Flashback Friday


It’s sort of hilarious to think that in junior high, my idea of beauty revolved around these three staples: Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers (the Bubble Gum flavor was absolutely it for me … the light pink color of the gloss, even if it was mostly clear when applied, somehow made me feel sexy), Swedish clogs, and Bib Overalls. (Though Levi Jeans and Adidas Sneakers were pretty key, too.)


**EXCLUSIVE** Alessandra Ambrosio rocks a pair of gray overalls and white jumper on her 32nd birthday

Even funnier, though, is that while I know how to present myself in a fairly polished way these days, I still carry around in my purse a big lip-gloss stick that is as thick as the Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers of old, and it’s the item I turn to most when I’m out and about and need to polish my lips. (I carry another lipstick in my purse that is a rather pretty shade, which I rarely wear: seems I prefer the ease of putting on a slick of colorless balm.)

While I don’t wear clogs, I do pretty much always wear my ankle boots with chunky wooden heels and smooth leather uppers …often pairing them these days with loose jeans that have the same comfortable feel of bib overalls.

I should have called this post Flash-Forward Friday, as apparently my tastes and style haven’t changed all that much. I still crave bubble gum and will often put in a quarter — the heavily inflated-price for a gumball these days — in those dispensers meant to attract kiddies in diners and grocery stores. The chalky, powdery-sweet allure of bubble gum … it’s so bad, it’s good!  Clearly, the Bonnie Bell company was onto something when they made those glosses.

(Btw, not as overtly sexy as the Bubble Gum Lip Smacker, but my second favorite was the Dr. Pepper one. There is something subversive about indulging in Dr. Pepper, even when you’re following the clog-wearing crowd, don’t you think?)

Refreshing, Versatile, Simple: My Recipe for Salad Dressing


Big green salads are a staple part of my dinner routine year round, and whether I’m making one for only my husband and me or for a number of guests, you won’t find me putting out bottled dressings for people to choose from. In the European style, I dress the salad before I serve it, and I always use this same dressing, which keeps my salad greens tasting flavorful yet really light (never overpowering, never gloppy). My family loves this dressing, and friends have often asked me for the recipe. It’s so easy — there are only four ingredients, and chances are you already have them on your shelf. So, without further ado, here’s how I make it!


(1) Pour 2 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil into a small bowl …



(2) Add 2 Tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar to oil …



(3) Add 1 Tablespoon of Soy Sauce …



(4) Add 1 Tablespoon of Honey …



(5) Give it a stir and a taste test using the tines of a fork (that is a good way to taste dressings, as it delivers just the right amount to your palate). If you want the dressing to be brighter, add slightly more apple cider vinegar. If you want it more savory, add a little bit more soy, etc. When satisfied, whisk dressing and immediately pour onto greens. This is enough dressing for a very large salad (a salad bigger than the one I have pictured above). If your salads are smaller, use what you need and refrigerate the rest.



This photo shows the color of the dressing and how it is always rather separated (the oil from the rest of the ingredients), which for me is not a problem. It glides over greens easily. Just whisk and pour quickly on salad (I do both at once: whisk while pouring).



Believe it or not, it’s also great on certain fruits, like fresh pineapple. The soy sauce gives the dressing a slightly salty, balsamic taste that is a wonderful foil to the sweet and more acidic character of fresh pineapple.

Depending on what type of salad I’m making, I will make little tweaks to this dressing. For instance, in the summer I use it to marinate cucumbers and tomatoes, so I’ll often throw in some herbs, like tarragon and basil (dill would work well, too); and if I’m in the mood for a saltier dressing, I’ll add just a bit more soy sauce. Likewise, if I want a sweeter dressing, I’ll add slightly more honey.



One last salad tip. Spend a little extra money and purchase Campari tomatoes (it is not a brand, but a very special type of tomato that is sweet and flavorful … much bigger than a cherry tomato, but still on the small side). They are delicious, even in winter! The important thing in purchasing them is to make sure that the package they come in is marked with the word Campari. I’ve been fooled into buying “tomatoes on the vine” that look similar but are nowhere as sweet. Nothing else comes close to these, in my opinion.

