Saturday, November 22, 2014

Reflections on Fall Writing


             I'm sorry I haven't been more present here. Of course, life always creeps in, and life has indeed been busy. We have a new family member and I am afraid the trials and tribulations of this particular experience belong on the pages of someone else's blog.  Suffice it to say that the challenges are time consuming, and are likely to continue to be.

                 My friends who are new authors are doing well.  One of them has a trilogy out, the first of which hit the best seller list within six weeks. The second book will be out in paperback within two weeks, with the third completed and in the pipeline.   One of my other friends has her book out and established and has noticed her royalties diminishing already.   My royalties have been very modest for quite some time, with a couple of publishers calling me trying to get something......almost anything, they can have packaged and out for Christmas. I am not ready.  I have a number of projects in the pipeline but nothing where I have clear clarity of purpose or a clear vision of the work all the way to completion. At least one of these projects has a factual basis, and so a great deal more research and focus must be done in order to bring it to life.  Somewhere in there is a healthy diet book, I have yet to outline, let alone to begin to write to give the project flesh and life.

                Although writers over all, and in specific genres do compete, I don't think of it in this way.  I am very clear that in this life, we actually compete with our prior selves.  It doesn't really matter how well friends are doing with their books compared to me.  They don't have the same challenges in life that I do, and I don't have their challenges. I wouldn't wish to cheapen their success by comparing it to my present stagnation.  Who knows ?   Next year, I could have a best seller which could cause all of my books to be discovered and propelled in similar manner.  I'll leave you with that pleasant thought.   Have a blessed Thanksgiving wherever you are.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

I Am Not Currently Under the Influence of Chocolate, But I May Be Later !


These aren't all mine, but I suppose I could take a second mortgage and then they could be !

               I know that dark chocolate is said to have more health benefits than milk chocolate, but I still prefer milk chocolate !  I don't like just any chocolate. I don't like the cheap waxy stuff.  I like Cadbury's chocolate that is made in England.   I have been known to eat the Canadian versions of Cadbury's made for their tastes, and I like those too.  I have also been known to eat the sweeter versions of Cadbury's made for the American palate, but my all time favorite is the Cadbury's recipe that is available in England, Scotland and Ireland.   One of the best things about Russia's airline Aeroflot is that the meals are quite good in themselves,  and then they provide Cadbury's chocolate as a snack or sometimes as a dessert.   I was so happy on a particularly long flight to Russia once, that when we finally got there, I had eaten so much Cadbury's chocolate, that I felt like rolling off the plane !

These are amazing on desserts or in ice cream.
(Photo: )

                       Chocolate is felt to be a mood elevator as it has effects on serotonin levels in the brain.  It is also a potent antioxidant.  I have often joked that if I ate all I wanted, I might live forever !   What are my favorites ?   I am fond of Cadbury's Flake, Maltesers,  and their chocolate buttons. I also like the Crunchie bar and Wispa also.   I usually pass by the larger bars because I could eat an entire larger bar of the Cadbury's hazelnut chocolate if left to my own devices.   I am not quite so fond of the Cadbury's creme (filled) eggs sold in the US at Easter.  I would much rather have a plain Cadbury's egg, with a package of chocolate buttons in it.

No, these aren't ordinary malted milk balls !
(Photo: )

I like the small bags best.  (Photo: )

I'll have two, please !
  (Rendering: )

                       What is the key to staying slim and healthy while still enjoying your chocolate ?    First, never eat chocolate that you don't absolutely adore. If  you do, you'll need more of it in order to satisfy.  If you buy only the chocolate you like best and allow yourself a periodic indulgence of a small piece, and you eat it slowly, then you keep the positive effects of chocolate, without the high amounts of sugar, fat and calories, over all.   In addition, try to have your chocolate with a large cup or pot of tea.  This slows your consumption of the chocolate, and the tea fills you gradually.  It therefore becomes a restful ritual that doesn't leave you in a pile of regret as you reflect upon your own gluttony !

(Photo: )

               Besides, if you eat less of the Cadbury's chocolate, there will be more for me !

This is not a commercial !   Cadbury's chocolate is one of my passions !     I have no stock in the company, parent company, and they are not paying me.  Quite the reverse !  I am buying from them !

Note:    I am not sure why the links to the sources of the pictures and the rendering above are not showing clearly, as they would normally.  For the sources of these pictures, please click where the link would be, and despite the fact that they are not showing well, you will be taken there.   Thank you.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

In Remembrance of "Cedar Cottage"

This is quite similar to that first apartment.

