillow to land on. Life was just a little softer because we had each other.

Thank god, because without her I would be a raving lunatic wandering the streets in a musty old robe muttering fractured lines from Shakespeare. She saves me every day from falling into the abyss. We are our own gang full of inside jokes and venting phone calls and impromptu lunches and silly gossip. And there’s always laughter. Even in the darkest of times, we have giggled our way out of complete and utter mental breakdowns.

Our families are tenuous threads that can either forge or break at the slightest resistance. They can be a safe place to land or a crack in the sidewalk. Often they are a little of both, tugging at our fragile psyches. I am lucky to have a sister who turns that thread into an unbreakable rope.

That is our bond. That is our sisterhood. So, hang on, Ann, we aren’t finished with this climb. It’s all uphill from now on, but I have your hand and you have mine.

For there is no friend like a sister

In calm or stormy weather;

To cheer one on the tedious way,

To fetch one if one goes astray

To lift one if one totters down,

To strengthen whilst one stands.

Christina Rossetti

Light vs. Dark

CeCe’s Musings


Lately I have been struggling between the light and the dark, the glass half full and the glass half empty, the bright optimism of Piglet and the gray melancholy of Eeyore. I am grateful for each day, our home, my husband, food on the table, music in the background, and the wine poured. But...but...but... My world is full of buts. There’s hateful words, guns, isolationism, more guns, massive stupidity, more and more guns, intolerance, xenophobia, homophobia, all types of phobias, and even more guns.

I seem to be stuck in the quicksand. Every time I see beauty I also remember destruction. How can I get beyond this dense and claustrophobic fog?

I have no pat answers, no quotes, no cute memes. I only have my life: my one astounding, hard, brilliant, dark, creative, simple life.

I’ve never been the most religious person. I have doubts and questions that no mainline church or organized religion has been able to answer. What I do have is my own god. This god speaks to me in moments of sorrow and sings in times of joy. This god is in my quiet walks through the woods, the smell of baking pies, the laughter of grandchildren, the “I love you, Mom” at the end of a phone call, the perfect lines in great literature, the tears that flow uncontrollable, the first snow, the spring rains, when my favorite song comes on the radio, my wicked and wonderful friends, the twinkle of Christmas lights, the hope that swells in my heart even in the darkest of times.

Hope is the crux of it all. If there isn’t hope, there isn’t goodness. So on this rainy, gloomy, unseasonably warm December day, I am hanging onto hope because the alternative is unfathomable.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers-
That perches in the soul-
And sings the tune without the words-
And never stops-at-all-
Emily Dickinson







Fruitcake and Capote

Pie and Other Earthly Delights


“It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of the year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blue in her heart, announces: ‘It’s fruitcake weather! Fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat.’” - “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote

“A Christmas Memory” is one of my favorite short stories. This beautiful little tale reminisces of long ago Christmases when the narrator Buddy and his friend, an older cousin, make fruitcakes. With almost thirteen dollars they saved over the year, they buy ingredients and bootleg whiskey in order to bake thirty one cakes they either send or deliver to, “Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the large share are intended for persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who’ve struck our fancy."

His “friend” is a childlike woman who's “small and sprightly, like a bantam hen.” After the cakes are dispatched, the rest of the story tells of their search for the perfect Christmas tree and the gifts they exchange. Since they cannot afford to buy bicycles or radios or chocolate-covered cherries, they make and exchange homemade kites.

On Christmas morning the two go out to fly their new kites. Buddy’s friend revels in the perfect moment. She says she often thought that in order to see God one would have to be on death’s door, but she sees Him in this wonderful kite flying Christmas morning. She says, “I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already show Himself. That things as they are” - her hand circles in a gesture that gather clouds and kites and grass and Queen pawing earth over her bond - “just what they’ve always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.” 

I needed this little story. The world is off its rocker. Madmen seem to be steering the bus. I am heartbroken over all the hate and scorn that is spreading quicker than a fatal case of the plague. What could I do to bring back joy? I then remembered, “It’s fruitcake weather!” I had never attempted these concoctions before so I perused different recipes. King Arthur Flour had one that looked simple, so I set off on my pilgrimage.

