Gonzo Girl

Gonzo Girl: That’s Cheryl in the hat.

Talent and modesty are often mutually exclusive.

Most people who’ve written books tell you about it, even if they’re self-published novels off the vanity press.

So when I learned that there was a published author in my midst, I was intrigued. A woman who occasionally plays Pickleball with us had written a novel based on her experiences as an assistant to Hunter S. Thompson. Yea, that Hunter S. Thompson.

My friends Pam and Lesley raved about Cheryl Della Pietra’s book, and asked if I had read Gonzo Girl. Gonzo who? No, I hadn’t read it, nor had I heard of it. But I was familiar with Gonzo journalism, a style in which the writer becomes part of the story. Thompson is considered founder of the Gonzo journalism movement.

Cheryl and John Baratta with a mock-up of a movie poster featuring our ideas for casting. The actual film begins shooting next month.
Nancy Sullivan, John Baratta, Shane Bradley and Toby Neubig.
Pam Welch (left) and Wendy Renz. Pam suggested I read the book.
This is what Grappa at the end of the night does to a person. Not recommended for hostesses.

Thompson, whose penchant for booze, drugs and guns was legendary, was one of the most famous literary figures of his day. How had Cheryl, her famous boss, and her book escaped my notice?

I bought the book on my Kindle and began reading it. Within a few days, I was telling my friends about it and encouraging them to read it too. Within about a week, we were organizing a book party at my house with Cheryl as the guest of honor.

This was my first shot hosting an author meet and greet. I’ve been to several at RJ Julia in Madison. CT., a nearby bookstore, and I love them. I’m most fascinated hearing authors discuss their writing process. Wally Lamb said that he writes every day from dawn to about 2 p.m. When he’s stuck, he goes to a running steam or river. Somehow, the rushing water gets his juices flowing again.

What’s most striking about Cheryl is her modesty and grace. She’s one of the most unassuming people I’ve ever met. She’s the kind of person you want to succeed because she’s so normal and nice. There’s nothing about her that screams I wrote a fantastic book that’s being made into a movie. Yes, she’s sold the movie rights. Filming begins in December.

But what I appreciate most about Cheryl is she’s one of us, giving us all hope that something amazing could happen if we just keep plugging away. She began writing the book when her son was 2, and she was driving around to try to get him to fall asleep (sound familiar)? Like many moms with young children, she feared motherhood was taking a toll on her career.

One day, she pulled into the town beach, parked her car and began scribbling down memories from her time working as Thompson’s assistant in the early ’90s. She was just 22 years old and a new graduate of the University of Pennsylvania when she landed the job. Prior to that, she had been mixing drinks in New York City, trying to land a publishing job.

She was hired to get Thompson to produce pages for a book. Sometimes, that involved dressing up in outrageous outfits and accompanying him on his wild escapades in the Colorado mountains. Sometimes, it involved partying with him and his famous friends. Sometimes, it involved dodging flying objects thrown in her direction.

Cheryl chipped away at the book, deciding to write a novel rather than a memoir because she was 20 years removed from the experience when she began writing. Slowly, steadily, she wrote the book, which took five years to finish.

Gathered around my dining room table, we peppered Cheryl with questions. Did she really have a romance with a famous star who dropped by Thompson’s house? If so, it was time for her to start naming names.

But in true Cheryl form, she deftly deflected some questions, noting that she’s prohibited from discussing some aspects of the book and movie under strict confidentiality agreements. Yea, yea, we know, but couldn’t she just tell us anyway, just between friends?

No, she couldn’t dish on that, nor the star who’s been cast to portray Thompson in the movie. We understand, we really do. But let’s make one thing clear: if she’s got extra tickets to the movie premiere, we’re available. We’d love to cheer her on the red carpet because honestly, it couldn’t happen to a nicer girl.

Write On


I wrote my daughter a letter, and she couldn’t read it.

I poured out my thoughts about her challenging cross country season and how it’s a metaphor for life: there will always be hills to climb and obstacles to overcome, but you must persevere. Sometimes, the best you can do is one foot over the other.

I was anxious to hear her reaction to my words of wisdom. But when she  returned from a retreat weekend in upstate Connecticut, she didn’t mention it.

“What did you think of my letter?” I finally asked.

“I have no idea what you were saying because you wrote it in cursive,” she said. “I only got about half of what you said. What’s with all those curly letters? It looks like you wrote it really fast.”

Seriously? I wrote it on two sheets of loose leaf paper, pausing often to think of exactly what I wanted to say. I could have batted it out on the computer in two minutes, but I opted for long hand because there’s something very personal and intimate about it.

I jumped at the chance to write a letter to my daughter because I never do. I have a friend Wendy whose mother slipped notes into her lunchbox every day. My friend Lizzie’s mom wrote to her every day she was away at summer camp. That was no easy feat, since Lizzie spent the entire summer at camp.

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My friend Barbara has kept all her letters between her and her husband when they were dating in a nice box. My old letters? Somewhere in my basement.

But my family has never been big on personal notes, and my mailbox is proof of it. I almost never get personal mail unless it’s a birthday or anniversary card from my mother, Christmas cards or the occasional thank you note. I’m equally bad at personal mail: I don’t even have a stash of monogrammed stationery or postage stamps any more.

I was invited to write my letter by the youth minister director at our local church. My daughter is becoming a peer minister, and would be helping with a group of kids going on weekend retreat. As part of the retreat, kids would be getting letters from parents, siblings and relatives about what they mean to them.

The director thought it might be nice for my daughter to have a letter while everyone else was reading theirs. My last letter was when she went on retreat last year just before her Confirmation. I wrote that letter on my computer and printed it out.

I decided to hand write this letter on a whim. I tried to convey my feelings about her in the least sappy way possible. I’m not a sappy person, so that wouldn’t be too hard. But sometimes writing to someone you love and your relationship brings up things that you didn’t know were there.

The mother-daughter relationship is complicated. We love our girls to pieces, but boy they can be tough. Between the drama, tears and screaming from both of us at times, our feelings often get lost in the shuffle. At the end of the day, I think all moms just want their daughters to feel loved. Sometimes, writing a letter reminds you what this whole parenting thing is about.

I’d forgotten how feminine my handwriting is. It’s loopy and curvy, filled with curlicues I had no idea were lingering in my brain and dying to find their way to paper. I paused several times to make sure it was legible. Unlike many lefties, I’ve always taken pride in my penmanship: it doesn’t slant backwards and could pass for a righty’s. At least I think so.

Many schools have stopped teaching cursive, but penmanship was a big deal when I was a kid. We began learning cursive in third grade, starting with lower case letters  before moving into capital letters. I was the first in my class to be able to write my name in cursive because we covered all the letters in the name Carolyn. We all got cool cartridge pens – my first had bright yellow barrel – and those ink-filled tubes that leaked everywhere.

