Sunday, March 20, 2011

How Reputations Get Made...

How time flies! Three weeks ago today, I was on my way back from a women’s writers’ retreat I had been looking forward to for months. In the blink of an eye, it was over. You may recall I blogged about the retreat last year—in particular the fun we had at the Martini Bar on Saturday night. The coordinator enjoyed my post so much she posted it on her website to help promote the retreat—which, by the way, was filled to capacity and a huge success this year, as well.

So this year several new attendees came to the retreat, apparently looking forward to a martini, in addition to reading, rest, relaxation, and a wealth of information about writing. When I had I registered, the coordinator had told me there was another woman from my area registered, as well. I recognized her name as someone from church, so I called her and we traveled together.

Thank God, because it was another blizzardous weekend, and if I had been traveling alone, I’m afraid I wouldn’t have gone. Been there, done that, wasn’t too eager to do it again.

But my friend was from this area, and well-used to winter driving conditions, so off we went in her minivan. Good thing, too, because 20 minutes out of town, the weather cleared up and we had no trouble at all. We even arrived a bit early, got her checked into her hotel down the way—the B&B was full up—and managed to stop at Malley’s Chocolates and stock up before heading off to the retreat.

Imagine my surprise, when on a whim I asked the desk clerk at the hotel if there was a chocolate shop around, and he said yes, right down the street. A clear example of ask and ye shall receive J.

So without my friend I wouldn’t have gone. Turns out that without me, she wouldn’t have gone, either, as she’d learned about the retreat from reading my blog. She was looking for one of those martinis. I’ll admit I went back looking forward to a repeat of the experience, myself. I hadn’t ever had a martini before, and haven’t had one since, but suddenly I found myself dubbed “The Martini Lady” and on Friday night was called up to the front of the room and presented with a lovely framed pastel portrait of a martini, complete with olives.

Writing is such a solitary occupation that I have it posted up above my desk, to remind me that yes, writers do indeed get together and have fun every now and again J.

But my, how quickly reputations are born! The others told me I'd made it sound like such a wonderful time they wanted to experience it for themselves, and having a martini was the talk of the retreat. Unfortunately, this year, the Martini Bar was full, so the group I was with visited an Irish pub instead. Seven or eight of us pulled a few tables together at the back of the room, and proceeded to order drinks I hadn’t heard of in years, since my twenties, when ordering such drinks were the norm—white Russian, Fuzzy Navel, Slo Gin Fizz…and my own simple but straightforward vodka tonic.

Not so simple and straightforward, I realized, as in the intervening years, vodka has apparently taken on flavors, and a lot of them. “What kind of vodka do you want?” the bartender asked. “Just vodka,” I said. She indicated the bar behind her, with a couple dozen flavors of vodka lined up in a colorful row. “I know, but which kind?” “Just vodka, I repeated. Don’t you have any kind of vodka that isn’t flavored? The last time I had vodka, Smirnoff’s was the one you got. Don’t they make that any more?”

"You haven’t tasted flavored vodka?” she asked, in amazement. Then treated me to a sample of espresso-flavored vodka. It being after nine already, and me not used to drinking, no way was I going to mix alcohol and caffeine—I’d be up all night!!—so I thanked her ask if she minded if I shared it with the others.

Which is exactly what I did…I never did find out what it tasted like.

Fortunately, she managed to find a bottle of plain vodka under the counter, and fixed me a drink.

We were the oldest patrons in the bar. As it slowly filled with people half our age we listened to a lone guitar player strumming Irish tunes and happily chatted about children and colleges and the things menopausal women discuss when we get together. And, being writers, we observed the room around us. The pick ups, the hook ups, the couples getting friendly as they flirted with each other before moving on to the main event later.

At one point I saw the bartender pull out a fishbowl and fill it with ice. Her hands expertly holding two bottles each, she poured and poured until the ice cubes were covered, then added (in this case) some red liquid to the bowl and stuffed six big red straws in it. The bowl was almost ceremoniously carried to a back table by three young men and one young woman, who was apparently the designated driver, as she didn’t drink. I noticed one of the young men leaning on her heavily as they shuffled out of the bar less than an hour later, the fishbowl completely empty.

I went to ask the bartender about it. Yes, she said, it was called a fishbowl, and was made with gin, rum, vodka, and tequila, and cost $20. Was I interested? No, thank you, I all but gasped, waving my hands in front of me—I just wanted to know what it was. She smiled indulgently and patted my arm reassuringly, treating me like the fish out of water that I was, and kindly fixed this little old church lady another plain vodka tonic.

Around eleven, with the bar packed and the songs getting less and less Irish, the ladies and I happily trundled back to the B&B, where we sat in the foyer next to a cozy fireplace, the area lit only by the small white lights of a still-decorated Christmas tree, and sipped glasses of Bailey’s Irish Cream from a bottle I had brought along. I might not drink often, but I know how it’s done J. The Bailey’s added a nice, quiet nightcap to the evening.

