Friday, April 27, 2007

No Cooking Sherry - Salad Nicoise

This is supper today and I did not prepare it. My dear husband is the chef of the house, and has been for years. I was terrified that when I retired and no longer had the excuse of early and late meetings, coaching and homework that he would take off his chef's apron and say "Here you go, honey." Luckily for me, he retired the same day. While it took a while (maybe two days) to stake out our turf in the house and get used to seeing each other at all hours, we've adjusted quite well.

When we dated in college we cooked elaborate meals for one another, some of which featured stuffed cornish game hens, frozen Bird's Eye peas and pearl onions, and bottles of Mateus Rose. It was romantic and cheaper than eating out in a nice restaurant. When we were first married I did more of the cooking, but my habit of making tuna macaroni salad once a week probably pushed him into the kitchen. Truthfully, he started cooking more because for years he got home earlier than I did, and if he were to wait until I got going he would be really, really hungry. I actually can cook; I just don't enjoy it. Besides, he is a better and more creative cook than I ever was. I'm a lucky woman.

Salmon Nicoise
serves 4 (or two people who eat lots)

1 1/2 lbs. cooked salmon (he likes smoked salmon, and uses less)
1 head romaine or leaf lettuce to line the platter
1 lb. cooked asparagus or green beans
1 lb. new potatoes, cut into chunks
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 jar (6 oz.) artichoke hearts, drained and cut up (save the juice for the dressing)
1 can pitted ripe olives
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
Parmesan cheese to taste
parsley to garnish

Put all the ingredients on a platter and chill. Serve with Nicoise Dressing (below)

3 tablespoons olive oil (add the juice from the artichokes if you want)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon dried basil (fresh is better if you have it)
6 anchovies, rinsed and mashed (optional but good)
1 tablespoon drained capers

Combine everything and drizzle over the platter of salmon and vegetables.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Serenity Now - A Squirrel Rant

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

In my old office at school we used to have a poster of the serenity prayer, and the young woman who taught Spanish could occasionally be heard mumbling "Serenity now, serenity now." Little annoyances happen in everyone's life. You forget your reading glasses at home and you cannot read the menu at dinner. You leave the check book at home and discover it only at the check out with a dozen impatient people fidgeting behind you. The road that you normally take to work, to school, to the grocery store is down to one slow moving lane due to spring road construction. The squirrels behead all the tulips in the flower bed you planted with such joyful anticipation last October.

It started when my husband said, "Did you put tulips on the patio table?" No, I did not put the tulips on the patio table, and I did not cut their heads off and leave them ragged and forlorn on the gravel path. It was the usual culprits, the gray squirrels who live in our woodsy neighborhood, and who are very well fed by nice people with bird feeders.

On days like this I strip off my thin veneer of sweetness and compassion for all living things and consider assassinating the little rodents. No, I wouldn't do that. But I have tried all manner of things to discourage them. I have planted the bulbs under chicken wire. I have scattered moth balls. I have bought fox pee and sprinkled it. I have dusted the planters with red pepper powder. These methods can be expensive because they have to be replenished every time it rains, and the bottom line is they don't work. I have borrowed a live trap and taken the bushy-tailed vandals for rides miles away in a county park. But all is vanity. I think I'm going to surrender and dig up the tulips and replace them with daffodils, since the squirrels don't seem to enjoy them.

Serenity now.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


The photo is from the 1960's, of the farm I grew up on.

I thought this might be a good place to occasionally post short passages from books I’ve read. A few years ago I started writing down passages that for some reason resonated with me. I figured if I spend a number of hours reading a book, I can spend a few minutes writing down some key passages to help me remember it later. Sometimes I comment on what I’ve found, and sometimes not.

I didn’t know that there is a word for this squirreling away of bits from books. It’s called commonplacing. According to Dr. Lucia Knoles of Assumption College, Worcester, MA:

“Commonplacing is the act of selecting important phrases, lines, and/or passages from texts and writing them down; the commonplace book is the notebook in which a reader has collected quotations from works s/he has read. Commonplace books can also include comments and notes from the reader; they are frequently indexed so that the reader can classify important themes and locate quotations related to particular topics or authors.”


Here’s a passage I copied out from Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel. I read the book after a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, Wolfe’s home town. In fact I toured his childhood home, which features in the novel.

page 160, Eugene Gant, talking about home:

“I am, he thought, a part of all that I have touched and that has touched me, which, having for me no existence save that which I gave to it, became other than itself by being mixed with what I then was, and is now still otherwise, having fused with what I now am, which is itself a cumulation of what I have been becoming. Why here? Why there? Why now? Why then?”

Don't we all wonder who and what has shaped us into the person we have become? I think back on my family, friends, teachers, the places I have lived and visited, the experiences I have had, and try to decide what gave me my love of reading, art and music. What made me dislike math, and be so critical of myself and others? What made me enjoy gardening, and what influenced me to travel? Just as often I wonder if I have influenced people for good or bad, and I wonder if I'll ever know for sure.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Something Old, Something New

"Something old,
someting new,
something borrowed,
something blue."

