Holiday Bingeing

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BEFORE: Partying with the ladies on Thanksgiving.

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AFTER: Hanging with Rachel Bloom, binge-watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Season 1).

I just watched 17 episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in 24 hours. And you know what?  I’m feeling a little crazy too.

This is what happens with an unexpected chunk of free time. We find a show we’ve never watched, and gobble it up like contestants in Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest. Like binge drinking, eating, gambling, and shopping, we know it’s decadent, but we don’t care. We’re all in, and dammit, we won’t stop until we watch a whole season.

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Some of the kids. I had to crop out a beer can on the kids’ table.

My latest binge was triggered by a nasty flu-like virus (notice I did not say flu) which took hold about 24 hours after the last of my 29 Thanksgiving guests left. I blame the woman (jerk) in Stop & Shop who hacked without covering her mouth on Wednesday afternoon as I picked up last-minute items. “Oh, that’s just great,” I thought. “Get everyone else sick for Thanksgiving.”

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THE AFTERMATH: The Adults’ Table.

I woke up Friday night barely able to breathe, and fumbled around for a thermometer. I was running a slight fever that spiked to 101 degrees by Saturday night.  I felt queasy and exhausted, chilled but sweating. The worst of it was the malaise. I didn’t feel like doing anything.

I have no idea how I picked Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but it was a solid choice. Rachel Bloom is hysterical as a hard-charging New York attorney who relocates to West Covina, CA., to chase her teen-age crush Josh. Peppered with musical numbers that are absurd yet entertaining, it keeps you laughing through the sneezing, coughing and misery of being sick.

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Carving master: My brother-in-law Dewey brings gloves, his own knife and apron.

OK, I had another reason too. I know a thing or two about crushes. My first was on an elementary school teacher who wore knit ties and drove a green Mercedes coupe. He was my first male teacher, a rarity in the teaching profession. Junior high and high school featured crushes on some pretty cool dudes. That’s what happens when you have six sisters and go to an all-girls Catholic high school.

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FOUR AMIGOS: My brother-in-laws John, Bob, Rich and Matt.

What I like about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is it acknowledges – even celebrates – the insanity of crushes. Sure, lots of shows center on unrequited love, but few explore the nuttiness or obsession of a full blown crush.

I knew a girl in college who had an incredible crush on a star athlete. I understood it – he was handsome, smart, charming and had a twinkle in his eye. We all had crushes on him. Problem is, she took it a little too far. She stalked him, and embarrassed herself. Definitely a case of carrying things a little too far.

Men can be just as bad. I used to work with a guy who had a serious crush on a girl. We’d spend hours every week  (between work, of course) discussing strategy. When this dragged on for a year, I cut the cord. It became clear that the relationship was all in his head. His crush was standing in the way of true romance, and I refused to be part of it. Besides, it was giving me a headache.

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I hope this guy doesn’t get sick too. He’s my dentist.

The thing about crushes is you know they’re stupid, but you can’t help it. Even when you get over a crush, they’re in there somewhere. Years later, you find that your heart still quickens with the mention of his name, or you’re incredibly sad to learn that he died. Trust me on this one.

Though I’m not proud of binge-watching, I make no apologies. You can’t do much with a fever except roll around in bed, pity yourself and wonder if it’s possible to feel any worse. I take comfort in the fact that lots of other people spend (squander) their time binge-watching. Netflix numbers show that nearly 65 percent of us binge-watch at least once during the year (I suspect it’s when we’re sick, our kids are sick or we’re trapped by inclement weather.)

Here, in no particular order, are my other binges. Honestly, this is it:

  • The Affair: OK, maybe I was interested because the main character went to Williams College and was on the swim team like The Curmudgeon. Hopefully, that’s where the similarities end.
  • This Is Us (Season 1):  As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t really get on the bandwagon until the show ended, and caught up in about two days. Now, I try to watch every week. It’s my favorite show.
  • Grace & Frankie: A high school classmate (thanks Kate) recommended it on Facebook, and I gave it a look. Before I knew it, I had watched every episode. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are great as two older women whose husbands leave them to become a gay couple. June Diane Raphael is proof that you can be beautiful and funny.
  • The League: I didn’t learn about this show that’s been off the air since 2015 until my son came home college last spring. Yes, I felt like I had been living under a rock, but that’s not unusual. It’s really funny, and addictive. The cast is so great that I’m not going to single anybody out.
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My sister Janet and brother-in-law David. J is another casualty of the sickness.

 

French Kitsch

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Barbara looks over vases and birch accessories for her Thanksgiving table at Terrain Garden Cafe in Westport, CT. She bought three small vases for $30, a great deal.

You know you’re out of your league when you ask people if they’ve been to a place and they don’t know what you’re talking about.

“Have you been to Terrain in Westport?” I asked a friend who loves to shop and decorate. “No, I won’t drive all the way there because I don’t want to drive an hour home after a few glasses of wine.”

“It’s not a restaurant, it’s a cool store where you can eat and shop for plants and things for your house,” I said. “Oh, you mean te-ran,” she said. Huh? “Te-ran. French for earth. Yes, I’ve been there. I thought you said tureen.”

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Terrain plants.

Boy, did I feel foolish. My friend Barbara had only texted me the name of the place, so I assumed it was pronounced Ter-rain. Usually, I’m pretty good with French. I once used the expression tete a tete and an uppity relative said, “Oh, you mean a tate a tate.” “No,” I thought. “I mean tet a tet. If you’re going to correct someone, make sure you’re right.”

Turns out the same thing happened with Terrain. When I told Barbara about my faux pas, she burst into hysterical laughter. “It’s terrain,” she said. As in all-terrain vehicle or rough terrain. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes, I am.” I felt relieved, even vindicated.

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Pretty garlands.