A trip to the bootlegger was off the list since we had a bottle of brandy in the cupboard. Walnuts instead of pecans, no candied fruit, and bags of dried cherries, pineapple, and apricots. I soon discovered thirteen dollars does not buy enough ingredients to bake even one fruitcake these days. Have you priced dried fruit and nuts lately?


The fruit soaked in the brandy for a day. How could this go wrong? Assembling them was not difficult; all of the ingredients went into the stand mixer and the nuts and fruit were later folded into the batter. I bought little paper tins at Target. My idea was to gift a few of them if they turned out.


As they baked, I reread “A Christmas Memory" and another short novel of Capote’s The Grass Harp. Both are similar in nature and loosely based on Capote’s youth when he was cared for by his mother’s family in Monroeville, Alabama. Both are sweet and precious in their simple stories and exquisite language. My heart was healing though literature and baked goods.



I realize all the ills of this crazy world cannot be solved through flour, brown sugar, and a fabled author’s imagery, but it’s a start.

Now I’m off to walk and if I’m lucky, I’ll hear the voices in the grass harp, “...it knows the stories of all the people on the hill, of all the people who ever lived, and when we are dead it will tell ours, too.” If I listen closely, the voices will whisper hope for goodness still left in this world.

Oh, and the fruitcake was lovely. I’m saving a piece for lunch.




Fruitcake recipe:
www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2015/11/13/favorite-fruitcake


Sharing and Letting Go: A Primer From Someone Who Knows

Friends, Family, and Functional Chaos


I was taught to share at a young age, but it wasn't always easy or even natural. We humans are a selfish lot. We demand for ourselves. Mine! Mine! We want all of mommy’s time and energy. We want OUR toys. We want the first cookie. The act of sharing evolves as we get older. The toys in the baby pool are fair game. The play kitchen at kindergarten is not just for us. Our siblings, cousins, and friends will use and often break our stuff. We all are forced to share. As adults, we share the road, our food, our love. The thing is, though, some of us are better at it than others, especially when it comes to our children. We hold tight, but as they grow older, we grudgingly let them have new attachments with friends, teachers, coaches, boyfriends, girlfriends, and eventually, husbands and wives. 

When our children marry, we are required to share them with in-laws, their “other” families. We share holidays and vacations and family dinners. Sometimes we just want to stomp our feet and demand they come to our house. Mine! You have to come to our house! You can’t break our family tradition of dressing up in matching PJ’s on Christmas morning! How dare you choose them over us! And just like when we were in grade school, the teacher comes along and makes us share our toys. It is an act of letting go. Letting go of certain traditions. Letting go of expectations. Letting go of this perfect picture in our heads.

Sharing is something I was forced to learn immediately as a single mom. The boys had a dad, a dad who wanted to be in their lives, a dad who demanded time. We divvied up weekends, summers, and holidays. At first it was as if my heart was being physically wrenched from my body. How could I share my babies? But I slowly learned to accept and even embrace the time they spent with their father. They needed him, and I soon discovered to enjoy my alone time. I still ached for them on Christmas morning. I cried when they got older and chose to be up there instead of here. I never said it was easy, but I have grown to acknowledge the reality of it all. My boys have both a mom and a dad who love them.

I know what it is like to sit down at Thanksgiving and have my boys missing from the table. I spent many Christmas mornings alone while they opened presents up at their dad’s. You ask any divorced parent and they will tell you similar stories. It’s never fun, but it’s necessary for the happiness of your children. So this is my advice for all parents of newly married children. You must share your time. Everyone wants a piece; yours is just part of the puzzle. The more demanding you are, the more stressed and bruised your children will feel. Christmas doesn’t have to be on the 25th. Maybe the 27th works out better. If one of your children is missing, don’t brood. Love the time you have with the rest of your tribe. Maybe it’s time to let go of the usual traditions and make new ones. Have fun.