        When I was in college, my husband and I lived in a brick garden apartment in a suburban area. This allowed me to get to all the clinical sites in which we were rotated.  As soon as I graduated, I wanted to move to a place that had a place for a garden, and for pets.  In 1981, in Northwestern New Jersey, about thirty five minutes West of New York City, such a thought may have well been a pipe dream.  Most people laughed at the idea of a young couple being able to buy a home in New Jersey.  Being potentially commutable to jobs in New York City made housing in that area of New Jersey, incredibly expensive. The property taxes, even then, were exceedingly high also.  Still, this is what we knew, and what we wanted. We wanted to own a home we could afford.  It took a number of realtors and almost a year of working on looking every weekend and a fair measure of luck, before we eventually located what was likely the only house we could afford.

                  In Northwestern New Jersey, nestled in the Ramapo Mountain Range was a cedar home on the side of a mountain trail.   It had been built in the 1940s as a small Summer home near a lake.  Although it had been intended to be a vacation home, the young couple who owned it prior had done a good job of making it look and feel like a year round home. They were moving now because they had recently had a baby and needed more space.  For those of you who remember 1981, there had been a recession. The interest rates for housing were fourteen and a half percent if you were lucky enough to find someone who would lend to you. The problem was not simply the exorbitant housing costs in the region, and the high taxes, and very high interest rates at the time, as well.  We were eventually lucky enough to owner finance the house, which was doubly a blessing because we had only the meager credit rating we attained through one student loan. The closing of the house so  tentative and so "skin on your teeth" that we weren't sure, even during the closing itself, that it would occur at all. We left the closing with only seventy dollars cash left in the world.

                 Just after, we joyously gave notice at our apartment and moved into our new home. They had a waiting list and so they didn't mind at all that we were departing, and that they could likely raise the rent we had been paying.   The new house was a lovely cedar sided ranch home.  When we acquired it, it had a living room, and eat in kitchen, one full bathroom, one closet, and two bedrooms.  It also had an attic and a basement with a partially dirt floored cellar.   It had a lovely landscaped front and back yard with much shade. It also had only about 500 square feet !   The first thing we needed to do was sell our bedroom suite.   Our new home was small enough that every piece of furniture had to be selected specifically for the space available.  In fact, even its stove was a special small stove, not unlike the type you might find in a New York City apartment.

                    It didn't take long for us to understand how tight the space really was.  We coped by paying bills and eating breakfast on the picnic table outside.  Next, we  built bookcases and built in niches in walls.  We had a local handyman advise us on planning and next we had closets added to the bedrooms. We parted with the larger furniture which had been in our garden apartment some of which sat in the basement..
In the first Winter, we learned how cold a "Summer house" really could be. The following year, when our income tax refund came, we had insulation blown into the exterior walls.   Our little house might have been shockingly tiny to my mother, but I loved this small home.  Everything from the kitchen to the bathroom was highly organized and neat. It simply had to be.

This is an example of how we placed clustered built in shelves in white walls, in almost every room.

                    Three years later we had new space challenges when our daughter was born.   At about  the same time we had a complete new septic system installed which necessitated a total dig up of the entire yard. We replaced the oil forced air heating system with a new one.  We had the entire home rewired and electrically updated.  The following year, we were expecting a second child, and we commissioned an addition to the house which improved the issue of such low square footage.  This was a big deal because building on a non-conforming house (by virtue of small size for the area) required a variance as well as taking a small second mortgage.   The addition was complete and we once again loved our home as we brought home a second baby, this time a son.  The addition had its certificate of occupancy two days before I brought our son home from the hospital !

                    It didn't take long for us to realize that although with tight and careful planning, we could manage two babies there, but that as they grew, the size of the house would be somewhat handicapping.  Our private mortgage was not a thirty year variety and would be paid off much sooner than most others, even with a small second mortgage. . We were reticent about taking on a thirty year mortgage and about owing much more money. We also really loved the house we had put so much work into.  Still, property taxes were very high in the region and they were likely to continue to climb. Buying a larger home in New Jersey didn't seem possible. We looked at several homes but I couldn't work more than part time with two small babies. In fact, working at all with such tiny children was difficult.  We were already struggling as a new family of four.

