Sunday, March 24, 2013

33. Easter Eggs to Die For

There's an old saying that, "Too many cooks spoil the broth."  But what happens when there's too many eggs?
 
Marion rushed to get home before the kids burst through the back door, throwing their jackets and scarves on the floor, yelling, “What's to eat?” She forgot to get eggs on her regular grocery run and needed to dash out to get two dozen, one for each of her two crazy bunnies. Even her super organized neighbor, Jennifer, didn't have 24 extra eggs for her to borrow.
      At least she was ready when her husband, Tim, brought the kids home from the kids' movie at the Library.  Chris was first through the door. “We're home! Where's the eggs?” Tracy trailed in behind him, echoing him as a dutiful little sister. “Yeah! Yeah! We want eggs.” In first grade she looked up to third grader Chris and wanted to be like him.
      “There's a plate of chocolate chip cookies on the table and I'll pour you some milk right away.”
      “Great, Mom. But what about the eggs?” Chris flung himself into a chair and grabbed the first cookie.
      “I have to boil them first. Otherwise they'll end up cracked and mushy.”
      Tim came in laughing. “I heard that. Remember the year the kids got up early and decided to color uncooked eggs. That took hours to clean up.”
      Tracy pouted. “We were little kids then. You can't blame us.”
      “I don't honey. It's just another funny family memory.” Tim ruffled her hair.
      Marion put the eggs in a large kettle of water over a high flame. Then she set out the old cups she saved for coloring, along with the coloring kit she got when they first went on sale. She did try to be organized.
      A few hours later, the eggs were cooked, cooled and ready for color. With lots of artistic flourishes and nothing spilled, the 24 eggs were dyed in all the colors available. Tracy used pinks and blues and baby animal decals. Chris liked vivid purple and red and drew his own monster faces. The decorated eggs went back into the 'frig until bedtime when the kids put them out for the Easter Bunny to hide when he (she?) brought the baskets.
      Easter morning, the kids jumped out of bed to find their Easter baskets. That was easy since they were large and stuck out of any hiding place. With the baskets discovered, it was time for the egg hunt. The kids each got a large plastic bowl to collect the eggs they found.
      Chris, a budding cynic, asked, “Why do we have to do the work of coloring the eggs for the bunny to hide?”
      Tim, trying to grab one of the chocolate eggs from Tracy's basket, said. “I guess the rabbit thought you'd have fun making them different colors. I heard you laughing as you put a mustache on the face you drew.”
      “Yeah, it was fun.” Tracy agreed and shoved her Dad's hand away.
      After searching the house until they couldn't find any more eggs, Chris carefully counted them to make sure none was missing. “Hey, there's something wrong.” he muttered. “I have 15 and Tracy has 10, but she should only have 9.”
      Tim counted them and then Marion counted them, but they always added up to 25.
      Tracy suggested, “Maybe the grocer man gave you an extra one.”
      Chris scoffed, “No, silly, because it wouldn't have fit in the egg carton.”
      Marion was worried. Could one of the 25 eggs been left over from last year? Good grief, what did it say about her housekeeping skills? And she didn't want anyone eating a year old egg.”
      What a mystery. Marion put the eggs in the 'frig until she decided what to do with them. They ate breakfast, dressed and went off to a crowded church. Marion's brain kept going back to the extra egg. What to do?
      Back at home, Marion was putting the ham in the oven, when the phone rang. It was her neighbor, Jennifer. “Hi, back from church and getting ready for dinner, I bet.”
      Marion tried to put a smile in her voice. “Yes, and Happy Easter to you.”
      “Did anything interesting happen this morning?” Jennifer asked.
      Marion's mind went blank. “No, nothing. What do you mean?”
      “Did the kids find all the eggs the Easter Rabbit hid from them?”
      Marion gasped, “There was an extra one. How did you know? I must be a terrible housekeeper.”
     “Don't worry. It was my little Easter surprise. Yesterday when Tim took the kids to the movie and you ran out to the grocery store, I hid one of our eggs in your house.”
     “But all the eggs were similar colors.”
     “Don't you remember we both bought the same coloring set.”
     Aha. Marion now knew who but she still didn't know why.
     Jennifer added, “You do know what tomorrow's date is, don't you? Today, Easter, may be March 31 but tomorrow is April lst. April Fool's Day.”
                                                           The End