My husband and I have four children between us, and it is a rare occurrence when they are all together. They have scattered, found new allegiances, and stepped away from the family nest. This past Thanksgiving just one of them, with husband in tow, sat at our Thanksgiving table. It was joyous and lovely to spend time with this young couple. We didn’t dwell on the fact that three, plus husbands, wives, and grandchildren were sitting at other Thanksgiving tables with their other families. These children of ours are gifts. We learn to celebrate the precious time we have with them instead of focusing on what may be missing. Is it easy? No. Did this zen-like calm happen overnight? Um….a big, giant, massive no. I had a few holidays when I dissolved into a hot mess of borderline psychotic crazy. I’m not perfect, and to be honest, this whole letting go thing is still a tremendous work in progress, but I’m trying.

Take it from someone who has been there for the past twenty years. Your children will appreciate a little slack on the familia rope. And those matching Christmas PJ’s? Well…..that might require a family vote.

“Oh oh letting go
There’s nothing in the way now,
Oh letting go, there’s room enough to fly
And even though, she’s spent her whole life waiting,
It’s never easy letting go.”

Artist: Suzy Bogguss

Songwriters: Mathew Charles Rollings and Doug Crider


Turkey and Twinkle Lights

Pie and Other Earthly Delights

Before I begin, I would like to set the record straight: I love Thanksgiving. This is a holiday that involves food. That’s it. No gift-giving obligations or loads of decorations or annoying songs. Just food...and of course, you throw in a little football, liquor, and family dysfunction and you’ve got yourself a holiday. Voila’.

My husband and I share responsibilities when we host, from the set-up to stuffing the turkey to the clean up. This year we had thirteen people at our dinner table, five from his side of the family and six from mine. It was a quirky mix.

The day before we picked up our Amish bred turkey; this year was our biggest - twenty two pounds of white and dark meat, free from chemicals, phones, electricity, and the internet. We supplied the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes (my husband’s speciality), gravy, green bean casserole, and naturally, pumpkin pie. The rest was assigned. Our bounty was bursting with rolls, wine, corn casserole, more wine, cranberry sauce, and a little more wine.

Laughter and conversation filled the day. Wine glasses were refilled. Dessert was dolled out. Stories were told. A few left. A few stayed. All in all, a success. After the last quests departed, I quietly snuck up to bed, relinquishing the rest of the cleanup to my husband. Sorry, sweetie, but my pillow was luring me with a seductive siren song.

The next day I was utterly and debilitatingly exhausted. I think hosting Thanksgiving so close on the heels of the SF wedding whipped my sorry butt. I ended up plopping myself on the couch to watch sickly sweet Christmas movies, a new holiday tradition of mine, by the way. No Black Friday for me. (I once was physically accosted at an outlet mall in Atlanta over an ugly sweater. That day does not entice me.) Instead I cuddled on the couch with a fire, the kitties, and hours upon hours of thin plot lines which usually included some combination of miscommunication, magic, angels, a benevolent Santa, snarky elves, a sick child, true love between two gorgeous people, and spreading the Christmas spirit everywhere. The people who claim there is a war on Christmas just need to spend a few hours with the Hallmark Channel; they would see it is alive and kicking with miles and miles of twinkle lights and fake snow.

Yesterday we drove out to the nearest Christmas tree farm and immediately found the perfect one. It’s a Frazier fir that is now loaded down white lights and my unique, rustic ornaments. There is an artificial tree in the living room/my writing office and the real one is in the family room. Both cats have found their spots, and all is right with the world.

So, back to the beginning. I do love Thanksgiving, but next year I am passing the torch. I want to travel somewhere, have someone else cook, maybe see one of the boys, or perhaps....a beach. Yes, give me a beach, a turkey sandwich, and a cold beverage. That sounds so very lovely. Happy Holidays.

I am including my stuffing recipe which is really my sister’s mother-in-law’s recipe. It is simple and always delicious.

Sally’s Scrumptious Stuffing

Ingredients:

2 sticks butter

turkey liver chopped

2 onions chopped

4 stalks celery chopped

2 cups sliced mushrooms

2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

4 tsp poultry seasoning

2 eggs beaten

2 packets of seasoned stuffing (Pepperidge Farm Sage & Onion is the best.)

