Smile! You’ve Disconnected!

Life’s hard, y’all. And in today’s rabid political climate, it seems to be harder than usual. Some days, it’s difficult to even force a smile.

Is there any way we can make our lives softer, rosier, more comfortable?

Absolutely, there is a way.

Unfortunately, it requires doing something uncomfortable: disconnecting.

We live in a modern world where our fingers seemingly exit the womb with smartphones attached. We carry laptops home from work to complete tasks after hours or over the weekend. Television and newspapers bombard us with report after report after report of recycled and regurgitated news. We spend “downtime” scrolling Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and Instagram and . . . [insert any name from a plethora of social media sites here].

In short, we have no downtime.

According to Genesis in The Holy Bible, even God rested on the seventh day. And I’m not God. I’m a weak human, so I need a break more often than that! I’m betting you do, too.

Try something with me—for me. C’mon, it’ll only take a second!

Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine a nest. Maybe not a sticks-and-weeds nest, but perhaps an uber-soft, form-fitting, super-sized chair that nestles your body like a second womb. Add a soothing blanket. Or choose a hammock filled with plump pillows, gently swaying over the sea. In your mind’s eye, curl up in that cocoon; take a deep, cleansing breath, and exhale all the workday woes, media mayhem, and social stress that’s surrounding you.

comfortable-hammock

Feel better?

Of course you do! It only took fifteen seconds to take your mind and body to a more relaxed state of being. Now imagine what would happen if you relaxed like that for fifteen minutes. Or an hour. Or all weekend.

Disconnecting from the busyness of business, the network of news breaks, and the swirl of social connection might seem scary—I mean, what if you miss something important? What if Wells Fargo loses investors? What if Beyonce is pregnant with twins? What if an old acquaintance from high school sends you a friend request, and you don’t immediately respond?

Your life will go on.

And you will feel better living it.

And trust me: when you reconnect, the information you missed will again be in your face, but now your face will face it with a genuine smile.

smiling-cat

Self-Reflection: How I Checked Myself Before I Wrecked Myself, and How You Can Do It, Too

I can’t say I’m disappointed to see 2016 come to an end. This has been an incredibly tough year for my family and me. My husband of twenty years (the handsome man you see in deep contemplation above) was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. My daddy underwent cardiac surgery again. Hurricane Matthew tore apart the roof of my home. And, no small wake-up call, I turned fifty.

But I survived. To be honest, in retrospect, I think I have thrived, and you can do the same, regardless of the challenges you face. How? Follow my lead.

Facing health scares, financial loss, a natural disaster, and more, threw me into a tailspin—or twelve. Each of these awful events also caused me to look hard at what is important to me. And let me tell you, it isn’t material things. Don’t misunderstand me; I appreciate the security of my lovely little home, my dependable car, my paycheck. But I quickly learned that these things mean very little unless I am happy and content.

Enter self-reflection.

Turning fifty absolutely causes one to think about the fact that, in all likelihood, your life is at least half over. I realized—am still realizing—that now is the time to make changes that point me in the direction where I want to go, where I want to end up, what I want to accomplish. And since none of us knows our expiration date, we may be beyond the halfway point right now.

I realized I wasn’t happy with the three jobs I was working. Ten years of editing and ghostwriting, while enjoyable in the moment, left me feeling as though I was spinning my wheels, writing award-winning books for others instead of telling my own stories. Adjunct teaching left me feeling like my skills and education were not appreciated (read: low pay and no benefits). My sales job—the one I worked solely for health insurance—left me feeling undervalued, disrespected, even bullied, at times. In addition, it had been over a year since my family had been on vacation, or even enjoyed a long weekend together. No, I couldn’t simply quit work—I needed a paycheck more than ever—but I knew I had to take steps toward getting out of the situations in which I’d become mired.

I began to ask myself questions, keeping personal fulfillment in mind. What kind of job could I do that would help other people, yet still leave me with enough creative juices to write? If money were no object, what kind of work would I enjoy doing? And, since money is important to me, what could I do to ensure my family’s and my own financial stability? How could I change my weekly and daily routine to allow me to spend more time with my family? What hobbies bring me satisfaction, and how can I reintroduce them into my life?