The Terrain Garden Cafe is a cross between a high end garden center and Home Goods, with a funky cafe with foods like avocado toast, sweet potato bisque and quinoa salad with roasted chickpeas. Shoppers pony up to the polished (cement?) bar at lunch for a bite and a glass of wine or beer. I suspect that as much as the food, they need to decompress.

Like your first trip to Ikea, walking around Terrain can be overwhelming – so many things, well, so much time.  Customers spend an average of 2 1/2 hours in the store – browsing, eating, drinking and then browsing again. I learned this tidbit from one of Barbara’s friends, who works there.

This makes sense. If you rarely go to a store, you must reorient yourself every time. But if you go often, you know where the good stuff is. Back when I liked shopping, I could spot new merchandise at Loehmanns,  Marshalls and the nearby JCrew outlet. I used to work a block from Bloomingdales in New York City, and strolled there every day at lunch. There’s something  satisfying about knowing a store like the back of your hand. But I’m afraid those days are over.

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Bread in a flower pot: $39. I ate some of this bread for lunch and it was delicious. Fluffy, light yet immensely satisfying.

Terrain is to garden style like Ikea is to industrial and modern. Rows of live plants, bulbs, terrariums and topiaries greet visitors. Trouble is I’ve got The Curmudgeon at home monitoring our Visa account. I loved a topiary, but it was $99. As I told Barbara, I had to weigh the topiary and my marriage. I picked the marriage, but it was a pretty close call.

The Curmudgeon’s penchant for penny pinching makes it hard to shop with conviction. But I decided to use it as an “artist’s date,” a chance to let my imagination run wild. Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way,” urges taking at least one hour a week for an artist’s date – going somewhere, preferably alone, where you explore new things. It’s supposed to stimulate your inner child, the source of creativity. She tells you not to question her, to just do it. I’m not one to make waves, so I do as I’m told.

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Going to Terrain is an experience. Here, visitors stop for lunch and chat at an oversized farmer’s table. The place is full of ideas for DYI enthusiasts, and some items are reasonably priced.

With its Christmas trees and holiday displays, gorgeous flower arrangements and wide selection of home goods and gifts, Terrain is ideal for an artist’s date. It’s also fun to see how the other half lives. This is, after all, Westport, home to the rich and famous and the setting of the hysterical show “American Housewife.” I loved Katy Mixon on “Mike & Molly,” and she’s perfect as a mom who doesn’t fit in with other mothers in her rich community.

I think we all feel a little like Katy’s character when we’re thrown into that scene. I know I do. You suddenly feel a little fat and lacking in all sense of style. Walking around Terrain makes you wonder who can afford this stuff: $99 for a gold wheat wreath;  $39 for a clay flower pot bread kit, and $29 for a cluster of five gold flowers.

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Bring in the dogs: an adorable corgi checks out Terrain.

Barbara reminded me that these places are more about inspiration than shopping. That’s easy to forget when your eyes are darting around, looking at all the magnificent things that you’d buy if you they were cheaper. I began to see possibilities for my own hovel, er, home.

I admire people like my sister Patty who loves to decorate her home, and does it year-round. She even developed a small business based on her love of it. I decorate under duress: I’m having 29 people for Thanksgiving and I haven’t done anything since last year. This place really looks tired. Even The Curmudgeon is on board: “Forget about the leaves in the yard, he decreed. “We need to make this hovel presentable.”

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Did you say you need a vase?

I decided to snap some beautiful, but expensive, things with my I-Phone and try to replicate them with cheaper materials. Barbara, who has years of garden club experience, agreed to help and supervise in her kitchen. She was utterly gracious, hopping to it as I asked for containers, jar lids, twigs and candles. I felt a little like her heart surgeon husband Rich giving orders in the O.R.

The first is a flower arrangement featuring plants and bulbs that sells for $139 at Terrain. We assembled similar arrangement with plants from a big box store and a $20 milk glass container from Flowers on the Green in Guilford, CT.  Total cost:$50.

Special kudos to Christie Baker, owner of the flower shop. Once I told her what I was doing, she embraced the challenge with gusto, helping me find objects in the consignment section of her shop. Thanks also to Patti Todd, owner of Consign & Design in Branford, CT., where I bought a cement pedestal urn for $25.

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Terrain: $139

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Ours: $50 (you could spray-paint the milk glass bowl if you want it to look like stone. Save more if you have a similar container at home.)

The second was a potbelly vase with a few sprigs selling for $39 at Terrain. I bought an extra-large plastic Christmas ornament at Flowers on the Green for $9. I took out the loop and holder at the top and put in a sprig of dusty miller, fresh eucalyptus and some greens. We balanced it on a Bell jar ring. Total cost $12.

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Terrain:$39

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Ours: $12.

The third is a metal wheat wreath that sells for $99 at Terrain. Christie suggested I make a wheat wreath or a swag. Total cost $25 (wheat, ribbon and gold spray paint.) Thanksgiving hostess tip from Christie: place a spray-painted or natural piece of wheat on napkins for a festive look.

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Terrain: $99

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Wheat on a napkin.

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Terrain lighted ornament: $20.

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Our lighted ornament: $12 (ornament and battery operated light string available at Michael’s craft stores.

At Long Last Love

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I bought this silhouette of my children at the Guilford Artisans’ Expo in Guilford, CT., in 2004. The artist made it in about 2 minutes by masterfully cutting paper.

I wrote a different piece for National Adoption Day, but I can’t post it. Someone told me not to or I’d be sorry.  If I was still working for a newspaper, I’d say tough luck. But I’m not a reporter and this isn’t a story. It’s my life.

Unlike national dog, cat, goldfish, sibling or spouse appreciation day, today is more than just a day for thousands of foster kids across the country.  It’s the day when they legally become a part of a family. It’s fitting that it falls on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, a holiday synonymous with family.

