Saturday, March 31, 2012

Happy Fourth Birthday Elle!

Happy Birthday my Ellebelle!

I know it's been a long time since I saw you in person, but thanks to your parents and your grandparents, I have been able to see you grow up in photos. From your last visit with Grandmary, I see you still like to snuggle. Your Mama also reports that you are quite the free spirit!

Before you moved away, Grumpa and Grandmary loved watching you - seeing you explore the arts through painting and dancing. No matter if you are wearing a tutu or not, you set the barre high for super cuteness.
They also loved to watch you and your sister "pretend" to be princesses. Why pretend Elle? You ARE a princess! Just a word or two about knights in shining armor ... They aren't as easy to come by as you think. Don't wait for them to rescue you. Rescue yourself. Go on your own quests. Build your own castle. You are in control of your own fate.
I know it must be pretty hard to be the little and the big sister. But know that we see you, see you watching us watch you, ... and love you for every little thing about you.
No matter where the merry-go-round of life may take you, my little one, I love you and wish you a very happy birthday!

Auntie Nettie

Again, in the orange, because "orange" you special?

Thanks to Grandmary, Grumpa and your parents for the pictures.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Auntie Nettie Reads A LOT 2012 - 1st Quarter

If you are just finding the blog, please note that this list was maintained mainly so that I could remember what I've read this year. The record does not fully represent me or all of my interests, so don't judge my reading habits. My interests change quite frequently. Also, as a general rule, I don't do book recommendations or link to major retailers or publishers. Except for the ARCs listed below [thanks major publishers!], most of these books came from MY library or a public library.

Go forth, use your library card and READ!

January 2012
Matched by Ally Condie
Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult (didn't finish)
Three Sisters Island trilogy by Nora Roberts (from own library, reread)
Key Trilogy by Nora Robert (from own library, reread)
Lost Truth (Truth Novel 4) by Dawn Cook
Other Waters: A Novel by Eleni N. Gage (ARC)
The Dressmaker: A Novel by Kate Alcott (ARC)

February 2012
The Time in Between: A Novel by Maria Duenas, translated by Daniel Hahn (ARC)
Heat Rises (A Nikki Heat Novel) by "Richard Castle"
Eragon (Inheritance Cycle Book 1) by Christopher Paolini
Little Women and Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Wolf at the Door by MaryJanice Davidson
Down These Strange Streets (an anthology) edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Passing Love: A Novel by Jacqueline E. Luckett

March 2012
Smokin' Seventeen (A Stephanie Plum Novel) by Janet Evanovich
Explosive Eighteen (A Stephanie Plum Novel) by Janet Evanovich
The Rook: A Novel On Her Majesty's Supernatural Secret Service by Daniel O'Malley
Knit One Pearl One: A Novel by Gil McNeil
The Garden Intrigue (A Pink Carnation Novel) by Lauren Willig
A Perfect Blood (A Rachel Morgan/Hollows Novel) by Kim Harrison
Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (from my own library)*

*What? You don't pick thematic reading selections for your weekend getaways?

Avalon Beach, Avalon, New Jersey

Previous lists may be found here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Photo of the Day: Treasure from the Deep

Avalon Beach, Avalon, NJ
Friday, March 23, 2012

In all the years that I've been going to the beach, and in all the various locations I've visited around the world, this is the first time I've ever found a seahorse.
Such a wonderful souvenir of our one sunny day on the shore.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Recipes from Aunt Flora -- Peggy's Granola

Another girls' weekend. Another potluck menu to plan. As ever, I was delighted to contribute my fair share of baked goods for our breakfasts. In addition to plans to bring pumpkin bread, apple bread, and a orange-flavored/raisin/nut breakfast bar, I looked at the menu to see what we possibly could be missing. Our 'party coordinator' said that there would be fresh fruit and juices for breakfasts as well. When I think fresh fruit, I also think yogurt and granola.

Coincidentally, I had the makings of a granola in my pantry, and was waiting to try yet another family recipe, and so...


Enjoy this, while I enjoy my granola and other breakfast treats on a beach in New Jersey!

