We’ve Reached a Fork in the Road, or have we?

My parents and I were talking tonight about things related to business dealings, politics and life in general.

The phrase, “we’ve reached a fork in the road” came up, it was followed by “it’s time to make a decision.” This doesn’t just imply it’s time to make a choice, it explicitly states there is only one next step. There is one way or another, nothing in between. I honestly don’t think that’s what either person means. But, it’s how it can be and probably is most often interpreted.

As we were talking, I had two images flash through my brain. One was of an actual fork – one we use to eat with. The other was of a fork in a road. The difference between them struck me immediately. I know this is strange, but it’s how my brain works.

As we picture a fork in the road – there are only two choices, you go left, or you go right. Those are the only options. Perhaps we limit ourselves.

Oddly enough, the fork we use in everyday life, as a utensil to consume food, has three prongs. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to pick up a piece of meat or a potato wedge with a physical fork that only had two prongs? Especially if they were pointing in opposite directions…

It made me think – perhaps, the third prong, the middle road so to speak, represents the opportunity for a “win, win” approach to life.

We seem to be faced with so many it has to be ‘this way’ or ‘that way’ choices these days.

Perhaps it’s time we started to look at the “fork in the road” in a new way and find common ground. It’s time to carve a new path – it’s in between the “fork in the road.”

Dear Betty Boop, Embrace What Life Offers in the Moment…

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” ~ Buddha Siddhartha Guatama Shakyamuni

I’ve heard the quote many times before but never knew who to credit – after much Googling, I’m still not sure if I have the right source, so we’ll call it good enough.
Regardless of whether or not I got the credit for the quote correct (which I hope I did), it’s a true statement and one that I’ve personally experienced, or maybe finally recognized, over the last decade.

It started with my first drawing class in Yardley, Pa.

When I say that I was nearly hyperventilating and on the verge of abandoning the class for the refuge of my car, I’m not exaggerating. The only thing that moved me forward was another student who caught up to me and cheerily said, “You must be here for the drawing class, I can’t wait! Let’s head in together.”

Gulp! This left me with little choice but to face my fears and perch myself on a stool in front of an intimidating blank canvas amongst people who knew each other but were strangers to me.

The subject for the first lesson was a sunflower, a large one from my perspective. I sat on my stool, overwhelmed, and a bit paralyzed. The sunflower we were supposed to draw looked impossibly intricate.

It didn’t help matters that the women around me already had petals flying out of their pencils onto the paper, and I was so hung up on how to draw a perfect circle that I couldn’t move on.

Anne, the instructor, walked up behind me, put her hand on the small of my back, and said, “Breathe, Beth, you’re in the right place. I know you are.”

As it turns out, I was. It took me weeks – but I eventually finished the sunflower.

029 final sunflower_white shading
I took several classes with Anne through the Artists of Yardley. In all that time I finished every drawing we started, but only one during the class. It was a pine cone, and the medium is charcoal.

pine cone_04_19_12
While I lived in Pennsylvania, I also had the privilege and opportunity to take drawing lessons from an accomplished artist at the Princeton Arts Council. I lived just across the river from New Jersey, so it was more than convenient.

I still remember the Thanksgiving in St. Louis when I decided to sign up for one of Konstantin’s classes. The class cost more than any class I had attended to date, which was part of what caused me to take pause. The more significant hesitation had to do with his profile. There was no doubt in my mind that he was a no-nonsense professional artist. I bit the bullet and hit submit.

He didn’t disappoint, he exceeded my expectations and made me think about art ways that had never occurred to me. I’ll always remember my first class with him.

He asked the class, “What is one of the most important things to know as an artist, as you sit down to create? Here’s a clue, if you took piano lessons and you had a good teacher, you learned this early on.”

There was silence as the students looked at each other and tried to come up with the right answer.

Unsure, but uncomfortable by the silence, I raised my hand and offered with some hesitation, “Proper fingering to form a chord or to play a scale?”

His somewhat clipped and heavily accented response was, “Good guess, but no. They teach you how to position yourself in front of the instrument and place your fingers properly on the keys so you can easily move from note to note. It’s no different with art, and that’s where we’re going to start.”

That’s when I first learned how to properly set up an easel and align myself with the subject when working from something real, not imagined for inspiration. I was hooked on his teaching style from the beginning.

He taught me to draw while he taught others to paint. His focus was on helping me learn and understand the fundamental elements – and also to loosen up. His painting classes were always full, but the drawing classes, for whatever reason – not so much.

I hadn’t thought about it before now, but I realize now he went out of his way to offer me a venue in which to learn. It had to be tough to have patience with a student who is afraid to draw a circle and at the same time, coach a student with years of experience. He did so with aplomb.

I laugh with fondness when I recall him walking up behind me when I was clearly frozen in a state of perfectionism. He’d say to me, “Betty Boop, you’re creatively constipated again. Loosen up.”

He was a teacher one either loved or not. For whatever reason Betty Boop was and still is his nickname for me, I sort of love it!

Fast forward a few years, and two cross country moves that landed me inexplicably in Upstate NY, and enter stage left, my piano teacher. It wasn’t easy to find him, and when I moved here, I had every intention of continuing my exploration of visual art and had no plan to rediscover music.

As life often happens, things unfold differently than we imagine they will.

Having my piano tuned for the first time in over a decade triggered an unexpected flurry of Google searches for a piano teacher. I found one that was willing to teach an adult was within a reasonable driving distance and sounded like he had a fun approach to teaching. I’ve been taking lessons now for a little over seven months, and all I can say is “wow.” It’s been amazing and continues to be so – I’m now thinking about music in a whole different way.

I’ve kept in touch with Konstantin over the years, and on a whim, I sent him an email about a week ago.

Subject line: Greetings from Betty Boop

Hello Konstantin,

It’s been a very long time since I’ve touched base with you. Thought I’d send you a hello.

I hope all things are well in your world. Things are good, but a bit strange in my world – as per usual. 🙂

I may have mentioned that I moved to Syracuse, NY – it’s been quite a change in many, many ways. It’s hard to believe I’ve lived here for almost a year…

I won’t bore you with aspects of my professional life – let’s just leave it at, I made the right decision to move to Omaha and from there to NY. But this will most certainly not be my last move. I’m starting to feel like a nomad. LOL

Creatively speaking, my move here has caused a gap when it comes to writing and visual art. In Omaha, I was on fire with experimenting with visual art. In Pennsylvania, I was on fire with writing and exploring visual art.

Here, those two aspects have been lacking. However, I found the most fantastic piano teacher, and he’s helping me learn to play the piano in ways I never dreamed of. I doubt I ever shared this, but I took piano lessons from third grade through twelfth and for a few years again as an adult in the early 2000’s. Before I started my crazy cross-country moving trek. I was actually reasonably accomplished in classical music.

My current lessons are stretching me in so many ways, it’s almost impossible to describe – but it’s incredible.

I did participate in #inktober, so, in a small way, I have started to revisit visual art expression. My new place just doesn’t have a space that’s conducive to doing much more than small scale drawings – ink, pencil, and small canvases are currently my options.

Visual art teachers here are non-existent. I genuinely miss the Princeton Arts Council and the classes I was able to take there. In particular, I miss learning from you.