My original post told a story, but it’s not mine to tell. So I’ll share mine:

My road to adoption was long and arduous, and I sometimes wished I had adopted about five years before I did. Of course if I had, I wouldn’t have my two kids, whom I’m convinced God put with us for a reason. So I’m OK with that fact that I foolishly believed pregnancy was the only way to become a mom for too many years.

My son came into our lives 20 years ago when I was so fed up with the fertility process that I would have taken a baby monkey in diapers. I didn’t get a monkey though. I got a blue-eyed newborn whose curly white locks looked like angel wisps. And he was (is) my angel. As I stumbled through fertility treatments, my friend Carrie wrote down this quote from Simone Weil and framed it for me:

“Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will fill our soul.”

One day in September, 1997, we got a call that a birth mother had picked us. I didn’t tell anyone except my parents because I was sure something would go wrong. My stoic Italian father cried over the phone when I told him. My mother helped me shop for baby supplies the day before.

After we picked him up at Catholic Charities, we drove to my parents house’ and my mother counted fingers and toes. She then studied his ears, remarking that his earlobes were nice and flat (as opposed to sticking out like Jumbo the Elephant?). I guess this is something experienced moms and grandmothers do.

My sisters came over one by one to meet the newest member of the tribe. They didn’t know why they were coming  – just that we had a surprise. My sister Pip looked at him in my arms and said, “Who’s baby is that?” “It’s ours,” I said. “No, really, who’s baby is that?”

I brought the baby home and he became the darling of our close-knit neighborhood. He was the first baby on the block, and quickly became the focal point of six unofficial “aunts.” One neighbor officially became “Auntie,” and something of surrogate mother. They developed a special bond that endures today. He asked that she and her family come to his high school graduation party.

When I brought him home, I had no idea that our little corner of the universe would  become home to 10 children, seven of whom were adopted. We all struggled with fertility issues and we’d joke (well, lament) that perhaps it was something in the water. Auntie and another neighbor ultimately delivered babies – twins (an adorable boy and girl) and a beautiful little girl. The rest of us adopted, some from the United States, others from foreign countries.

It’s actually pretty remarkable. So many families built from love. A lot of mothers who adopt tell their children that they didn’t grow in their stomach, but in their heart. I always thought it was a little corny until I became a mother too. It’s true. One of the nicest parts about adopting is not passing along your crappy genes or physical traits. You also don’t expect them to be mini versions of you. They’re their own person, as it should be for every child – biological, adopted or fostered.

Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled that my son is a lefty who plays sports righty, just like me. And I’m heartened and proud that he loves tennis as much as my husband and I. I’ve been playing singles against The Curmudgeon with varying degrees of success since we first met. We’re thrilled that our kid walked onto his college team, and has gone further than either of us. I try to remind The Curmudgeon of that when he laments about paying for years of lessons, and then watching him double fault.

I’m thrilled that our 16-year-old daughter took up running like her dad. She began jogging when she was about 13 and friends would say, “Oh, I saw her running about two miles from your house.” “Nah, it wasn’t her,” I’d say. But it was. She ran for her head. That is, to think things over, be alone and get the endorphin rush known as “runner’s high.” She runs cross country in high school, and has pledged to kick her dad’s ass in an upcoming 5-mile Turkey Trot. I’m thrilled she’s competitive and spunky. Both will get her far in life.

I understand the desire that adopted children have to search and know their biological parents. My two children are at opposite ends on this subject. One has no desire and the other does. I’m heartened that the birth parents are on board, but I’d be lying if I said it’s not emotionally trying.

I’m supportive, but it’s tough sometimes. There’s a feeling of being compared with two parents who came before you and will always share something with your child you don’t. You’re on the front lines of parenting – the tantrums, demands, defiance and driving lessons – yet they see the perfectly behaved and polite child. At the same time, your child sees the best of his/her birth parents. They don’t see the bad moods, frustration or exhaustion that goes with parenting.

As a mom I accept all of it – the good, the bad and the right to know whose DNA you have. Birth parents are part of the story, and to deny them a relationship is wrong. We recently connected with one of my child’s birth parents, and I love and appreciate their sacrifice even more today. They put the needs of their child first. That’s the first law of good parenting – doing whatever it takes for your kid.

Happily, the birth parents moved on with their lives, got married and now have young children. I’m developing a relationship with three half-siblings. I even asked my child if I can be their fake grandmother. “That’s ridiculous. How do you see that you’d be their grandmother?” “Well, I’m old enough to be your mother’s mother,” I reasoned. “How about a special Auntie?”

And so I am. They kiss and hug me when we show up, and one demanded that I keep my arm around his shoulder while we played games on his tablet. Since his shoulder was so low at age 7,  I asked if he wanted to get on my lap. Holding him made me long for the days of having young children. They think you’re great, shower you with love and want to be your playmate.

I’m starting to see the situation in a new light. Instead of the loss of my sole authority and role as mom, I have the chance for a larger extended family. A sleepover with the three little ones is in the works. I better get busy childproofing, and pulling out the Thomas the Tank Engine trains (and clunky) train table from the basement. They’ll be here with their sleeping bags before I know it.

Note: The following is my friend John’s account of meeting his cousin whom he learned about through Ancestry.com. John didn’t know anything about Denise, who was put up for adoption in the late 1950s. Here’s his story:

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 MISSIN’ COUSINS

I recently had my DNA analyzed by Ancestry.com. As well as finding out that I’m less Sicilian that I had thought (81%), I found out something else much more interesting: I have a first cousin that I didn’t know about.