I wonder if this means next year I’ll be awarded a picture of Bailey’s?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Creating A Spark

This week we had a fantastic mission speaker at church, Edwina Gateley, poet, theologian, artist, writer, lay minister, advocate, and single mom. The first night she spoke to us about Trust, as in trusting God, walking in faith, walking in trust that all our needs will be met.
She explained how God is always eager to reassure and comfort us so that we might believe in our possibilities and become a holy people. She told us the original word for “holy” in Hebrew meant “to practice,” as in practicing your faith.
Simply practicing our faith makes us holy…doing the right thing, reaching out to those in need. Holy isn’t reserved for only the special few. Everyone’s hands are holy….it’s what we choose to do with our hands that makes a difference. Do we use them to help—or to hurt--others?
The second night she spoke of personal transformation, how the Holy Spirit is always waiting to s-t-r-e-t-c-h us to recognize God’s presence in ourselves and all people. She told story after story of personal transformation in herself and the lives of the people she has worked with in Africa and on the streets of Chicago, where she ministered to recovering drug addicts and prostitutes.
Last night she challenged us to use our gifts to reflect God’s love in our dealings with others, in particular the poor, the homeless, the abandoned and marginalized people in our world. She acknowledged that bad things are happening the world over, but we can’t focus on that, we need to seek out the sparks of light and help those sparks to shine more brightly. Again, she shared story after story of personal transformation.
And she reminded us that every little bit of good we do makes a difference, to someone, somewhere.
So today was soup making day. I got out the stock pot and opened the freezer and filled the pot with leftover pot roast, crock pot chicken, an assortment of savory sauces and gravies made from previously made roasts, three bags of vegetables, and a magic array of spices. Took me three hours to get it to taste “just right,” but in the end, it all came together beautifully…and the aroma…nothing better than the smell of home made soup wafting through the house.
Unless it’s accompanied by the sweet smell of baking. While the soup bubbled, I baked two cakes, and cleaned the kitchen. Then, after the soup had cooled, I put it into the containers provided by the homeless shelter, and delivered it, along with two dozen pairs of socks I bought at Christmas time, but never got around to dropping off.
Tonight, someone without a home will at least be able to enjoy some home made soup, made with real beef and chicken, a piece of cake, and a clean pair of socks.
It’s just a spark, but it counts all the same. Is there somewhere in your life you can create a spark or two?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Getting back up to speed...

It is difficult to steer a parked car, so get moving. ~ Henrietta Mears, Christian educator

What with being sick all last week, and then going away for a long weekend, I’m so far behind I don’t know where to begin. I’ve got ideas for at least four blog posts, and no time to write them. Too busy trying to juggle all the balls--work, writing, and exercise, cooking, cleaning, and home maintenance, driving my son to and from school, appointments, and practices, and keeping up with church activities, which are moving into full swing with Lent just around the corner.

I’m going to “do Lent” this year. Some years I have not fully participated in the process of Lent. Some years I’ve taken full advantage of all the church offers, and others I’ve missed out completely. I know one year I was too sick to go anywhere or do anything—that was right after we moved into a new home and all the off-gasses from the carpet and such made me so ill I collapsed. Another year time simply got away from me and Lent was over before I knew it, with nothing in me changed or renewed.

But this year I’m going to throw myself into Lent wholeheartedly, which I understand to be a time of spiritual reflection and renewal. There are other, more formal descriptions for it, (and I might even get into the history and practices of Lent sometime during the next couple of months) but that’s what I choose to make it—a time for thinking about the positives in life, and not focusing on the negative.

To that end, we have lots of great speakers lined up at church, including the Women’s Series of spiritual events I wrote about last year, and many soup suppers to enjoy.

Speaking of which, I went to a prayer and potluck supper at church this week that was very nice. Kudos to the ladies who decorated the tables with white linen tablecloths and candlelight. The atmosphere was warm and intimate, the company great, and the food incredible—as always. (I think church ladies are the best cooks around, hands down.) Everyone brought a donation for the food pantry and a dish of some sort, and there was more food there than all 60 or so of us could eat.

I made a double batch of cream of carrot soup, which turned out very nicely, if a bit different tasting. It’s spiced with orange peel and allspice, an interesting combination. To thicken it, I blended two cups of broth with fresh, oven-baked squash. It gives the soup a hearty texture you can’t get short of loading up on more fattening thickeners.

Only half the soup was eaten—there was so much food to choose from—so today I went around giving away plastic containers of soup, and will wait to hear the feedback. I had some for dinner, and it tasted almost sweet, but with a tang from the orange peel.

Really, there’s not much going on here, and I’m just trying to catch up from being so sick all last week. I thought it was a cold, but it turns out it was (and is) seasonal allergies, which I am still dealing with, with mixed results success-wise. But at least I am moving forward this week, no longer sitting still J.