                    The matter was settled on a short vacation trip to the Richmond, Virginia area in the mid eighties. While in Richmond,  I happened to grasp a Homes magazine, and I said, "If that house is that price, then I'll buy it."   At the time, the up and coming suburban counties within commuting distance to Richmond which were as yet, largely undiscovered, were very reasonable. We called a realtor, who showed us twelve other houses before showing us the one we had actually called him about from the magazine.  When we looked at it, we took a cash advance on our debit card and wrote a contract to buy it, contingent on a home inspection.   In a move which showed both the courage and exuberance of youth, we bought the house, and cut our holiday short in order to head back to New Jersey to sell our home there, in order to close on the new house, within the contractual three months. We were naive enough to think that it would all work out, and do so easily. We did not have jobs in Virginia when we initially bought the house.

                     It took a couple of months to sell our beloved "Cedar Cottage". We made home information sheets which were uncommon at the time in NJ, and  left multiple copies of them on the cigarette machines in every restaurant or convenience store in NJ that we could find.   Somehow, the sold on time for our asking price. I don't mean to imply this was easy, because it wasn't.   Our baby son was hospitalized the week before the closing. Almost immediately after the sale  of "Cedar Cottage",  a truck hit our car as we sat in a 7-11 parking lot, just a mile from the closing attorney's office in New Jersey.   However, the house sold and the couple that left the original closing four years earlier, in which the house was purchased with seventy dollars in the world, now left New Jersey with two babies, two dogs, a Ryder truck full of possessions, and enough money to put half down on a normally sized house, and to assume its low interest mortgage.   The "Cedar Cottage" had benefitted from  a family who loved it and updated its essential systems, its garden and its decor, and it paid us to start anew elsewhere in a place with elbow room for us all.    Virginia and all the homes that came after every three to four years or so, has been good to us.  However, I have never forgotten the special feelings conjured by our very own first home.

                    In 2000,  while on a flight to Russia, we happened to speak to a woman behind us on the plane who was a realtor in Northern New Jersey.   Coincidentally, she had sold our "Cedar Cottage"  to someone else !   It was good to know that the house was still being well cared for and had risen in value even more.

                   This week I decided to look up "Cedar Cottage's" address on the internet.    Oddly, nothing came up for the address.    Then I ran the  approximate addresses of neighboring houses.   Then I looked on Google Earth.    Something was wrong !     "Cedar Cottage" was gone !     I wondered if it had burned down.  Then I wondered if a neighbor had bought it and torn it down to get more yard.   This just didn't make sense to me. I was surprised as to how upset I was at the possibility that my beloved first home wasn't there anymore.     I thought about it for a few days and then on Friday,  made some phone calls. I finally had the answer to my quandary

                    "Cedar Cottage" remained the property of the family to which we had sold it until 2000 when it sold again to a single woman.   She kept it until 2007 when she sold it to a single man.    The man had gray vinyl siding placed over the brown cedar siding that I had so well remembered.   In addition, as the area was developed and the mountain trails went higher into the mountain, adjustments were made to the name of the road.   The county kept the original road name that I would have recognized into the lake community, but when the started the curve to ascend the mountain, they changed the name of the road.  "Cedar Cottage" has a new road name and a new house number.   This was made clear on the newest area tax map which says, "road formerly called...." etc.    The new owner also added a new main door to the house, which furthur muddied the waters for me when looking at the Google images.  In addition, the modest lake community which was occupied mostly in Summer has gone decidedly upscale.  Many of the houses received complete revisions or additions following our departure.  Many of the homes which originally had only one story, now have two and look as if they had the benefit of an architects plan for such an addition.  Of all the homes around it, I only really recognized one. I can't tell you how happy I am that "Cedar Cottage" has not only survived but continues to be loved and enjoyed as much as we did. Today, there is less of a disparity in the prices of homes in different states, in part due to the ability of many people to live almost anywhere and telecommute. However, at the time it was still possible to sell high and if you looked carefully, buy more elsewhere for a lower price.

                 I still keep an eye on the other homes in which we have lived, and they are also doing fine.

This is a link to another post I did on another blog concerning this house which discussed small space living:


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Finding Nana's House

This is not Nana's house, but it was built in a similar period, and is architecturally similar.