Cartridge pens are tough for lefties – my homework was often smudged with blue ink from my pinkie dragging across the page – but penmanship was a rite of passage, a sign of becoming a big kid. By eight or nine, you had the signature that would carry you into adulthood unless you chose to change it.

I’ve never liked my handwriting. There are often gaps, as though I lack the energy or conviction to completely steer the pen to the end of a word. And there is an inconsistency in my letters: my capital Gs are a crapshoot along with my lower case Zs. I’m sure a handwriting analyst would have a field day with it.

Reporting wrecked havoc on my handwriting because I had to write incredibly fast taking notes. People assumed I was using shorthand, but it was actually my own system of abbreviating words and terms to get everything down as quickly as possible.


I began writing on a computer screen (aka VDT) at my first newspaper job in the early ’80s. Though I initially wondered whether I’d be able to compose on a screen, I quickly adapted. I can’t imagine writing any other way now.

When I took a writing class last year, I showed up with my laptop raring to go. I was quickly told by our teacher that unless I was disabled and unable to write, I should put the laptop away because we’d be using pen and paper.

Other students scribbled away while I sat there and pondered my navel. I found myself sitting and thinking about what I was writing more often than on my computer. It’s amazing how much careful you are with words when there’s no delete button.

Though writing on the computer is still my preferred method, studies show that writing by hand is actually better for you, engaging more parts of your brain and unleashing more creativity. It’s easier to bat out words on a computer, but you think longer, better and harder with a pen and paper. Imagine that.

My daughter’s inability to read my handwriting got me thinking about how rarely I write letters. At the very least, I needed a box of fine stationery, a nice pen and some stamps.

I drove to Two Ems, an old-time stationery store in nearby Madison, CT., and looked at stationery that might fit the bill. I wanted writing paper that reflected my personality, but had a little trouble settling on a design.

Writing paper embossed with a black octopus: too intimidating; horses: pretentious (I don’t ride); a bright pink beach bag: too preppy; a blue hydrangea: pretty, but not exactly right; a bee: nah, and two birds in a nest: too intimate. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.

I finally chose a set of blank cards embossed with a tiny gold elephant with an upturned trunk. It reminded me of my Great Aunt Clara, who collected elephants with upturned trunks because she believed they were a sign of good luck. It somehow seemed fitting for a long gone relative to play a part in resurrecting the long lost art of letter writing.

I considered buying a snazzy pen – do you believe Cross has a $450 pen that has GPS so you never lose it? But I decided to save my money and buy an old-fashioned wax sealer featuring an ink well and quill. It seemed fitting given the circumstances.

I now have the tools I need to write a proper letter. Now the only challenge is sitting down, writing it and actually getting it in the mail.



Letting Go

Scenes from Fenway Park: A view from the grandstands; the American flag covers the Green Monster; fans swarm commentators, including former Sox slugger David Ortiz, and the media before the start of the game.

Let’s get one thing straight: I love the Boston Red Sox.

I’m a diehard fan by osmosis. The Curmudgeon has loved the Red Sox  since Ted Williams’ final year in 1960. His father and mother were rabid Red Sox fans. When the Sox won the World Series in 2004 for the first time since 1918, I was sure his recently deceased mom had something to do with it.

The Curmudgeon’s law firm has season tickets to Fenway Park in Boston. When someone wants to go to a game, I grill him about their commitment and whether they’re deserving of entering the hallowed ballpark.

“Are they real fans?” I ask. “Do they watch every single game starting with opening day to the playoffs or do they just want to say they’re going to the World Series? Because only true fans should be in Fenway right now.”

I don’t know why I care about fans’ commitment level, but I do. Real fans watch the game every time the Red Sox play from April to October. Real fans are glued to the TV for every pitch and can call balls and strikes without the little strike zone superimposed on the screen. Real fans love the team, but still scream when they play like crap. Real fans are a little sad that Joe Kelly lopped off his beautiful curls.

I am a real Red Sox fan, but guess what? I took an hour break from Game 1 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers to watch This is Us. And after it was over, I entertained myself watching outtakes of The Goldbergs.

This would be OK except I was busted. My friend and my son texted me during the game to get my reaction to certain plays. When I admitted that I wasn’t watching, my sanity and loyalty were immediately questioned.

“What do you mean you’re not watching?” my son asked after the three-run homer in the 7th. “I’ve been doing stuff all night at school and streaming the game on my phone. What’s wrong with you?”

“Are you watching this?” my friend John texted during the 5th inning. “Sox just went ahead 5-3. Very tense game. Both starters are out. Up to the bullpens.”

“Took a slight break. I haven’t been able to watch anything else all fall,” I texted.

“I can’t not watch. Are you kidding me?” John wrote back.

“I’m engaged in the game (not true), but needed a slight break after watching the New York Giants lose last night,” I wrote.

“Forget the Giants. It’s Red Sox time!” John texted.

Being a Giants’ fan teaches you not to pin all your hopes on your team’s win-loss record. It puts things in perspective: the fact that you can have some of the game’s best players and still be unable to make anything happen. Being a Giants’ fan teaches you humility, underscoring the fact that sometimes you win, but often you lose. And when you do, it’s not the end of the world.

Winning isn’t everything to me. If it was, I would be a New England Patriots’ fan. It’s easy to love a team that wins most of the time. But I like Eli Manning and what he represents. I’ve never seen him lose his cool, and he’s a wonderful role model for kids. He’s a class act, and I don’t throw around that term too often.

I realize that baseball and football are two different animals, but the intensity of being a sports fan is sometimes too much for me. Sometimes, I just want to be like a normal person and watch a show. Sometimes, I need a night off from keeping score.

I had no intention of cheating on the Sox at the start of the evening. I poured myself a glass of red wine and settled in front of the TV for the first inning. The Sox scored two easy runs in the first, making me feel a little emboldened. Maybe I would just turn on This Is Us and pop into the game on commercial breaks. Don’t guys channel surf all the time?

But I became engrossed in the show, and never checked in on the game. I think – no, I know – I needed a break. The team has dominated my evenings for most of the past six months. I guess I’m a little burned out. Whose idea was it to make the season so long?

The Curmudgeon promised me that he didn’t care who won the World Series, that he just didn’t want the New York Yankees to beat the Red Sox. But he was a maniac during the playoffs against the Houston Astros, every bit as crazy as he was against the Yankees. He’s nuts when he watches his team, which is why I can’t take this any more.

I am a good wife, watching when the Curmudgeon is home and sitting on my special place on the couch that he swears is good luck. But he was at the game, and would provide color commentary and behind the scenes information the next day. We watch what he wants to watch every night. What he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, right?

For one night, I felt like being a rebel and doing my own thing without having to apologize or justify it. I didn’t feel like watching every pitch or hanging on every call. I wanted to be a fan without the obsession. I wanted to be like the fan that I don’t think deserves to be in Fenway right now.