The old saying usually applies to brides, but the past couple weeks it has applied (mostly) to me. The old part was our calico cat, Sophie. I got her from my hairdresser eighteen years ago, after having to put my first cat, Buster to sleep. I thought I'd never find a kitty I loved as well as Buster, but Sophie turned out to be a sweet cat, and her death on Good Friday left us both teary eyed for days. There were all those last things, putting away of bowls and toys, disposing of cat food to the Humane Society, tossing of medicines from her recent illness. But most of all it was the absence of the cat. She wasn't sleeping by the heat register, standing at the foot of the stairs waiting for her morning food, begging in the kitchen when supper was being prepared. It was, and still is, hard to lose the old girl. We're still pretty blue, although we're planning to get another kitty from the Humane Society in a few weeks.

The new part is my experimentation with monotype printing. I've been taking a class once a week from an artist friend, and when she demonstrated printing from an acrylic plate with water based paint, I felt like a little kid. It was fun, fast, and it was agreeably unpredictable. When I got home from class I decided to experiment with creating an image that would portray Sophie. This is it. I tried to make the cat image stand out by going back into the print with colored pencil in the background.
I like the results, and I look forward to experimenting more.

I enjoy my usual methods of creating images, watercolor and colored pencil, but I'm happy to try something new. I miss my old kitty, but I'm looking forward to bringing home a healthy playful young cat. Making art helps me feel less blue. Sometimes you have no choice but to move on.

As for the borrowed part, Mary Ann, I promise to return your board as soon as I get around to finishing that watercolor!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sister Spa Day

Sherry and Patty Sue Pierce, about 1956

These little girls are me and my younger sister, about 1957. We've grown up, taken different paths. She's a grandmother, living on a small farm; I'm a retired teacher, living in town. Sometimes we see each other at holidays (or funerals), and sometimes we don't see each other for months at a time.

But this past week we had a day to remember. Sister spa day.

It started with an appointment at the local beauty academy. I was happy to discover that our town has a beauty school that offers budget priced services including haircuts, manicures, pedicures, and more. The young women at the beauty school are personable and attentive, and well supervised. My sister, who in high school was once a prom queen, had never had a pedicure, so that's what we did here. The two of us had our tootsies soaked and scrubbed and lotioned and painted sportscar red. Who knew that this girl was so ticklish?

Next we were off to the salon. Sis's hair had been the same since the 60's, long and parted down the middle. She has always colored it herself. But lately the effect was making her look older than she actually is. My beautician, a friendly and skillful woman, was ready. We had already talked about doing a mini makeover, and she was excited. Sis's gray roots were colored, and subtle highlights added. Her long straight hair was shortened to shoulder length layers, and wispy bangs appeared in place of the center part. But probably the most memorable moment came when she had her eyebrows waxed. I had suggested we do something about her thick eyebrows and in principle she agreed, but when the moment came she was anxious. I took her bifocals, held her hand, and reminded her she had given birth - twice. It was over in a minute, and the effect was startling. She looked years younger, and much more wide awake.

Our last stop in sister spa day was the beauty counter at a local department store. The woman there showed her how to apply foundation, eye make-up, lip color. We walked out with little bags of cosmetics, some free samples, and an armload of goodwill. Sister spa day was a success.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Library Love Letter

Dear folks who run my library,

Since it is National Library Week, I wanted to take time to write you a letter to show my appreciation. One of the main reasons I love where I live is that I can walk to the library. In fact, I think of the library as an extension of my house, the annex with all the good books and magazines, music, movies, and even coffee. And everything (except the coffee) is free. I love free.

While the walk to the library is good for me, I love the fact that I can keep my book wish list online, check the catalogue, and reserve book from home. Sitting at my Mac, I can order a book from interlibrary loan at midnight, in my PJs! I love being able to check to see if the Joan Jett CD I wanted (gotta have "I Love Rock and Roll") is available. I love not having to drive to another city to get a book my library doesn't own. Just love it.

I love going to the library for programs and local art shows. I love being able to get coffee and snacks. If I had a newer laptop I'd love the free wireless access.

I love meeting up with people I know at the library. I love the helpful staff who never complain about checking in the back room for a CD that the catalog says is returned, but that is missing from the shelf. Thank you for looking for it.

I hope you all feel appreciated, because you are.



Friday, April 20, 2007


This is me. Actually, it is a school picture put through a filter, then painted in watercolor of me. A crazy self portrait with bright colors and a big smile. I have loved to draw and paint since I was a child, but once I started teaching English in the 1970's there wasn't much time to devote to these activities. I would start projects, then abandon them for months because there were lessons to plan, essays to correct, meetings to attend, activities to supervise. When I found time for myself I tended not to devote it to art.