Peggy's Quaker Granola

2 1/2 cups regular oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup nuts, and/or sunflower or other seeds
1/4 cup bran or wheat germ
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup melted margarine (about 5 1/3 tablespoons)
1/2 cup raisins

Mix all well except raisins.
(I mixed the dry ingredients together first, stirring well to break up the clumps of brown sugar, and I added a handful or more of extra assorted nuts. Then I added the wet ingredients and mixed well.) Bake at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes. (I stirred after 15 minutes, and then baked about another 15 minutes.) Then add raisins (and some craisins), (mix well) and let cool.

Friday, March 23, 2012

40 Diamonds for 40: Honorary Aunt Diana

Even little notes from people claiming to have nothing new or special to add to the 40 Diamonds at 40 project often reveal little fun and interesting connections.

"Aunt" Diana was one of my mother's college roommates, and one of my first role models for aunt-hood. Mom was an only child, and I can't remember there ever being a time when we didn't call Aunt Diana "aunt." Strangely, none of Mom's other college roommates were ever given this honorific. I remember visits to Ohio to stay with Aunt Diana and Uncle Ralph when we were much younger, and then occasional visitations to CT over the years. Once I got to a certain age, I started to stay in touch with Aunt Diana independent of Mom's communication. Turns out there are shared links -- for many years Aunt Diana was a librarian. In her retirements, she now enjoys crafting and I often get some gorgeous hand-made cards (like the one below).

Most importantly, turns out that my brothers, father and I weren't the only ones to benefit from mom's tendency to wield a mean red pen, to cast a well-honed eye over documents for a stray comma or dangling participle, or to type faster than the speed of light.

Happy Birthday!

- and an apology. I think your 40 diamonds is a wonderful idea. But, I thought and thought and came up BLANK. .... No special memories, certainly no words of wisdom. Fortunately, others have filled in with wonderful contributions. I enjoyed a peek at your blog to see how the project was progressing.

There was a feeling of continuity when I read your friends messages. I was reminded of your mom's and my group of friends of college days. We've been so lucky to stay close after all these years.

Sorry, seems less personal to type, But I've lousy handwriting and cannot spell. I survived college because your Mom typed (and corrected!) my papers.

~ Diana

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

40 Diamonds for 40: Capers with Christine

Today is a very momentous day. Not only is it Christine's contribution to my 40 Diamonds at 40 project, but today is Christine's special "diamond" birthday as well. It's almost ten years to the month that Ms. Christine wandered into Caramoor, was assigned a desk in a shared office with me, and the merriment began.

Have you ever met someone and they fit in to the group as a whole, and your life in particular, like they were always meant to be there? Their humor, work ethic, ideology, and interests just sync up and it's like you always knew them?

I look back and can't believe it's only been 10 years since I met Christine. I can't believe that I haven't known her longer. I actually think we must have known each prior to this realm of existence, and it took until that fork in our life paths to finally cross. After all this time, we're still learning things about each other and probably will for the next 40 years. When we pass on to the next stage of this crazy cosmic conundrum, I really hope I'm assigned a cloud near hers.

I miss not working in the same place and City with Christine, but it's probably just as well. We used to rock the building with our laughter, to the point where we needed to be separated and certain GMs would bang on the floor to get us to quiet down. Even now, I can call her on the phone and leaves voice message of dubious distinction and cause her to crack up. Conversely, she can call me at the Big J and people down the halls come by to see why I'm laughing so loudly. They say laughter is healing and I think we're saving each other from the ridiculous, the incompetent, the bridezillas, WMD disguised as FMB, and people who are absolutely sure that she is their wedding coordinator.

My friend, I cannot thank you for saving me, tolerating me, humoring me, indulging me, traveling with me, driving me, schleping me, feeding me, housing me, amusing me, dealing with me, working with me, and rescuing me.

But enough about me ... You deserve the best. You are the best. You are wonderful, lovely, delightful, and really a true gem of a friend. You are one of the best diamonds in the whole world. May the sun always shine on you, east of the sun, west of the moon, and at the foot of the mountain.

Happy Birthday! I can't wait to party in Avalon in you. May it be the place of rest and enchantment that it's always been to this English major. Now, are you Arthur and I'm Merlin? Actually, I think you are Gawain.