Sunday, March 17, 2013

32. I Never Kissed the Blarney Stone

In Honor of St. Patrick's Day, which happens to be my husband's birthday, I wrote this 'completely fictional' story.  I'm not Irish and the only resemblance to truth is that I never kissed the Blarney stone, either.  The day I was at Blarney Castle the cold, damp weather had me too sick to leave the bus.

All my life I was told our family had the Irish gift of gab. My friends and the friends of my two older brothers and younger sister loved to come to our house and laugh. They said it was such a relief after the gloom and doom found in their Scandinavian homes. When a new friend came to the house, my father would ask him, “Are you a friend or a best friend?” The poor kid would stammer out, “I don't know.” And my Dad would explain, “Well a friend is someone you can call to help you move. A best friend is someone you can call to help you move a body.”
      Rollicking good humor was not a surprise as both sets of my grandparents, the O'Malleys and the Branagans, came from Ireland. Their genes must have been strong. Both my parents and all my siblings were experts at turning frowns upside down. I was the black sheep of the family. I was 'the quiet one'. At family parties, my aunts and uncles and cousins would tease me and try to get me to laugh. They would tell me that I somehow missed 'kissing the Blarney Stone.' This is a slab at the top of a tower in County Cork. You have to bend over backwards with someone hanging onto your feet to smack it with your lips. Everyone who did this is guaranteed to 'never again be at a loss for words.' I was always at a loss for words.
      My older brother, Dennis, liked to warn everyone that “ahh, still waters run deep, you know. One day Mary Margaret's goin' to open her mouth and then watch out.” I had a lot of thoughts surging through my brain but I had no reason to talk as the air was already filled with everyone else's. I was happy. Who wouldn't be happy surrounded by people who loved you.
      This was back in the days when grandparents, their married children and grandchildren all lived within walking distance of each other in an Irish parish. All the O'Malleys and the Branagans lived in St. Ita's, parish on Chicago's far north side. We had a lot of family get togethers.
      A typical joke told at these gatherings was “Did you hear that Old Man Finnegan's dog died? Poor man he was so upset he asked Father Mike if he could have a funeral for his best friend, Jack. The priest asked, “Are you talking about your dog?” Finnegan replied, “Yesur aund he wus the bestes' friend aught cud 'ave.” The priest smiled and shook his head. “I don't think I could do that. But there's a new church just starting up that might be willing to do it.” Riley thought a while and asked, “Do ya ken a donation of $50,000 wud be enuf at sich a church?” Father Mike stared at him in amazement, “But sure and you didn't tell me the little fellow was Catholic.”
      Like everyone we knew, our family didn't have a lot of money. But we weren't starving and we knew we'd all get a good education, come what may. And, if we knew what was good for us, we'd better get good grades to warrant the family money used to nourish our minds, as well as our stomachs. Of course, it went without saying that our souls would be nourished every Sunday at the 9 a.m. Mass.
      To save money I commuted to the local Catholic women's college, Mundelein. The boys at near by Loyola University called us Mundle Bundles. A term that would be politically incorrect or sexist today. We didn't care. We ignored them. We were more interested in the guys who went to Notre Dame. Although I didn't go away for college, I had a wonderful opportunity to tour Ireland between my junior and senior years. The pastor of our church, Father Malcom was going to lead a tour of Irish Catholic shrines and he needed someone along who could help getting the old people on and off the bus, and generally make sure they weren't left behind. He knew I helped take care of Granny Maeve when she had her hip replaced the previous summer, so he offered me the job. No pay but I got my room, board and traveling expenses.
      At the farewell party the family threw for me, Uncle Tim said, “Now you be sure to kiss the Blarney Stone this time.” It was the first time I'd have the opportunity so I didn't have a clue what he meant, but neither did anyone else.
      The tour was lots of fun. Although some of the group were physically challenged, they all laughed their troubles away. A few were crabby, but I could usually jolly them along. The day we were to visit Blarney Castle and the famous Stone turned out misty and cold. That was something they never tell you about Ireland. The reason it's so green is that it's always 'wet'. I had been looking forward to seeing if kissing the slab would free up my tongue a little.
      Alas, it was not to be. There was no way some of the members would be able to climb up the Tower. I volunteered to keep them occupied in the 'teahouse and shop' while the others tried their luck. Father Malcom consoled me. “Mary Margaret, you've no need to kiss the Blarney stone. With all the talkers already in the family, what they really need is a good listener and God has given you that special gift.”
      I guess I am a good listener. I went on to graduate school and became a psychologist. I spend a lot of time listening.
      When I got my doctorate the family gave me a party. Dennis yelled, “Now that Mary Margaret's a certified psychologist, can you tell her what you call an Irishman who's bouncing off the walls.” Everyone yelled back, “Rick O'Shea.”
                                                             The End

