Flower power and ball juggling

Life is funny and sometimes full of delightful surprises and so are people.

Case in point, the ever-effervescent blonde in the sunglasses, she who is not just the life of the party but, in fact,  IS the party, the Ginger to my Mary Ann (if Ginger were a brilliant writer. . . and Mary Ann were a hack — ok, forget that analogy), the martini to my lemonade, the *grin* that  keeps me on the bright side, etc., the one and only BlogDramedy has bestowed upon me the honor of becoming one of her Blogs Of Other Bloggers, a name that, unlike Students Against the Treacherous Use of Fur, makes a good acronym.

Classic BlogDramedy.

Classic BlogDramedy.

I’m juggling a lot of balls at the moment. Mine are smaller than hers (more Titleist Pro V1s than Adidas Brazuca), not that size matters. And I’m not wearing knee-high socks, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I have more thoughts about this major award than I have time to write them. “Delightful surprise” and “honor” are just a start.

I had this “Flower Power” seedling of a post sitting in my drafts box, probably headed to “Trash,” but her very kind post featured one of my new header images, so I thought I’d post it while I get back to ball juggling.

Thank you, BD.

If you’ve come by way of BlogDramedy’s blog, welcome and thank you for visiting.

And if, for some reason that I can’t even begin to imagine, you haven’t already been to BD’s place, go check her out. But remember, her eyes are up here, buddy. Yeesh.

Still playing around with summer flowers and header images, I turned these three images . . .



…into these new header images:

Sometimes good is good enough.

A couple of weeks ago when blueberries were plentiful and inexpensive, I set out to make some blueberry muffins.  I don’t do a lot of baking these days. I was happy to have a reason to spend a morning in the kitchen.

Since it had been so long, I had to search for a recipe through the many dog-eared recipe books and magazines from back in the days when I could whip up something for the heck of it (baking is therapeutic for me) and take the final product to the faculty lounge, where it would be gone before second period.

For the past five years I’ve worked with a nice enough bunch of people who’ve been together for many, many years.  When I would bring something in to share, they were kind enough in thanking me, but always made sure to give props to Nancy, because Nancy is the real baker in the group. Nancy’s so good at baking. Have you ever had her (insert name of whatever I’d made)?

Eventually I stopped taking things to share because I was getting the message that only Nancy was allowed to bake or to receive baking props.

Teachers aren’t nearly as loyal.  If it seems edible and you leave it in the faculty lounge, they are most appreciative, if evidenced only by the fact that it will be consumed immediately and with gusto, no matter who made it. If you do something nice for teachers, they make sure you know you are more than good enough.

I’ve recently changed to working with a new group of people. Same place, new department. Among the many things I like about my new colleagues is the fact that they are young.  They don’t yet have a Nancy or any loyalty thereto. And they are in that sweet spot of their lives where metabolism and freedom from life’s bigger responsibilities allows them to eat whatever they want because if they haven’t already run 10 miles or put in a couple of hours at the gym, they will be later.

Doughnuts, cookies, home-made PopTarts, bags of candy are in constant rotation. They go on daily milkshake or Slurpee runs. . . There’s a constant stream of sugary-goodness all day long and they are all fashion-model thin.

I would resent them if I didn’t remember my own sweet spot of life so fondly.  Being around them brings those days back to mind. Despite all the time I spend at the gym, and all my will-power in avoiding a high calorie lifestyle. I’m not that which I once was. But, I’m good enough and that will just have to do.

The simplest blueberry muffin recipe I could find had nutmeg in it.  I was surprised to learn that I didn’t have nutmeg on hand.  This was when I started to realize that, although I don’t think I pay much attention to the cooking and baking competition shows on television, they have started to affect my sense of baking self-worth in the same way that every facet of media has affected every other aspect of  my self-image.

There was a time, before repeatedly being told that I’d never be Nancy, that I felt good enough about my baking abilities. I made things. People ate them with gracious approval.  I felt good about baking things and sharing them.

In those days, I’d have probably just skipped the nutmeg. Now here I stood, frozen with indecision, contemplating the possibility that these muffins would not be good enough.

Should I make the effort to go to the store to buy nutmeg or should I try to find some other substitution?  Should I use cloves or allspice or cinnamon?  What kind of baker doesn’t know which one of these is an acceptable substitution for nutmeg?

Suddenly every batch of everything, every cake, every pie, any piece of lovin’ that had come from my oven had not been good enough. It had been created by someone without the proper baking credentials. I thought about all the cakes I’ve decorated, going all the way back to my first job in a bakery, and how they wouldn’t come close to what you see on television these days. I was not

Is the cinnamon obvious?

Is the cinnamon obvious?

good enough.

It occurred to me that I’d seen enough of these shows to know that creativity counts and I’ve been told I’m creative. Sure, that’s probably a euphemism for bat-dropping crazy, but whatever. I decided I wasn’t giving up!  I challenged myself to look through the cupboards for something different, something to make these reality-show worthy blueberry muffins.

It was when I stood there seriously considering whether to go with BOTH the lemon-pepper AND the chocolate syrup that I decided sometimes a blueberry muffin should be just a blueberry muffin and that should be good enough.

But I did toss in some cinnamon, just in case.

When the muffins came out of the oven, my new inner reality-show critic piped up:

Oh, they didn’t rise consistently. They don’t look uniform. I’m going to have to take off points for presentation.