Tough questions, indeed, but questions I began to ask myself daily. I wrote down these questions. I made lists of possible solutions. I prayed and meditated. I crunched numbers. I worked on these questions, and the more I thought about them, the more clearly I saw what steps I needed to take to make changes that would lead me where I wanted to be.

I made changes.

I spent four months completing a recertification class to return to a satisfying career path I’d once followed for many years, then left behind. I turned in a lengthy notice to leave my ghostwriting and editing job, which I’ve loved for years, but which keeps me from my own writing. Last week, I quit my “benefits” job; the one I disliked but stuck with simply for health insurance.

Monday I’ll begin a full-time job (with great benefits!) in a field I love—one that simultaneously fulfills me and helps other people. Soon I’ll be starting my final ghostwriting project, and when that one’s done, my writing time will be mine! All mine! And perhaps best of all, I now have weekends available to spend with my family, and vacations together definitely are in our future.

I’m not Superwoman. I’m not the best time manager, and I’m pitiful at remembering birthdays, phone numbers, and even names. But after facing some terrible, life-altering events, I took stock of what is important to me, and I made changes.

If I can ask and answer those difficult questions, so can you.

Don’t be afraid of introspection, and please, don’t wait for an illness or a natural disaster before examining your purpose in life and what it is that makes you happy. You may not be able to move away, or quit your job, or uproot your lifestyle today, but once you know exactly what it is that’s important to you, you absolutely can begin taking steps toward that goal—even if they’re baby steps.

Be truthful with yourself. Ask the hard questions. Face the tough answers. Because what you know—really know—about yourself and your goals—is more important than what anyone else thinks. This is your life. Check it!

 

Call Me a Fresko Foodie!

While I frequently play at being an amateur foodie, it’s been quite a while since I’ve written a restaurant review about my culinary adventures. Fortunately, our recent meal at Fresko Restaurant & Grill on South Ridgewood Avenue in South Daytona proved scrumptious enough to bring my taste buds and pen out of hiding. Fresko recently opened their authentic Greek-cuisine restaurant in the space locals know as the old US 1 Restaurant.

My husband Randy and I stopped in relatively late on a Friday evening with friends Ron and Paula. Updated décor includes a royal-blue-and-white color scheme replete with Greek key motifs and traditional stoneware adding charm to rustic brick walls, plus tables graced with floral arrangements designed by a family member of one of the owners. Near the restaurant’s entrance, a Greek market is being built, and shelves were already lined with canned goods, sweets, and spices, and a glass display case promises freshly made offerings, as well. Outside, a tiki bar was temporarily closed, but we were told it would soon be open and staffed.

Fresko Market

The Fresko Greek Market (coming soon!)

Between the four of us, we sampled several dishes. From the orektika (appetizers) menu, I chose a personal Greek favorite, saganaki, a pan-fried Greek cheese topped with a splash of ouzo, flambéed and finished with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Because the ceilings in the restaurant are low, our server was unable to flame the cheese at our table (an initial letdown), but she served it piping hot—crisp on the outside and oozing on the inside—along with tasty wedges of warm, grilled pita wedges. After only one bite, we quickly forgot to be disappointed in the lack of a fire show.

Randy ordered soutroukakla (Greek meatballs) to share, and these light, flavorful, football-shaped meatballs simmered in a well-seasoned tomato sauce arrived topped with crumbles of melting feta cheese and several large cubes of fresh-baked bread. The order included four large meatballs—plenty to share with our famished group with a little left over.

Ron selected the gyros pikilia, a heaping platter of sliced, juicy gyro, surrounded by grilled pita wedges and topped with a hefty slathering of tzatziki ( a creamy cucumber and garlic dip made with Greek yogurt and onions). The lovely presentation included thinly sliced Roma tomatoes. The four of us worked hard to devour this yummy platter, but we still had enough to take home for lunch. This would be a perfect take-out dish to carry to a party. So cool and refreshing!

A cup of avgolemono (egg and lemon soup) arrived steaming and chock full of chunks of chicken. The soup was tangy and thick—more like a stew—and served with large, fresh bread cubes for tearing and dipping. Paula and Ron each ordered gyro wraps served in grilled pita bread. Each tzatziki-topped wrap could easily serve two people. Paula selected a side of over-roasted potatoes, which were a bit crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Ron’s side of orzo was flavored with tomato sauce that gave the dish a comforting spaghetti-like flavor.