In addition to giving you your ethnic background, Ancestry gives you all your genetic matches in their database, including their best guess as to your relationship. A few months after receiving the analysis, I received an email from a woman claiming to be my first cousin, and asking me if I would be interested in exploring our relationship. She stated that she was adopted, and knew little of her genetic background. I hadn’t looked at my results page in a while, and when I did, there she was, right at the top, indicating that she was my closest match in the database. Her name is Denise.

After exchanging a few emails, we talked by phone. Long story short, she was born in Lawrence, MA, my father’s hometown. Bingo. The adoption agency told her that her birth father was an electrical engineer, married with two sons age 5 and 1 at the time of her birth. Her mother was single, and decided on adoption. My father’s youngest brother, now deceased, fit the description. It’s not proof, but it’s very convincing evidence. Uncle Charlie must have had an affair, and Denise is the result.

Denise and I decided to meet. We met for lunch with our spouses, and made a connection that had started with emails and phone calls. She looks like a family member, and I’ve accepted her as such. I think we are going to continue to explore our relationship as she gets more information from the adoption agency.

I was always close with my father’s side of the family, but all my uncles and aunt are deceased, some of my cousins as well, and I’ve lost contact with most of the rest. I don’t think that’s uncommon with families as the years go by. But Denise has reenergized me, and I hope she and I can make up for lost time. As my wife reminded me, Denise’s father and mine were brothers. Obvious, but when you put it like that, it’s more impactful that saying we’re cousins, at least for me. We have the same grandparents. More impact.

Some people would say that my uncle made a mistake. Well, don’t tell Denise that, or her two sons. They wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t done what he did. It wasn’t a mistake. It’s just what happened. I’m sure many would disagree, but that’s my view. I judge no one. Adoption is mostly a good thing, but it’s complicated. I know, I have an adopted daughter. My cousin Denise wants to find out more about her roots, and I’ve been giving her information about our family as we get to know each other. It’s exciting to help a long lost cousin discover roots.

I don’t know how this is all going to shake out. As Denise continues to search for other relatives (she has three half siblings), she will probably run into apathy and rejection; I’ve read that it’s common in searches like this, but she owes it to herself to try, come what may. At least she’s found one cousin who wants to get to know her better. We both feel good about that, even if that’s all she gets out of the process. She appears to be a very nice person, and I am glad she is my cousin.

Laws regarding the release of birth parent information vary from state to state, but one thing is for sure: DNA analysis has the potential to blow the lid off the subject. If you have your DNA analyzed, be prepared; you too may discover a long lost cousin or perhaps even a sibling you don’t know about.

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There’s nothing like a new cousin to put a smile on your face.

 

 

 

Slipped Stitches

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We all have these kinds of days.

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy movie or TV outtakes as much, if not more, than the finished product. Here’s my Stitch Fix gag reel.

I had visions of looking my best when I asked my sister to snap some photos of me in my new outfits. I washed, dried and used a curling iron on my hair. I put on moisturizer and BB cream, powdered the eyelids with three shades of Tarte, brushed on some blush and put on lipstick. I was camera-ready, or at least as good as it gets these days.

I drove to Woodbridge about 45 minutes away for the shoot. After loading the Stitch Fix  box and some other wardrobe essentials, I set out on my maiden (and only) modeling gig. Like many little girls, I loved dress up. Like many women, I love makeovers.

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I tried to lighten the mood.

As little girls, we watch Cinderella swapping her ragged clothes for a beautiful gown. We play dress up, burrowing in our mother’s closet and tugging at hangers with sparkly dresses. We march around our room (or mom’s) in our dress up outfits, dreaming of one day being a big girl with a rocking closet.

I know all girls don’t do this. I know some girls like to play football, cowboys and indians or Capture the Flag, a game I’ve never really understood. And I don’t mean to offend feminists, girls who identify as boys or anyone else who didn’t play dress up. But I was one of those girls who really admired beautiful women. I once saw a blonde with curly tresses, heavy makeup and a tight outfit and asked my mother if she thought she was pretty. “Well, she’s a little hard.” When you’re little, you associate big hair, eyeliner and lipstick with beauty. At least I did.

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I thought some motorcycle boots would embolden me. 

The prettiest woman I knew growing up was my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Irene Letize. She had thick black hair, sparkling green eyes framed by thick dark eyelashes, a perfect turned up nose, high cheekbones sprinkled with freckles. and beautiful white teeth that she brushed in the lavatory at lunch.

She wore lacy bras and Emeraude by Coty. She was the kind of teacher who took you to Friendly’s for a vanilla Fribble after school. I had her over to our house for tea one day, and was crestfallen to learn she went to another kid’s house in the neighborhood a few days later. I wanted her all to myself.

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I thought an action photo might help, so I decided to march around the driveway.

It wasn’t just me who thought she was gorgeous. I hired an education consultant a few years ago who worked with her in the ’60s. I asked her if she was as pretty as I remember. “Oh yes,” she said. “Irene was a knockout. All of the male teachers used to call her Gina Lollobrigida.” OK, I could spot a knockout at 8. A good eye even back then.

I’ve always maintained that the recovery process – that is, getting ready to go out by fixing your hair and face – gets longer every year. If you don’t put on makeup regularly, it takes even longer because you forget about eyeliner or where you put the eyelash curler. I haven’t really put on a lot of makeup in about a month, so I was pretty much winging it. But I did what I could and I left the house optimistic.

The camera has a way of bringing you back to reality very quickly. Instead of glamour shots, my sister and I were plodding around her yard looking for better lighting. No, I didn’t know my “good” side. No, I can’t possibly pretend I’m smiling at my daughter when I’m freezing in this halter top. I know I look tense, but I am. Just take about 100 shots and we’ll hope for a few decent ones. Damn, I knew I should have gotten a professional blowout. This hair is killing me. Bring in  the dogs. They always look cute in JCrew catalogs.