When I tasted one, it wasn’t for the joy of biting into a warm, freshly baked blueberry muffin.  It was to check the sponge. I don’t even really know what “sponge” is, but it was a big deal on The American Baking Competition, one of the few shows where I’ve sat through an entire episode.

I carefully peeled away the baking cup, watching judgmentally for how much crumbiness there was.

You might be a good enough baker if Paul Hollywood likes your sponge.  -- photo from CBS, "American Baking Competition".

You might be a good enough baker if Paul Hollywood likes your sponge. — photo from CBS, “American Baking Competition”.

I’m not sure what the standard for crumbiness is, but I figured I’d know if they were sub-standard.  I took a bite of the muffin and — I am not making this up — waited in suspense . . .for my own decision.

How was the texture? Did I get it right? Too moist, too dry? More baking powder? Less? What? WHat? WHAT???

My inner reality-show critic is brutal. These muffins were just not good enough. There was no consistency in appearance. There was nothing special about them, nothing that made my taste buds pop.

They were just muffins.

I took them to work anyway and left them in the ever-rotating snack area.  An hour later they were gone.

Despite the fact that they weren’t uniform in height. They might or might not have had the proper sponge. They didn’t have nutmeg or lemon pepper or chocolate syrup or hot sauce. They weren’t good enough.

One of my new colleagues, the tall, graceful. swan-like one, turned to see me walking past and gushed, “Did you make those muffins?!? OMG! They were SOOO good!  Did they have cinnamon in them? I thought I tasted cinnamon.  That was brilliant!!!”

Hmm.Turns out sometimes a muffin is just a muffin and that is good enough.

Bonnie’s Blueberry Muffins

– from my dog-eared copy of the April / May 1994 issue of Taste of Home Magazine. I don’t know Bonnie, but her blueberry muffins are more than good enough.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries*
Additional butter or margarine, melted
Additional sugar 
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat eggs. Blend in milk, butter, nutmeg and vanilla; pour into dry ingredients and mix just until moistened. Fold in blueberries. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. (*If using frozen blueberries, rinse and pat dry before adding to batter.) Yield: 1 dozen.

Spring cleaning

I’m in the middle of packing for a move. It’s not a particularly happy move, nor is it a particularly unhappy move. It’s just time for change.

When I came to this beautiful community a few years ago, I knew it was temporary. The plan was to be here for a year. A year became two and two is closing in on three. I love being near the water. Watching the sun rise over the bay has been the highlight of every morning. Riding my bike along the shore in an even more beautiful community a couple of miles away has been the highlight of many weekends.

It’s the lowlights that are forcing the change, before I’m ready but long overdue.

Not long after I settled  in, I met a group of nice people who gather every Friday night in the warm months for a community barbecue. This very happy welcoming soon turned ugly when one of them turned out to be too “nice”. When I tried to politely decline his interest, he persisted in what eventually led to a police report and my need to sell my car and buy something less distinguishable, which I then parked in various locations to keep it from being the target of his vandalism. Nothing says “I want to be your boyfriend” like urinating on a person’s windshield, putting nails in her tires, and surrounding the car with a trail of Marlboro cigarette butts as a calling card.

Although I’m tired of checking the perimeter of my car every morning, even if it weren’t for this troubled soul, it would still be time for me to move on. I’m not meant to share walls. My downstairs neighbors are steeped in dysfunction that I can’t avoid overhearing, to the point that in recent months I’ve worried it might come to something serious enough that I’d have to call authorities . . . again. I am tired of sneaking in and out of my home to avoid the drama. The teenagers next door are almost finished raising themselves, so they don’t need me anymore.

I came here for a year of solitude and I am leaving nearly three years later exhausted from the melodrama of other people’s lives.

The Hipstermobile was an easy target. She has been replaced with a more easily camouflaged would-be urinal.

The Hipstermobile was an easy target. She has been replaced with a more easily camouflaged would-be urinal.

But I will miss the sunrises.

And I have a new car.

So it’s not all bad.

The clearing of the clutter has carried over to my desktop, from which I’ve been deleting old files, mainly silly pictures from some of the blog posts I’ve written in the past few years. This morning I came across a half-written post from who-knows-when about creativity and change. I do have a vague memory of transcribing Joni Mitchell’s words about Jimi Hendrix and his need to evolve as an artist without disappointing his fans.

The post likely went unwritten, ironically enough, because it didn’t seem in keeping with what would be of interest to readers of Le Cahier.

Since it’s March and most everyone is or will soon be engaged in some sort of spring cleaning, instead of deleting the file altogether, I thought I’d share her words  in case they might find whoever might stumble across this at just the moment they need to hear them.

Whether your March will find you welcoming a season of change or just a good clearing out of the sock drawers, I hope it’s a good one.

It’s very difficult for an artist to survive especially his first change, which is inevitable. I mean, you can go on being the same as you started but you’ll die inside. And the time that you make your first change, like when Dylan went electric at Forest Lawn, you have the wrath of your fans . . .they don’t know that if you don’t change, they’ll get tired of you. . . .

He was tired of playing the guitar with his teeth. . . . he wanted to do big band arrangements and stand still…and cut the theatrics, but every time he would try to do it, they would boo him and say, “Jimi’s not himself.”

So I always thought in a way it was a shame that he never made the change because he’s one of the great innovators and geniuses in this business.