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...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Flying Solo - Year 2

Rule #23 – Focus…

Dear Hub,

      I can’t believe it’s been two years since you left. I remember each moment of the last few days together like it is still going on, and I’m watching a horror movie. You did leave peacefully. But since then, so much has changed. They say the second year is harder than the first. And the ubiquitous "they" are right.
      The grief never went away. It gets less painful with each birthday, anniversary, and holiday. But it’s never gone. I really did feel like I lost a vital part of my being when you left. Like I had an amputation… and I still have some phantom pain in my heart.
      But I’m writing this to let you know that I’m doing better this year… we are all doing better this year. I’ve taken steps to improve my life without you. It hasn’t been an easy task at all. Just those words “without you”… they are such a huge hurdle to get over.
      All of the financial things were taken care of immediately. I took my own advice and now have a will, with hand-written codicils for specific items. I will keep as much money out the hands of the state of Maryland as I can, just as you wished. But no, I will not move out of state. I will stay within a day’s drive of our kids. Your sister is finding out that the state of Texas isn’t the retirement gold mine she thought. Not sorry we didn’t move down there at all. It’s too hot there anyway.
      I did clear most of your clothes out. Some worthy person will be wearing your work clothes. The flannels are the real exception. That was your trademark. Each person will get a shirt, and how they honor you with it is their choice. I did find your travel tee shirts. Your cousin offered to quilt them up for me. I will take her up on it. Your ties – all of them- will go to our soon-to-graduate-into-the-business world nephews. You hated ties anyway. I found myself back in grief counseling after I was finished and everything was out of the house.
      Now the big project is the basement, or better known as your Cave. I can’t figure out why you liked it dark and stuffy, but you did. Lots of the piles of things you kept are now gone. I have a person who may want the radio equipment that is left. I got the basement door replaced and it no longer needs a jamb to keep it closed. It’s also mouse-proof. Next job is the windows… getting security block windows down there. That type of window gives more natural light. Through the winter coming up, I want to finish off the basement with better walls and traffic flow. I want it to be a useable space for anyone, and not to look like a Cave anymore.
      This year, I was able to garden more. I had no desire last year. But now I need to clean out the gardens, get the leaves up and mulch them, and get things ready for winter. I had the energy this year. And I need to do this myself.
      I haven’t written as much, but my muse is coming back. Slowly but surely coming back… I was able to work with the dog book and the snow dance book this year. I even submitted the snow dance to an agent for critique. There is hope for this writing career and I’m willing to be patient and enjoy the process of writing and researching. You were not so patient. I remember you saying that everything I wrote should be published immediately and I should make a million dollars. Not sure I want the IRS headaches of a million dollars. I just want to enjoy what I’m doing.
      Some other things… the Orioles made in to the championship level of the playoffs this year. The Ravens aren’t doing too badly either. Yes, I am having baseball withdrawal symptoms already. I went to spring training last year, and had a blast. But I did it by myself. It was great to explore Sarasota. I met up with lots of our friends and got to walk around lots of gardens – something you were not too keen on doing (the garden thing). But when I turn on the classic baseball games on MLB network, I can hear you moaning out loud, “You’re kidding me!”
      Our daughter is getting married next year… but you knew that. You found a way to let her know you approve of her choice. And he is a great guy. You would be so proud of how the wedding is coming together. I’m glad we put money aside for it, too. I’ve been able to give her a great venue and caterer for next year. They are taking care of the rest of it all. And her dress… well, it’s gorgeous. She’s going to look fantastic walking down the aisle. But you are missed through this whole process. Oh, so much!
      There are times I feel so alone, without you. I talk to the walls out loud like I talked to you. It’s as if you are still around. Now if I’m caught talking like this, I’m sure there will be psychotherapy recommended. Maybe it’s time I allow myself to possibly start dating again. Not sure how to do that, since it’s been so long. I’m just trying to be happy and productive in life. I’m not used to focusing only on myself.
      You’ll be happy – or jealous – to know my health is still good. My blood work numbers are all normal – something that drove you crazy. I did join Weight Watchers to bring the tonnage under control. And I am exercising, though not as much as I should. I’ve got to change that, and I will. Baby steps, Hon, baby steps…
      Yes, Love, I’m getting things done around the house here. I’m still traveling. I’m taking care of myself. I’m seeing the kids and our mighty hockey playing grandson as often as possible. I’m still involved with church activities. Garden club is still my neighborhood connection. I am in group therapy for the social part of moving on. I’m ready to embrace the next year without you to see where it leads.
      But I’m still doing all of this without you. And I miss you beyond words. But don’t worry about us at all… we will be ok. Yes, just ok… because you aren’t here to share all of this with.
      And now to focus on life…