The Fish In My Garden Slumber



My raised bed garden, with slumbering fish, on this gray January day.

The fish in my garden slumber,
Dreaming of summer waves of flowers,
The coral reef of coleuses and caladiums they once hid in,
A sky that winks down at them like another ocean,
And the sea-weediness of lawns and vines.


7a1bc28e45a6edd5f35df99ba54e4a43How is your garden faring this winter? Do you enjoy looking at it when it is in this season of rest? Under a soft-focus lens, mine looks peaceful and dreamy, but in reality it’s rather drab, and I’m fantasizing about when it is in bloom again.






Garrison Keillor’s “How To Write a Letter”


Garrison Keillor, beloved author and radio host

I have a crystal-clear memory of when I first came across Garrison Keillor’s “How To Write a Letter”(which I’ve reprinted in full, below). It was 1989, and I didn’t know it was an excerpt from Keillor’s book We Are Still Married, which had come out at the time, because I found it in what seemed then (and even more so today ) a very odd place — my workplace — at a newspaper where I was in charge of the paper’s layout, back in the day of light-tables and typesetters and hands-on design. I had been rifling through a book of camera-ready artwork that could be used for advertisements, as well as what was called “filler” material: small articles that could be clipped out of the book and pasted into the newspaper layout in areas where you needed to fill up what would otherwise be blank space. And that’s precisely where I found it, and why I remember it so well. I wondered how the heck such a lovely piece of writing ended up in such a utilitarian book: most of the “filler” articles in those ad books were of a very generic nature. We only used them at the newspaper when we were desperate — and Keillor’s article was not just a cut above them but in a different league altogether (and I didn’t even know who he was at the time). Written in his deceptively simple style (if you are a fan of A Prairie Home Companion or Lake Wobegon Days, you know what I mean by that: the man stretches the notion of folksy into dimensions that cover a wide range of emotional territory), this lovely essay makes me want to write a good, old-fashioned letter to someone — a relative, a friend, anyone — and makes me realize just how right he was when he stated, near the close of it, “Probably your friend will put your letter away, and it’ll be read again a few years from now — and it will improve with age.” Almost thirty years later, I still have most of the letters that people wrote me back in the letter-writing days, tucked away in drawers, the most cherished ones tied up in a bundle with a pretty scarf. Reading them now, as I do every so often, is somehow sweeter (and in some cases, bitter-sweeter) than the first time.

How To Write a Letter, by Garrison Keillor

We shy persons need to write a letter now and then, or else we’ll dry up and blow away. It’s true. And I speak as one who loves to reach for the phone, dial the number, and talk. I say, “Big Bopper here — what’s shakin’, babes?” The telephone is to shyness what Hawaii is to February, it’s a way out of the woods, and yet: a letter is better.

Such a sweet gift — a piece of handmade writing, in an envelope that is not a bill, sitting in our friend’s path when she trudges home from a long day spent among wahoos and savages, a day our words will help repair. They don’t need to be immortal, just sincere. She can read them twice and again tomorrow: You’re someone I care about, Corinne, and think of often and every time I do you make me smile. 

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are. They will have only a vague impression of us as A Nice Person, because, frankly, we don’t shine at conversation, we lack the confidence to thrust our faces forward and say, “Hi, I’m Heather Hooten; let me tell you about my week.” Mostly we say “Uh-huh” and “Oh, really.” People smile and look over our shoulder, looking for someone else to meet.

So a shy person sits down and writes a letter. To be known by another person — to meet and talk freely on the page — to be close despite distance. To escape from anonymity and be our own sweet selves and express the music of our souls.

Same thing that moves a giant rock star to sing his heart out in front of 123,000 people moves us to take ballpoint in hand and write a few lines to our dear Aunt Eleanor. We want to be known. We want her to know that we have fallen in love, that we quit our job, that we’re moving to New York, and we want to say a few things that might not get said in casual conversation: Thank you for what you’ve meant to me, I am very happy right now.