We arrived hungry, yet we never expected each of our dishes to be so generous in portion-size, nor so hearty and filling. We each took home boxes for lunch the next day, and no one had room to sample from the dessert menu that includes, among an impressive list of choices like baklava, rice pudding, Greek chocolate cake (sokolatina), and sweet Mavrodaphne wine.

Have I used the word fresh too much? I could say it a dozen times when describing each bite we tasted, and still not convey how truly fresh the food proved to be. We’re so impressed that we’re already planning our next trip to Fresko. Hope to see you there!

 

 

Rock Bottom Is a Firm Foundation

Woman-underwater-Kaare-Long-article

Sometimes when you think you’ve reached rock bottom, you’re actually finding firm footing. When you feel stone-cold solid rock beneath your bare feet, curl your toes into it. Press hard. Wipe your tear-filled eyes, and look up. You may be surprised to see the many hands of true friends reaching down to pull you up, while others’ hands are folded in prayer on your behalf, and still others’ hands are lifted in praise for your abundant victories yet to come.

Take the hands reaching out for you. Feel yourself being lifted.

Share your gratitude and joy, as it’s contagious, and so many need your smile.

The bountiful blessing you’ve just received is wasted unless you share it.

Now is good.

Share it now.

And if you find yourself at rock bottom as you read this, reach up. Take my hand.

*

Thank you to those of you who’ve extended your hands, your love, and your friendship to Randy, Jacob, and I, as we toppled, keeled, and pitched headlong downward, found our footing, and looked up toward you for friendship, encouragement, support–and found love.

You know who you are! 

Breaking News on Facebook

              “You have cancer,” the doctor said.

             For a moment, the only sound you hear is your heartbeat thrumming much too loudly in your ears.

             “How bad is it?”

            The doctor’s sincere stare unnerves you.

            “Randy, it’s bad.”

 

This is the exact conversation held last week in the physician’s office between my husband and his doctor. Nothing can prepare you to hear those words. Within seconds, your life has changed.

Minutes later, you’re holding a handful of papers; pamphlets, orders, biopsy results, a CD with photos of the cancer, even the doctor’s personal-cell-phone number. It’s pressing toward 5:00 pm, so you’re rushed to the clinic to pick up contrast liquid for tomorrow morning’s CT scan. Drink this. Don’t eat that. Call this number to arrange a consultation with the radiologist. Call this number to arrange a consultation with the surgeon.

Somewhere in there, you remember that you haven’t eaten since breakfast.

*

It’s an understatement to say that my husband and I were caught up in an immediate whirlwind—perhaps tornado is a better metaphor—within minutes of his diagnosis. We cried for a few moments, but there were simply too many deadlines to meet to cope with the flood of emotions, questions, and next steps for tears just then.

And we needed to tell our son.

How do you break such news to an eighteen-year-old who is a day away from final exams? How do you risk discoloring what should be the happiest time of his life—his high-school graduation—which is only a week away?

When we arrived home that evening, our son was at work, so our decision to wait until after he’d completed his exams the next day was made easier. But in the meantime, we began receiving phone calls from concerned relatives who knew we were to receive the biopsy results—which we’d been convinced were going to be benign—that day.

We broke the news to immediate relatives who called, adding the admonition, “Please don’t say anything to anyone yet, as we can’t tell our son until tomorrow afternoon.” Besides, we’d have the result of the CT scan by then, so we’d know exactly what to tell him.

Relaying this news once is painful. Two or three times is agonizing, but having to say “aggressive cancer” five or six times is excruciating.

Bad news travels fast, and in a small town, it spreads like . . . malignancy.

By the time we received the results of the CT scan the next afternoon, our phones were blowing up. We shared the news with our son and discussed our next options and plan of attack. One day at a time. We will kick this!

As our home and cell phones kept ringing, we realized we had to get ahead of this, and we certainly had to free up the phone lines, as we were expecting calls from doctors and hospitals. Though we’d first said we’d never put such news on social media, we realized we had no other option—if not, someone would likely do it for us and perhaps not with the kind of message we wanted to convey.

That evening, we requested on Facebook the support, prayers, and love of our friends and family as we fight the battles before us in order to win this war. We anticipated dozens of responses, but we were truly humbled by the hundreds we received. The outpouring of love touches out hearts and does much to strengthen our faith and hope.