Some people will call my loyalty into question, and I really have no answers. All I can say is you can love your children without going to all of their games, school open houses or plays. You can love a team with all your heart, and still want to see what’s up with Toby and Kate without watching it On Demand.

Sometimes, you must love something enough to step away, and if it’s true love, you will return. Game 2 is on tonight and I’ll be back on the couch. I guess it’s the real thing.



Fresh Pasta

Better late than never: the Imperia Noodle Maker finally comes out of its box.

We have a Dumpster, a 30-yarder, in our driveway.

We’re purging, tossing things that we don’t want and no one would use like broken furniture and tattered clothes. The good stuff like mountain bikes and scooters will go to the Vietnam Veterans of America and Goodwill.

A Dumpster forces you to take stock, making an honest assessment of what you use and what needs to go. Some items are no brainers – the Battleship game missing half its pieces, the moldy tennis bag stuffed in the back of a closet. But other items, including the Imperia Noodle Maker in the pantry, require deliberation.

I haven’t used the old-fashioned pasta maker from Italy since my mother gave it to me about 15 years ago. I remember asking to borrow it with the intention of someday making pasta, but I’ve never actually gotten around to using it.

I’ve not only not used it, but I’ve never had the desire or motivation to make homemade pasta – not once since 2003. The machine is like the fondue pot Mom gave me from the 1970s – a nice thing to have around should the desire overcome me to melt cheese and dip squares of bread into it. So far, it hasn’t.

Mom apparently had the same feelings about the Imperia because she gladly relinquished it. “Keep it,” she said. “I’m not going to use it.”

My mother’s pasta making began in 1968 shortly after she gave birth to my youngest sister Marianne. Mom met a nice nurse in the hospital who described her homemade pasta, and offered to show her how to make it. A few months later, the nurse kept her word, showing up with her Imperia pasta maker under her arm.

I was only 10, but I clearly remember the first pasta making operation. The nurse set up shop at our kitchen table, affixing the simple steel machine to the wooden tabletop with a few twists of her wrist. After mixing, kneading and rolling out the dough, she fed it through the machine by turning a primitive crank.

Once the dough was flattened, she put it through the machine again, using a special attachment that cut it into spaghetti and fettuccine. It was very chaotic and messy as my mom and the nurse spirited pasta from the flour-covered table across the kitchen into the dining room. They placed it on the cloth-covered dining room table to dry. I’d never seen so much flour or pasta in my life.

My mother was captivated by her pasta-making experience, eventually buying her own Imperia Noodle Maker so she could make it any time she wanted. But making pasta for my father and seven kids was a little more challenging than she thought. She ended up using her machine only a few times before setting her sights on homemade bread.

“I felt really bad about it because I couldn’t wait to buy it,” she said. “But I don’t think I used it more than three times. It was just too much work. Your grandmother never made her own pasta. I don’t even think Daddy’s grandmother made her own pasta. I guess your reluctance to use it must be genetic.”

Given my current purging mode, I decided that I must use the Imperia or consider giving it away. I’m sure there are any number of cooks who are dying to make their own pasta and would love to have this iconic machine, so I had to give it a try.

I began by taking it out of its faded red box and affixing it to my counter. That wasn’t so bad. It was smaller and a lot less intimidating than I remembered. Actually, it was kind of cute, a grown-up version of a Play-doh machine. I swiped it with a wet rag and polished the works, marveling at its simple design. I attached the crank and gave it a few turns. It still worked well, despite being mothballed for 50 years.

I got a simple pasta recipe from the Internet and decided to make gluten-free pasta. Making the dough was the easy part: two cups of flour, three eggs at room temperature (not), two tablespoons of olive oil and a bit of water. The hard part was kneading. The recipe called for 10 minutes of kneading, which may be the most boring cooking task in the world.

After kneading the dough for five minutes, I decided to take my chances. I shaped it into a ball, covered it in plastic and put it into the refrigerator overnight. I then set about an equally taxing task, watching the Boston Red Sox take on the Houston Astros in Game 4 of the American League playoffs until 1:30 a.m.

Upon awakening bleary eyed this morning, I decided to make the pasta before I lost my courage. I took out the dough and floured the counter, quickly realizing that messing up your kitchen is a key part of this operation. Within minutes, flour was everywhere: the floor, kitchen stools, cabinets, my sweatshirt and the dog.

I sliced the dough into three-inch sections, flattening it with a rolling pin until it was thin enough to feed into the machine. I soon learned that there isn’t a lot of room of error: too thick and the dough won’t fit into the machine’s rollers; too thin and it will fall apart in your hands.

It took some time, but I finally found the right thickness, and decided to make fettuccine. Well, actually the machine decided I would make it. After I tried to make spaghetti, I realized that was above my pay grade. I needed the thickest noodle possible, something with a little heft.

The Imperia requires a measure of dexterity and hand-eye coordination to master, what with all the cranking and catching of pasta. I realized I probably should have done this project with my friend “Johnny Pasta” and his wife Barbara as originally planned. They could have caught the pasta and spirited it to the table for drying while I rolled and cranked. Making pasta can be done solo, but like many things in life is best done with friends. Live and learn.

After letting the pasta sit on parchment paper for about a half hour, I scooped up a handful of noodles and tossed them into boiling water with a little salt. I let it cook for about two minutes, draining the noodles and plopping them on a plate without so much as butter or olive oil.

The pasta was incredibly fresh and satisfying, like the difference between homemade chocolate chip cookies and Chip’s Ahoy or Minute Maid and fresh squeezed orange juice. I wondered why it had taken me so long to use my Imperia: within an hour or so, I had enough fresh pasta for two meals. The only downside my kitchen was a mess, and I was the only one on cleanup duty.

I cleaned the machine and put it back in its red box, returning it to its rightful spot in the pantry. The Imperia has made the cut, and will be there if I decide to make homemade pasta again. I just hope I don’t wait another 15 years.

Peas & Macaroni


Doris Roberts played Marie Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond. Here, she’s pictured with her macaroni and sauce.

My Sunday Sauce post generated lots of comments, including some on the subject of sharing recipes.

Some readers took exception with two Italian American matrons’ refusal to share their Sunday sauce recipe with their daughters-in-law, saying they sounded like Raymond’s overbearing mom on Everyone Loves Raymond.

Marie Barone wasn’t on my mind when I wrote the piece, but I agree. I’ve never understood people’s refusal to divulge recipes because they deserve to be shared and enjoyed by as many people as possible.

Several years ago, I asked a neighbor for her recipe for her delicious shortbread cookies,  which she brought to a party at my house. She shook her head, simply stating, “No, I never give it out. Ever.”  And while one blogger noted that the first rule of Italian sauce is not sharing the recipe, someone must have shared the recipe with her. It seems a little selfish not to pass it along.