The first step in writing letters is to get over the guilt of not writing, You don’t “owe” anybody a letter. Letters are a gift. The burning shame you feel when you see unanswered mail makes it harder to pick up a pen and makes for a cheerless letter when you finally do. I feel bad about not writing, but I’ve been so busy, etc. Skip this. Few letters are obligatory, and they are Thanks for the wonderful gift and I am terribly sorry to hear about George’s death and Yes, you’re welcome to stay with us next month, and not many more than that. Write those promptly if you want to keep your friends. Don’t worry about the others, except love letters, of course. When your true love writes, Dear Light of My Life, Joy of My Heart, 0 Lovely Pulsating Core of My Sensate Life, some response is called for.

Some of the best letters are tossed off in a burst of inspiration, so keep your writing stuff in one place where you can sit down for a few minutes and (Dear Roy, I am in the middle of a book entitled We Are Still Married but thought I’d drop you a line. Hi to your sweetie, too) dash off a note to a pal. Envelopes, stamps, address book, everything in a drawer so you can write fast when the pen is hot.

A blank white eight-by-eleven sheet can look as big as Montana if the pen’s not so hot — try a smaller page and write boldly. Or use a note card with a piece of fine art on the front; if your letter ain’t good, at least they get the Matisse. Get a pen that makes a sensuous line, get a comfortable typewriter, a friendly word processor — whichever feels easy to the hand.

Sit for a few minutes with the blank sheet in front of you, and meditate on the person you will write to, let your friend come to mind until you can almost see her or him in the room with you. Remember the last time you saw each other and how your friend looked and what you said and what perhaps was unsaid between you, and when your friend becomes real to you, start to write.

Write the salutation — Dear You –– and take a deep breath and plunge in. A simple declarative sentence will do, followed by another and another and another. Tell us what you’re doing and tell it like you were talking to us. Don’t think about grammar, don’t think about literary style, don’t try to write dramatically, just give us your news. Where did you go, who did you see, what did they say, what do you think?

If you don’t know where to begin, start with the present moment: I’m sitting at the kitchen table on a rainy Saturday morning. Everyone is gone and the house is quiet. Let your simple description of the present moment lead to something else, let the letter drift gently along.

The toughest letter to crank out is one that is meant to impress, as we all know from writing job applications; if it’s hard work to slip off a letter to a friend, maybe you’re trying too hard to be terrific. A letter is only a report to someone who already likes you for reasons other than your brilliance. Take it easy.

Don’t worry about form. It’s not a term paper. When you come to the end of one episode, just start a new paragraph. You can go from a few lines about the sad state of pro football to the fight with your mother to your fond memories of Mexico to your cat’s urinary-tract infection to a few thoughts on personal indebtedness and on to the kitchen sink and what’s in it. The more you write, the easier it gets, and when you have a True True Friend to write to, a compadre, a soul sibling, then it’s like driving a car down a country road, you just get behind the keyboard and press on the gas.

Don’t tear up the page and start over when you write a bad line — try to write your way out of it. Make mistakes and plunge on. Let the letter cook along and let yourself be bold. Outrage, confusion, love — whatever is in your mind, let it find a way to the page. Writing is a means of discovery, always, and when you come to the end and write Yours ever or Hugs and kisses, you’ll know something you didn’t when you wrote Dear Pal.

Probably your friend will put your letter away, and it’ll be read again a few years from now — and it will improve with age. And forty years from now, your friend’s grandkids will dig it out of the attic and read it, a sweet and precious relic of the ancient eighties that gives them a sudden clear glimpse of you and her and the world we old-timers knew. You will then have created an object of art. Your simple lines about where you went, who you saw, what they said, will speak to those children and they will feel in their hearts the humanity of our times.

You can’t pick up a phone and call the future and tell them about our times. You have to pick up a piece of paper.

Oh, In the Morning


20170115_122345He chews our book covers, he leaves hair on our clothes, he sometimes gets underfoot.

He also runs a mad dash to our bedroom each morning, the moment he’s allowed out of his pen, and waits by the bookcase until we are ready to pet and play with him. On the rare occasion when we don’t put him in his pen at night, he waits faithfully throughout the night in this same spot, on my side of the bed, for me to wake up. (If he leaves, it is only to use the litterbox, which he is very good about.) All in all, he puts beauty in our mornings and shows us how to greet the day.