And then came the other comments: the scoldings via IM or text or phone. “Why didn’t you call me right away?” “Why did I have to read this on Facebook?” “So-and-so told me. You should have called me yourself!”

Hear me when I say this: it’s not about you.

It’s about the patient. And more remotely, it’s about his children and his wife and his parents and his siblings.

We’ll be the first to agree that Facebook isn’t the best place to break such news, but in order to maintain some semblance of sanity during an insane period of our lives, it seemed the logical option; the quickest and least-painful way to say those words once instead of dozens more times.

Worse than the scoldings, however, was the IM from an old friend who related the same diagnosis in a church member, and how the cancer had metastasized and invaded other parts of the body. I stopped her short between messages: “No negativity, please. We are surrounding ourselves with positive vibes, positive thoughts, prayers, and positive people. Faith, hope, and love.” It startled and appalled me several minutes later when she returned an I-wasn’t-finished-yet-here’s-where-else-he-had-tumors message. A few days later, I listened (briefly, before walking away), as someone else tried to tell me a horror story of another person with a similar diagnosis and rotten outcome.

Listen carefully: when you’ve learned that a friend or family member has cancer, if you can’t offer supportive, kind, uplifting, encouraging, loving, or compassionate words, then Shut. The fuck. Up.

Yes, I said that; and yes, I meant it.

I’m grateful to say that these kinds of comments have been few among the deluge of caring and encouraging, love-filled messages we’ve received. The sensitivity and compassion of our family and friends who have rallied around us have helped strengthen our resolve to face each morning and each long, sometimes-scary night with steadfast hope and faith.

Understand that, in the days that follow a cancer diagnosis, a person’s day-to-day life and that of his family is turned upside down and shaken. It’s easy to momentarily forget to call even the dearest of friends. Don’t be offended if, in the great confusion of the days following such news, you feel forgotten, and please don’t be offended if you (aren’t an immediate family member and you) learn such news through social media. Know that your friend still needs you—now more than ever before.

You don’t have to be Shakespeare to send an “I care” note to a friend who’s dealing with a devastating diagnosis; you simply have to be kind. Your friend needs you to remind him or her that there is hope in each new day. Put yourself in that person’s mindset for a moment, and think of what positive things you’d like to hear. Send warm thoughts and well wishes. Light a candle, and say a prayer (or twelve).

And if you have a spare moment, please say another for us.

faith hope love

 ” . . . but the greatest of these is love.” –I Cor. 13:13 (ESV)

Adventures of a Neti Pot Spartan

Meet Glen Hager.

Glen is, among other things, a US Navy Veteran, a skilled craft-beer aficionado, and a CrossFit junkie. He regularly wins or places highly in local Spartan Races. In short, he’s a manly man, and a good-looking one, at that. Glen has no need for the wimpy things in life, so when my husband Randy and I encountered Glen on one of our eight-mile beach walks, we were surprised to see him sniveling. Well, sort of sniveling. Sniffling is more like it.

“Allergies,” Glen said. “I’ve tried everything short of dynamite to open my nose. Nothing works.”

“Have you tried a neti pot?” I asked. I went on to explain where to purchase and how to use this awesome little piece of equipment that’s highly recommended by physicians and surgeons to clear, clean, and soothe the sinuses. “Be sure to boil the water to sterilize it, let it cool to a comfortable temperature, and add a packet of the saline powder that’ll come in your kit.”

neti-pot

“Sounds like waterboarding,” Glen said, then puffed out his chest. “But I can take it.”

I convinced him that it’s an easy process, and while it may take a time or two to get the hang of it, he’d feel much better even after the first try.

If only!

That evening, Glen told us that when he went to pick up the neti pot I’d recommended, sitting just to the right of it was the Spartan version—a squeeze bottle with “a huge, black, nostril-filling power head.” Of course, that’s what he bought. He got it home, breezed through the instructions, and dumped out “a whole butt load of saline packs” that came in the box. The plastic neti bottle he’d purchased was stiff and firm, and it took a little effort to squeeze water out of it when he first rinsed it, so our strong-man friend knew he’d purchased the perfect macho product for his masculine needs. Remembering my admonishment about sterility, he boiled eight ounces of water in a measuring cup.