To her credit, my sister took many photos, trying to capture me at my best. She finally admitted defeat, acknowledging that I looked pretty bad despite our best efforts. A friend complained that my sister cut off my head in one of the photos. I had to admit it was I who cropped off my head. My neck looked particularly wrinkled, my eyes were slits and I looked jowly. I didn’t want to scare anyone, especially me.

As you get older, you tend to compare yourself to other women your age. I recently saw Mimi Rogers on an episode of “BlueBloods” and wondered if I’m aging better or worse than she is. You think, “How am I stacking up? Do I look better or worse than other women my age?” A little like any rating system, only so much more pathetic.

My photo shoot was pretty much what my sisters used to refer as not getting slapped with the ugly stick, but the whole tree. Or coyote ugly – so bad that a man would sooner gnaw off his own arm than awaken a woman he had sex with while drunk. Or to be enormously crude, a double-bagger kind of day.

I’ve had these experiences before and it’s usually when I want to look my best. It’s a fact that everyone looks at themselves first in a group  photo. Everyone wants to look decent. Maybe not stellar or the way you looked when you were 35, but not frumpy, tired or washed up. It’s not being vain. It’s being human.

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My hang dog expression and poor posture says it all.

It’s sort of a rule of nature that when you want to look good, you don’t. And when you don’t give a damn, you look like some semblance of what you imagine you do. This experience has taught me that models and photographers work a lot harder than we think. It’s also taught me not to try to be something I’m not. I love to take photos – I pride myself on capturing flattering candids and portraits of family and friends.

But I don’t like to be in front of the camera. I’m self-conscious, stiff and just want it over with quickly. It’s given me new insight into photographing people, and I’ll keep it in mind the next time I’m on the other side of the lens.

 

 

A Stitch In Time

 

IMG_2317The year was 1992. The event was black tie: the Carousel Ball hosted by the Steinert Society of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. The Curmudgeon was a new member of the board to draw young people to the symphony. A new attorney, he was dipping his toe into the world of culture.

I was at the age where I believed in the perfect dress. If I found a dress early in the hunting process, I’d back burner it. I always thought I could find something better if I just kept looking. I clearly had too much time on my hands, but that’s another story.

I went to a vintage shop hoping to find a late ’60s cocktail dress. My mom kept a few of hers and my older sister and I wore them to a couple of college parties. They were cool and different. The shop owner showed me a black dress and I nixed it. “You’re a young woman, but you act like an old one,” he said. “You have no sense of adventure.” Ouch.

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My Marilyn Monroe-inspired dress from Ann Taylor circa 1992. Yes, I saved it.

He had a point. Insulted by his assessment, I went to Ann Taylor and bought a chiffon navy blue party dress like the white one Marilyn Monroe wore in “The Seven Year Itch.” Unlike Marilyn’s skirt which flew up on the sewer grate, mine stayed put. But I loved the way the pleated chiffon moved when I twirled. I needed to prove, at least to myself, that I wasn’t so stodgy after all.

Fast forward to today and I can’t stand clothes shopping. I might be inspired if I’ve got a special event like a wedding, but I don’t have the stamina or interest any more. I’ve got other things I’d rather do, like almost anything.

Enter fellow blogger Waking Up on the Wrong Side of 50, who praised Stitch Fix in a recent post. She encouraged me to try it. I had nothing to lose, so I filled out the style questions, provided height and weight measurements and a credit card number.

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My ‘look’ is suburban athletic. Top: Nike sports skort, North Face jacket, running shoes and a dog’s leash as a makeshift scarf.

Or . . .

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Lucky Brand jeans spruced up with a halter top from Stitch Fix. The safari jacket was in my closet. (Pixley Georgio Braided Neckline Halter Top)

I was raking the front lawn when the mailman pulled up and announced he had a package. I thought my son had ordered another item from AmazonPrime. Yes, please leave it on the porch. I continued raking until I spotted some lettering: Stitch Fix. I had almost forgotten about it. Besides, it wasn’t due to arrive for three days.

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41 Hawthorne Alivia Sweater Dress.

I was curious, but kept raking. I didn’t want to dash in and tear the box open like a 10-year-old. What if the stuff my personal stylist Kamryn picked was awful? What if she didn’t get my “look”? What if this was all a big mistake?

Besides, what could possibly be in a box that small? The box could wait with the junk mail, magazines and bills neatly rolled and fastened with an elastic. Three hours passed. I finally confronted the box when my friend Barbara dropped by. “Oh! I’ve always wanted to try this. Do you like it?”

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The halter with Erica Taylor Karen Printed Straight Leg Pant

“I have no idea,” I said. “This is the first time I’ve gotten it and I’m a little afraid to see what’s inside. Wanna open it with me?”

I put it on the counter and Barbara watched me open the box like a guest at a bridal shower. Let’s face it: it’s really boring watching a person open packages when you don’t have any.  “Oh look,” I said. “Isn’t this necklace cute?” “And look at this dress! Let me go try it on and you can tell me what you think of it.”

Barbara was incredibly gracious as I opened my stash and paraded around the kitchen. She understood that I had paid for this thrill. Still, there’s huge joy in being surprised by what someone picks out for you. You’ve given them hints, yes, but you don’t know what’s in there. And that surprise quotient is priceless, particularly when you’re a mom who shops for everyone, including the dog.

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The halter by Pixley.

I love surprises, and sadly they’re fewer and farther between as we age. Scratch that. We still get surprises, but they’re often the bad kind: the dog has cancer, the mammogram was bad, your kid was in a car crash, mom needs assisted living, or the guy you dated in college died. One of the toughest parts about aging is maintaining a positive outlook in the face of all the crap.

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Dressed up with a navy blue velvet blazer. If it was practical, I would live in velvet because it’s so soft.