Sunday, March 10, 2013

31. You Never Know


I was 55, my children were grown and off on lives of their own. My much beloved husband had died three years ago in a car accident. I still grieved. We never had a chance to say goodbye. Death of a spouse is always heart breaking but with illness at least you can prepare yourself a little.
       My good friend, Ellie, was worried. She wanted me to go out more. I told her I was content as I was. She kept urging me and, frankly, annoying me. Finally I agreed to a blind date with her cousin, Ron, who was in town for a sales convention.
       When Ron called to make arrangements for where and when we'd be going to dinner, he sounded nice. But then what's not to like in a phone call.
       I drove myself to Biggs, an elegant contemporary restaurant with a pricey menu. I had read that on a first date it was best to have your own transportation and meet in a public place. I needed to feel in control.
       Ron was already at the bare surfaced light wood table when I arrived. I gave him a point for that. I hated waiting in a restaurant for dinner companions. He stood to greet me and I could see he was a couple of inches taller than I was. He still had all his hair, with some gray at the sides. His smile was pleasant and we made small talk until the waiter arrived.
      “Hi, I'm Steven and I'll be your server tonight. It's my first night so I hope I can make it special for you.”
       Ron rolled his eyes and said, “I'm hoping to impress this young lady so please don't spill anything on us.”
       Steven blushed and stammered, “Oh, no, sir. I would never spill anything on you.”
       I felt sorry for Steven, who seemed older than the rest of the wait staff. Perhaps he had had a different job before the recent economic turn down and now the only work he could find was as a waiter. Oh, I was great at creating sympathetic scenarios.
      Ron ordered a vodka martini with an olive and a twist, straight up, “and make sure it's filled to the top. Don't let them skimp on it.”
      “Oh, no, sir.” Steven turned to me, “And what would the lady like?”
      I smiled at him and said, “just a glass of the house Merlot.”
      Ron commented, “I guess you never saw the movie, 'Sideways.'”
     “Oh, I've seen the movie, and I know the famous line about Merlot. But I like Merlot.”
      He muttered, “To each her own,” and turned to the menu. “Order anything you want. I'm on expense account tonight and the sky's the limit.”
      I laughed and said, “I think the horizon is high enough for me.”
      He gave me a strange look. I guess my sense of humor was not to his liking.
      I was beginning to wish I was home reading a good book. The rest of the meal was uncomfortable. Ron seemed to want to make a good impression by pointing out all the waiter's flaws. I guess he thought the comparison would make him look good.
      We ate and drank our way to dessert. I didn't want anything else but Ron insisted. For some reason this restaurant featured flaming finales. Ron of course couldn't pass up anything dramatic so he ordered cherries jubilee. I just asked for an Irish coffee. I hoped that would be fancy enough for Ron.