And that’s when things began to go south.

“If one packet of saline is good for you,” Glen later said, “two would do the job better and faster, right?” He dumped in two packets and poured the boiling water into his bottle and headed for the bathroom sink.

“I let the water cool for a few minutes, then I bent over the sink, inserted the big, black, power-nozzle into my nose, and gave a mighty power-squeeze. Well, the boiling water had softened the bottle just enough to allow me to generate about 150 PSI of water pressure, so I rapidly injected about four ounces of scalding water—with a saline density approximating that of the Dead Sea—into my skull.

“Hot water shot out of every orifice above my shoulders (and a few below). Snot, earwax, eye boogers, a tooth filling, that ball bearing I shoved up my nose when I was three, and the bug that crawled into my ear when I was six all came shooting out at once.”

“Oh, no, Glen!” I said, trying to contain my giggles, “What did you do?”

“Well, before I fully regained my senses, I quickly injected the other nostril.

“The good news is,” he said, “I have no more congestion! Afterward, I felt so darn good I went on a Harley ride to cool my scalded-and-salt-cured sinuses. Truly, I feel better than I have in weeks!

“I gotta say, though,” he said in a humbled voice, “do-it-yourself enemas are now off my “I Can Do This’ list.”

Yes, readers, I probably should have prefaced this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story with a “Don’t Try This at Home” warning, but surely no one, save Glen Hager, will ever have quite this same experience.

“After all,” he said, “you should keep in mind that I’m the guy who has performed minor surgery on myself more than once with a Kabar.”

True . . . but that’s another story.

 

 

Sharing Homemade Bread

Today is bread day.

A few weeks ago, I succumbed to an urge that had been rising within me for a few months, and that was to make bread. Not just any bread, not bread from a boxed mix, and nothing that could be whipped up in a few minutes’ time, dumped into a bread machine, and popped out in a squarish loaf resembling an Amazon.com cardboard package. I wanted to make homemade sourdough bread; the kind that takes at least a week to prepare, the kind that must be fed and nurtured and allowed to rest, the kind created from—and by—living, breathing beings.

I should tell you that I killed my first starter.

There are certain, unbreakable, scientific laws that come with making homemade sourdough bread, and as ominous as that sounds, they’re actually quite simple to follow. That is, as long as you remember one of the most important rules, that being that you must stir your starter with a wooden spoon. Any contact with metal spoons (nickel, silver, aluminum, etc.) can introduce molecules that will kill the living microorganisms of yeasty sourdough starter. When feeding my sourdough starter the first time, you guessed it; I grabbed a metal spoon. Two days later, instead of the sweetly sour fragrance given off by healthy sourdough starter, mine reeked of rotting garbage, and the bubbles that occasionally rose to the surface had ceased. My starter had stopped breathing and died.

Bread mixing 1

I’ve taken more care since then, and today as I stirred sugar, salt, oil, and flour into my starter and began kneading the dough, I thought of stories and of writing. Why is it that one creative act feeds another? I may never know the answer, but I’m always grateful for the inspirational nourishment.

As I worked the dough, I recalled scripture from the King James Version of the Holy Bible: “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). I then thought of even older writings, one from the ancient Anglo-Saxon story of Beowulf, in which the bakers charge a share of grain to make and bake bread for the entire community in communal ovens. I was further inspired to look up a couple of quotes that I remembered from other poems and stories, wondering why these snippets have stuck with me for so long, choosing today to bubble to the surface:

“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!” –The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 5th Ed.

And from more recent works:

“They swallowed the dark bread. It was like daylight under the fluorescent trays of light. They talked on into the early morning, the high, pale cast of light in the windows, and they did not think of leaving.” –Raymond Carver, from “A Small, Good Thing”

“The heat of the bread burned into my skin, but I clutched it tighter, clinging to life.” –Suzanne Collins, from The Hunger Games

You probably recall many other examples of bread used symbolically in literature. Why is it that writers often mention bread in their stories—aside from the obvious, that their characters must eat? Bread does more than simply feed the hungry protagonist; it serves as metaphor for deeper issues and hidden secrets in a story. Bread is sometimes used to represent life and health, or the lack thereof (as in stale bread, or moldy bread); it is used to represent plenty, as in the Biblical story of the loaves and fishes; it’s sometimes symbolic of comfort, family, and unity, as in To Kill a Mockingbird; and, in Hansel and Gretel, breadcrumbs are used to mark the way back home. It’s this last metaphor that I chose to use in my current novel-in-progress, tentatively titled Romie & Jasper’s Big Empty:

“I stand on the back deck of the house, overlooking the acres and acres of grapevines, and I feel small, as if I’ve shrunk. I wonder if it’s true, if I have become smaller each time I’ve moved, if I left behind a broken-off piece of myself, like a trail of breadcrumbs, so I can someday find my way back to whatever place might be home.”