The genius of Stitch Fix is that the thrill of opening gifts never goes away.  It’s in there somewhere, along with your dream of being a detective, writing the great American novel, or  hiking the Appalachian Trail. More than the contents of the box, it’s that someone spent time looking for things for you. You feel noticed, special, worth it.

Another plus is having your own personal stylist. She has key details about you – you won’t wear beige or yellow and please don’t emphasize the butt – without all your hangups. One of the worst things about shopping is the self-editing, self-loathing and tendency to gravitate to the same things. We get anxious when we can’t find “our look,” but many times we’re in a style rut. I’ve been in one for about 20 years. Staying home with kids and scattered part-time jobs will do that.

Being the sporty type, I am guilty of walking around in leggings, yoga pants or skorts all day. My daughter recently asked, “Why are you always in athletic clothing?” I really had no explanation except that it’s comfortable and I’m too lazy to change.

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Daniel Rainn Rosaria Keyhole Peplum Top with the pants and pendant.

My stylist Kamryn had no preconceived notions about me  – I’m not comfortable with patterns and I think peasant tops look like maternity shirts on me. But having a stylist is validating. You think, “I can wear this because Kamryn says I can and she knows more about fashion.”

Here’s what I got: a tiered necklace, a gray and navy printed sleeveless sweater dress, a grayish halter top, a forest green peasant top with bell sleeves, and some embossed straight leg black pants. Best part: the cards suggesting various outfits. This is great if you’re not great at accessorizing like me.

Barbara liked everything and so did my 16-year-old daughter. We even played a little game where I asked Barbara to guess prices, and she aced it. I decided to buy the whole box, saving 25 percent.

Stitch Fix may not be for everyone, but I love it. I’ve only got one more hurdle and it’s a big one: breaking the news to The Curmudgeon. Today, he spotted the empty box in the kitchen.

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“What are you sending?” he asked. “Nothing,” I replied. “OK, so you have a shipping  box in here that’s not being sent to anyone or going anywhere.” “Yes,” that’s right.” Incredibly, he didn’t press it, so I won’t either. I’ve got a little time until my next shipment arrives in February.

At right: Nakamol Jenalyn Stone Layering Pendant. Great quality and the stone is beautiful. Total cost of box: $270.

I have not received any financial compensation for this review.

 

Muddy Waters

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The Curmudgeon is in his element on Martha’s Vineyard.

I realize something about The Curmudgeon.

Though he aways lingers below the surface, he comes out full throttle on Martha’s Vineyard. Places can do this: stir up positive or negative vibes, making us carefree, ornery or . . . cheap.

In the Curmudgeon’s case, Martha’s Vineyard brings up a frugality that I rarely see any other time. I think it stems from his simple childhood vacations, which were spent at the Camp at Muddy Pond in West Tisbury.

Though I thought the camp was gone, you can still rent it today. It’s billed as “Vintage Vineyard” from a bygone era. When I told the Curmudgeon, he seemed happy, even wistful. “Vintage Vineyard eh? Well, I’m vintage alright.”

The camp is what you’d expect: a simple wooden cottage on a point overlooking Great Tisbury Pond with the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. There were gas-run appliances and water, but it had no electricity for lights. They hit the hay early, reading books by flashlight to the sounds of crickets and lapping waves.

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The Camp at Muddy Cove.

I’ve never been to the camp – it’s down a private dirt road and I’m not the type to trespass. But I’ve seen pictures and heard plenty of tales: their dog Amos swimming across the pond, a dog baying in the distance as The Curmudgeon read “The Hounds of Baskerville,” and amusing encounters with goats and ponies. Hearing about it evokes a feeling of simplicity and charm that’s hard to find today among the magnificent estates and elaborate vacation homes. But to me, it sounds fairly perfect – family, food, fun.

As a side note, I must bemoan today’s focus on huge vacation spreads. Back in simpler times, say the 1960s and ’70s, people who could afford it generally built modest second homes. The general concept was you spent the bulk of your time outside and recreating, retreating to the home for meals and rest. Today, people’s expectations are off the chart. A woman called me to complain about the size of a kitchen in a family-owned home that is rented out in the summer.

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The “tiny” kitchen/dining room.

“It’s sooooo small,” she whined. “I mean, it’s nothing like my kitchen at home.” After rambling through a laundry list of complaints, I finally told her she could find other lodging and I’d refund her money. “You’re making me feel bad,” I said. “I’d rather have you satisfied than be responsible for your miserable vacation.” She finally demurred, but I got the message. She was used to luxury at all times. Did I mention that I think she’s a brat?

But back to The Curmudgeon.

He emerged soon after we arrived for a short off-season visit. Though we packed our Honda for a two-week stay, we forgot a brush or comb. When I told him, he grimaced, noting that we have at least six brushes and countless combs at home.

After checking a nearby general store with no luck, we proceeded to Cronig’s Up Island Supermarket. They had plenty of brushes – though no large round ones – but The Curmudgeon rebelled. “Can’t you just wear a hat for the weekend?”

This might have worked if I was doing nothing all weekend, but this was a work mission. Trees were pruned, brush was cleared, leaves were raked and the gas grill was stripped of a season’s worth of grease. I would need to wash and style my hair if I was going to encounter people on Saturday night. Plus, the Vineyard is rampant with ticks. I had never even seen one until I went there.

We finally settled on a his and her pair of brushes for $7.97. I got the larger one. He reminded me several times to keep track of my brush and to remember to take it home. When he pulled his out of his suitcase at home, he exclaimed, “Look, my brush!” I don’t have the heart to tell him I don’t know where mine is.

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A rather blurry image of the camp’s grounds.

Here are a few other Curmudgeon musings gleaned over the past few months:

Hey, I got a few more people following my blog this week: “Oh yeah, what kind of drivel are you serving up lately?”

Upon returning from a cross country meet on a Saturday and each taking two-hour naps: “We’re pathetic.”