     I write concerning a great many subjects.  I suppose I just never got to a point where I stopped caring about people, and simply centered on myself, as seems to be the case, all too often with politicians.  This week, had some grime removed from my computer, and I was told afterward,  to "try it out".   I actually didn't need to do anything, and so I resorted to running some google searches on addresses that were familiar to me. One of them was the address of my grandmother's home, outside London.   She lived in a middle class neighborhood which was relatively easily commutable to London via train. They owned their home from the time it was built in the nineteen-thirties, until the nineteen-nineties.  I don't know what it cost when built, and I'm not sure how much she sold it for, but when I ran the address, it was up for sale for  five hundred thousand British pounds sterling !     My first thought was how amazed she would be.   It was a tudor styled stone with stucco home, common to the region, with three bedrooms, a sitting room, a living room, an eat in kitchen, and one and a half bathrooms. It had a large private fenced yard and a lovely potting shed. Consistent with the era and the region, it is a semi-detached home, which means it shares a common wall with another home which is very similar to it.   Since my grandmother owned it and raised her family there, there have been some changes.  The lovely front garden she had behind the front gate has gone.  It has been paved to allow off street parking for two small cars.  It also now has a small garage which matches the house, and is located where the gate to the garden at the side of the house used to be.  There are now skylights over the bedroom I used to occupy when we stayed there.  The interior pictures are quite different.  My Nana had some lovely furniture that conjured the days of Bertie Wooster (in the series in which Hugh Laurie played Bertie, called Jeeves and Wooster, yes, after the books)   She also kept the home as neat as a pin.  Today, some of the walls I recall have been removed and it sports a new and open design.  It also has french doors which open to the garden.  The garden does not look as spectacular as it did in Nana's day, though quite pretty and a selling point..
      I do understand that as we live our lives and move past them that the homes we occupied become someone elses, and that their claim on that home is as valid as our own once was.  What I don't understand is how someone in England, in what has always been a middle class neighborhood, can afford to buy a home which in US dollars translates to $835,650  !     How can anyone the ages of my kids purchase a home in England, let alone the London area ?    If I had remained in England following the portion of my youth in which I went to school there,  I would not have been able to afford to buy a home there.   I am well aware of how well Nana's house was built and of the wonderful cold larder she had for kitchen storage.  I remember the storage under the staircase which was a little room itself. In the times I was there, she used it to store the vacuum cleaner, brooms and buckets, but during the war, the entire family hid there during the bombings. I do recognize the value of her home.  I do not recognize why inflation has taken the cost to the equivalent of eight hundred thousand dollars plus !

Sunday, May 18, 2014

On Healthy Perspectives


   I'll grant you that there is a lot to be concerned about in the world.  There is an economic malaise in Europe, and in some nations there are demonstrations against the austerity that was necessary in order for those nations to receive a European Union bail-out.  In the US, we are told that the economy is improving, but people in their thirties and forties are still moving back in with their parents when they haven't been able to get a full time job in more than three years.  People with college degrees who graduated with honors in 2010, still don't have jobs and still haven't started to pay back student loans for college or university.  Homes are still being sold for much less than their assessed values, and although they might sell, most people cannot get a mortgage and therefore cannot make it to the closing of the house, and take occupancy.   There is flooding so severe in Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia that thirty five people have died and they are being evacuated by boats.  There is civil unrest in Libya, Egypt, and in other places as well.  Hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria are still being held by a group of men who think God would be okay with their plan to take them from their families.  Things are difficult for most of the people I know wherever they reside.

             I have no magical words, no great insight or fabulous solutions.  I know only that we are here on the beautiful blue ball until we aren't, and so we should spent each day with those we love.  Find things to do with them that are inexpensive and safe.  Go fishing. Pack a picnic lunch. Braid your daughters hair. Sail a toy boat with a son or grandson.  Play a board game with your family. Help an elderly relative organize their garage or basement.  I guarantee that the time invested with family will be well spent, even if you don't feel this way until one of you is gone.

           Find a way to enjoy your time on Earth even though we are challenged by many things that frighten us or provoke worry concerning the future.  They say that many things of which we worry never come to pass.  In my own life, the tragedies and challenges that actually befell us were things I had not considered before they happened.  The things I planned for have only rarely occurred.