Anyhoo…

Just thought I’d say hidy ho and send greetings from Betty Boop to you.

A few nights later, I sent my piano teacher an email, I wanted to try and express how his teachings are changing my perspective about music.

Subject line: More than Music Lessons

Some thoughts are in my heart and mind that I wanted to share.

Until meeting you, I didn’t understand or appreciate the role of an accompanist.

I had no idea what to expect at my first lesson with you, but I knew I didn’t want to regroup on learning classical. It served me well, but for me, it was time to have fun with music.

You immediately seemed to get it.

Although, at first, to be honest, I sort of thought you were a bit bonkers for teaching me to play songs from music with a single note melody line- aka fake music. But, I quickly got it, loved it, and felt challenged.

Then, you started taking me on the path of learning how to chord on the piano in a way that would support a vocalist and/or other musicians.

I couldn’t stop thinking, I can’t do this.

But you challenge me, teach me and encourage me in a great way, and I am loving the progress I’ve made. It’s beginning to click.

You’ve turned music on its head for me. That’s a good thing.

Now, every time I listen to a song, I gain a new appreciation for the accompanist, who helps bring a song to life.

I also feel like I’m making good progress in my own way.

I came across this tonight and wanted to share it. (You’ve got a friend, link was inserted here – I’ll put it at the end of my post. 🙂 )

Carol King is one of my favorite artists, and in d for me, this brought home the music lessons I’m learning from you.

The most amazing and extraordinary thing happened, on the same day – they both responded.

There were many words of wisdom, support and encouragement in both replies. It truly made my heart smile.

I also laughed out loud at Konstantin’s quirky, humorous comment. For a bit of context, refer back to my message, in which I mentioned to him that my piano lessons are stretching me.

In true Konstatin humor, he replied, “please, be very careful with the stretching exercises (of the direct, not figurative variety), while keeping in mind the grave price Robert Schumann paid. After all, you do need your hands and fingers for drawing and painting, as well. No need to sacrifice yourself to one muse only! 🙂”

I had to Google what happened to Robert Shuman, suffice it to say, he damaged his hands in an attempt to stretch and strengthen his fingers – which of course, is something Konstantin would know!

I took comfort in both messages, which coincidentally – or not, sent two important lessons. Konstantin summed it up this way, “Take full advantage of whatever Life is offering you at THIS moment -lemons or piano lessons, and make full use of it.”

Mark, my piano teacher, offered this thought among many others, “So the journey is long but so FUN!”

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear…

Embrace What Life Offers in the Moment…

As promised, here’s the link.
Carol King is one of my favorite artists, and for me, this brings home the music lessons I’m learning right now.

Lessons in Leadership

It’s odd, but true that one of my most profound learning experiences as a leader has also been one of my best-kept secrets. It’s an experience that caused me so much shame and embarrassment that I haven’t shared it with many people – in fact, I just recently shared it with my parents more than 20 years after it happened.

As a young supervisor, I entered my new role with unearned confidence after having been the President of the University Program Council at my college, coupled with many summers of managing lifeguards at a local country club and a short stint in retail.

Little did I know what the business world expected and would require from me.

I entered the “real” work world as the supervisor of a small call-center for a printing company. Don’t even get me started on the ridiculous interviewing tactics of my then manager. They included describing the dimensions of block of wood, which was somehow supposed to relate to printing – I actually never understood the connection.

Anyway, fast forward to my role as the Customer Service Supervisor (yes I was hired).

I thought I was doing a fantastic job. After all, “everyone “loved me.”

Turns out, it was time for a significant course correction.

The company (ahead of its time) conducted an employee satisfaction survey, “guaranteed to be anonymous.” The survey included the opportunity to give direct feedback about your supervisor, and honesty was encouraged.

The survey was sent, the results were received and the feedback sessions were scheduled.

I’m reasonably sure my feedback session was the first. It was awful, no, let’s make that horrible. Not only was the feedback hard to hear – the setting was worse.

Imagine sitting in a conference room surrounded by your direct reports, the V.P. of HR (aka the daughter of the owner of the company, in this case) and your nemesis. In other words, I was sitting at a table with the people who had been asked to provide “anonymous” feedback about my performance as their supervisor.

It also included the woman who had been hired to be promoted into the position I wholeheartedly and mistakenly believed should have been mine. Could there be a more uncomfortable setting? I think not – it was beyond awkward for everyone.

Long story short, and I’ll get to the point. The feedback I received was painful to hear but honest and accurate.

The next morning, after a night of endless tears, I made myself get out of bed and go to work. Just as I got to my desk, the phone rang, the name and extension number on the display signaled it was John O’Brien, the president company. I froze, then shakily picked up the receiver and said, “This is Beth.”

He asked me to come to his office.

I was terrified of the outcome – sure I would be fired because I had received such a terrible review from the survey. But here’s how the conversation went.

“Beth, yesterday was a tough day for you. First and foremost, I want to apologize to you for how the feedback was delivered. That was not my intention, and unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job of setting up the right way to communicate the feedback. I own that, and you should have never received the feedback in a group setting, it should have been private.

Having said that, it happened. Tell me what you think about what was said and what you heard, separate from the way you received it.”

After a deep breath and through barely held back tears, I responded, “It was hard to hear, but it was accurate. I do try too hard to be liked instead of giving people honest feedback that might be difficult to hear but would help them grow. There were many things said that I need to improve on and change. The list is long.”

His reply as he handed me a tissue, “You have choices now, Beth. What are you going to do?”

“John, it’s embarrassing to admit, but what they said was right, and like I said, it was hard to hear, but it’s obvious I need to make some changes.  I’ll need help along the way, but I want to make this work.”

“You have great potential, I knew you’d make the right choice, and I’ll help you in every way I can. We both learned valuable lessons yesterday and today. Let’s put this  experience behind us, but learn from it.”

Looking back, the choice seemed rather obvious to me at the time, purely from an “I need to keep my job” perspective. But as it turns out, this was one of, if not the biggest and best lessons in leadership I have ever learned.

The lesson was painful but straightforward. People look to a leader to help them grow, not to be a friend. It’s essential to believe in people and to take a personal interest in their lives and in their success, but boundaries are important and necessary. Being a leader is important and bears responsibility. As a mother, I often-times liken it to parenthood.

We want the best for our kids, we are stewards of their lives – after all, we brought them into the world. While we didn’t bring the people we work with into the world, we spend more time with them than we do our own children when it’s all said and done. So, as leaders, and we all are in one way or another, we have the responsibility and the privilege to care for the people we interact with. Especially if we are in a leadership role.

The people we work with rely on us to show both honesty and compassion in our relationships with them. What they may or may not understand is that it’s not always easy. I’d never thought about it before, but I now realize that John O’Brien probably dreaded the conversation with me, maybe nearly as much as I dreaded facing him.

In the end, he owned his part in the debacle but didn’t let me lose sight of the leadership lesson I needed to learn. John O’Brien was someone who owned his mistakes, made the needs of his employees a priority and helped people develop. In other words, he was a servant leader long before it was a corporate buzz word.

While the experience was undoubtedly the most humiliating one of my professional career, it was also the most important one. Because of it, I learned what it means to be a leader and it changed the course of my career for the better.