As I kneaded my bread this morning, it occurred to me how much making homemade sourdough bread is akin to writing. We put in the basic ingredients—our nouns and verbs and punctuation—and we let them rest. Days later, we return to the mixture, feed it with fresh words, stir them around, and let them breathe. After more respite, we keep a carefully measured portion, toss out what isn’t needed, and we add something sweet, something salty, and we work out the lumps and bubbles, ensuring that when we are done, it will rise and nourish all who taste it.

My sourdough recipe makes three loaves: one for today, one for later in the week, and one to share with friends. Sharing homemade bread—and memories and stories—with friends is my favorite part of the artistic process: it is the giving of one’s creativity, of one’s effort, of oneself, however noble or humble that gift may be.

“And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19 (KJV)

WWRD? – What Would Rhonda Do?

enjoli1

From the time I was a pre-teen, I wanted to be an Enjoli woman; you know, bringing home the bacon and all that goes with it. I love bacon! (Ooops! Sorry. Got a little excited there.) Even now, I have a ridiculous number of personal goals—so many I’d have to live to beyond Methuselah’s age to reach them all. Because of this, I have many role models whom I call my everyday heroes; women whom I admire for the way they do this thing or that thing, who have accomplished goals at which I hope to succeed, who grab life by the horns each day, shouting, “Ride ’em, cowgirl!” I won’t attempt to model myself after Oprah, Martha Stewart, Suze Orman, or Bethenny Frankel, because the thought of having to do all that they do (with the aid of a team of assistants, of course) terrifies me. Instead, women whom I personally know are the sources of my inspiration, because if they can achieve success, there’s hope for me.

I’ll admit that I stretch myself thin. I am a wife and a mother. I work as an editor and ghostwriter. I am an adjunct English professor and a Realtor. I write for this blog and occasionally for two others. I review books, and I am currently writing two novels and revising a short story collection of my own. Rarely does a day pass when I don’t think of at least one of the talented, inspiring, women in my life, and in some small way, I try to imitate the thing they do or have done so well. They are, each one of them, an inspiration to me, and when I’m faced with a challenge, I ask myself, “What would she do?”

Christians sometimes utilize the catch phrase, “What would Jesus do?”, and while it’s admirable to apply that kind of wisdom to the big decisions in your life, I find it difficult aspire to those heights, especially when dealing with life’s minutia. Jesus is a godhead, after all, and since I’m just a regular ol’ human being, I won’t begin to pretend that I can achieve the miracle of feeding thousands with a loaf of Wonder Bread and a can of tuna, when I do well not to burn the casserole. No, I’ll stick with imitating feet-on-the-ground women I admire, whom I can lock into a bear hug of thanks when I successfully mirror one of their achievements.

For example, when I’m faced with a classroom full of bored English comp students, I think, What would Rachel Bragg do? Rachel made literature so incredibly interesting for me that it became my concentration of study. She even coaxed me to study a course on fantasy literature, a subject I thought I hated until I took her excellent course. By mirroring her entertaining, yet no-nonsense approach to engaging and motivating students, my first semester of teaching college was a success.

When I think I can’t find the time to face yet another blank page in one of my works in progress, I ask, “What would Leslie Pietrzyk do?” Leslie teaches in two graduate writing programs, is active in two writing groups, is the editor of a literary magazine, authors a wonderful blog I follow, publishes new essays and short stories seemingly every other week, has authored two novels and is soon to release a third. If she can make time to write with all that’s on her literary plate, so can I.

