Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hello! Hello!

Rule #15 – Write your observations.

     At the risk of perpetuating stereotypes, Nature is really a female, since Mother Nature has tantrums (storms), peaceful times (high pressure and sunny days), cycles (seasons), and hot flashes (mid-anything heat waves). And on top of all of this, her moods change in an instant. At least, they do where I live.

     Last Tuesday, at 1:14 am, astrological spring arrived. She crept in quietly on an unusually warm night. I was there; because of my dog… he had to go out just at the spring-arrival moment. How did he know to do that? So, at 1:14 am, I am standing outside listening to the silence of the middle of the night. I thought, “Welcome, spring…. Officially!”

     You see, the East Coast just finished with the winter that wasn’t. Very little snow fell, much to the chagrin of all school kids. That is, at least in our area. Since the beginning of February, we experienced intermittent winter and summer weather. It would be cold, and then get really warm, then back to cold again. The colder days were rainy, chilly – you know that kind of raw chill that goes right to your bones. The warmer days were almost summer-like with heat. But you knew it was still February-March when the sun went down and things chilled up. Several seasons in a day – think Ma Nature was PMS-ing?

     Mother Nature’s mid-winter hot flashes brought the trees and flowers out early. Redbuds and Bradford Pears were all in flower in mid-March. Sakura and other flowering cherry and plum trees bloomed earlier than DC’s Cherry Blossom Festival anticipated. Daffodils sprouted and flowered, hyacinths bloomed early and tulips are up and blooming now this last week of March. Normally, these bloom events don’t happen until April.

     While all this makes for a beautiful mental picture, there is a downside to all this. Those of us with allergies are medicating earlier than expected. The hot-cold weather transitions have all the little rhino-viruses going crazy inside little kids and tired adults. It’s times like this that I do not miss being packed like a sardine in a small space with 30-40 middle school kids.

     Another downside is surveying winter damage outside. We may not have gotten a lot of snow. But wind was a frequent visitor (everyone needs to blow off steam sometime). Since I live on a tree-filled lot, I now have a lot of fire wood thanks to the wind events. It’s also time to see what comes back in the spring. You never know what plants are going to make it to the next spring. You never know what bugs were killed off. You never know what tiny livestock might have burrowed its way into your lawn and garden.

     Well, spring inventory is complete. We have lots of fresh firewood and some of it doesn’t have to be chain-sawed up. I found more mole-holes than I can count and I’m hoping a black snake might have moved into one or two of them. Chrysanthemums must have been annuals after all, since I don’t see any new sprouts. Peas are sprouted and in the veggie bed. Back flower beds are cleaned out of dead leaves. Front flower beds are in process of being cleaned out. Liriope is hornier than ever, spreading and getting thick. It’s a great edging plant but it just loves one of my front beds. Guess I should pull a bunch of it out. English ivy needs a cut down, before it takes over its little corner of the shaded part of my yard. Bees are buzzing, stinkbugs are back (darn!), and mosquitoes are starting to hang out again.  At times like this, I think, who needs a gym membership? Yard work is an aerobic activity and is something handy, free, and actually saves you money. And it reduces stress!

     Are we done with yard work yet? Not hardly! I still have to trim the ivy, like I said before, clean out one more azalea bed, pull ivy off the tree trunks and from around the bases, get rid of some of the liriope, dig up some of the sticker vines in the back, trim some of the understory of the trees in the back of the yard… and the list continues. Am I worried it won’t get done? Not hardly!

     You see, gardening actually helps me, mentally and physically. I got into gardening big time when I was teaching. My career started with high school Home Economics and ended with middle school Family and Consumer Sciences (Home Ec with a classier name). I really did enjoy teaching the kids and loved the teen kids (well, someone has to). But they (and their parents) did get on my nerves more than occasionally. My choice was to dead-head flowers or dead-head kids. Hmmm…. Which one wouldn’t land me in jail? Flowers won.

     Yes, I’ve got “the fever” – spring fever! Big time! I can’t wait to start putting flowers in. Got to get more seeds going!

     But, Ma Nature, you always have the last say at this time of the year. So what’s with a freeze warning tonight? Come on, Ma! More PMS? Make up your mind!

     Oh, and (ouch) where did I hide the Ben-Gay?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

She's got a ticket to Burger Nirvana

Rule #3 – Write from your experiences.

Dear Bobby Flay,

     To start with, YOU ROCK!!! I’ve always enjoyed watching you grill up a storm on TV. But now I am able to sample your recipes first hand? Let’s just say, I’m in heaven!

     My past two trips to New Jersey introduced me to your Bobby’s Burger Palace in Cherry Hill. My sister is a regular there and recommended, what she calls, the best burgers on the planet. I was a bit hesitant to try the restaurant, since I’m trying to watch my weight. But even on the strictest of weight reduction plans, an occasional burger works. After all, it’s not the burger itself, but all the stuff that goes with it. And the word of the way is “occasional”, right?

     The atmosphere from the décor is a trip back in time. Colors and designs remind me of the Mod days of the 60’s and 70’s. The music is classic, too. Your sound system was pumping in the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, and Credence. I half expected to turn around and find Austin Powers enjoying a meal nearby. We sat at the counter and grooved and ate, ate and grooved, talked to counter-mates, grooved and ate some more.