Recently I attended a leadership workshop, which brought the experience full circle. It involved a “360 review.” This basically means questions are sent to your manager, peers and direct reports requesting feedback on your effectiveness as a leader.

I’ll leave it at this, John would be proud of the leader I’ve become.

First Kisses…

I’m thinking that everyone remembers their first kiss. I’d also be willing to go out on a limb and speculate that most of those first kisses were awkward rather than breathtaking…

Just guessing.

It’s awkward, that first kiss – sometimes it comes when you least expect it, like at a cast party after a middle school play and you have no idea what do to when lips meet lips and you still have a Frito chip dissolving on your tongue.

How does one prepare for that?

During play rehearsals, we were carefully coached on the art of “fake” kissing on stage. It was a unique approach, not sure if it was widely taught or just local.

It involved very carefully placed stage movements and hand over mouth placements to keep the hand to hand meeting appear to be between lips and not between hands clasped over lips. I have no idea if it actually worked or if the audience just chuckled.

Although my role in the play involved no “kissing” roles, the star of the play – I still remember his name, kissed me at the cast party. Well, it wasn’t that great – there was the Frito in my mouth and I wasn’t expecting an actual kiss. Let’s just say it was awkward.

Dating again, as a “person of a certain age,” has introduced a whole new round of first kisses. It’s no less awkward the second time around. At least I know more than I did when I was 14. Just saying…

Do I Text Him, or not?

After being divorced for several years, I finally took the plunge and entered the world of online dating. Although I didn’t necessarily need my kids’ advice to avoid ‘free’ dating services, I followed it.

So far, it’s been an interesting experience.

My first ‘real’ date after over 30 years was nothing short of a disaster. Thank goodness it took place in the light of day and at a place that didn’t serve alcohol! The man was handsy, in a cafe over lunch and tea of all things! He was also rude, profane and thinks he’s ‘amazing’ at everything he does, just ask him…

He may be 12 years older than me, but clearly, he hasn’t figured out how to be a grown-up, with respect for others. Aside from his stream of derogatory comments, the most egregious and offending act during ‘date,’ was when he reached across the table and poked me in the stomach – for real.

This was after I had quite literally shrunk my body into as a compact space as it possibly could be during one of the longest 90 minutes of my life. Attempting to remove any part of my body within touching range, I squeezed my elbows between the armrests and tucked my feet under the seat. I even went as far as to hold my cup of iced tea over my stomach, a decision that turned out to be somewhat ill-fated.

It was hot and humid, especially so for Liverpool, NY.  Unfortunately, a drop of water slipped off of the cup and onto my dress. The fabric and color of the dress made the water drop visible until it dried.

I’m guessing you can already figure out where this went, or maybe not. This man, who proclaimed himself to be a gentleman in his profile – and oh, by the way, initially sent me a very nice message, reached across the table and stuck the tip of his finger into the spot where the water drop had left its temporary mark.

Who does that?! I can’t help but wonder if he has a ghost-writer who sends messages that mask his personality as a way to fool women into meeting him.

Date number two was more successful on the surface, but not in reality. Long story short, we had two in-person dates – which honestly were enjoyable. I had some hope that the encounter might at least lead to a friendship. However, I learned that we have very different values when it comes to the rights of LGBTQ and people of color. Let’s just say there wasn’t a third date, and his number is no longer stored as a contact.

Tee up bachelor number three.

He’s a pilot and has more than a somewhat erratic schedule. We met two Saturday’s ago and shared an enjoyable conversation over a cup of iced tea followed by a brisk walk along the lakeshore. We met at the same place as the unfortunate encounter with bachelor number one. Thankfully, this time, there was no inappropriate touching or boisterous self-promoting, just the awkwardness that comes along with a first date. In fact, it was quite pleasant.

Fast forward to the following week, he said he’d reach out to me on Sunday, I didn’t hear from him until Monday. Not a big deal, he had a good reason. We exchanged a couple of messages, and in the end, I thought we had made arrangements to meet for dinner the following Friday evening.

The only problem was, we had agreed on a place to meet but not a time. Friday afternoon, I checked my phone repeatedly for a reply to my text from the day before and confirmation of the time. Every time I checked my message still appeared to be unread and was definitely unanswered.

Being unsure about dating protocol as a woman of a certain age, and after two awful experiences, I checked in with a handful of friends. “Do I text him, or not?” There was a 50/50 split between two sentiments, “Give him the benefit of the doubt and text him back” and “The guy must be rude, don’t waste your time.”

I was 100% leaning toward writing the whole thing off when my phone buzzed. At 5:45 pm, the screen lit up with a confirmation of the time and an apology.

“I’m so sorry! I just realized that we hadn’t actually confirmed a time. Can you meet at 6?” Without much of a pause, and a bit to my surprise, I replied: “Can we make it 6:30? I just got home from work and am a good 25 minutes away from the restaurant.”

We exchanged a few more logistics-related messages, including the fact that the restaurant does not have a parking lot and parallel parking was going to be both necessary and a problem You see, I don’t, well can’t, parallel park to save my soul. I would rather walk a mile from a spot that’s easy to maneuver my car into than attempt to back into a spot between two other vehicles.

I shared my dilemma, and he volunteered to park my car for me and to teach me how to parallel park. I readily accepted his first offer, we’ll see about the second.

He held an outdoor table for us from 5:45 until I arrived a little past the newly agreed upon time. Turns out, he was already at the restaurant when he realized that we hadn’t actually set a time to meet. I have to admit this made me smile.

Half-way through dinner, the sky started to show signs of opening up. It began as a slow drip, and by the time we dashed inside and snagged the one remaining table, the rain was pounding the pavement.

It was a ‘get to know you’ sort of dinner, enjoyable and much less awkward that our first date. The food was great, but the best part of the evening was the live music afterward.

Since he knew where my car was parked and because it was still raining, bachelor number three volunteered to fetch umbrellas from his car and mine before we walked to Funk ‘n Waffles, which believe it or not, is a trendy nightlife spot in downtown Syracuse. If the waffles are half as good as the music was, it’s a now on my list of favorite places!

The “Adam Ezra Group” was the featured, and only act. They only played for two hours, but it was worth the price of admission and then some. The quartet blended voice and instruments together in both lively and melancholy original folk songs. Their performance ranged from fast-paced fiddle playing by a woman whose beauty is ethereal to slow ballads sung acapella, in perfect four-part harmony.

My date and I sat side by side in alternating states of comfortable silence, enjoying the music, and periods of animated conversation in hushed voices so we wouldn’t interfere with anyone else’s enjoyment. He even asked me to dance, an invitation which I quickly accepted. It’s been ages since I’ve danced. Turns out, I haven’t forgotten how to move my feet in rhythm to the music.

The show ended with a band and listener sing-along. We joined the band members and the rest of the attendees on the small but adequate dance floor in front of the stage. Together we all sang along to “Let it Be.” I’m not sure how harmonious it actually was, in musical terms, but it was a beautiful moment in time and harmonious from the perspective of feeling connected with other people and part of a community.

To text or not to text, that was the question. In retrospect, I think I should have reached out. But I didn’t, and I’m glad he did – no matter what the outcome is, this night was an experience and created a memory I will treasure.