With all my love,


Monday, October 13, 2014

Pride and Food Porn - yes, together

Rule #2 – Write from what you know.

     How do you tell a grown nephew how proud you are of what he has done? Or a niece for that matter? I tell my kids all the time how proud I am of them all, and how much I love them. I go all goofy and braggy about my kids and they are used to it. They act all embarrassed but they love it. But the extended kids… that’s different, sort of. But I can still be super proud of them all. And now to get all goofy and braggy… 
      I was bursting with pride when my nephew asked me to attend his graduation from Culinary Institute of America recently. You know this recovering Home Ec teacher jumped at the chance to go. And I was rewarded with one of the best weekends ever! Oh, and they served food, too.
Welcome to the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY
      Let me tell you about the school… Culinary Institute of America has three USA campuses and one in Singapore. The school is internationally renowned for producing chefs, and bakery and pastry chefs who have gone on to make their marks in the hospitality industry. And we can’t forget to mention the Food Network also. Distinguished alumni include writers Anthony Bourdain and Jamie Purviance, executive chef Llewellyn Correia, of Wegmans, and Bobby Flay, from – well, you name it. Pastry chef Duff Goldman from Charm City Cakes walked the halls at CIA, as did Michael Symon from “The Chew”.
Roth Hall facing the Hudson River
      The New York campus is in Hyde Park, just north of Poukeepsie.  It sits on the banks of the Hudson River, which provides beautiful views no matter the season. Located just up the road from Marist College, the campus site was once a monastery. Remnants of its former occupants are evident in Roth Hall, where the architecture of monastic life is still visible. Now the building houses culinary classrooms, food production laboratories, several award winning, student-staffed restaurants, the Craig Claibourne Bookstore, and is the center of student learning.
Fountain at Anton Plaza, in front of Roth Hall
      Many of the other buildings are more recent construction. You will find the Colavita Center for Italian Food and Wine near Roth Hall. The design considers the entire food experience, right down to the room ambiance. The building is designed as a Tuscan villa and boasts its own restaurants, and is  also student-staffed. Many students are found in the Conrad Hilton Library completing the research needed for their studies. There are student dormitories, lodge housing, and townhouses throughout the campus area.
Marriott Pavilion - Conference Center
      We spent most of the graduation day at the Marriott Pavilion on campus. This is the newest building and is designed to be a conference and event site. The building houses the Ecolab Auditorium and a fantastic reception area in its two-story building. Here you will also find the Gastrotyographicalassemblage, a unique piece of artwork by the late CBS studio graphic artist, Lou Dorfsmann. This unusual piece of 3-D art was originally displayed at CBS studios in New York City. It was rescued and restored by Nick Fasiano. It now occupies a place of honor in the atrium of the Marriott Pavillion.
Small sample of the Gastrotypograhicalassemblage, located in the atrium of Marriottt Pavillion
Seat, courtesy of Todd Rundgren
     The graduation ceremony was in the state-of-the-art Ecolab Auditorium. We had fun scoping out our seats and choosing where we sat. Many of the individual chairs were donated by celebrities and were identified with name plates on the back. I think I sat in Todd Rundgren’s seat. The ceremony itself was impressive as the graduates walked in with their white coats and toques on. Each student walked across the stage and received their medal signifying curriculum completion. They walked in front of professionally produced pictures of themselves on the large screen. The guest speaker this day was Frank Crispo, owner of Crispo Restaurant in New York City and CIA alumnus. The recessional had the students walk under the Arch of Tools of the Trade, oversized spoons, whisks and knives.
My nephew receiving his graduation medal