Old family recipes often die with the cook unless they’re shared, jotted down and put in a safe place. One of the first things I learned in my food blogging class at Gateway Community College in New Haven, CT., was the importance of preserving recipes because food plays such a major role in our families and traditions.

We often think of food as sustenance, providing us with fuel to navigate our day. But food plays a much bigger role in our lives. It’s center stage in family celebrations and holidays, an intricate part of our gatherings, traditions and deepest memories.

Christmas Eve dinner is my favorite night of the year, and has been since I was a teen-ager. My mother does her own take on the traditional Italian Seven Fishes meal, serving shrimp cocktail, stuffed clams, linguine with white clam sauce and baked stuffed lobster for nearly 40 people.

It’s only four courses, but it feels like seven. And more than once, I’ve pigged out so much on the clams that I’ve had to pack up my lobster and freeze it for a later date. I don’t eat stuffed clams often, but I make up for it that night. I gobble up to 16 clams, stacking the empty shells like poker chips. I might feel bad about it if everyone else didn’t have a similar pile.

One of my blogging classmates Annette used the class to gather all of her family’s recipes and put them into a booklet to share with her clan. In addition to writing down recipes, Annette researched the origins of various recipes and how they made it into family lore.

A native of Texas, Annette was also privy to some antique cooking tools, equipment and textiles that will be featured in her booklet. Every family needs a historian: someone willing to take the time and trouble to gather family recipes so they live on.

I love the easy access to recipes on the Internet, but it’s changed the way I cook. I almost never write down recipes any more. Whenever I want a family recipe (see below), I call my mom, who is only too happy to share it with me.

Mom said she learned most of my Italian American grandmother’s recipes by watching her cook. Like many great cooks, my grandmother almost never used recipes, relying on memory to make most of her meals. But she was picky about her ingredients, underscoring the importance of using certain brands of tomatoes and other basics.

I asked my food blogging teacher Priscilla Martel for her take on “secret” recipes. A noted chef, former restaurant owner and cookbook author, Martel was characteristically frank with her assessment.

“On the subject of people hoarding their recipes, I say fie on them,” Priscilla writes. “Food is for sharing. If it’s cooked with love why not share the recipe? There are many tropes about people from the “old country” coveting their recipes to the point of misdirecting anyone who asks for their secret. These are people I don’t want to know.”

I enjoy Priscilla for her honesty and candor. And though I didn’t ask for it, she suggested a few edits to Sunday Sauce, including lopping off a few paragraphs in the middle. As a writer, I must remember to be careful what I ask for, and be able to accept criticism. I hope recipe hoarders will be open-minded and reconsider their position.

Writing Sunday Sauce has taught me a few things. The first is that people love their sauce, and most are only too happy to share their secret ingredients. My buddy Danielle throws in a little whiskey while my cousin Bob out in Fresno uses a little red wine. For my paisan Johnny B, it’s a dash of vermouth.

My high school classmate Jamie even forwarded me her sauce recipe from her cooking trip to Italy. My friends and blog followers are generous with their recipes, but equally generous in spirit. It’s really what makes blogging so fun.

I’ve also learned that I have to get my act together with my recipe collection, which is scrawled on everything from old envelopes to tattered index cards. I am maybe the most disorganized person around, so this may take some effort. But I know it will be worth it.

One of my favorite recipes from my Grandma Rose is Peas & Macaroni, which is the definition of comfort food. Since there are only a few ingredients, it’s important to buy good quality tomato juice and peas. This recipe is gluten-free too.

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1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 large can Sacramento tomato juice (or any other good quality brand)

2 cans Delmonte peas (or any other good quality brand. Use canned peas, not frozen)

1/2-pound cooked elbow macaroni (gluten-free)

salt and pepper to taste


Saute onion in olive oil for about 5 minutes until onion begins to soften. Add tomato juice and liquid from the peas. Put aside strained peas. Season with salt and pepper, and cover and simmer over low heat for about an hour. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a separate pot until al dente. Add peas and pasta and stir to combine about five minutes before serving. 

Sunday Sauce


For the pasta lover: Cavallini & Co. Pasta Chart/  Italiana Decorative Decoupage Poster Wrapping Paper. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.

It’s rare that I don’t feel Italian, but two women discussing their tomato sauce last week made me question my heritage.

As I sat in a packed dermatologist’s waiting room in Branford, CT., two women who just met began discussing their Sunday sauce. I don’t know how the conversation turned from pleasantries to sauce, but it quickly became clear that these two are out of my league.

Both seemed to take immense pride that their grown sons prefer their sauce to their wives’ versions, often sneaking over to eat their sauce when their wives aren’t looking. Both also confessed to keeping their recipes a secret, noting no one, including the aforementioned wives, would ever know the precise ingredients.

The pair discussed their sauce with love and reverence usually reserved for grandkids or the pope. I was a little envious because my sauce is nothing to brag about or discuss in a waiting room. In fact, I don’t think anything I make is worthy of an extended conversation with a stranger, but that’s another story.

I knew this pair was the real deal when they used the term macaroni instead of pasta. I haven’t heard macaroni used in connection with red sauce since the mid-80s. Today, everything is lumped under the general term pasta, though I suspect true Italians never stopped saying macaroni.

“My son came over before this appointment to help me get his father here,” the older of the two women said. “He asked me for lunch and what do you think I made him? A bowl of macaroni, and then another one.” I now knew why her son was so quiet. He was in a mid-afternoon pasta coma.

I never used the word pasta until I married my Irish husband and began eating dinner with the Murphys. Growing up in an Italian family, we said macaroni to describe short-cut lengths of pasta like rigatoni, penne, wagon wheels or bow ties. Macaroni lets people know where they stand – they will be having something other than spaghetti.

Speaking of which, I know plenty of people who use spoons to roll their spaghetti onto their forks, but we never did this in our house. You rolled your spaghetti onto your fork, or used a knife to cut it into manageable sections. I know this is anathema to some Italians, but my Italian father did it so go figure.

As the women talked, I abandoned even the pretense of being preoccupied or uninterested in their conversation. I sat and openly eavesdropped, hoping to glean a secret ingredient or two to improve my sauce. I bristled and screwed my face when one of them mentioned she puts raisins in her meatballs. Yuck.

The best thing I came away with is they throw any and all meat into their sauce for flavoring, including chicken. Who knew? Based on their conversation, I dumped a browned strip steak into my sauce on Sunday. It didn’t do much, but I felt immensely more Italian doing it and thought they’d approve.

Apparently, these women’s sauce is so good that their sons demanded they pack it up in plastic containers and bring it to them while they were in college. “He didn’t miss home, but he missed the sauce,” the younger of the two moms bragged. “He would heat it up on Sunday and his whole dorm smelled like sauce. Everyone in the dorm wanted some.”