     Both of us ordered burgers cooked to order. They were delivered exactly as ordered. Living in the Baltimore-Washington area now, I craved a bit of Philly, so I got the Philadelphia burger. It was a perfect portion of fresh ground beef, hand-formed and cooked to perfection at medium-well. A slice of provolone cheese, grilled onions on top of a soft, sesame seed roll and this transplant was close to cheesesteak heaven. The burger came with jalapenos but I requested them on the side. And your crew obliged! I did elect not to crunchify the burger (add potato chips to the burger). But I love the fact that I can choose my burger toppings, and I’m not stuck with the stock recipe. My sister was even able to avoid the sesame seeds on her burger bun with no problem.

     The big splurge was the fries. I am highly addicted to sweet potato fries. When I fix them at home, I dip into maple syrup for a Thanksgiving Day rewind for the taste buds. You have a honey mustard horseradish dipping sauce that is spectacular!! I cruised your website to see if I could buy some for myself, but no go – yet. I sure hope you choose to market that particular product. It has such a great mix of sweet and spicy, yet it was not hot at all. My taste buds salute you for this sauce. And those onion rings reminded me of bangle bracelets, they were so big! Lovin’ it!

     On my next visit, I plan to save enough calories to indulge in a milk shake, with whipped cream, of course. I may try another sandwich or salad on the menu. Maybe I’ll go for the best of both worlds and have a Topless Burger. Lucky for me, I don’t have to go too far to find a BBP. There’s one just off the George Washington University campus in DC. One of these days, I’ll venture down on the Metro Orange line to Foggy Bottom, walk over to 21st and K Streets, and take my taste buds and psyche for a trip down memory lane and into nirvana.

     I hear you are opening a restaurant at Maryland Live at Arundel Mills. I just can’t wait to see which one it will be. A Mesa Grill? A Steak House? A Bar Americain? Another Burger Palace? I’ll be checking your website, http://bobbyflay.com/restaurants, to see which one and when it will open. As they say, I’m chomping at the bit.

     Maybe our paths will cross at one of your restaurants. Till then…


A True Foodie, Me

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

To AC from DC

Rule number 6: A writer needs to honor traditions, for there are stories within.

     Poor New Jersey. It never really had a true identity. It was either West New York, East Philadelphia or Atlantic City. The concept of “Jersey Shore” was not a Snooki-ism back then. It was the only identity Jersey had.

     A long, long time ago, as a child, I went to Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was a different world then.

     In the 1950’s and 60’s, you could not access the beach by going under the Boardwalk; you had to go over it. You could not wear your bathing suit on the Boardwalk, even with a cover-up; you had to change in the bath house – for a price. Atlantic City was not a place to take young children who enjoyed amusement rides, since there were very few piers that catered to families in this manner.

     At that time, my family was a frequent visitor to Wildwood, New Jersey. Even back then, it was a more family friendly place to vacation. That Boardwalk had pier after pier of amusement rides and quite the carnival atmosphere. Atlantic City had an atmosphere that was more “upscale”. We walked the Boardwalk around dusk and saw women dressed up in dresses and heels. Furs abounded. Men were dressed in summer suits. Many women wore hats and so did the men. It looked more like a parade of fashion than a vacation where you shed the cares of home and bummed for a bit. Dressing down was a big no-no there, where in Wildwood, it was expected.

     Hotels were high-rises in Atlantic City. Old fashioned, art deco designs blended with Victorian designs to produce a very sophisticated atmosphere. Supper clubs were all over at that time. Many stars of the era got their start in Atlantic City clubs. The Boardwalk was home to many shops, restaurants, and candy stores. Once you left the Boardwalk, the atmosphere, however, changed. Venture far off the boards, and you entered a world of poverty. There were sections of Atlantic City that resembled the poorer, more neglected sections of Philadelphia.

     Enter “Casino Gambling” in the late 1960’s and 70’s. The whole plan was to revitalize Atlantic City, bring it back to its former glory. Let’s look at what happened.

     The first casino was Resorts International. They took over the original Claridge Hotel and made interior changes. The outside façade stayed the same. Then came the other casino conglomerates and changed the Boardwalk landscape into Vegas East. Lots of glitz and lights… lots of big name performers… Atlantic City became a destination after your career was going well, not a springboard stop on the road to success.

     The city took several hurricane hits over this time period. Steel Pier was wiped out as I knew it. No more ballroom with the Ed Hurst Dance Party. No more Diving Horse Show.  Now there is nothing there really, nothing at all.

     My recent visits to Atlantic City left me a bit sad for the town. I got the feeling it’s still trying to find an identity. I think it’s looking for an identity that might incorporate casinos, but not be defined by casinos. That’s going to be a tough change. Lots of tradition left Atlantic City when the casinos came were built. Even Miss America left town.

     Leave the Boardwalk, and there are still depressed areas of the city – areas that no developer would think of touching. Dressing up is now no longer as important. Most people don’t stroll the Boardwalk, except to get from casino to casino. But at least the covered push chairs are still there.

     So what, really, has changed in all these years? The time stamp on the video of life? Values? Nothing? Hmmmmm – something to think about… but I really miss the older architecture taking me back in time.

     Guess I may have to start watching “Boardwalk Empire” to get an “old Atlantic City” fix. It’s come to that…. sad, very sad!