      Steven served Ron a large bowl of vanilla bean ice cream. He placed between us a silver chafing dish filled with cherries in a delicious smelling sauce. As the fruit became heated through from a Sterno can, Steven poured some brandy on the cherries and lit the alcohol with a long wand style lighter. Blue and yellow flames immediately jumped from the sauce and onto the table top. Luckily there were no cloths to catch fire. Steven threw the napkin he had over his arm onto the flames, smothering them. His face was white with fear.
      I tried to laugh it off, saying “we're certainly having a hot time tonight.” Ron was furious. He stomped off to see the manager, while I wanted to crawl under the table.
      Our waiter looked mortified. He probably worried he would be fired. I fumbled in my purse to look for a pen and paper. I didn't have a business card. I asked him to wait a minute as I wrote my name and phone number.
      “I'll be glad to talk to your boss and explain everything. Give him my number and ask him to call me for a more rational discussion of what happened.”
      Steven gave me a sweet smile. “Don't worry. I think everything will be OK. I'm sorry I ruined your special evening.”
      “It wasn't a special evening. It was just a blind date and at least it's finally over.”
      Steven started to leave, hesitated and turned back. “Would you mind if I called you tomorrow?”
     “Why no, I guess not.” I was surprised. But I did want to help him.
      Before Ron came back to our table, I couldn't take any more and left. I figured he wouldn't want to see me anymore than I wanted to see him.
      The next afternoon I did get a call from Steven. He asked me to meet him for coffee. Curious, I said yes, thinking again that I would drive myself and be in pubic so nothing too bad could happen.
      As we settled with our coffee lattes, both vanilla flavored, Steven cleared his throat and said, “I have a sort of confession to make to you.”
      “Oh?” I asked warily. What had I gotten myself into this time?
      “First, I want to thank you for sticking up for me. You're a very special person. Unfortunately, I've learned that some people, not all thank heavens, but some people are not that kind.”
     “I know it's hard to get and keep a job today, so I didn't want you to get in trouble.” I smiled.
     “I wasn't going to get in trouble, but again, I do thank you.” He laughed and then asked, “Have you ever heard of the TV show “Undercover Boss?”
     “Yes, I have.” I frowned wondering what that had to do with anything.
     “Well, I'm the boss. I own a chain of restaurants and Biggs is one of them. The TV producer asked if I'd be willing to be a waiter for the show. It took a while for me to agree, but I'm glad I did. It's been an eye opener. And I got to meet a lovely, single lady like you.”
                                              The End (or just the beginning?)