I sat there and sighed. My son, a college junior, often requests that I not make sauce while he’s home. It’s not that it’s bad, but it’s just not special or anything that anyone is dying to eat. It’s not the kind of sauce that he’s packing into plastic containers and shoving into his mini refrigerator between the Bud Light cans.

In fact, given the choice between my sauce and Annie’s Macaroni & Cheese, the kid chose Annie’s.

“Do you think I can boil water in a plastic container and cook pasta in a microwave to make this?” he asked. “No. You will need to get a microwave safe glass bowl if you want to do that,” I said. “OK, I’ll hit Walmart and get a bowl.”

He stuffed the box into his backpack and turned to leave. At that moment, I remembered that there was a full container of tomato sauce from the previous night in the refrigerator that he had no interest in packing up and bringing to college. I thought about asking him why, but it was pretty obvious. My sauce isn’t the kind of thing you want wafting through your dorm on a Sunday afternoon.

Some Italian sauces are waft-worthy, and just by listening to those two women discuss their sauce, I have a feeling theirs qualifies. Growing up, I had a friend named Dominic whose house always smelled like heavenly tomato sauce. His mother, who was from Italy, always wore her hair in a beehive and red lipstick as she went about her daily tasks. I think she always had a pot of sauce simmering on the stove, or at least it seemed that way.

Tomato sauce is very important to Italians, and we take it very seriously. Your sauce is sort of your signature, and everyone’s is a little different. The only thing worse than bad homemade sauce is commercial jarred sauce. Most Italians don’t understand people buying jarred sauce when it only takes about 15 minutes to whip up a quick marinara.

My paternal grandmother Rose passed her recipe down to my Irish mother Gerry, who is one of the best Italian cooks around. I follow Grandma Rose’s basic recipe, but my sauce isn’t great. I don’t have a lot of confidence in it, and certainly don’t want other Italians tasting it and giving me their opinion. Years ago when cooking a meal for a friend with a picky Italian husband, I refused to make any Italian dishes.

“Just make some spaghetti and sauce,” the Curmudgeon urged. “Are you crazy? There’s no way I’m cooking sauce for that guy. He’s Italian, and he’s used to really good sauce. I’m not going there.”

And I didn’t. I played it safe with roasted chicken, which can be criticized for being dry and flavorless, but not poorly assembled or executed. Making tomato sauce for guests requires a certain amount of confidence that I don’t have, and doubt I ever will.

A few weeks ago, we hosted a pasta party for my daughter’s cross country team. I made a simple marinara sauce for vegans, but ordered baked ziti and macaroni and cheese for the majority of the kids. The mom of one of the kids kindly texted me to tell me that her son had been raving about my pasta ever since.

I felt a swell of pride until I realized that the kid was raving about the stuff I ordered out. No matter. At least I have the good sense to realize my limitations. At this stage of the game, sometimes that’s the best you can do.

My mother insists that if you follow this recipe, you will have good sauce. When I told her that mine never tastes like Grandma’s, she insists that no one likes her own sauce as much as other people’s. I guess this is a little like writers and editors: I always enjoy other people’s stories and layouts more than mine. So here it goes:



1/4-cup olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1-pound lean (90 percent) ground beef

4 sweet sausages

2 32 oz. cans crushed tomatoes

About a cup or two of water

1/2 can tomato paste

1/2 tsp. sugar

salt and pepper to taste


Brown sausages over low heat in a heavy skillet for about 30 minutes or until they are cooked through. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

Use a heavy pot and add olive oil and onions, simmering over low heat until they begin to soften. Add the ground beef and brown. Drain the meat to remove fat and return meat to pot. Add sausages, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, salt and pepper. Pour some water into the crushed tomato cans, swirl and add to sauce. Cover and simmer over low heat for about two to three hours. Serve with macaroni. Sauce should be enough to feed a family of four for at least two nights. It can also be frozen for a quick mid-week meal.


Man on the Street


Johnny B: Wants FBI investigation.

I’m fascinated with the Kavanaugh case, and have been asking anyone I see what they think about it.

I asked a Dominican friar his opinion while shepherding him to a monastery in North Guilford, CT. I brought it up while playing Pickleball, a game where it’s possible to chitchat and play at the same time. People tolerated me for awhile before reminding me to focus on the game.

I can’t help it. This is what used to be called a talker in newspaper jargon before the advent of social media. A talker is a story that everyone’s discussing and has an opinion about, the prime topic of conversation around the water cooler. It’s something that would be the topic of a man on the street question, if newspapers still did man on the street questions.

No newspapers bother with this feature anymore because everyone is on Facebook and other sites shouting their opinions for the masses. But little has changed about about people in the past 25 years, as I found out today.

I tried to poll friends about their opinion on the Kavanaugh controversy and take their photo for this piece. Only one person, my buddy Johnny B, was willing to oblige. Boy, I’m glad I don’t have to do this as part of my job any more.

Man on the Street was a weekly feature at the small newspapers where I cut my teeth, and like any dreaded assignment, was passed around to different staffers. I don’t know anyone who enjoyed it because it involved approaching strangers, asking them about hot-button topics, and then asking them to take their photo.

On the weeks you were unlucky enough to pull the assignment, you got a question, a 35 mm Pentax manual camera and hit the streets, looking for people who might be willing to share their views and have their photo taken.

I hated this assignment because it required a bit of bravery to approach strangers and ask them their opinion on often controversial issues. I love to interview people, but I don’t much care for approaching strangers and being shut down before I even finish my spiel.

I approached this assignment with dread. I would spend an awful lot of time assessing people and whether they looked approachable and agreeable. I thought of this last weekend when a young girl approached me in the parking lot of CVS and asked me to buy a discount card supporting her field hockey team.

“I already got one at the parade honey,” I said, letting her down as easily as possible. It was true, but I could tell she was disappointed. She had a slight speech impediment, so I’m sure it’s not easy for her to approach strangers. I felt her pain because it’s not easy to have people say no.

I think approaching strangers and asking them to buy things is one of the toughest jobs in the world. Some people don’t mind rejection, but I’m the sensitive type. I don’t like to be told no, and I certainly don’t appreciate being rejected.

I once watched a knife demonstration in Walmart with a bunch of other suckers because I felt sorry for the salesman. He was one helluva huckster, gathering a group of eight people to watch his demo with the promise of a free paring knife. No one bought his knives, but he didn’t seem to mind. He seemed happy enough to have an audience to hear his pitch.

Asking people for their opinion doesn’t cost anything, but most people are reluctant to give you their view and go on the record with it. I’d say I had a 30 percent success rate, meaning 70 percent of the time people told me to take a hike. It was more like a 90 percent rejection rate among my friends today.