Do Cat’s Go to Heaven?

Animals have a funny way of wriggling their way into the deepest corners of one’s heart.

In the late summer of 2014, I had to face the difficult but unavoidable decision to hold hands and shed tears with my youngest son while we drove to the Veterinary hospital in Yardley, PA to bring peace to Romeo’s life and to end his excruciating pain.

He was a brave and funny dog,  and as miniature dachshunds often-times do, he maintained a puppy-like quality almost to the end. Unfortunately, age, arthritis and a severe birth defect made the decision to euthanize him clear but still painful.

11_Romeo Watching the Progress

Only a few weeks later, I said goodbye to Annie under the care of the same compassionate animal lovers and caregivers. This time on my own. As it turned out, Annie couldn’t bear the loss of Romeo in addition to her faithful companion Christian heading off to college. She passed in peace.

Annie on the steps.jpg

One of my favorite stories about Annie is when my friend Dan house sat for me while Christian and drove from Pennsylvania to Missouri. He called me on the third afternoon of his stay and said, “Beth, it’s so cute how Annie sits on the third step every day around three pm to watch the squirrels play.”

“Dan,” I said, “She’s not watching the squirrels play, she’s waiting for the school bus to bring Christian home.”

The memory of this exchange never fails to make me chuckle.

No Pets Ever Again

After this experience, I swore to myself and to my youngest son, no pets ever again. My commonly repeated reason was, “They’re too high maintenance, and I don’t want my lifestyle to be constrained by the effort it takes to care for a pet, especially if I want to travel or have to move again someday.”

Christian, my youngest son, gave me the right amount of time to grieve before the hints started dropping, not about a new dog, but of all things the hints were about how cute and low maintenance cats are.

No cats, no dogs, no pets remained my stance – well until it waivered with one too many cute cat pictures sent my way via mobile technology.

We started to talk about it and came to an agreement. If it was going to happen, and for me, that was a pretty big if – I would consider adopting an adult cat, one that was as hypo-allergenic as a cat can be and one that was not going to reproduce.

We agreed on all counts.

Google the Matchmaker

So, one night in early January of 2015, I first did some research to find which breeds of cat are the least likely to bother people with pet allergies. I quickly scrolled past and dismissed the idea of owning a hairless cat and just as quickly, began to seriously consider the notion of finding and adopting a Russian Blue.

Russian Blues are described to be intelligent, somewhat shy around strangers but still sociable, playful and affectionate with their owners. I was sold by the description alone, and then there is the fact that Russian Blues are gorgeous. They have a special kind of grey coat of hair; it’s thick and smooth and shiny. But, it’s the eyes that captured me – I never knew there could be such expression in a cat’s face.

Maybe it’s the way they’re a bit wide set on their face combined with the large ears that made me fall in love with the breed. I just couldn’t help but think that if, and again a big if, I were to adopt a cat, a Russian Blue would be the right match.

After completing my research, I did one Google search. It was something along the lines of “adult Russian Blue cats for adoption near me.”

The first link in the search results was to an animal shelter in Trevose, PA. Before clicking through, I checked the distance from me and decided it was reasonable. One click later, I found Mia. A female Russian Blue, everything from the description of her personality to her glamour shot was spot on, and I felt my resolve around the topic of “no pets ever again” begin to dissolve.

Mias glamour shot from the shelter website

I copied her glamour shot and sent it to Christan in a text message. As you can guess, the deal was sealed for both of us, and I brought her home on January 15, 2015.

Mia on here first day at home. Jan 16 2015

Life on Pine Grove Road

Meeting Mia at the shelter was a bit discombobulating. I’ve never seen so many kittens and cats running around in a confined space. Mia was in a kennel, sequestered from the other cats, while at the same time she was smack dab in the middle of the chaos.

The caregivers at the shelter explained to me that she was just under a year old, had no tolerance for other cats and had been in the shelter for nearly eight weeks. I felt compelled to bring her home.

It didn’t take any time at all for Mia to settle into her new home on Pine Grove Road in Yardley, PA. Mia and I enjoyed two full summers in our house with a three season porch. She loved to enjoy the view from the windows while I puttered around with paints.

She regularly supervised my creative sessions and working sessions, no matter what room in the house they happened to take place.

 

Oddly enough, one of her favorite places to hang out was on the third step with a view into the front yard. Her favorite time, also around 3:00 pm.

Mia on the steps

I’d be remiss in telling this story if I didn’t mention that all was not completely smooth with Mia’s adjustment during this time. Her eight-week stay in the shelter as a kitten, not quite a cat had left her a bit skittish and untrusting, which led to some behavioral challenges mostly to do with using the litterbox.

More than one trip to the vet resulted in medicine and special food to treat her interstitial cystitis symptoms. I had no idea that there was such a thing as a neurological condition that affects a cat’s bladder and causes them pain when they use the litter box. It’s often-times caused by stress.

At any rate, the meds and the food seemed to work and life with Mia was more than good.

The Road to Omaha

A new work opportunity halfway across the country in October of 2016 meant packing up my belongings and settling into a new abode in Omaha, NE.

I packed a suitcase full of the comforts of home for Mia, boarded the plane (after going through security with her, which was a trip in and of itself), and checked into a pet-friendly hotel before pumping up the air mattress in my new apartment.

We settled into a routine, one that was enjoyable, although not without similar challenges to those we experienced in Pennsylvania.

 

Mia’s keen sensitivity and awareness sometimes got the best of her, but again thanks to special food and treatment options, her behavioral challenges were manageable.

I’d never thought of cats as particularly intuitive or expressive, but Mia certainly challenged that perspective.  On more than one occasion, in not so subtle ways, “encouraged” me to get out of bed and into the day.

One Move too Many

I didn’t move to Omaha with the expectation of staying there for the rest of my life. However, I didn’t expect that my return to the city would only be for a couple of years. But that’s what happened.

Mia and I traveled by plane from Philly to Omaha. We drove in style from Omaha to Syracuse. The trip included a brand new trave cat tube and a trunk full of cat and people essentials for camping out in our new home; once again waiting for the movers to deliver our belongings.

 

We arrived and settled in the best we could while we waited for the rest of our belongings to be delivered.

Outside of the expected initial stress-related, but manageable challenges, Mia seemed to settle into our new home with no problem.  We resumed our twice a day treat toss routine, she supervised my unpacking and organizational efforts from the comfort from her favorite basket to a cave made of packing paper or a chest full of linens depending on what was most readily available.

 

Then things began to change. Three months after moving in, we had our first visitor; one of my coworkers came over to help me hang some pictures. Mia’s reaction to new people had always been unpredictable; sometimes she showed complete indifference and other times she greeted a lucky visitor with a forehead or tail rub to the calf.

On this particular cold March day, her greeting was a hiss, a rather scary one at that. I haven’t had many visitors here, but the few I’ve had all got the same unwelcoming greeting from Mia. She didn’t even make an exception for the woman I interviewed to be her cat sitter whenever I traveled.

The hissing was the first of many behaviors that changed and worsened over the following months. The door frames and baseboards started to look like swiss cheese; there were nights that she pawed and clawed at the patio door so violently I thought she might actually cause damage.