Directions:

Melt butter in pan. Add liver, onion, celery, mushrooms, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning. let cook awhile. Then add beaten egg. Pour over bread crumbs. If it is dry, add chicken stock. You can either stuff your bird (Make sure both meat and stuffing reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.) or put in a greased pan and bake at 350 degrees for half an hour.

This recipe is doubled. If you don’t want this quantity, just cut everything in half.

Songs in the Key of My Memories

CeCes Musings


Dick Clark once said, “Music is the soundtrack of your life.” I can hear a song and immediately be transported back to a place in time. I see the people. I feel the air. I smell the room. I am Marty McFly zipping through space in my silver DeLorean. Every song or album or group has a story. I have been asked by a dear friend to share seven of those stories, so here is my journey down a musical memory highway.

When I was a little girl we had this giant monstrosity of a stereo console that commanded our living room. We would carefully place our parents’ albums on the turntable and sing and dance and imagine ourselves in other worlds. One of my favorites was Peter and the Wolf, Sergei Prokofiev’s interpretation of the classic story with both music and text. I would lie on our blue shag carpeting and place myself deep in the Russian woods hiding from the wolf (French horns), standing loyally by Peter (string instruments), and trying to warn the duck (oboe) of the dangers lurking around that tree. 

Later I was given a green plastic record player I kept up in my room. I collected 45’s which I stacked in my round carry case, and one of the first records I purchased with my own money was “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies. I can still see myself shaking Betty’s tamborine and pounding on Veronica’s keyboard in my room, complete with pink walls, pink shag carpeting, pink curtains, and pink bedspreads.


As I got older, my tastes evolved. I began to buy albums: John Denver, Kansas, James Taylor, Boston, and yes, even Barry Manilow. (I’m still a Fanalow. I admit it. I said my tastes evolved; they didnt get cooler.) Some of my best memories, though, are of listening to albums at friends’ houses. Peg introduced me to Todd Rundgren and Stevie Wonder, and whenever I hear “Hello, It’s Me” or “Sir Duke,” I am back in her groovy bedroom wildly dancing on her twin beds. Eric bestowed Dan Fogelberg, Julie offered Barbra Streisand’s “Superman”, and Sheila contributed “Liza with an ‘Z’”. It was an eclectic mix. Geeky with a touch of class.


As I entered college, disco was in full swing and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack was the music of my generation. The Bee Gees were gods, fully clad in gold chains and tight pants.



I had a few odd favorites in those days that didn’t have anything to do with dancing under black light on multi-colored colored floor tiles. There was (and still is) a local hangout in town that had a juke box I would plug quarters in every time I was there. When they finally took “Please Come to Boston” by Dave Loggins off the machine, I cried like someone had taken away my favorite toy. When that song comes on the radio now, I am instantly transported back to those crazy, dark, smoke-filled years of the late 70’s.


There was another short-lived establishment I often frequented back then that served dangerous lime green drinks in mason jars. If you had more than one you forgot your name and where you lived. After one of these boozy concoctions, I was regularly found in the back of the bar yelling, “Play ‘Amie’” to the band. I’m sure the leader of the band, whose name was Pork, by the way, was used to girls yelling out Pure Prairie League song requests.

When I had children I had no patience for kids’ music except lullaby covers by James Taylor and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Our home and mini van were filled with the sounds of rock and country. No Raffi or Disney songs for these babies, and now, they still have rather broad and interesting tastes in music. You are welcome, boys.

Eventually albums gave way to 8 tracks which were replaced by CD’s. Digital is now king. I have close to 1500 songs on my  iTunes that range from The Beatles to Waylon Jennings to a few selections from Fall Out Boy and Maroon 5, each with its own kooky story. Still eclectic. Still geeky. Still mine. This music will continue to be the soundtrack of my life with George Jones and Carole King and Elvis singing me home.


“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” 
- Berthold Auerbach

A Very Bad Poem Full of the Sincerest of Gratitude

Friends, Family, and Functional Chaos


It was the morning before Thanksgiving and all through the house 
not a creature was stirring except two loud kitties wanting to get out.
I am up before dawn to the full moon above
to write about food and thanks and love.
A poet I’m not but I’m willing to try
in order to jumpstart my gratitude before the light hits the sky.
This day will be busy with prep for the meal.
I’m so grateful I have this moment of quiet to dwell on all I feel.
And even though this world is full of strife and unrest
when we give thanks for all we have our hearts don’t fret.
So, a list of things I am so thankful for
will include all I love and so much more.
It is now time to stop rhyming for I have no talent
for rhythm and meter and and lines that seem rather bent.
I  now apologize to all my students over the years
For forcing them to write sonnets that hurt the ears.