Monday, March 4, 2013

30. Praying in Paris for Perfume


One of the fun things to do in Paris is shop for perfume. Since the most exquisite and expensive fragrances in the world are produced in France, they must cost less there, right? I don't know if that's true or not but as an American female tourist in Paris I had to buy at least one bottle to legitimize my trip. Of course, if you add in the cost of trans Atlantic transportation, hotel, and food the chic glass bottle containing the elixir of thousands of dead blossoms will costs thousands of dollars more than if you bought it at home.
      My favorite perfume all my life has been Chanel No. 5. Except for a few youthful years, when I spent my allowance on “Evening in Paris” a dime store perfume I gave my mother for any gift giving occasion. Many children I knew thought their mothers loved this strong scent. Now I know mothers didn't love that scent, they loved their children.
      Paris has hundreds of perfumeries, stores that sell only perfume. Ok, they also sell toilet water, cologne and creams with perfume scents. There must be one shop on every commercial block. Jane, my traveling companion, and I asked each other, “Where do we find the best bargain in the perfumes we want?” We couldn't answer. We turned to our every ready tourist guide and looked up perfumeries. We decided we would just concentrate on those in our arrondissement, the sixth, also known as the Latin Quarter. That way we could walk to all of them and not worry about buses or the underground.
        We were staying on the Left Bank near the Sorbonne University and not too far from the Seine River, Notre Dame Cathedral, and Avenue Saint Germaine with lots of cafes and French book stores. The famous English book store, Shakespeare & Co., was also nearby.
       Walking along in the cold April weather, we stopped at 5 perfumeries, mainly to get warm. No one warned us the song “April in Paris,” was false advertising. All the shops carried the same products at similar prices. I have since learned you can't judge more than 3 different perfumes at a time, because of olfactory fatigue. Your scent sensors got tired. As usual, we were na├»ve and just kept smelling everything we were offered. After four shops, with aching feet and red, frozen noses, we decided to buy at the next shop.
      The fifth store was beautiful. Its front window held beveled glass panes, crisscrossed with slender metal inserts. The ancient looking carved wooden door was painted a deep green and the walls inside were pale green, A saleswoman, black hair sleeked back into a smooth bun, approached wearing a precisely fitted black sheath dress and beautiful black leather pumps. She smiled. Which was a shock. Not many French people were kind enough to smile at two young women, dressed in drip dry plaid dresses. Although some may have laughed at our gaucherie behind our backs.
      She spoke English with a delightful accent. We fell under her charm and bought more than we would have otherwise. Yes, it might have been a smart marketing ploy, but we had found elsewhere that many French didn't care enough about making money to be pleasant (at least to young American tourists).
      The sparkling glass shelves and show cases were filled with hundreds of glass bottles, all shapes and sizes. I had already decided I would buy Chanel No. 5. In 1920 Coco Chanel wanted to develop a modern fragrance for women she had taken out of the constricting corset. Her chemist presented her with small glass vials of scent numbered 1-5 and 20-24. Coco chose vial 5 and decided to keep that number as its name as it had special meaning to her from childhood. She also thought the name suited her perfume because five was thought to signify the pure embodiment of a thing, its spirit, its mystic meaning. Perhaps I liked it so much because it was the first modern fragrance to use aldehyes which, according to those who know, have a champagne-like, sparkly, fizzy odor that makes the fragrance fly off the skin. Of course I didn't know this until much later.
      For my second bottle, I chose one I had liked on a friend back home, Replique by Raphael. It was younger than No. 5, not coming on the market until 1944. Its advertising said it's top scent notes included bergamot, lemon, cardamom, coriander, sage and neroli oil (from the bitter orange tree). This description sounds like ingredients for a stuffing recipe. Perhaps they make the wearer think subconsciously of food. To me it was a sweet yet sophisticated, woodsy fragrance.
     My third and final choice was a newer creation, Cabochard, created in 1958 by Gres, an important French fashion house. Its advertising made it sound like a men's club: a mix of citrus, leather and tobacco. Again, that's not what it smelled like to me, but maybe its aim was to subconsciously be attractive to men, who in many cases would be paying for their lover's scent. I loved its spicy, flowery scent.
      Jane also bought several bottles which she kept safely sealed in their original wrappings during the rest of our cross-Europe trip.
      I decided Cabochard would be my signature scent of Paris. So I opened and used it for the rest of our stay. However, I realized that as we continued around Europe in our bouncy little car, the opened bottle of Cabochard might leak. What could I do?
     The answer came while we were visiting one of the beautiful, old French churches. At that time Catholic churches still had tiers of lighted candles, holding the prayers of the faithful. Many contemporary churches use electronic candles. But in this church you could purchase a candle by dropping coins down a slot, then light and place the burning candle in a holder where it would stay until it burned itself out.
      I discussed my perfume problem with Jane and asked, “Do you think one of these candles might help?”
      She gave me a strange look. “You want to light a candle, say a prayer that your perfume won't leak and then leave the candle to keep burning as a reminder about your perfume?”
      “Good grief, no! I just want to buy a candle to take back to our hotel. I don't know where else to get one. I'll light it and let the wax drip around the top of my perfume bottle to keep it sealed.”
                                                            The  End