Our morning routine changed entirely. We still started the morning with a game of treat toss, but instead of laying on the end of my bed or just outside the bathroom door while I got ready for work, she started hiding under the folds of the comforter on the floor at the end of my bed.

Sounds harmless, right? It seemed so until she started pouncing at me with claws bared. It got so that I had no idea what to expect from her. One minute she was more affectionate than she’d ever been and the next she was lashing out with claws and sometimes even teeth.

Between her increasingly aggressive and erratic bearing and the damage she was inflicting on the woodwork and carpets, I had to make a very difficult choice. I’d tried everything from the meds her Vet in Omaha prescribed to help with anxiety to sprays, diffusers; you name it, I tried it – all to no avail. I came to the sad realization that I was not going to be able to keep her. We were both in distress.

My first thought was to find her a new home and I found a couple of reputable websites that help facilitate the adoption process. In the end, that was unsuccessful. I had more than a few inquiries, but they all had kids in the house and many had other pets. There was no way I could think about putting her in a home with children, the risk of her lashing out at a small child was too great.

In hopes that a Veterinary clinic would help me do two things, I made an appointment for her. My hopes were that they might be able to help me find a new home for her, or worst case scenario they could assuage the guilt I felt for the research I’d done on pet euthanasia.

During this entire time, I kept thinking about my dear friend Gina and how much she loved Mia and how she’d adopted and cared for more than one adult cat with special needs over the course of her life. My hope was that I would be able to find someone like Gina to take Mia in and give her a new home.

The Veterinarian’s assistant checked us in and we put Mia on the scale. She weighed just under 11 lbs when we left Omaha, that night she weighed in at 7.5. I knew she’d lost weight, but, as Christian and I liked to describe her, she was so “flurffy” – it masked just how much weight she had lost in a very short period of time. There was no more doubt that something was seriously wrong.

After relaying my tear-choked account of events to the Vet, she gently suggested to me that euthanasia might well be the very kindest thing to do for Mia. She also did her best to try and find a new home for miss Mia, to no avail. She also agreed with me that given her past – putting her in a shelter, surrounded by other animals would be the worst thing I could do.

With many tears, and thankfully with gentle hugs from the staff, I said goodbye to Mia.

It wasn’t until I returned home, that I realized it was Gina’s birthday.

I think cat’s do go to Heaven, and I believe Mia is with Gina.

Angels Really do Wear Plaid

Last week, as I was writing about the unexpected and sometimes strange twists in my life over the past 11 years, a thought occurred to me – I don’t think I’ve ever shared the reason I named my blog “Angels Wear Plaid.”

Of course, me being me, there’s a story behind it that goes way beyond the single moment of inspiration on the day I decided to start a blog.

You’re a Writer, Who Me?

2009 was a tumultuous year. We’d emerged from the fall and winter of 2008 with a few family outings under our belt, including a visit to Bowman’s Tower in the fall with our two miniature dachshunds, Annie and Romeo.

I’m not sure what was more memorable, the breathtaking view of the orange and golden hues of fall interwoven with the last signs of summer green or the comment made to us by a stranger as we walked up the path with the dogs. Apparently, he’d never seen mini-dachshunds.

With some obvious discomfort, he knelt down to say hello to them. In a deep, graveled and memorable voice, he looked up at us and said, “Little dogs, little feet.” He rose with as much effort as it had taken for him to kneel and limped away.

This anecdote will always stay fresh in my mind, to this day I can still hear his voice.

However, sometimes I need to look at pictures to recall the full glory of Fall coming to the Delaware Valley in the fall of 2008.

 

The outing had given me hope, but the hope was short-lived. Life rapidly returned to the pre-Bowman’s outing pace of going to work, coming home from work and trying to ignore reality.

I fell into the deepest funk I’ve ever experienced in my life, and to put it mildly, I was a mess. Gin and tonics followed by servings of wine had become my coping mechanism, and during that time of my life, I was fooling no one but myself.

Thankfully (and here’s where the story will begin to come together), in January of 2010, a friend of mine took a very tough stance with me.

He said, “Beth, you are a beautiful talented woman. I’ve read what you write in your triathlon community training log, I love it – everyone loves it. Write. If you don’t want to write, take a drawing class, take a photography class; you’re always talking about wanting to create. Do it and quit depriving the world of your gifts. We’re given gifts so we can share them, not to waste them.”

The writing bit was the only thing I could connect to, but my response was, “A writer? Who me?!” Halfheartedly I conceded, “I’ll do my best to try and find a way to do something creative.”

He replied, “Beth, I don’t think you understand. I can’t continue to watch you destroy yourself and waste your talents.”

The message was received and the meaning was clear.

Ironically (or not), the following day I received a course catalog for ed2go.com in the mail; the featured online course category was of all things, creative writing.

I registered for my first class on the same day. Oddly enough, I signed up for a class on writing romance novels, perhaps due to my teenage love affair with Harlequin Romances.

Writing Under a Pseudonym

In retrospect, I was unduly nervous about joining in on an online writing class. But at the time, it seemed as though I was going to be baring my soul, or more specifically my writing, to strangers and people who might ridicule it.

So, in order to protect myself, I registered on the site under my real name (which was obviously necessary) but signed up for my first, second, third and maybe even fourth and fifth six-week class under the pseudonym of Lady Smith.

Lady Smith is the name of a town in Virginia. I’ve never actually been there but drove by it on my way to and from Richmond, VA a few months prior to signing up for my class. For some bizarre reason, it stuck in my head and seemed like the perfect name to use as a name de plume in my online writing classes.

Six months into taking my online writing classes, ranging from “How to Write Romance Novels,” to “How to Make Money From Your Writing,” I somehow mustered up the nerve to start my own blog. Never mind the fact that I was still authoring under a pseudonym in a private and really safe environment. For whatever reason, I decided to take what I’d learned during the previous six months and give it a go – for the first time, putting my real name and identity to my thoughts, ideas and stories.

My main dilemma now was what to name my blog.

Angels Wear Plaid

I honestly can’t remember which came first, the idea for my first blog post or the idea for the name of my blog. I suspect it must have been the name of the blog. It seems logical that I would have started the process of setting up my blog before deciding to write a post – but, I’m not always logical and it could easily have happened on the same day.

What I remember is sitting at my dining room table in the house on Pine Grove Road, it was a brilliantly sunny early summer day and for some reason when I looked at the driveway I was taken back to winter and more than a few inches of snow.

The day I recalled was equally as sunny, although not nearly as inviting. At least eight, maybe ten inches of snow had fallen overnight. I woke up to the sun flooding my bedroom with daylight and forgot for a moment that we were in the dead of winter.

Not one to pay attention to the weather forecast (that is until I moved to Upstate NY), I had no idea there would be snow on the ground. I pulled back the curtain and groaned. The depth and heaviness of the snow were obvious from my upstairs window; the thought of shoveling the long driveway sent me straight back to bed. I pulled the covers over my head, closed my eyes, and hoped the snow would melt before I woke up again.

I was in that haze one feels between being fully awake and deeply asleep, there was a familiar, but yet unfamiliar sound outside. I couldn’t sort it out so I made my way to the window once again; the sound I didn’t quite recognize, was a snowblower.