For the record, I found men were much more willing to be photographed than women. And men were much more open to being approached by a female reporter wanting to pick their brain and photograph them. Most women would share their feelings, and then run away when the subject of a photo came up. This meant their comments, and the time it took to get them, were a complete waste of time.

Yea, women were terribly vain, much more concerned with their appearance than guys. But maybe it would be easier to get them today in this era of selfies and I-Phones. I could keep snapping photos until we found one that was acceptable, using filters and other editing tools.

A young woman once agreed to answer my question and have her photo taken because she said it looked like I was going to cry if she said no. She was right. I felt about as welcome as those people with clipboards who approach you in malls, or the solar guy in Home Depot.

Though I detested doing the Man on the Street feature, I always enjoyed reading it. For me, it was an informal snapshot of what people were thinking about pressing and not-so-pressing issues. I was dating the Curmudgeon and slipped in a Valentine’s Day question: “Who’s more romantic, men or women?” His reply: Men. A photo of him with the most adorable puppy eyes accompanied his answer. I had him where I wanted him, at least at that point in our relationship. Now, the tables have turned, but that’s another story.

So I’ve been doing my own little man on the street bit over the past few days, asking anybody and everybody for their opinion on Kavanaugh’s nomination. One of my favorite answers has been from my pal Barb, retired teacher, mom, grandma, and a product of the ’60s women’s movement.

“Nominate a woman and this isn’t an issue,” she screamed across the net. Well, she does have point.

When I said that I’m not sure the women’s testimony will matter in the end, Barb raised her eyebrows and lowered her paddle. “I’m not so sure about that,” she said. “You may be surprised.”

I remember watching Anita Hill’s testimony and feeling that Clarence Thomas was not the most qualified person in the country for the U.S. Supreme Court. But it didn’t matter. He was confirmed despite Hill’s claims that he sexually harassed her. I’d hate for women to come forward and state their case just to have their comments ignored. That would be an incredible waste of everyone’s time.

Kavanaugh’s accusers are putting themselves through an awful lot of trouble to tell their stories. And if they’re going to that trouble and the Senate Judiciary Committee is willing to listen, I hope they’ll actually listen and have an open mind. That’s all anyone can really ask of this process.

Of course, I must tell you what my friend Johnny B. thinks because he was the only one brave enough to go on record and have his photo taken.

“I think because it’s such an important decision, it warrants an FBI investigation,” he said.



Wonton Fever

Wontons as far as the eye can see. Who knew they were so versatile or addictive?

I’m having a slight problem with wontons.

I’ve got a horrendous cold, and the only thing I want is wonton soup from my favorite Chinese restaurant. It’s the only thing I’ve eaten for three days. I even ate wontons that ended up in egg drop soup.

I’d like to say this craving is limited to soup, but that’s a lie. I’ve feasted on pan-fried Szechuan wontons, a decadent concoction featuring tender wontons smothered in spicy sauce. And last night: deep fried wontons, a gift tucked in an insulated bag from the generous restaurant owner who’s becoming my best friend.

“How are you feeling?” he asked when I crawled in for my order last night. “Did the soup help?”

When I told him about the cold the previous day, he suggested hot and sour soup. “You want it extra spicy?” he asked, a gleam in his eye. “The secret is white pepper. I’ll put a lot in there for you.”

He sneezed a few times while preparing the soup, which ordinarily would have alarmed  me. But he turned away from the stove when he sneezed, doubling over from the force. And honestly, I was in no position to worry about germs while contaminating his restaurant with the world’s worst cold.

“Ah, it’s the pepper,” he shouted. “I told you it will clear you up.”

I tried the hot and sour, but quickly switched to wonton. It’s all I really want when I don’t feel well. There’s something terribly appealing about Chinese dumplings. Well, any dumpling. Even the name makes me smile. Dumpling is one of those words that sounds like what it is. Dumpling: a satisfying pillow stuffed with goodness, just what you need when you’re feeling lousy.

A dumpling is the perfect comfort food, the ideal melding of dough stuffed with a variety of fillings ranging from meat, cheese or fruit. It’s no surprise that dumplings are featured in nearly every cuisine, even ranking as the national dish of Lithuania. I’m pretty sure you can’t be in a bad mood eating dumplings, though I suppose it’s possible. There’s only so much dumplings can do.

I don’t eat wontons often because the Curmudgeon hates Chinese food. Let me clarify that: he doesn’t like when I order out and he really grouses when I get Chinese food. It’s been this way for about 20 years. I don’t know what came over him because he liked it when we first met at the Milford Citizen, a small daily newspaper in Milford, CT.

In the old days, we’d escape to Golden Joy or China City for a leisurely meal after putting the newspaper to bed. We were an afternoon paper, and deadline was around 11:30 a.m., making lunch a perfect time to escape and regroup. We went out to lunch every day, and Chinese food was in the rotation along with Mr. Sizzle, the International Hot Dog Ranch, Paul’s Drive-In, Nick’s Hamburger Inn, which served Afghanistan food until the owner had a screwdriver shoved into his head, and El Torero, the Mexican joint in front of the hot sheets motel.

Those were heady days of long lunches and happy hours that began at 4:30 p.m. on Fridays. Today, most people I know grab lunch and eat at their desk, but this was sort of the golden era of lunches, and our jobs almost demanded we go out. Our workday was split in two: crazy mornings running around to meet deadline, and afternoons and evenings gathering news for the next day’s paper. Lunch was our only downtime, the one chance to catch our breath before gearing up for the next issue.

Going out to lunch is often dismissed as a waste of time, an indulgence for people with nothing better to do during the day. I’m not sure where the expression “ladies who lunch” originates, but it’s derogatory and superior, often code for women who don’t work outside the home. “You’re not one of those ladies who lunch, are you?” I’ve been asked on occasion.

Well, no. I occasionally grab a bite out, but for the most part I eat lunch alone and have since I stopped working to raise two kids. On the rare occasion that I do go out to lunch, it’s quite lovely and civilized, and I wonder why I don’t do it more often. But most stay at home mothers are not lunching out. They’re grabbing it on the run like everyone else.

I enjoyed our Chinese lunches because they were so predictable: hot tea served in a tiny pot with teacups with no handle, and crispy rice noodles and dipping sauces served while you studied the menu. We always ordered the lunch special: a cup of soup (wonton, of course) with an egg roll and entree with rice for $7.99. Oh, and two fortune cookies that came with the check.

But somewhere along the line, he stopped liking Chinese food. He made it clear Chinese food was no longer welcome on the menu. Unlike his disdain for Heavenly Hash ice cream, which he dislikes because he once got a “bad batch,” he gave no explanation.

We stopped going to Chinese restaurants and I stopped ordering it. The only time the kids and I had it was when he was out for the evening. I can’t tell you how much we looked forward to those nights.