Oh, in the morning
Feel like the sun
Coming up on daytime
Shine on everyone
Coming up on darkness
Warm me in your arms
Let me know another lonely night
Has come and gone

– lyrics from Arlo Guthrie’s “Oh, In the Morning”(from his 1969 album, Running Down the Road)

Wow and Wow!!! Josh Rutner’s Album of the Week


Although I live in a college town, we’ve never really had a great radio station until about a year and a half ago, when finally, a very cool dude named Don Bedell founded 98.7 the freq, giving us the gift of “College radio …  all grown up!” Proving that it is serious about living up to its slogan, for some time now it has been broadcasting a little program called Josh Rutner’s Album of the Week. Rutner is a jazz musician — a saxophonist, clarinetist, and flutist living in Beacon, NY — but he is also a mind-blowingly talented writer and reviewer of music of various genres. His turns of phrases, his attention to detail, his ability to listen intently and make connections to other art forms and to earlier influences is what makes his album reviews so fascinating, even if you’re unfamiliar with the musician(s), which is the case for me much of the time. To my mind, Josh Rutner reviews music the way Michael Chabon writes novels, and I can only hope that he’ll continue in this pursuit. I highly urge you to visit his site (linked above), where you can listen to his Album of the Week podcasts or just read them (though you’re missing out if you don’t listen to his voice, which is a perfect-pitch match to his writing). And if you only listen to one of his podcasts, make it Episode 37: Masterpiece (Big Thief, 2016). Mesmerizing stuff!

Spanish Moss by Gordon Lightfoot


I was looking at photos of unique trees on Pinterest this evening, and when I saw this one of oaks draped in Spanish moss in Charleston, South Carolina, it reminded me of an old Gordon Lightfoot tune my father used to like. Titled Spanish Moss, it is is a sweetly melancholic love song (melancholic because it’s about love that is lost). It’s not one of Lightfoot’s most well-known songs, which is too bad, because it’s lovely … and I’m in the mood for it after writing yesterday’s post about one of my favorite books, a Southern novel. (Come to think of it, many of my favorite books are by Southerners. They seem to be born storytellers.) At any rate, if you’d like to enjoy a listen, the video for Spanish Moss is below.


This Will Forever Be One of My Favorite Books: Josephine Humphreys’ Rich in Love


There was a time when I thought I read widely, and perhaps I did, but in recent years my tendency has been to read about five new books a year, with the rest of my reading time devoted to re-reading a select group of novels that have been on my bookshelf forever and are now looking more than a bit rumpled, scuffed and dog-eared due to wear. I guess you could say I’ve loved these books to exhaustion without ever feeling that they are exhausted, as tired as they may appear. Their stories are ingrained in me, yet, surprisingly, my utter familiarity with them does not breed contempt. Every time I step into their pages the experience feels as vivid and fresh as the first time. These books dazzle me with their insights, make me fall in love all over again with language, and move me with their understanding of what it is to be human: to love and lose and love again; to falter and find redemption; to birth something new into the world and undergo its attendant changes; or to face death (not necessarily one’s own) and find some form of solace or level of acceptance in the experience.

There are close to ten books I count among my favorites: some are melancholy and austere while others embrace an upbeat outlook and exude humor, even while a canopy of something wistful hangs over them — usually an ending of some sort — which is precisely the case for a small novel by Josephine Humphreys, published in 1987, titled Rich in Love. A coming-of-age story set in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, Rich in Love’s heroine, Lucille Odom, is one of the most straight-forwardly intelligent teenagers one will ever meet in literature. Lucille has an approach to life that is very no-nonsense, on one hand, and deeply romantic on the other, though hers is not the starry-eyed, girly notion of romance, but romance in the broad, philosophical sense. She’s a curious observer who contemplates the mysteries of life and the inner workings of her own family — her parents Warren and Helen and her older sister Rae — all of whom she loves like crazy and who seem to be unraveling in ways Lucille never saw coming, if only because she thinks of them as being part of a perfect unit, living in the perfect old house. (Perfect due to its placement in a sleepy suburb of Charleston, on property which left it “hidden” on one side in a tangle of camellia growth while the other side had a curving porch facing Charleston harbor, such that “on one side it was closed and protected, and on the other — wide open to possibilities.”) The Odom home is significant in this story, it’s a prism through which we glean insights into each member of Lucille’s family, and its description foreshadows the arc their story will take.