My neighbor Bill, from across the street, wearing a plaid jacket and matching fur-lined cap was snow-blowing my driveway. I remember at the time thinking something to the effect of, “he’s an angel.” Although truth to be told, his daily disposition might suggest otherwise.

At any rate, that morning I certainly felt like that morning he was one.

In June of 2011, that memory inspired me to publish my first post and to name my blog Angels Wear Plaid.

Roads May Be Winding, but They Always Bring Us Home

Throughout my life, I’ve learned that home is not a place – it’s a state of mind.

While sitting on a stool at my kitchen counter, my eyes were drawn to the pond just past my sliding glass door and postage stamp sized patio. Every time I look at it, I can’t help but wonder how it’s going to look once summer finally arrives.

In its current state, with a beaten down black heavy duty plastic protective ring around it, it’s hard to imagine it looking beautiful. But somehow I think it will end up being quite lovely. It’s funny how most of the time, even though we can’t imagine how our things in our life will turn out, they turn out to be better than expected. Sometimes it just takes a while to get there, and the roads we have to travel are often bumpy and full of detours.

My mind began to wander through the events that brought me to from the Midwest to Upstate New York. It’s been a heck of a decade, plus one year.

From Omaha to Philadelphia

In 2008 I was working for a company in Omaha, NE; the company was going through a lot of change and as often-times happens when companies are acquired and leadership changes, activities such as “right-sizing” and “right-salarying” didn’t take long to occur.

As someone who had been with the company for quite a few years and had been hired into management while the original owner was in place, I saw the writing on the wall and knew it was time to take action.

In June we had a family meeting, and I explained that since the acquisition had taken place, many of my colleagues had taken salary cuts and some had also had their positions “eliminated.” It didn’t take long for them to understand the gravity of the situation, my job was in jeopardy.

We talked it over, and everyone agreed that it was time to consider a move to somewhere outside of Omaha. It was a scary proposition for them, as Omaha was the only place they had ever lived. But they understood, as the primary and often-times sole income earner, it was critical that I was employed.

The next evening, I had the most incredible news to share; in one day, I had been contacted by three recruiters about three different positions. It was mind boggling, I hadn’t even updated my resume or my LinkedIn profile. The best part was that they were all positions in the field of E-commerce Customer Experience, which is where my professional passion lies. I pretty much took this as a sign. 🙂

After several months of interviewing (it’s amazing how long the process takes), I was offered a job in the Greater Philadelphia area. On Super Bowl Sunday of 2008, I boarded a plane at Epley Airfield and watched the Super Bowl at a T.G.I.Friday’s in Bensalem, PA. while my family hosted a party back in Omaha. It was surreal, to say the least.

At the beginning of September, my seven months of commuting between Pennsylvania and Nebraska came to an end. I met the family in Chicago to see my daughter off to college before we drove back to Omaha to finish packing up the house.

It was hard to say goodbye to my beautiful red brick, three-story colonial home – even more so because I barely got the chance to enjoy the fabulous kitchen we had remodeled. But, it was where life was taking us, and I had to have faith.

We cleared out the few things that were remaining in the house while the movers loaded up the truck, with hugs, tears and farewell waves our three-day trek with a 12, almost 13-year old boy and two mini-dachshunds began.

Apartment Life in Yardley

Although our beautiful home had been on the market for a few months, we were unable to sell it before we moved in the fall of 2008 (yeah, 2008 – not a good year for selling houses) so we found ourselves in a three-bedroom apartment in Yardley, PA.

It honestly didn’t bother me, because at the time I was confident that we would ultimately sell our house in Omaha. It was in one of the most popular areas of town, and it seemed unthinkable that no one would buy it. How wrong I was.

It was our first move in 10 years, give or take a few months, since we moved into the house we had just left behind. The number of boxes was daunting, and it was clear that additional trips to the storage unit were going to be necessary.

Beth surronded by boxes in the Kathy Stree Apartment

Whenever I move, the first order of business is to get the kitchen put together. There’s something about preparing and eating a home-made meal that helps me feel more settled in a new space.

The kitchen in the Kathy Street Apartment

The first meal I prepared in our new abode, was Quiche and it tasted heavenly. The two years we spent in this three bedroom apartment were tough. It’s a long story all on its own and, while it had its bright spots, overall it was a very challenging time. Let’s fast forward to my next big move which was to a rental house two miles up the road from the apartment complex.

Life on Pine Grove Road

After a tumultuous search for a house to rent, I finally found one. It took months, and I couldn’t get over how difficult it was. All I could think of was how important it was for me to find a new place for my youngest son and me to live. We were both desperate to get out of the apartment, and at the age of 15, he really wanted to live in a house with a yard, and I wanted to provide it for him.

My new landlord is an artist, and little did I know that meeting her and renting her house would change my life in so many ways. It was, and I’m sure still is, a very, very fine house – I hope the people who are living there today are as happy as I was.

We had a yard, three bedrooms, a living room, den, and a basement – but my favorite space from April until October was my three season porch, which took a while for me to get organized.

First, I had to arrange to move everything from the apartment on Kathy Drive to the new house on Pine Grove Road. Fortunately, my new landlord let me start moving my things into the house a good month before my lease began, in fact, she even suggested it. In her clipped Brittish accent, she said, “The previous tenant has already moved out, so the house is empty. I see no reason why you shouldn’t start moving things in before you actually take possession.” She handed me the keys.

Every night for the month before Christian and I officially moved from the apartment to our new house, I packed as many things as I could into a laundry basket and six boxes and loaded them into my car. The following morning, on my way to work, I stopped at the house to unload the boxes. I unpacked and organized after work, and before I re-loaded the laundry basket and moving boxes. Of course, I started with the kitchen.

Getting the kitchen ready in the Pine Grove Road house

I was able to transport a good share of our belongings and left only the heavy lifting to the movers. I have never been so relieved to say goodbye to a place, and say hello to a fresh start.

We celebrated the first night in our new home by watching “Iron Man” on the big screen t.v. in the basement, sponsored by the cricket who chirped so loudly we could hardly hear the dialog. It makes me smile to think back on that night.

A few weeks after moving in, I arranged for the moving company to deliver the boxes that had been in storage for two years. I was a basket case, it was the opposite of hoarders. To the dismay of my parents and my son, the most frequent phrase out of my mouth that day was, “I haven’t used that in two years so I must not need it.” I don’t know if my son will ever forgive me for giving one of the movers our lawn mower. Thankfully, he stopped me before I tossed out the good china.

For the second time in two years, I found myself surrounded by boxes.

Beth surrounded by boxes on Pine Grove Road

It took from October until the following June to clear the three season porch that would become my favorite place to hang out and create. The boxes were labeled less than accurately, plus they’d been in storage for two years, so as you can imagine, Christian and I tired quickly of guessing “what might be in this box?” He was out as soon as he found the paintball equipment.

The first year we lived there, I focused on sprucing up the front yard and flower beds.

I didn’t do much in the way of fixing up the porch other than cleaning it out and buying a bit of furniture. Money was a constraint. The second summer was a different story. A woman named Maria, who I met through a running group, saved the day and made the porch updates affordable.