February 21, 2012

Today is an important date for Auntie Nettie and me (well, at least in my opinion). Today marks 9 years and 11 months since we met at Caramoor. Little did I know that she would be and remain such an important spirit in my professional and personal life. Looking back at our almost 10-year history, I can’t help but chuckle out loud and often. I guess you have to be there for most of our adventures and moments of hilarity that only two friends can understand and instantly recall with just a certain look in the eye or gesture. She became my immediate friend and partner in crime. Such a title doesn’t come without a bit of abuse – I still have scars from all the rubber bands she shot at me while I was on the phone! But the comic relief was necessary when work became too stressful and one wanted to bang their head against a very hard surface. I believe in one of the policy and procedure manuals written by Auntie Nettie, there are specific instructions on where and how to do such a task. And when the going got really tough, she bought me lots and lots of potato chips and Diet Coke (what a temptress!)

It’s best that I don’t go into detail about my feelings of dreadfulness and sadness when Auntie Nettie decided it was time to move on from Caramoor. After the dust settled and Auntie Nettie landed at the Big J., our phone conversations continued as if nothing changed. We made plans – lots of plans – and traded work meetings for road trips! I can’t imagine all the experiences I would have missed out if it wasn’t for Auntie Nettie. My birthday weekend in Newport (the laughter, silliness, braving cold ocean waters in March); all the trips to the Botanical Gardens (the walks, the talks); Montauk escape (Manucci’s seafood stew, climbing to the top of the lighthouse, trying to find the Big Duck); and a couple of trips to Cape Cod (bike riding – which I still think she hasn’t forgiven me for, sand between the toes, dreams of another lifestyle, never wanting to leave). But the most memorable moment for me will always be how my dear Auntie Nettie unknowingly fulfilled a 24-year old dream of mine to see one of my favorite music groups – the Norwegian band a-ha! Every song of the “Ending on a High Note” concert performed by Paul, Mags and Morten still runs through my mind. This concert has forever bonded us. There will be times Auntie Nettie is hundreds of miles away and she will text me “just heard ‘Take On Me’…” Of course during all the adventures, it would be wrong of me not to give a shout-out to the Shushing Librarian who’s been a great companion on many of our trips, including ‘rushing the stage’ and getting quite friendly with one of the bouncers at the a-ha concert. Aw, the memories!

I hope that Auntie Nettie and I continue to plan many adventures during the next 40+ years. My travel partner she will forever be. I also hope she is loves her birthday present, which of course is another trip! Here are some of my favorite photos from the times we’ve shared together (which I hope she doesn’t delete!) Auntie Nettie, I love you and wish the absolute best birthday!
(Auntie Nettie says, don't make me stab you with this crochet hook
or I will strangle you with this yarn!)

A very happy girl getting ready to see a-ha!Embracing life on the Cape

Doing her thing at the Botanical Gardens

If Auntie Nettie had a Facebook page, this would be her profile picture.At her favorite beach on the CapeThe two of us chillin' on Montauk

Our favorite view: Sunset on the Cape

Monday, March 19, 2012

40 Diamonds for 40: Triumphant Tammy

Whenever I'm having a bad day I am now fortunate enough to have many love letters from my family and friends to refer to, to lift my spirits, including this one from my long-time friend, Tammy.

If I am ever whiny, cranky, or complaining about my lot in life, I should remember Tammy and how, despite everything that she has faced, she has come through--tired and a bit bruised, but with two lovely and loving children; higher college degrees, a position of respect, responsibility, and authority; humor and dignity; and hopefully, a better sense of her self-worth.

Her photo should appear in the dictionary next to the words:

triumphant /tri-um-phant/
1. Having won a battle or contest; victorious.
2. Feeling or expressing jubilation after having won a victory or mastered a difficulty.

heroic /he-ro-ik/
1. having the characteristics of a hero or heroine; very brave.

Fanatic /fuh-nat-ik/

a person with an extreme and uncritical enthusiasm or zeal, as in religion or politics or a particular popular hair band from New Jersey.

Tammy is such a super fan of Bon Jovi that a) she originally requested that this be posted on Jon Bon Jovi's 50th birthday (sorry Tammy -- you were too late!) and b) she usually drops some quote, lyric, or reference into just about anything.