Here is a list of a few joys in my life
that fill my heart with such love and all that is right.

hot coffee with real cream
my favorite songs 
a surprise phone call or text from one of our kids
 grandchildren
trying a new recipe
writing to the glow of Christmas tree lights
a full moon
this lovely retired life
our weird cats
a walk in the woods
an hour of yoga
wine
getting a table at our favorite breakfast joint
dinner with fabulous friends
a good book
holding hands
our beach vacations
my birthday 
all birthdays
breathing
seeing my byline for the first time
the first snow
candlelight
all our children
a big hug
that man sleeping upstairs
a great steak
clean sheets
a perfect, glorious word
special friends both near and far
my stupendous, kooky, quirky extended family
laughter...always laughter
and, of course, 
pie. 

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.” -A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh









Little Lessons

Pie and Other Earthly Delights


I have many things in my life that make me happy. Pie, of course, is near the top of the list. I love the entire process of pie from rolling out the dough to the splendid smell that fills the house. I bake old, familiar recipes but also experiment with the new. Some of these attempts have been successful; others have been epic fails.

Last Friday I tackled six mini pies. So cute. So dainty. I found these paper cups at Target that are bigger and shallower than standard cupcake papers, so I thought, “These would be perfect for mini pies!” I could make batches to give as gifts! What fun! So many exclamation points!


After making enough dough for a double pie crust, I switched into assembly mode with these little cuties.


I ended up making two cherry, two double crust apple, and two apple crumble. This is what they looked like before they went into the oven. Precious, huh?


And...this is what they looked like after fifty minutes of baking time.


Yup, it was a sticky mess. The double crusts and the cherry lattice stayed together, but the other three flowed all over the baking sheet. After they cooled, they were a little easier to handle. Three went to my nephew and his two college roommates and one went to my in-laws. The other two are still waiting for us to try. Hmmmm....

What did I learn here? First, paper cups are not strong enough to hold pie. I should use at least two or three layers for each pie to create a more solid pan. Second, the double crusts are better for mini pies. They look cuter and hold together better. Third, mini pies are labor intensive. Each little crust took a lot of manipulating. I guess it takes practice.

This post, like these pies, is short, sweet, and a bit sticky. All my endeavors won’t turn out perfect. Some even end up in the garbage, but it is the process, the journey, the lessons along the way I love. My writing and my baking are similar. Some of the steps are familiar; some are unrecognizable. I may achieve success. I may stumble. I may throw things away, but in the end these make me.....well, me. I am a gooey, glorious, delicious gob of flour and words.

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” 
-Ralph Waldo Emerson






CeCe’s Musings on this Scary World of Ours

CeCe’s Musings

The world is a scary and cruel place. It always has been. Human beings have spread unspeakable carnage since the reigns of Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Vlad the Impaler, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and Idi Amin. The main goals of most despots have been ultimate power, terror, and fear. These continue to be dictated and spread by terrorist factions throughout the world, but why does it appear to be even scarier these days? It may be our instant access to news, blogs, comments, and viral memes. We see and read and hear the violence and the hatred in each Twitter post, Facebook comment, and viral YouTube video. Perhaps it is the fear-mongering of certain politicians and special interest groups. Or is it our inability to just think for ourselves? 

Whatever the reason, we need to step back, take a breath, think before we speak (or post or comment), and embrace empathy. Let’s take a good, long look at the world around us. Most people want the same things: a safe home, a good meal, security, education, and the love of family and friends. These are simple wishes, but, unfortunately, in many parts of the world (and yes, here in the U.S.), there is uncertainty. Imagine never knowing if your local grocery story is safe from bombs or if your children will make it home from school. How would you feel if you fell asleep to sound of artillery fire? What if all you wanted was a quiet neighborhood with good schools for your children?