“All around me I saw the American family blowing apart, as described in Psychology Today. The American family needed to hold itself more closely, I thought. Like mine,” Lucille notes early on in her story, while thinking about her friend Wayne Frobiness, whose parents had just separated.

We were a hermit family. We had each other and we had our house, and nothing could touch us. Whereas Dr. Frobiness had run off with a lady who team-taught the Episcopal Young Churchmen with him at St. Anne’s. The Frobinesses had been active in the community, members not only of the church, but also of a fitness center, a plastic surgeons’ supper club, a book club (Mrs. Frobiness), and a wind-surfing group (Dr. Frobiness). No family can stick together under the strain of so many outside interests. The human heart needs to be confined, not royally entertained, was my theory.†

Lucille has lots of theories about the human heart, many of them quite astute, but this one doesn’t hold up. In her seventeenth year, just before she is to graduate high school, her mother leaves home to start a new life. Her departure doesn’t rattle Lucille personally — the Odom women are, on the whole, rather independent — but it causes her to be alarmed for her father, a man whom she believes will be like a fish without water without his wife. Her mother’s disappearance (and it is a disappearance in the sense that Helen is quite secretive about where she is staying, though she does make occasional phone calls home to check in with them) sets off a chain of events, the first being Lucille and Warren’s search to find her. They know she didn’t  go far, so for a matter of weeks they drive around the city of Charleston, visiting places where they think she is likely to hang out, with Lucille at the wheel because her father has had his license suspended. In her exhaustion of worrying over her father and trying to help him in his search, Lucille begs her sister Rae to return home from college in Washington, DC, to help out. Reluctantly Rae agrees, but when she finally shows up she has her own surprise in tow, having eloped along the way with her boyfriend Billy, whom the rest of the Odoms have never met. Having a stranger in the house leaves Lucille feeling further strained, especially when she learns that Rae and Billy are having a baby — one they didn’t plan and aren’t prepared for — necessitating their need to move into the Odom house for awhile.

Through the hot South Carolina summer and into its warm fall, Lucille sets aside the normal concerns of someone her age and assumes the role of family caretaker. And through her eyes we see love as a mutable force, capable not only of surviving life’s sea changes — its  abrupt endings, new beginnings, and experiences we call mistakes — but of transforming and strengthening us in the process. In Lucille Odom, author Josephine Humphreys gives us a heroine who views the world with a fresh perspective and an old soul, whose observations are humorous, insightful, deeply felt and full of compassion. She also gives us a book that more than lives up to its title, and I’ll end this review with an excerpt that proves it.

               Sometimes I felt a strong urge to quit loving my father. Just quit, the way you can go down to a bank and draw out your life’s savings. It was a kind of love that tuckered me out while returning no great reward, and maybe that is how it’s meant to be, so that sooner or later a child will realize love is more wisely invested elsewhere than in a parent.

But at the time I was still locked into a habit of deep devotion and could not have got out of it if I’d tried. Most love works that way: you can’t get out until its natural term is up.

I did love him, no doubt about that. From a burning houseful of friends and relations I would have dragged him out first and never given a thought to the others until he was safe. But the love itself, the work of it, was debilitating, requiring me to constantly imagine the world from his point of view. Dragging him from a burning house would have been easier. I could not just relax and take things as they came. I had to think at every instant, what does this mean to him, this television show, this rainstorm, this new marriage? Sometimes his perspective came easily to me, and I could know instantly what he was thinking, but more and more often the effort became a strain. It was like looking through someone else’s eyeglasses: you can do it if you squint down to the exact right point and tighten the tiny muscles behind your eyeballs, but it hurts, and when it’s over you can’t see with your own vision for some time.†

Rich in Love, copyright © 1987 by Josephine Humphreys (Viking Penguin Inc., New York, 1987, pp. 15, 77-78)


RICH IN LOVE, Kathryne Erbe, Albert Finney, 1993, (c)MGM