This changed in 1997 when my dear friend Kathy, who was an art teacher, potter and watercolorist died of a brain tumor at age 47. She had been a powerhouse of energy, an athlete, and a person who created bold and beautiful artwork. She invited me many times to come paint with her in her studio, but I always resisted, afraid that my work would be terrible compared to hers. But when she was gone I realized something. I am not going to live forever. If I wait until it is perfectly convenient, I will never create anything. If I never paint, I'll never be any good. She will never joyously paint another bright abstract watercolor, or throw another pot, but I am still here and I can. So I decided to start doing art again, to honor her memory, and for me. Here is a poem she wrote about what she tried to do with her art.

by Katherine M. Belling

To paint with spirit.
To paint with controlled spontaneity.
To feel color.
To feel petal edges, sunlit summer flowers, moving
streams, jagged rocks, snow crystals.
To view nature's subtle stratifications.
To soar above nature's match-works.
To smell damp soil, swamp stream beds, mowed hay,
cold silage, wild roses, dry fall leaves.
To love land.
To reminisce childhood:
May flowers in the woods by the hockey pond,
Purple violets along Van Boxtel Road,
Wild pink roses in weed-filled ditches,
Yellow mustard in green oat fields,
Stringy roots interwined with rich black soil
needed for Dad's farm fields.
To love land.
To encapsulate nature's sensations through edges,
shapes, forms, and color.
To paint with controlled spontaneity.
To paint with spirit.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mad Town Movies

There are all sorts of reasons to love Madison: the University of Wisconsin, wonderful places to eat, independent bookstores, art, the farmers' market, State Street, and the Wisconsin Film Festival. This past weekend my husband and I checked ourselves into a local hotel, donned our walking shoes, and saw seven movies in two days. The annual festival runs four days and shows feature, documentary, and experimental films from independent filmmakers on screens in ten locations. So many movies, so little time!

Unlike the experience of seeing movies at the local multiplex, where chitchat and cellphone conversations are common among the few audience members who have left the comfortable glow of their home TV screens, the audiences here are passionate about movies. Lines for unsold tickets often stretch far down the block, and volunteers remind viewers to move to the center of the rows to help seat everyone. Audience members are friendly, often asking total strangers what they have already seen ("Did you actually get into King Corn? It was sold out...") and what other films they are planning to see. Last year when we saw The Godfather of Green Bay we happened to sit in the center of a group of extras. They'd tap each others shoulders and point when they were on the screen; it was a a riot. Quite often the writers, actors, directors or cinematographers are there to comment on the movies, and to answer questions.

The charm of an enthusiastic audience and the interest of having filmmakers present was illustrated in my favorite movie: It's Happiness: A Polka Documentary. This film, shown in the auditorium of the State Historical Society, was packed. People chuckled, chortled, elbowed each other and hooted out loud. These folks were into polka! At the end the three young filmmakers stood up, as did two of the polka enthusiasts featured in the film. My favorite moment was when one audience member shouted out, "Can you polka?" and the young men danced while the audience sang "Roll out the barrel." You had to be there.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Seeking light

This morning I was struck by opposing images, the screaming headline on the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal, "A lone gunman. 32 victims dead. One question: WHY?" and the splash of light that fell on my keyboard. Horror and quiet beauty.

The killings at Virginia Tech, like those at a high school here in Wisconsin and around the country sadden and frighten me. I remember practicing lockdown drills with my students, all of us kneeling in a corner of the classroom, lights off, door locked, away from the darkened window, listening to police or school adminstrators rattling the doorknob to check if it was secure. Praying that what happened in Columbine or Paducah would never happen here. Now, out of the school setting, I think of those young people lost, and the grief of their friends and families.

I don't know how we protect ourselves from the sorrow and anxiety that come from being secondhand witnesses to terror, except by searching for goodness and beauty in our own lives, and by loving our friends and family. I'm not suggesting that we ignore the harsh reality of today's world, only that we find a balance between that which causes pain and that which brings happiness. For what it's worth, here is a sight that brought a little happiness to me this morning.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Here Comes the Sun

Today I'm launching my blog with a photo of a daffodil from my garden. Each spring I look forward to the time when the bulbs push through the ground and then burst into a fountain of yellow blooms. They're tough. Squirrels don't bother them. Our recent midwestern spring snow storm didn't crush them. And when I look out the window they make me smile.

I chose a bloom for my first entry to represent my idea for this web log. What better to illustrate my title, "Late B(l)oomer? I was born in 1950, in the middle of the Baby Boom. I grew up as oldest child on a Wisconsin dairy farm, went to a state university, married, then taught middle and high school English for thirty-three years until I retired in 2006. I loved teaching, loved my students, loved literature and writing, but there wasn't much time for other things I loved. Art. Recreational reading. Gardening. Travel at non-peak times. Time to take care of myself. Time to connect with my friends and family.

I'm hoping that this newest phase of my life is a wonderful one, that it's not too late for me to bloom.