When friends pop by unexpectedly for an evening (or even a long weekend), I ask myself, “What would Momma do?” I’ve watched my mother joyfully entertain and prepare a spread for a dozen unexpected guests more times than I can count. And, while tiptoeing along the poverty line most of her life, my mother still donates an extraordinary amount of time and energy to charity functions, from hand-stitching quilts for international missionaries, to heading up “The Master’s Basket”, a women’s group that makes and delivers food to sick individuals and bereaved families weekly. She frequently volunteers in her church and community for dozens of different projects as needed. She’ll forever inspire me to give selflessly and generously.

When my writing gets too dark and serious, or my prose falls flat, I think, What would Karin Gillespie do? Karin’s novels, essays, articles, and blog posts never fail to make me laugh, and she finds humor—and writes it so well!—in all of life’s foils and foibles. If you’ve ever chuckled when reading one of my blog posts, it’s because I’ve learned from Karin’s fine example.

So many strong and smart women have inspired and continue to inspire me: my late mom-in-law Georgia White, who was an excellent to-the-penny home-finances manager; many mother/wife/professor/writer friends including Cheryl Russell, Gabrielle Brant Freeman, Kathleen Nalley Moore, and Pam Andrews Hanson (who also writes as Jennifer Drew); my uber-organized editing boss Sandy Tritt; my go-getter real estate broker Enis Qosja and brokerage owner Crystal Anderson . . . I could easily continue naming names and singing praises. You can bet there’s also something about you that I probably admire, prompting me to ask, “What would [insert your name here] do?”

Admittedly, it’s easy for me to get in over my head when I think this way. I often bite off more cud than a four-stomached cow can digest, and I occasionally feel bad when I fall short of the successes my role models have accomplished. Nonetheless, I realize that, while each of these women are phenomenal at one or three things I greatly admire, they may intermittently fail at something I do well. None of us is perfect, yet each of us strives to be successful at whatever it is that we do.

Acknowledging this fact leaves me with one important, pressing question: What would Rhonda do?

I know the answer to this one by heart: she would try very hard.

Extremely hard.

And sometimes she fails, but she cleans up the mess (even if it means sweeping it under the rug until her guests leave), and tomorrow she will try again.

The Enjoli woman should be so fortunate.

Touchdown Wings

“Left wing, chicken wing, it don’t make no difference to me.” 

–Singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie

I promised you recipes. No, I haven’t forgotten, because a friend—one who can take persistence all the way to peskiness—reminded me again that I promised you recipes. So, in honor of the Big Game That Cannot Be Named on Social Media, here is one of my prize-winning recipes for the perfect tailgate food—even if you’re tailgating in your own living room.

Rhonda’s Touchdown Wings

touchdown wings

 ¼ cup maple syrup

1 large bottle teriyaki sauce

1 tsp chopped garlic

½  cup Tabasco sauce

½ to 1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

4-5 pounds chicken wing drumettes

Mix the first four ingredients, stirring well until the maple syrup has dissolved. If more heat is desired (I like mine combustible), add the red pepper flakes. (If you prefer very mild, teriyaki-flavored wings–we’ll call these Field Goal Wings–you may omit the Tabasco sauce, as well.) Now, I have to insist here that you use Tabasco sauce, in lieu of any other brand. Don’t make the mistake of using wing sauce, which, when diluted with teriyaki and maple syrup, will cause your wings to turn out bland, producing Five Yard Penalty Wings. You don’t want that.

Place the chicken in a large, lidded container. Pour the sauce mixture over the wings, and stir well. Cover the wings (shake them if the lid fits tightly). Marinate the wings in the sauce 6-8 hours or overnight. Don’t cheat and cook them after four hours or so. You want the seasoning to permeate the skin and leave you with moist, juicy Touchdown Wings, not artificial-turf wings.

For the very best flavor, arrange wings in a single layer on a hibachi, charcoal, or gas grill, and grill five minutes, then turn and grill another 3-5 minutes, until wings are done.

As an option, you can bake these babies in the oven. Simply line a cookie sheet with foil, and arrange wings in a single layer. Drizzle a scant amount of the marinade over the wings (not much, you only want to keep them moist, not drown them). Bake at 350 degrees for one hour, turning each wing over after 35-40 minutes.

Warning: If you make these wings for friends, know that you’ll have to make them every time there’s a football game, cookout, or picnic. There’s a reason I won a cookoff prize with these yummy little chicklets, and one bite will tell you why.

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