Oddly enough, I bumped into her at the grocery store, and as we were catching up, I told her about my porch dilemma. The harsh winter months had not been kind to the blinds, and I wanted to find an affordable solution.

“Maria, I’m almost there.  I just need to find someone who can sew and knows where to buy inexpensive material to make window coverings for my porch.”  I said.

“Beth…I sew…”

I don’t think I gave her an option when I replied, “Oh Maria!  Will you make me some window coverings?  I’ll pay you, just let me know how much.”

She introduced me to Jomar, a store in Philadelphia, that can only be described as Home Goods, and TJ Maxx meets Jo-Ann Fabrics and a flea market.  I left the store with twenty-two yards of quality fabric for $22.00.  She had a vision, and I had trust. The outcome was amazing.

The six years that I lived in the house on Pine Grove Road were interesting, to say the least, and included more than a few significant life changes. They were also full of positive changes, and it was while living there that I discovered I’m a writer and an artist. It’s also the time in my life in which I truly learned to have faith and appreciate serendipity.

From my first drawing lessons in the Art Studio at Patterson Farm to the challenging lessons at Princeton Art Council to my online writing classes through E2toGo, I grew and changed. I rediscovered my joyful spirit and sense of curiosity. I had no idea just how much my life would be enriched by my move to Pennsylvania.

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It was not without its bumps, hurdles and challenges – but, I not only worked my way through all of them. I became stronger because of these experiences.

Back to Omaha?!

The road back to Omaha was long and one that frankly, I resisted. When I left Nebraska in the fall of 2008, I was sure I would never move back. It’s not that Omaha is a lousy place to live, in fact, it’s a city with a lot to offer – in my opinion, it really is a hidden gem. But, I had no family there, I had done a poor job of keeping in touch with the few friends I had made, and to be honest, I didn’t believe I had what it would take to face memories of the past.

Unfortunately, the job I left Omaha for didn’t turn out the way I had hoped and I left the company after four years and entered the world of self-employment. 2015 marked my third year of freelancing as a website consultant and content writer, and due to a variety of reasons, I decided to find a way to re-enter the world of corporate America.

For me, it turned out that being self-employed was far more appealing in theory than in reality. Sure you can work from anywhere and theoretically you can make your own hours, but in my experience, there is no such thing as taking a break. There’s also the expense of health insurance or the risk of going without, the constant challenge of drumming up new business while keeping existing clients happy, and then, there’s the solitude.

In the end, it was the constant state of being alone that made me choose to update my resume and my LinkedIn profile. After years of writing about E-commerce technology and best practices, I wanted to be back in a role where I was making things happen rather than one of providing sound advice and wondering if it would be executed. I also wanted to return to a leadership role and be part of a team.

After almost a year of searching, and of countless interviews, I was fortunate enough to be offered a position at a company in Omaha. Although I swore I would never return to Omaha, the opportunity to get back in the E-commerce game, plus the prospect of working with some of my favorite peeps from my previous Omaha gig made it a no brainer.

In all honesty, I had no idea how heavily the cards were stacked against me. Re-entering the corporate world into a role that is very technology dependent after being out of the industry for four years is practically unheard of. Thank goodness for tenacity, good relationships, a good career track record and a bit of ignorance!

It was hard to leave my friends and the life I had made in Pennslyvania, and even more difficult to leave my youngest son and move half-way across the country, but it was exactly what I needed to do.

Friends graciously hosted a farewell gathering at Snipes Family Farm, a night full of love and laughter, and one I will always treasure.

Going away party with my friends in Yardley (2)

This lovely circle of people helped me grow and expanded my world in more ways than I can describe.

I left Omaha by car as a married woman with children at home and two dogs, I returned by plane as a single woman with grown children and a cat.

Life in Omaha

I can best describe my return to Omaha as a soft landing. Although I made the move by myself, there were friends at the other end to welcome me and make the transition as smooth as possible. In spite of my lack of communication during the years I lived in Pennslyvania, people were at the ready and volunteered to pick me up from the airport, help me move into my new apartment and treat me to many welcome back lunches and dinners.

Looking back, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I made the decision to rent my apartment sight unseen and move in the day after arriving in the city. I wasn’t in the least bit prepared to live in an empty space for the week or so that it would take for the moving company to arrive with my belongings. All I had brought with me was one suitcase with clothes and toiletries for me and another with things needed for Miss Mia, my cat.

Suitcase packed for a cross country plane trip wiht a cat

My dear friend Gina thought of everything and had a care package prepared for me. It contained an air mattress, hangers, toilet paper, a shower curtain, bedding, towels and a few essential kitchen supplies. It was brilliant, even the cat thought so.

Mia sleeping on the air mattress in omaha

My friend Stacey met me on the day I moved in and brought me a welcome basket, a feast of fruit and a bottle of wine.

A week or so later, I once again found myself surrounded by boxes and the task of unpacking and organizing a new home. Of course, I started with the kitchen and worked my way through the boxes and into the creation of a beautiful space to live.

I settled into life in Omaha with relative ease and enjoyed the chance to reconnect with friends and to make new ones. It may sound odd, but I believe my return to Omaha was a necessary step in my personal and professional journey.

From a creative perspective, it took me almost the entire two years that I lived there to find an opportunity to participate in an art class that was taught by a professional artist. However, I had great fun attending more than a few “paint and sip” classes and exploring “how to do acrylic pouring” videos on YouTube. My dining room table was covered in a yellow plastic artist’s tablecloth and a project in progress more often than it was set up to host guests.

The strange thing was that while I was exploring visual art with fervor, I struggled to write even once a month, let alone once a week or every day. I guess it just goes to show that there is a season for everything.

I didn’t move to Omaha with the expectation of staying there for the rest of my life. However, I didn’t expect that my return to the city would only be for a couple of years. But in June of 2018, for the second time in my life, I received three calls from three recruiters within one business day. It was impossible not to take it as a sign that it was worth at least having the conversation and that it was time to make an inventory of the reasons to stay or move on.

While my job was secure, leadership changes in the company had caused a significant shift in my responsibilities, and my role was no longer focused on the website customer experience.

I decided it was time to move on, but only for the right opportunity.

It was a whirlwind summer and fall full of interviews. It culminated in back to back in person interviews in mid-October, one in Pittsburgh, PA and one in Syracuse, NY. I never dreamt I’d be in a position to have to choose between two opportunities, but there I was. The decision wasn’t easy, but in the end, I decided to accept the opportunity with a company headquartered in Syracuse, or more accurately, Liverpool, NY.

As my welcome to Omaha began, with lunches and dinners, so did my departure back to the Eastern part of the country end. I hosted a farewell brunch with my eclectic group of Omaha transplants, a wonderful tradition that was started and carried out most often by the most gracious M.J.

I couldn’t resist the urge to model my new black winter coat with its fur-lined hood during brunch.

My co-workers sent me off with a gathering as well. I was overwhelmed and delighted by the turnout.

My third going away gathering was the most special of all in some regards, it was with my circle of friends who are regulars at Fernando’s. Fernandos is a Mexican restaurant in Omaha, there are two locations, but the one on 75th and Pacific is by far the best. The margaritas there are second to none.