Frank Crispo giving his keynote address
Passing through the Arch of Tools
Congratulations to all graduates
     And then the party started… and what a party! In the reception hall, the students prepared the reception food at stations all over the room, hallway and atrium. Everywhere we turned there was more beautifully presented morsels to delight our palates. I can now say that I’ve tasted some of life’s delicacies, like foie gras, rabbit, assorted sausages, unique fish items, Earl Grey ganache candy, and the temptation of my dreams – chocolate covered cheesecake pops. Bless me, Waistline, for I am sinning… and loving it. Such freshness, such deliciousness, such presentations! Just look at all of this…
Chef at work at a reception station
Student serves a bean stew in recyclable bowls
Unique presentation of a pinwheel hors d'oeuvres
Preparing meat and fish samples
Fresh bread

Oh, and don’t drool on your keyboard…

Far left - Earl Grey ganache in dark chocolate - Food to chase my bluesy mood
Calamari - mmmmmmm
Carrot mango gazpacho shooter

Top - White chocolate covered cheesecake pops. Bottom - lemon meringue pie pops

Student preparing small sandwiches
Excellent Reuben sandwich bite
Yes, you are looking at food porn…

Vanilla raspberry truffle
Cheese plate
Small samples - looks good, tastes better
Line-up of deliciousness
This chef enjoys her work
Processed meats to make your own sandwich bite

And can you beat this display?

Mini cakes and raspberry bombe - presented on an ice-filled tray
     What really impressed me is the school’s commitment to the environment. We had small sample plates that were 100% recyclable. We had some small bowls made from manufactured cellulose products that were 100% compostable. We enjoyed drinks and soups in modified test tube shooters, again all recyclable. Not one Styrofoam item to be seen anywhere! Yes!
     Now my nephew can count himself among the great chefs of the world, as he should. He is still there, since he will complete his Bachelors program in 2015. Another graduation ceremony? I can’t wait!
Chef Michael P. Knipp - Culinary Institute of America Class of 2014
     Do you think I can get any more proud? Or goofy and braggy? More graduations to come…

All photos by Marge McGugan. No reuse without written permission.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What a Birthday Party!

Rule #52 – History is just that… learn from it.

     Our last day on the road – it’s a bit bitter-sweet. We’ve made friends and enjoyed each other’s company over a great bond that is baseball. Today we step onto hallowed ground in Chicago.
On the corner of Clark St. and Addison St....
     We left our hotel that morning in a cool breeze. A cold front went through the area the night before. All the heat and humidity from St. Louis was washed away in a big thunderstorm overnight. There was plenty of residual fog and clouds in Bloomington, IL, that morning. On the ride into Chicago, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and there was a beautiful promise of great weather for our last day on the Great Baseball Tour.
Waveland Ave. - historic fire house and rooftop seating for the game
Don't drive to the game. Take the El!
     We drove to the north side of Chicago. This drive took us through some city neighborhoods that looked a bit rough. We rode along side of the elevated for a bit. Then it was time for the big bus to make some tight turns near the stadium. A left on to Waveland St. and past the historic Waveland Fire House, and a slow trek down to the corner at Sheffield Street. We disembarked just outside the outfield bleacher gate and in front of famed broadcaster Harry Carey’s statue. Here we stood, outside a 100-year old ball park, home to the Chicago Cubs and “Da Bears” for a time before Soldier Field was built.
Sheffield Ave. across the street from Wrigley Field
Harry Carey's statue outside the Budweiser Bleacher Seats
Rooftop seating on Sheffield St.

     The story of Wrigley Field started in 1914.  The Cubs, as a team, had a checkered history that started with the name “Cubs” in 1925. To date, the Cubs celebrate a grand total of zero World Series Championships in that 100-year history. You’ve got to acknowledge the five Division titles and six League Championships in that time period. But Cubs fans have redefined the word “loyal”. The martyr complex could be used to describe the Cubs and their fans, but this Orioles fan was beyond impressed with the people she met in Chicago. They just plain love baseball and they stick with their team no matter what. You have to respect that.
Mural of the Wrigley blueprints painted on the side of the stadium wall
     Wrigley Field has been used in many a period movie about baseball. My personal favorite is “A League of Their Own”. When I walked through the gate at the corner of Clark and Addison, and walked through the tunnel to the seats, I could just imagine myself as Geena Davis, or Lori Petty, walking onto the pro field near the beginning of the film. As I walked around the main concourse, I could feel my Dad with me. He used to take my brother and me to Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia for Phillies games. The look was similar – lots of steel girders and not a lot of walking room.
Concourse at Wrigley, with cables and catwalks - and crowds