           Have a lovely afternoon.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

On Noticing Who Lives in the Cold


   I certainly have been busy.  I was surprised to see that it's been a few months since I had last posted here.   Life has been busy.   Regarding writing, there is not much new to report.  I am working on a third book but it is presently at the outlining and research phase.  I am making some good connections with regard to the literary world, but nothing I thought you would all like to hear about.
    Today I thought I would share this. A lot of writing comes as a consequence of simple living with ones eyes being open.   There is a place off the interstate highway where I occasionally get gasoline and eat at one of the restaurants there.  There is also a small shopping center.   Several months ago, I noticed that a young woman was waiting at the entrance to the shopping center.  She looked clean and well, yet had a sign which said something about being homeless and any amount being helpful.   From the vantage point of the restaurant, occasionally you can see someone give her one or two dollars.  Most people simply pass by.  Americans are fundamentally generous people, but in the past few years we have learned to be very discerning.    When I am in Richmond, I have noticed some people claiming to be homeless pocketing hundreds of dollars in a few hours in a good location.  I watched one of them charging his iphone by unplugging the soda machine outside the Target.   I noted that one of the homeless men had very expensive hiking boots, I'd seen at REI, and I noticed him again buying liquor at yet another shopping center later that day.  This has been such a problem there, that local governments have made "pan handling" illegal there.  This is curious to me as it seems to me to be a civil right, and because I would rather have people pan handling than robbing me. (But that's just me.)  The local government there was successful in making it illegal by claiming that it is a hazard to traffic, and on occasion, it is.      Americans have also learned to become jaded, and have learned that while we clip coupons and try to pay our bills, others are willing to stand with a sob story, ready to squander the money we give them, even later that day.
 At first when I saw the woman waiting at the interstate, I wondered if she had a similar story.  There is also some danger in approaching these people.  A percentage of them are mentally ill and have drifted from family members.  Approaching a schizophrenic, for example,  who ran out of meds a month ago, for example, can be extremely dangerous, because you don't really know what their delusions are telling them.  A person outside the science museum in Richmond was stabbed to death by a homeless man, as she walked her dog a couple of years ago.
  This time, I saw the  young woman I had mentioned  within the restaurant and since there were lots of people around, I felt fairly safe in speaking with her.  I told her that I don't carry cash, but that I did have a credit card and that I would be happy to take her to lunch there.   She was cautious, and a little afraid, but she agreed.   She ordered one thing from the dollar menu, and so I ordered a couple of additional things for her, as I had already eaten and was sipping on a giant diet soda.  I told her to sit down and I would bring the food.  I gathered the plastic silverware and straws and napkin.   When I brought the food, I asked her whether it was okay if I sat with her while she ate, as most people would rather have company when they ate.  She agreed.   I noticed then that her face was fairly windburned from being outside so much in the cold weather we have had.  She also seemed tired.   I spoke with her showing interest but without getting too personal in my questions.   She was in her thirties and until the last couple of years had a job in the city which is about fifty miles from there.  The place closed and this depleted her savings as she looked for a new job.  She did get another job which ended when that place closed also.  Since then, she has been unable to find another job although she has been trying hard.  She has used homeless persons services in the city a distance from here, but has been coming out to this area to get a small amount of cash before returning to the city periodically.  She also has a disability insurance case pending which has been slowed by her not having a legal address.   She is a young woman not unlike many of our daughters, but without the family and back up systems my own kids would have if something like this happened to them.
   I noticed a number of people and families who had just been to church were sitting in the restaurant were watching us.   I wondered why none of them inquired as to why a young woman was out in the bitter cold.   Did her car break down ?  Does she need to use a cell phone or call a taxi ?    I also noticed that the restaurant, where they know me, looked flabbergasted that I bought this young woman a meal.
  I know that we can't risk our lives by asking every homeless person what they need.  I know that we can't take everyone who is down on their luck out to dinner.   I get that those of us with small children with us can't endanger them by speaking to people who are homeless, and might have mental health issues.
However,  it struck me as surreal that an entire restaurant of people in Sunday best, who just finished worshiping Jesus Christ, who was a champion of helping those who needed assistance, looked at her as if she had leprosy.    She is a young woman with clean hair, wearing  outdoor clothing.  She may have been a former soldier.  Yes, the folks who fought on behalf of our nation, and then couldn't find work when they got home again.   She is someone's daughter.  It's not okay that someone's daughter is standing in the cold, isn't drinking enough water, and isn't eating properly.   I know we can't find her a job and an apartment by Tuesday.  I get that homelessness is a complex and multifactorial issue.   What I don't get is why we can't convey hope, humanity,  and encouragement, especially on a Sunday after so many of the people there who wore the "Christian uniform" and are eating on the way home from church.   Many studies tell us that most of us sit just a few pay checks from homelessness.  You'd think that most of us would be more mindful of that.
   I know I can't save the world.   But I think I will buy a large bottle of gummy vitamins at Sam's Club for Karen. I will give them to her the next time I see her.  I hope that you will do whatever you can within the framework of your own life,  too, when you see someone for whom you could do perhaps a small favor, conveying that they are not forgotten, and that they still sit within the family of humanity.