I'd think this was weird, except I have my own fanaticism (see any and all a-ha posts) and I've known her a very long time.

Tammy honey, I am so proud of you, for so many things. Keep breathing. Remember to take some time for yourself once in a while. Remember, so many people are here for you and have your back. You just have to stop and let us be there for YOU every so often.

This is how the dictionary defines FRIEND:

Friend (noun)
(1) Somebody emotionally close – somebody who trusts and is fond of another, (2) Acquaintance – somebody who thinks well of or is on good terms with somebody else, (3) Ally – an ally, or somebody who is not an enemy, (4) Advocate of cause – a defender or supporter of a cause, group, or principle, (5) Patron – a patron of a charity or institutions, (6) A contact on a social marketing website.

And beside the definition is where a picture of Auntie Nettie should appear!

Auntie Nettie and I met my freshman year of college – in choir practice – where she routinely beat on me. As a junior, it was kind of her responsibility. Then she became a senior, graduated, and went on to the ‘real world,’ never to be heard from again, or so I thought. At the end of the summer just before my senior year started, I received a voice message from her. She said she knew of an entry level position at a music organization she worked for, would I be interested, and oh, by the way, you’d be working for the “devil*.” I applied, was offered the position, and accepted. We worked there together for 10 years.

During those years, she taught me how to use a fax machine, was the first person I called when I needed a word for whatever document I was working on, took me shopping for my wedding dress, crafted the most lovely party favors, was there for the birth of my two children (made them the most beautiful baby blankets and Christmas stockings), and stood beside me, hugged me, and let me cry when my marriage fell apart – and gave me chocolate chip oatmeal cookies!

We don’t talk every day, in fact sometimes we don’t talk for months. She knows I’m the worst at keeping in touch, but she goes out of her way to make sure we schedule a date together and plan something that is fun for the kids (a trip to the Botanical Gardens, skating at Bryant Park). And that is what makes Auntie Nettie the definition of a friend. Days or months can pass and when we do connect, it’s as if no time has elapsed. The conversation picks up right where it left off. She’s someone you can trust with your secrets, she always has your back, stands by her principles, and she has given her life to every charity she’s touched. On top of all that, she is a witty, crafty, intelligent, beautiful person that knows it’s the tiniest details that make the biggest impact.

Thank you for asking me to write this, even though you know I hate to write (and have procrastinated all but the last few hours of the 188 days notice you gave me). I’ve enjoyed the trip down memory lane and it’s made me realize more than ever that the best is still to come. So, my FRIEND, as you move on to your next chapter give some thought to my favorite equation:


Happy Birthday and Hugs,

*The "devil" is a very nice man who had anger-management issues at the time that Tammy was looking for work. He has since "mellowed," and/or my threshold for "devilry" has changed, and/or I have my own anger-management and "issues" so his don't seem so bad in retrospect. (And yes, I know I'm using the quotes "ironically.")

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Recipes from Aunt Flora -- Annie's Hummus

Now that spring temperatures are starting to return, it's not fun to have the oven fired up all the time. The family recipe book does have sections on things other than baked good, i.e. dips, soups, drinks, and meals, etc. This one for hummus caught my eye.

A word about the family recipe book -- it was created probably 20 years ago now, just before the globalization of our palates. American have adopted and adapted many European and Mexican flavors and food over the years, but some things we now take for granted, things like pitas, kebabs, flat bread, falafel and hummus were once considered exotic. One of Aunt Flora's daughters Annie, married L---- whose family was from the Middle Eastern area, and thanks to him, family recipes have a whole new flavor profile. Dad's side of the family has been ahead of the curve for years!

Rather than make this one myself, though I actually have almost every thing in the fridge and cupboard (including the tahini), I thought I'd just post this for posterity's sake and use this dark cellphone photo from my local grocery store to illustrate just one section of the convenience take-out: white bean hummus, chick pea hummus, flavored, plain, exotic, garnish, colored, etc. etc. etc.

My favorite are the spicy ones: jalapeno, hot and spicy, but most especially the Trader Joe's three-layered with the jalapeno/cilantro blends. Hummus is ridiculously easy and cheap to make -- but we all just end up buying these.