Catwalks to the second level and a small, electronic scoreboard
      The ushers maintained the fans’ closeness with their players by allowing fans to go down to the dugout wall until the end of batting practice. Some members of our group were able to get player autographs. We had the run of the park, and we could sit where ever we wanted until the game started. 
View from our seats - yes, still obstructed view seats around the park
Open walkway on the press box level
     There is so much to absorb at Wrigley. This city-bred park is no place for fans with a fear of heights. You get to the different levels of the park by using open catwalks. The press box and suite levels have walks that are open to the first level of seats. There really is rooftop seating along Waveland and Sheffield Streets, at the top of three and four story row homes.
Sitting on the rooftop to see the game
     The field itself looked fantastic. It didn’t look like 100-year-old grass. The outfield ivy was in full “bloom” and covered the brick wall. Notice I said it covered the wall; it didn’t cushion it. Outfielders still had to be careful as balls hit deep could knock an outfielder out cold if they ran into the wall.
A classic field
Complete with ivy covered walls
      Yes, there are now lights and night games. For years, you played the Cubs in Chicago only in the daytime. Permanent field lights were finally installed in 1988, guaranteeing a Cubs fan night games at home. 
     This was the same field that had the likes of Don Cardwell, “Toothpick” Sam Jones, Peanuts Lowry, and “Sweet Swingin’” Billy Williams play the game on it. Ron Santo and Ken Holtzman played ball here. And then there was Mr. Cub, himself – Ernie Banks. While the Cubs may not have had too many memorable wins, they sure have had their fair share of great players. Don’t forget the inimitable “Holy Cow” delivered by broadcaster Harry Carey when a Cub hit a home run. We can’t mention Harry without his renditions of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, sung from the broadcast booth – usually badly – and starting a 7th inning stretch tradition that carried over to many other ball parks.
Ron Santo statue outside the stadium
      On this Sunday, which turned out bright, sunny and chilly, the Cubs hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates. Former Oriole pitcher Jason Hammel was on the mound for the Cubbies. He pitched like I remember him pitching for the O’s – and was pulled by the fifth inning. The Pirates won the game that day. And the fans stuck it out until the end.
There are people inside the scoreboard, putting the numbers up

There are a few lights on the board but not many
     The powers that be in Chicago have been talking about renovating Wrigley. To a point it’s not a bad idea. The ball park isn’t even “old school” by today’s standards (try antique). The scoreboard is still a manually-operated board, which is really fun to watch. So is the out of town score board. There are lots of exposed cables running up to the press areas. And I hear the players’ locker room is more like an oversized confessional. Most players complain that there is no room for them, or to dress for the game. The roof top seats are a subject of much political debate, too. The Cubs organization has purchased some of the land on the blocks surrounding the stadium. Plans include restaurants and shopping, with more fan experience areas outside the park walls.
     Only time will tell how all of these moves and demands play out. There is so much history that would be lost if Wrigley was torn and rebuilt to current demands. But some renovation is needed for player comfort. This is a park that reminds us all that baseball is just a game at heart, in spite of the industry part. Fans of the future need to be able to walk in the footsteps of fans past, and experience the game of today through their eyes.
Happy Birthday, Wrigley Field
      The bus dropped off one tired fan at Milwaukee Airport after the game. I got a good night’s sleep at my hotel and got myself ready to fly home to Baltimore the following day. If I had paid a bit more attention to the schedules, I could have stayed an extra day in Milwaukee, gone to Miller Park that night and seen the Brewers face the Nationals. Ah, lessons to be learned for next year’s tour …
     But now it’s home to Baltimore and my first place Orioles. I can relate to the Cubs fans in that it’s been a while since Baltimore put a winning team on the field. I liked them even as they were losing.  But this year we have a chance… we really have a chance…
I was there!

     The number right now is 8 – one game at a time, O's.

All photos by Marge McGugan. No reuse without permission.