Most of us who live in safe, suburban enclaves take these for granted. We understand Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, even if we never took psychology. We know we must have food and water before safety, love and belonging before self-esteem. Our world is tidy, but don’t we wish that for others? Maslow theorized that most of us don’t get close to the top tier of the hierarchy. We will never totally possess a lack of prejudice, an acceptance of the facts, a true moral center, and perfect problem-solving skills, but the thing is, most of us are constantly striving for these attributes. We want peace. We seek serenity. We strive to see the goodness in others. We want a better world for our children.

So, how do we travel this road? First, we must begin to accept differences while acknowledging we are all similar in nature. We are moms and dads. We are neighbors. We are colleagues. Then, we reach out. Do not live in fear. This may seem simplistic, but it is how we navigate through all the mistruths and lies. Do not fear another religion. Do not fear different clothing. Do not fear a language other than ours.

I think one of the best ways to bypass fear is to ask questions. The woman who used to cut my hair was originally from Pakistan, and every time I had an appointment I asked about her country, its traditions, or how she practiced her religion. She never hesitated to talk because she knew I was genuinely interested, and through her stories it all became less scary. She was just a single mom who was trying to provide a better life for her daughters, just as I was with my boys. This was our common thread. Motherhood can knock down the toughest of walls.

I don’t claim to have the answers. I’m just a retired teacher who now attempts to gather her thoughts in this rambling blog of mine. My writing helps me sort through the chaos and calm my frantic mind. The evil is still out there, but the words help. I begin to embrace my empathy and turn it into power. I write. I read. I give money to UNICEF. I donate to local food pantries. I smile at strangers. I try to do good because as Ram Dass said, “ We’re all just walking each other home.”




Other credible and efficient charities according to charitywatch.org that help provide food, medicine, clothing, shelter materials, and other supplies and assistance to people in need:

American Refugee Committee
CARE
Catholic Relief Services
Church World Service
Doctors With Borders USA
International Medical Corps
International Rescue Committee
Lutheran World Relief
Mennonite Central Committee
Mercy Corps
Oxfam-America
Save the Children
United States Fund for UNICEF
World Vision




Santa Claus

Friends, Family, and Functional Chaos 


Now that the wedding is over, it is time to turn my attention to the crazy, wonderful, magical hell that is the holiday season. 


When you think of Santa Claus, what comes first to mind? A jolly elf who spreads good cheer around the world or a sneaky home invader who spies on children? For me, it is a combination of both. I’m torn on this iconic character. Like religion and politics, the topic of Santa can be divisive among people, especially young parents. He is sacred and almost holy. Don’t dare talk ill of him. You are committing the ultimate sin against humanity and childhood. Santa is magic. Santa is innocence. Santa is fairy dust and Disney World and secret wishes all rolled into one big, red-clad, gray bearded old man. 

Parents stand in line at the mall for hours just to plop their screaming child on the lap of a oddly clad stranger. Questions are asked. Pictures are taken. Money is exchanged. A forced memory has been etched.

These days, Santa is more than the bearer of gifts. He has been commandeered to curb unruly behavior in trusting children. “Eat your vegetables or Santa won’t visit on Christmas Eve.” “Clean up your room or Santa won’t bring your new Barbie.” “Stop fighting with your brother or Santa will leave coal in your stocking.” Some children are so threatened with Santa’s inescapable powers they keep believing far beyond when it is realistic in fear of (or is it greed?) waking up to nothing under the tree on Christmas morning.

When my boys were little I didn’t hold Santa over their heads. I told them he brought the presents, but I tried not to use him as leverage for good behavior. Santa didn’t need to nose in on my discipline program. My oldest son told me last night, though, that his dad did when they were up with him. He said if they were fighting or not behaving, their dad would “call” Santa and ask him to speak to the boys.  Chris later found out "Santa" was an old family friend.  Cute, I admit, but, wow. How many times did he have to pretend to be Santa just so the boys would settle down? So, thanks, Barry, for your help in reigning in my children’s errant conduct on their dad’s weekends.