The only time I can order it without grief is when I’m sick, and it’s the only upside to being down for the count. He eats his chicken and broccoli without complaint, knowing not to mess with me. But he usually slips in a comment the next day, just so I don’t get in the habit of ordering it.

“Wow, Chinese food,” he announced today out of nowhere. “Yea, what about it?” I said. “No, just Chinese food,” he said. “Boy, there was an awful lot of it.”

Full disclosure: I spent $42.17 on Chinese food for three people. All of the dishes except one featured wontons. My bill usually hovers around $25, so this is clearly getting out of control. But let’s not tell the Curmudgeon the cost. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him, at least until he sees the canceled check.

An intense craving for wonton soup is a sure sign that I’m sick. I could try to justify it by saying it’s chicken soup, but it’s the wontons. The broth, bits of pork and scallions floating on the bottom are nice, but they’re not what’s driving this train.

All you want when you’re down with a cold is to feel better. Often, food is the best means to that end, at least if you’re lucky enough to retain your sense of smell. I’ve had colds where I can’t smell or taste anything for three days. It’s really tough to find the silver lining when you can’t even taste your food.

Most of us are lucky to have our sense of smell and taste. I pity anyone who can’t taste their food, or who can’t eat by mouth, because it’s one of the basic joys in life. The only upside to this cold was I retained a sense of smell and taste after snorting Zicam nasal gel for extreme congestion.

I made another wonton run today. When I walked in, the owner shook his head.

“Yea, I know, more wonton soup,” he said. “You and everybody else. I should run a hospital.”




Bold Statements

I love bold statements, but I never expected to see one on a T-shirt about mental illness.

So when I saw people wearing bright blue #Team Frank T-shirts at a fundraiser in Milford, CT., I had to ask about them. It takes courage to wear this powerful statement on your back:IMG-2048.jpg

I walked up to a middle-aged woman and asked about her shirt. It turns out #Team Frank was organized in honor of her nephew. She directed me to his mother Heidi, who wanted to know why I was asking questions. “I used to be a reporter in this town,” I told her. “And now I write my own blog. Can you tell me what happened to your son?”

“He died . . . on the eve of his 21st birthday,” she explained. A chill ran through my body. I’m a mother and my son will turn 21 on Sept. 24th. Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. Losing your son right before his milestone birthday is an incredibly cruel blow.

I wondered how Heidi got the courage and strength to move on with her life. Like many parents who have lost children to horrific tragedies, she is channeling her grief into activism, hoping to spare other families pain and heartache.

Heidi is an advocate for mental health services since her son’s death two years ago, saying volunteering for Bridges helps her carry on. “It’s truly helped me get by a little easier knowing I’m doing something so positive in honor of my dearly missed kind, caring, funny and extra handsome, life of the party son with a heart of gold,” she explained.


Loved ones hung this photo of Frank Besciglia during a fundraiser Sunday to raise awareness and funds for mental health services. They wore T-shirts bearing the name FRANK on the front: Friends Raising Awareness & Needed Knowledge. It also said: End the Stigma.

Heidi’s son Frank suffered from bipolar disorder. He died on Feb. 27, 2016. “We got the help, just never the right help nor long enough stays,” Heidi explained. “Our mission is acceptance between friends who may be struggling – worldwide awareness that this is a real disease and should be looked upon the same as someone with cancer, diabetes or any life threatening illness.”

“We want to raise money for places like Bridges that treat clients with no insurance,” she said. “And we want to encourage those affected that they never have to walk alone.”

I feel I was destined to meet Heidi and share her story. I’ve been participating in this fundraiser for Bridges, a Milford, CT.,-based mental health care agency, for about 25 years. I generally cycle or walk with a group, but this year I went by myself. Going solo gave me the time to linger and do a little people watching. After marveling at some exceptionally silly cycling getups – honestly, are these guys serious? –  I noticed the shirts.

I suspected something terrible had happened to prompt such a bold statement: people often pull no punches after a tragedy, feeling that they have nothing to lose by being brutally honest. I wondered if I would have the courage to wear the shirt: would people suspect that I had a mental illness if I wore it on the street? Would they avoid me, give me a condescending smile or think that I was strange?

This is the problem with mental illness. People suffering from it and their families often feel alone because of the shame and stigma associated with it. Parents with depressed or anxious children keep silent and don’t get the support they need from family and friends. People being treated stay silent because they don’t want to perceived as troubled, strange, weird or damaged.

I admire people who are open about their struggles. Discussing it brings it out of the shadows and normalizes it. I can’t tell you how relieved parents are when they discuss a child’s struggles with mental illness, and hear that they’re not alone, that there are others in the same boat. It doesn’t change anything, but there’s safety in numbers. They don’t feel like they’re the only ones going through it, and that alone is helpful.

This fundraiser is close to my heart. My mother-in-law Maureen volunteered and worked for Bridges for several years. She was a staunch mental health advocate, having been directly touched by it in her family.

One of her jobs was to solicit donations for food, drinks and goody bags for participants in Folks on Spokes and Folks on Foot. I still remember her fretting about her lack of bananas one year. “I need bananas for the riders,” she said in her distinctive baritone. “What on earth am I going to do?”

Of course, she found bananas. She may have even bought them. But it was important for her to take care of the riders and walkers. She made sure cyclists wore bright orange vests and helmets. She ensured we had enough food at rest stops – a full banana, not just a third or a quarter of one. She made sure there was a good lunch spread and a bag of swag waiting for us at the finish line.

This year’s ride was very different for me because I had no team. In the early years, the Curmudgeon and I organized teams composed largely of relatives and friends who helped us compete for most money raised. I think one year we had close to 20 people and came in third in fundraising.

After Maureen’s death in 2004, we organized “Team Maureen” in her honor. We asked people to wear her favorite color purple. One year, I was so motivated that I bedazzled a purple T-shirt with our team name. Boy, I had a lot more energy back then. Another year, Bridges officials recognized our team, announcing our name over the loud speaker, taking a photo and displaying a huge poster of Maureen’s smiling face.

But it’s hard to organize people every year. After awhile, it becomes a bit of a chore – you feel you’re bothering or pressuring people for your cause. And everyone got very busy: children were born, weekends were crazy, boats were purchased and other obligations beckoned.

After reaching great heights of nearly 20 people, Team Maureen shrunk to just three or four people. This year, I cycled 20 miles along the Connecticut coast while listening to John Denver’s greatest hits (dork alert?). I hadn’t listened to him in years, but somehow it seemed fitting: a guy singing about nature and coming to terms with life.

I saw him at the Oakdale Theater in Wallingford, CT., in August, 1997, less than three months before he died. He was spectacular, and I remember feeling blessed that I got to see him in concert. He had one of those voices that reverberated through your whole body, demanding you close your eyes to thoroughly appreciate it.