“How does my ugly face look today? I’ve got to have my picture taken and I’ll do it if I don’t look too ugly.”

You don’t look so hot today: “Well, you’re no bathing beauty either.”

Hey Johnny B thinks you should run for governor of Connecticut: “Who the hell would want to be governor of this #$%% of a state?”

Well, it’s always better to take the high road: “What’s wrong with the low road once in awhile?”

“I can’t do this anymore.” What, I ask. “Walk. I think I need a wheelchair or a motorized scooter.”

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Might as well jump: the “Jaw’s Bridge.”

After running between the kitchen and the porch, watching the New York Giants, New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees games at the same time: “I can’t take it any more. I’m exhausted.”

Hey you look nice. Do you like my outfit? “Not those Robin Hood shoes. When are you going to Sherwood Forest?”

Smell this. Lavender bath salts from Lavender Pond Farm in Killingworth, CT. : “Well, it’s a helluva lot better than most things in this bathroom.”

I played golf terribly yesterday.: “What’s your problem? Just keep your head down and swing.”

“The dog got into some moldy hotdog rolls in the garbage and it’s all over the living room. It’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen. It’s going to be a lot of work for you to clean up.”

A lot of people are complaining about woodpecker damage: “If I was going to hire a bird, it would be a woodpecker. Did you ever watch them? They never stop. Imagine if you could get a penny for every peck.”

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Vineyard sky.

For more info/photos of the camp, visit: http://rooneyandcompany.com/?content=forrent.detail&id=101&utm_source=findrentals&utm_campaign=Find+Rentals&utm_medium=referral

 

 

 

The Vision Thing

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A car speeds through a crosswalk as a legally blind pedestrian with a white cane waits. Sometimes, she has to wait up to five minutes to cross.

I fear certain things.

Flying, illness, rodents, huge waves and crowds top the list.

But one of my biggest fears is losing my eyesight. Don’t get me wrong. I love the sound of a symphony, a great guitar riff, robins in spring, and even a rooster’s wakeup call.

But eyesight? That’s the one. I hate darkness, so the concept of dimmed or no vision frightens me. I read The Miracle Worker in third grade and ran into our family room asking my mom to check my lower eyelids for granules. Helen Keller’s lower lids were grainy. I wanted to make sure mine were smooth, pink and normal.

I’ve always taken pride in my eyesight, as if I did something to deserve it. People with sharp eyes do this. We pride ourselves on our hand-eye coordination and knack for finding golf balls in four inches of rough under a leaf. We’re proud of our ability to see road signs at night, the hawk hiding in the trees, or the seal in the surf.

Good vision is a gift, but certainly not an entitlement. The Curmudgeon has worn glasses since he was a kid and has more eye appointments in one year than I’ve had in the last decade. He’s worn contacts for so long that his eyes are rebelling, becoming prone to irritation, infection and occasional blurriness. He sees OK, but when his eyes hurt we all suffer because he’s miserable.

Like a lot of things in life, we don’t appreciate eyesight until it’s compromised or gone. My mom has three close friends with macular degeneration who can’t do things they enjoy, like sewing, crocheting and reading. But the biggest loss is their inability to drive and independence. They rely on friends or strangers to grocery shop, go to doctors’ appointments or the hair salon. Otherwise, they’re pretty much stuck.

One of mom’s friends was so upset when her daughter took away her keys that she kept her car in the garage, occasionally pulling it out to start it up. I get it. I’m one of those people who feels trapped when my car’s in the shop for a few days. I get uneasy. I want it there, even if I don’t use it.

I have a friend we’ll call Amy who was born with a genetic disorder that limits her vision. She’s legally blind, so she can’t drive, cruise beaches or dash to the mall for a new party outfit. Though she’s a go-getter – she just returned to college to get her degree after taking time off for kids – she mainly walks or gets rides.

Trouble is, we live in suburbia. Out here, you need a car. I put about 20,000 miles on my car driving kids to activities every year. The Curmudgeon accuses me of driving around aimlessly, but seriously? No one in their right mind would do that. You know those oval magnets with the names of high school sports teams on the back of cars? They’re our merit badges for hours of driving to practices and games.

Amy is one of a very few pedestrians here. She walks to destinations in Guilford, where she grew up the youngest of four daughters. Her parents still live in the ranch-style house where she was raised. They give her rides, but they’re getting older and have health issues of their own. Amy volunteers two days a week at the town’s social services department, where she greets clients and does office work. It’s a five minute walk from her condo, but it means crossing a busy street.

Amy has complained that drivers don’t stop despite a freshly-painted crosswalk and two yellow signs pointing it out. I wanted to see for myself. I am, after all, a Sound Runner ambassador. Part of our mission is promoting pedestrian safety. I’ve been passionate about this issue since I covered the trial of a drunk driver who struck a 13-year-old boy as he walked with friend in Milford, CT.  The boy later died.

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Light up the night: It’s getting darker earlier, so make sure you’re seen. Sound Runner advises wearing as much reflective gear as possible.

The case has stayed with me for 30 years because of the boy. He was 13 and walking in his neighborhood. Just a kid in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could be any of us or our kids.

The case underscores the dangers we face sharing the road with cars. I don’t know any serious cyclist who hasn’t been hit by a car. Several runners I know head to trails or use treadmills because the roads are too dangerous.

I wanted to see for myself, so I met Amy last week after her shift ended. Carrying her white cane, she stood at the crosswalk and waited. A half-dozen cars sped by in both directions before a guy in a white truck stopped. Amy had to wait another 30 seconds until a car in the other direction stopped.