One December back when the boys were five and eight years old, they cornered me. They asked in their most sincere voices if I was Santa. I gulped. Panic ran through me. Could I steal this story from them? What about their childhood? I was ready to say something wonderfully poetic about Christmas magic when they asked me again, and told me not to lie. They recognized my handwriting on the packages, looked at me with their big, sweet, cloying eyes and asked, “Mom, are you Santa?” I sighed and said yes. They didn’t seem surprised. Both of them later told me they knew all along; they just wanted validation. I then made them promise not to tell their friends or cousins. This was our secret. Santa was in our hearts, but I bought the gifts. Chris just recently confessed he quickly spilled to his friends and his cousins. Well, that worked out. I told him he’s not too old to be grounded.

So, am I a big Santa cynic? Do I want to rain on this well-coordinated and highly commercial Christmas parade? No and no. I love Santa. My problem with Santa is that he is misused and misunderstood. Poor Santa. He was never meant to be depicted by that musty and slightly sleazy old man who kicked Ralphie in the face in A Christmas Story, or the enforcer who threatens a little boy with no Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles if he doesn’t eat his peas. 

What, then, is Santa Claus? Santa, just as newsman Francis P. Church wrote to Virginia O’Hanlon back in 1897, “exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence...No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”



All of us need Santa Claus these days. We want to believe, not in greed or hate or evil, but in the hope of better days. Santa is that perfect song with beautiful lyrics. He is the first flower in spring and a warm cup of cocoa. Santa is the laughter of a child. He is holding hands, a shy smile, and a favorite book. He is fresh snow. He is the whisper of a wish. Santa Claus is home. He is the goodness in the hearts of all men and women. That is the Santa I believe in. What about you?



(But don’t get me started on that narc Elf on the Shelf. That little dude is creepy.)






Wine, Chocolate, and a Swiss Bernese Mountain Dog

Pie and Other Earthly Delights

My husband and I love to visit local wineries. It’s our thing. About twice a year we map out a galavant that includes tastings, a bit of sightseeing, and, of course, food. A crisp Friday in late October we headed north and made our way through dozens of small towns. We spent an hour at a crowded orchard where we picked up a few pecks of apples that I later used in my classic apple pies. We ate lunch at a Greek place in Washington. Our winery stops included a visit to White Oak Vineyards in Carlock.

White Oak is owned by Rudi and Mary, a German couple whose dream was to be farmers. They moved to McLean County in 1999, purchased a small farm, and soon planted grape vines. Their interest in wine followed as they cultivated their sturdy vines. The winery and tasting room opened in 2011 where they host tastings and special events. 


We loved every wine we drank there, but our favorite was Schlittenfahrt, a holiday dessert wine best served with dark chocolate. I think Rock just likes saying the name. Schlittenfahrt. Schlittenfahrt. That is the man I married. Anyway, Rudi gave us a dark chocolate Hershey Kiss to eat before tasting this wine. It was warm and lovely and comforting. Oh my. So we bought a bottle and decided to save it for a special occasion.


This Saturday we are having dinner with our dear friends Ann and Dick, and Rock wanted to bring this wine. I decided to make a Dark Chocolate Mint Julep Pie to complement the Schlittenfahrt. (Just say it out loud. It will make you giggle.) Yum and yum.


This pie is a dark chocolate delight filled with cream, milk, eggs, peppermint, bourbon (or in this case Jameson whiskey), and of course, chocolate. I bought four bars of Lindt smooth dark chocolate that I chopped up. When the mixture is all whisked together it creates a thick, creamy, chocolatey concoction. Sigh. I wish I could serve it to everyone, but, alas, it will be saved for the four of us. So here’s to a piece of Dark Chocolate Mint Julep Pie and a glass of Schlittenfahrt after our dinner. Sublime.





One more thing - my most favorite part of this winery visit was meeting Moritz, Rudi and Mary's Swiss Bernese Mountain dog. It was love at first sight. If we lived on acreage, I would get this breed of dog in a minute. Just look at her. Who could resist that face? 






Since I learned to share when I was little, here is a link to the recipe. Enjoy.

http://www.butterandbrioche.com/dark-chocolate-mint-julep-pie/