I was supposed to do the 40-mile loop with my sister Diane, but I couldn’t swing it. She did it alone, and we never met up. In truth, I had no business even jumping on a bike and doing 20 miles without proper training. I’m not 30 anymore, right?

I took a few breaks at rest stops along the way and chatted up some riders. We talked about how hard it’s been to cycle in this summer’s heat and humidity, and the advantages of clip-in bike shoes. I said they’re great for spinning, to which a woman responded, “I don’t spin. I’m at an age where I won’t do anything that I don’t want to do and spinning is one of those things.”

I agree with her, though I don’t bike on the road often, and haven’t since I moved here 15 years ago. The roads are narrow and the pavement is rutted. And nearly every cyclist I know has been struck by a car. I’m not naive enough to think I can escape being struck by a distracted driver.

After finishing and wolfing down a turkey sandwich donated by Subway, I spotted #TeamFrank finishing up the walk to remember people lost to mental illness. I walked to the bridge where some people, including Heidi, hung posters remembering loved ones who died.

It was very sad. They were clearly loved, yet their illnesses overpowered them. But maybe their photos tied with bright ribbons on a sparkling September day can save someone else. I certainly hope so.


Photos of people who died from mental illness line a bridge near Milford Harbor.

Diary of a Wimp

  1. 1.
    a weak and cowardly or unadventurous person.
    synonyms: cowardnamby-pambypantywaistmilksopweaklingmilquetoastMore

  1. 1.
    fail to do or complete something as a result of fear or lack of confidence.
    “anyone who wimped out because of the weather missed the experience of a lifetime”

I’m a wimp.

I prefer it to namby-pamby, pantywaist or milksop, though they all mean the same thing: I have no backbone or guts.

I wrote a blog post about how difficult it must be for Melania Trump to deal with cheating allegations against her husband in such a public way, and I am afraid to post it because I don’t want to be verbally attacked.

The piece has nothing to do with politics. It’s about couples and the body language between them that tells the world how things are actually going in their marriage. But the mere mention of Trump is enough to stir emotions and make some people very irrational and mean. I don’t need that kind of controversy. I’ve got enough trouble dealing with snide remarks from my 17-year-old daughter.

This is the only time in 18 months of blogging that I’ve had to think about whether something I wrote should be posted. It’s the reason I haven’t posted for awhile – I’ve been thinking things over. Voicing my opinion on marriage body language may not be worth the fallout.

I don’t know when I became so wimpy, but others are feeling the pressure to avoid and close off avenues to rude comments before they begin too. Some non-profit organizations don’t allow comments on their blogs. Many bloggers, including yours truly, require that comments be reviewed before they’re publicly posted. The exception is Facebook, where comments are immediately posted.

Blogging Central is designed to minimize hateful or hurtful responses, and I’m happy to report I’ve never been the target of any trolls or mean comments (and please, don’t start now). The rules of the road are pretty clear: read a blog, comment if you like but try to keep your remarks positive and constructive,

It’s a little like a massive writing group designed to promote good feelings and positive vibes. If you don’t like a blog, don’t say anything, but don’t be negative. Just move on.

Of course, it’s maddening when you see that a piece has been viewed 40 times, and only gotten two likes. I’m sure I’m not the only blogger who’s thought people are stingy with likes, but those are the rules. By and large, people are very good at following them, though I know a few bloggers who have been trolled and had a hard time recovering from it.

Just to be clear, it’s never OK to be mean or spiteful, but people seem to love doing it on the Internet. Hiding behind computer screens, they say things that they’d never have the courage to say to a person’s face. It’s like drivers who hide behind their vehicles and act like idiots, taking out their anger and rage on innocent people. It reminds me of a baby who thinks we can’t see him because he’s hiding under a blanket.

I stopped following our town’s Facebook page because I couldn’t believe how rude some people are. My friend was doing a kitchen remodel and asked for suggestions on the FB community page for an architect for an adjacent mudroom/pantry. What she got were a bunch of snide remarks from people telling her that any home improvement contractor could do the work, and why was she asking about an architect. She eventually pulled down her request.

I resisted the urge to comment on many posts on the same page because people can be brutal with their remarks. I can’t tell you how many times I went to comment and thought better of it. I don’t need to be raked over the coals for my views by people I don’t even know. Some people can be so smug and rude just because you disagree with them. When did we all become so intolerant?

One of my friends was a vocal Hillary Clinton supporter, and was skewered on Facebook by people who disagreed with her. Now running for public office herself, I asked how she deals with such rude remarks.

“I have an incredibly thick skin,” she said. And she does. It’s one of the things I’ve always admired most about her.

The role of wimp is new to me because I’ve always enjoyed stirring the pot, even as a child. I’d ask questions at family gatherings about why certain relatives weren’t speaking to each other, making my mother cringe. At one point, my mother referred to me as “TM” – troublemaker. Given my penchant for being nosy and stirring up trouble, reporting seemed the ideal career choice for me.

As a newspaper reporter, I most enjoyed coming up with story ideas and reporting – digging up facts and interviewing people for a story. What I most dreaded were night meetings of various boards and commissions. The worst were public hearings where people droned on for 20 minutes about various subjects. I began to dread the words, “Does anyone else want to make a comment?” because someone always did. I embraced board chairmen who instituted the three-minute rule, cutting people off after their time ran out.

As much as I loved reporting, I dreaded writing. With only a limited amount of time to write, you were under the gun to write quickly, and often wondered how you would do it under deadline. The good news was you were surrounded by other people under the same pressure, feeding off their energy. After writing the first few paragraphs, things flowed and stories were filed.

Sometimes you got a call from an angry reader – “How dare you embarrass me by putting in that I haven’t paid my taxes in 10 years?” one woman shrieked at me. But direct reader feedback was rare and irate calls could be passed off to my editor, or in some cases, the publisher. As reporters, we had the freedom to go about our business without fearing hateful comments and personal attacks. It was a kinder, gentler era, the days of a million points of light and just say no. Best of all, there were no Internet trolls or fear of being personally attacked for reporting a story.

I wonder how many other people feel as I do, wanting to say something, but opting to stay silent for fear of being rebuked. It’s sad, but it’s the way things are today.

Back in high school, I was in an English class that required us to write a letter to the editor of an area newspaper. I wrote a letter expressing outrage over a cross burning on the front lawn of a black family in a predominantly white section of New Haven, CT. My letter was published along with a file photo of the cross burning.

I remember being thrilled that my letter was published, and then really scared that my family would be targeted because I expressed my opinion. My fears were unfounded, but you get my point: sometimes, you wonder if it’s worth speaking up or keeping your mouth shut.

I’m still weighing the Melania piece. With nearly 35 years of marriage under my belt, I think I’m qualified to write about marriage and body language if I feel like it. But as I said, I’m not as brave as I used to be. I wonder if anyone is.