While I was living in Omaha, I fell into a rather bad habit of stopping at Fernando’s for dinner multiple times a week. Who can blame me, it was literally on my way home from work, and as I mentioned, they have the best margaritas in the country.

The plus side of this bad habit is that I met some wonderful people, and made some genuine friendships. On my last night in Omaha, they all gathered at the restaurant to see me off. It was a night of hugs and laughter. The following morning I began the three-day cross country drive from Omaha to Syracuse.

On the Road Again

On Tuesday, December 4th, 2018 the movers arrived at my apartment and packed up my belongings. On December 5th, they loaded them onto the truck, and I settled into a pet-friendly hotel with Mia, which conveniently, was close to Fernando’s.

Thursday morning I double checked the contents of my trunk and headed east. This time, thanks to Gina’s wisdom, I was prepared to move into my new townhouse with no furniture. My trunk contained boxes with essential supplies such as dish soap, toilet paper, hangers, towels and bedding; boxes which were intended to (and did) double as nightstands. Of course, it also was packed with the basic things needed when one is traveling with a cat.

Trunk Packed for Move to NY

After a night in Indiana, where I was mistakenly identified as a trucker (it’s a long story), followed by a night in Erie, PA, I arrived safely in Liverpool, NY on the third day of driving.

It was a Saturday, not usually a work day for the folks who manage the property, but they were gracious enough to meet me and turn over the keys and garage door opener so I could move into my new townhouse (once again rented sight unseen, but a perfect place to land).

Daylight Drive in Liverpool

I unloaded my car, made a trip to Walmart and another to Target and set up my bedroom- complete with a new Smart T.V., a luxury air mattress, two divine cardboard box nightstands and a couple of inexpensive lamps.

Air Mattress and cardboard box night stands

As of today, I’ve managed to unpack all of the boxes, and I would say that my new home is mostly in order. I have two remaining corners of chaos to deal with, a painting to try and repair, there’s still art and pictures to be hung, and I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new furniture. But all-in-all, I think I’ve managed to make a somewhat cookie-cutter layout feel like a home.

For me, cooking a home-made meal is the first thing that makes a place feel like home, and surprisingly I’ve done a lot of that since moving here. The second thing is having friends and family visit, which is something I’m looking forward to, May is going to be a marvelous month!

So here I am, in Liverpool, NY, starting a new chapter and establishing a new home. I have a feeling that it’s going to be a great experience, it’s certainly off to a beautiful beginning.

Peat and Repeat

Just because a recipe made its way into a church cookbook doesn’t mean it’s going to taste good. That’s a lesson I learned many years ago when I was cooking for a family of five.

Apparently the same holds true for recipes that are delivered by a meal delivery service. A lesson I learned recently,  as a part of my attempts to master the art and science of cooking for one.

Cooking for Five

When my kids were growing up they were all very active in sports, at school and hanging out with friends. Evening mealtime was a very important time of the day for our family and we made it a point to sit down together whenever we could – no cell phones allowed, to share a meal and the highlights or sometimes lowlights of the day.

The older they got, the more difficult it became to come home from work and prepare a home-cooked meal and we found ourselves eating out way too often; a fattening and expensive habit. I wanted to find a way to help us all eat healthier, at home, and at the same time take the drudgery out of the daily task of figuring out what to make for dinner and then prepare it.

The answer was a weekend of mass meal preparation. Over the course of a few years, I fine-tuned my technique for prepping somewhere between 20 and 25 meals from taking up an entire weekend to a single day. Somehow, I found a way to complete everything from grocery shopping to cleaning up in a little over eight hours. The answer to the question “what’s for dinner” changed from “ugh, I don’t know” to “let’s go pick something out of the freezer.”

It was a family affair and usually included loud music, dancing and off-key singing into the head of a wooden spoon which did a fine job of doubling as a microphone. The day always ended with dinner at Fernandos, our favorite Mexican restaurant. After all that food prep, I figured I had earned the treat.

The one downside to this approach was that it was tempting to make the same meals over and over again because I had learned how to prep them and practically knew the recipe and ingredients by heart. In an effort to add variety into the stacks of plastic storage containers and gallon-size freezer bags that filled the freezer, I started including a few new recipes in each of the monthly meal prep events.

Peat or Repeat

For many people, I would guess that hearing the words “peat and repeat,” may conjure up a memory of the riddle: “Pete and repeat went fishing. Pete fell out of the boat, who was left?”

In our house, it had a double meaning. Each time I served one of the new recipes, the family would vote on whether or not it was worthy of repeating. The meals that didn’t make the cut were voted off the table and categorized as a “peat,” the opposite of repeat.

The worst peat I ever made didn’t even make it to the table, let alone a family vote. It was a recipe for barbecue chicken from a church cookbook. To this day I don’t know what I was thinking when I combined ketchup and frozen lemonade concentrate poured it over the chicken and turned the crockpot on before leaving for work. (I know!)

I’m not sure why I thought that just because a recipe made it into a church cookbook meant that it was going to be good, but I did.

Thank goodness I was the first one home that day. I walked in the kitchen and almost gagged when the sickly sweet smell of ketchup combined with lemonade hit me. I didn’t think twice and while holding my breath, I unplugged the crockpot and dumped its contents into the trashcan in the driveway.

Needless to say, that recipe was an unequivocal peat and we had dinner at Fernandos that night.

Cooking for One

There have been a lot of changes in my life as I’ve transitioned from the time in my life when I regularly cooked for five and sometimes more, to most often trying to figure out how to cook for one.

Oddly, or maybe not, it’s been one of the more difficult things for me to figure out. The first challenge for me was getting used to the lack of a need to have leftovers on hand to serve as midnight snacks during impromptu visits from my youngest son and his friends. The second challenge, and not a small one for me, was in finding recipes that serve one and appealed to me.

There are some pretty good resources out there and I did manage to find more than a few that seemed worth trying. This led to challenge number three, grocery shopping for recipes for one and also challenge number four, having the motivation to cook after work.

I tried a meal delivery service in an attempt to solve three out of four of the excuses for not preparing healthy meals for myself. After one too many ingredient substitutions, the worst of which was when they sent brussel sprouts instead of asparagus, I canceled the service. Once again found myself falling back into the habit of eating at restaurants, one in particular, far too often.

A little over a month ago, I decided to give a different meal delivery service a try and I’ve been trying new things. For the past few weeks, I’ve been “zesting” limes and lemons, charring corn and goodness knows how many other new food preparation methods that were previously unfamiliar to me.

Much to my surprise, I’m actually enjoying learning these new techniques and with the exception of one “peat”, I’ve been very happy with all of the recipes. The ingredients are intended to make a meal for two, but I find the serving sizes to be more than generous and in some cases, could feed at least four. This means I have just the right amount of leftovers for meals throughout the week and I have variety.

It’s worth noting that my grocery bill has gone down, I throw away less food – in particular, produce because the service sends me just what I need. I’ve even made a few of the “repeats” on my own.

As with a church cookbook though, not every recipe is worthy of a repeat just because it’s featured as a menu selection on a meal delivery service website. Although I’m sure the odds are probably higher than the church cookbook.

Going forward, for me, any recipe with couscous or cooked spinach is an automatic peat, or in this case, a do not order.