Annie's Humus (Garbanzo Bean Dip)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cans garbanzo beans
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup tahini

Boil beans with liquid and baking soda for 15 minutes on low heat. Drain and rinse in colander. Pour into blender, add other ingredients and blend until smooth. Add more lemon if needed. Eat as a dip with Arabic bread. Husband added a dash of cumin or sometimes 2 scallions, chopped.

Friday, March 16, 2012

40 Diamonds for 40: Note from Nicole

Nicole, aka Nicolai, Nikki, etc. is one of the few friends from high school with whom I'm still in touch. Ironically, she and Jenn now live in the same town but only seem to see each other when I visit Connecticut. Turns out, I'm the common link in that high school chain of acquaintance. I think they are getting better about getting together without me because I get weird texts from time to time from one about contacting the other. (Just do it girls!)

Honestly, I can't remember which of my classes overlapped with Nicole's so that we first met. As you'll see below, it definitely wasn't the many music, choir, theater, or arts classes. It had to be History or Social Studies or something like that, because that's how we got involved in the trip to the Soviet Union. Also, we were probably bonded by our many extra-curriculars. While I had all the Church-related stuff after school and weekends, Nicole competed, and competed hardcore, in equestrian events, specially jumping events. I may have mentioned (oh, once or twice) that I was horse-crazy as a kid, but aside from a couple of summer of lessons, it's been a admiration-from-a-distance thing. Here was Nicole, who had a horse of her very own! And competed! And was nice! And wasn't snotty about it like some horse-clique folks were! And who was too busy to deal with some of the usual high school high jinx and popularity contests too!

There there was the trip itself. If traveling internationally in the 1980s, on Soviet-era Aeroflot planes, brushing your teeth with, and drinking, Pepsi, sharing what passed as bathrooms in many hotels with high school boys, rejoicing in landing in Sweden and heading out to the Hard Rock Cafe and McDonalds, and spending hours together on a bus, train, plane, and foreign hotel room doesn't bond you for life, I don't know what will.

After high school, Nicole was one of the few people that actually visited one of the Attic's first locations in Westchester, staying overnight while her company sent her to the City for a conference. Fortunately for me, she is always so kind to make time for a brief catch-up meal or visitation when I do make it back to Connecticut. Her husband Scott, two boys, and lovely Rhodesian Ridgeback Jasmine, are very fortunate in this Disney-loving princess. She's a true gem too.

Top row: Nicole in one of our Russian hotel rooms, meeting up with young Russians, and the hospitality of Communist-era "fine dining";
Bottom row: Nicole's high school yearbook photo, and one of her prom pictures with a very forgettable date who she did NOT marry, her wedding invitation, and a candid of Nicole and Scott at their wedding

Ah yes, what can be said about Auntie Nettie? The first thing that comes to my mind is thoughtfulness. You are the only person (besides my husband) that actually remembers my anniversary. AND you actually send me snail mail in honor of it!!
The second thing I think of is... no way are you 40. It just sounds so crazy. Because if you are 40, then I am right around the corner. And I am just not mature enough to be there yet.

It is hard to believe we have known each other since high school. You were my only artsy friend back then. Oh wait... you STILL are my only artsy friend. ;) I still have a little pin you made me with a horse on it that said good luck that I brought to my horse shows. It is sitting in my office with all my pics of Bruiser [Nicole's retired jumper].

My favorite memory of us is from sophomore year. We were sporting lovely 80's perms... and we were going to RUSSIA!!! There was a mismatch of boys and girls for rooming purposes and we were forced to [share a bath]room with two guys. Why? Because we were the most trustworthy of the group! I am still not sure if that was a good thing or not. ;) That was such an amazing trip. [I] drank WAY too much sugary tea and [we] ate WAY too little actual food.

I am so happy that we are still in touch even though we see way too little of each other. And it is totally my turn to come visit you! Although my suitcase is bigger than your place. I'm just sayin....

Love you lots! Have a wonderful birthday celebration!!!!

Спасибо ("spa-see-ba") - Thank-You Nicolai my friend!