 

We ran this experiment a few times and it confirmed what Amy’s been saying: most drivers are oblivious to pedestrians, too focused on their own thoughts, phones or agendas. Part of the problem is there are so few pedestrians that people aren’t programmed to watch for them. Drivers aren’t changing so car companies are. Lexus has equipped its new line with sensors to detect pedestrians. The car blasts warnings and starts to brake if the driver doesn’t react in time. I can’t decide if this is brilliant or a terribly sad commentary on drivers today.

Every fall when we turn back clocks, pedestrians are struck. Drivers complain that it’s pedestrians’ fault – why aren’t they wearing reflective gear, carrying flashlights or using headlamps? They have a point – pedestrians must make themselves visible. They should also follow the rules of the road: pedestrians face traffic, cyclists go with it.

Everybody needs to step it up. Wear reflective gear to make yourself visible to drivers. Slap-on reflective armbands, wristbands and ankle bands are inexpensive, and just a little badass. So are reflective shirts, belts, running shoes, and LED lights that clip onto clothing, baby carriages and dogs’ collars.

“People have to be aware all the time whether they’re walking or driving,” said Janice Heggie Margolis, executive director of MADD’s Connecticut chapter. She noted that drunk drivers tend to veer toward objects in their peripheral vision, making pedestrians and cyclists prime targets. MADD’s East Haven, CT., headquarters is lined with photos of DWI victims who were killed while walking or standing outside their cars.

Unfortunately, we’re living in an age of defensive walking. Are you ready for battle?

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Light up your pants! New Balance has a new line of running pants featuring reflective dots that glow in the dark. The dots appear gray during daylight hours. I found these at Sound Runner in Branford, CT.

 

 

 

Of Cabbages & Kings

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OK, so I had a little fun with cabbage and a crown. Thanks to my bud JB for reminding me of this line.

It’s hard to get excited about cabbage. Even its name rhymes with baggage, bringing to mind burdens – things weighing us down. But give it a chance and it my surprise you. I think it’s the most underrated vegetable in the patch.

I got a cabbage the size of a bowling ball in my Community Supported Agriculture share last week and immediately cleaved it, setting aside half for a cabbage/kale slaw with lime dressing. Lime adds a tangy zip to any recipe, and the slaw stayed remarkably fresh for a few days. I served it instead of salad one night, and as a topper for tacos the next. It’s always a relief to have something in the bullpen at dinnertime.

I usually bypass cabbage in the produce section, but was intrigued with its appearance in my CSA basket. Loaded with nutrients, low in calories and touted for its health benefits (more vitamin C than orange juice), the dense green orb was a welcome diversion from lettuce and other greens.

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A bin of fresh cabbage outside my local Big Y supermarket. I got some in my CSA share, but there’s a bounty this time of year.

This week, Rainbow Chaser and my buddy Flower Power share their favorite cabbage recipes. Flower Power joined our CSA about a month ago, and gives it mostly positive reviews. But she’s a planner, so she says it’s hard to plot meals when you don’t know what’s coming. And she takes exception to a few limp carrots and a puny zucchini that creeped into her bin last week. I reminded her – or maybe I just thought I did – that being in a CSA is a little like having your own garden. You get what it gives, and sometimes it ain’t pretty, but still tastes good.

Will she stick with it? Only time will tell. I should point out that she and I are receiving small family-sized shares for $15/week. Not bad for a bin full of organic produce.

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Change of pace: sautéed cabbage. Add sausage, shrimp, beef or chicken for quick and tasty one-dish meal.

RAINBOW CHASER:

In my mind, it’s the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables – it gets no respect. Other than its annual roll out on St. Patrick’s Day and starring role in cole slaw, I gave cabbage little thought. I picked around it when it was served with corned beef – to avoid eating it.

When I received a large head of cabbage in my CSA basket, I asked the Kale Queen what to do with it. She suggested sautéed cabbage. Huh? She advised that Ina Garten has a great recipe for it. I was skeptical, but she insisted it’s very good. Since I’ve discovered so many delicious vegetables that I didn’t know existed though the CSA, I was willing to give the recipe a try.

It had so few ingredients, I couldn’t imagine that the dish would be special, but when I tasted it, I was hooked. I invited my husband to try it and he demurred, but I insisted. Like me, he was shocked to find that he likes cabbage after all.

We served it with sausage and sautéed onions for dinner that night. A great meal, built around a very respectable vegetable.

SAUTEED CABBAGE

Cut the cabbage in half and, with the cut-side down, slice it as thinly as possible around the core, as though you were making coleslaw. Discard the core.

INGREDIENTS

 1 small head white cabbage, including outer green leaves (2 1/2 pounds)

 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

METHOD

Melt the butter in a large saute pan or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the cabbage, salt, and pepper and saute for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender and begins to brown. Season, to taste, and serve warm.

Author Credit: Ina Garten, 2001 Barefoot Contessa Parties.

FLOWER POWER:

After reading the first of several installments in this blog series on Community Supported Agriculture, I immediately wanted to try it.  I had long been curious, but didn’t really know anyone with firsthand CSA experience. After several weeks of participating, I’ve made a few great dishes: sausage and peppers, roasted tomato soup, roasted butternut squash and apple soup, some tender lettuce salads and a roasted cabbage slaw.  I was thrilled to have my first purple carrot ever and enjoyed the challenge of finding recipes to use my new bounty of produce.

On the negative side, I’m having some trouble using the amount of produce I’m receiving. Some of the greens are unfamiliar so I’m not sure what to do with them.  One week we ate out three nights in a row so I had a surplus.  I must admit on a week like that my compost gets the excess leafy greens. Overall, it’s an interesting experience. I got the following recipe from themediterreancook.com. It’s a nice alternative to cole slaw for those who dislike mayonnaise, like me. I loved the dish, which I made without the mint because I had none available.

 

ROASTED CABBAGE SLAW WITH ORANGE-GARLIC VINAIGRETTE

 

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