Friday, February 13, 2015

Social Media...The Unbelievable Upside!

Top from left: Tami, Amy, Catherine, Lauren, Maureen,
Bottom from left: Patti, Betty and Me (Jo Ann)
In the grand scheme of social gatherings it may have not seemed that out of the ordinary. A group of friends meeting in the city to share some tea on a cold winter day.

 A crackling fire glimmering off the rich mahogany woodwork in a fine, old New York hotel. Outside, a blur of yellow cabs streaming down the street as the brightly shinning sun failed to disguise the
cold winds.

As the group individually arrived from Connecticut, New Jersey and the city itself, there were warm lingering hugs, smiles, and chatter. Simultaneous chatter. Everyone talking at once. The hotel staff in the small Victorian-style lobby stood smiling at the noisy group whose excitement must have seemed evident that it had been a long time between visits. Truth is, most of us had never met.
Maureen & Lauren, much laughter at this table!

Yes, we knew that Tami and Betty (my sister) had lost the lives they knew to Hurricane Sandy and the wicked winds of corporate America. And then had to reinvent themselves. Both in real estate. We knew that warm, funny Maureen is living here temporarily in a small corporate apartment with her husband while a new condo is being built in Canada, and terribly missing her grandson who is still there. We knew that Lauren is a fun loving spirit and jewelry designer who scours the shores of the Atlantic Ocean for sea glass. (We also now know that if the two of us hung out more often we could get into a lot of trouble together. Kindred spirits. Who just met!)

Catherine, Tami, Amy. The happiness was obvious.
We knew that beautiful Amy is painstakingly dealing with an hysterical society (I meant historical  society) while renovating a lovely older stone home outside of Manhattan. We knew that Patti lives a grain-free life and has just overseen the complete design and renovation of her lovely home.

We knew that innovative, hardworking interior designer, Catherine has also had to readjust her career sails while raising a beautiful young daughter. We knew the first names of all of our children and grandchildren, along with whose going to be a grandmother (two of us) or who has a son getting married (me). We knew this all before we got to the introduce ourselves.

Much needed fire in the lobby!
We knew, we knew, we knew, we just simply had never met...until this week. We are friends. Good friends. Ladies of a somewhat similar age who have used Twitter and Facebook as our gathering hangouts. Each morning, we get up (usually early), make our coffee, pickup our laptops and iPad's and start talking. Topics vary. Weather, day's activities, plans for the evening, recipes, our kids, etc.

On Twitter, we are limited to 113 characters so often we jump over to Facebook where we can talk more at length. But Twitter is always the daily starting point. It's our virtual corner cafe. It's also the place were we check in during the day just to catch up. It's the place where if we notice someone is absent for more than a day, we start asking questions. "Have you heard from her?", "Is she travelling?", "Hope everything is okay." It's who we are. Friends.

So many of us have gone through similar life changes, such as a divorce or job loss, that tough issues are the commonality that often bonds us. That is where the private aspects of social media come into play. The ability to DM (direct message) on either site means that you can have a private conversation with someone without others seeing. It is here where you can spill your heart out, vent your anger, or ask advice. Sometimes you're the mouth, sometimes you're the shoulder.

Tea is about to be served.
Gorgeous lobby centerpiece 
When I was first going through my divorce and started living on my own for the first time ever, I would often spend late nights talking to Jessica (a friend who couldn't make our lunch...this time) and had recently gone through the same thing. Or with Tami, who was rebuilding her life with her young son after losing everything she had to mega storm Sandy. The conversations will always remain private but I'm still amazed at the things that one says to someone they've never actually met! And maybe, just maybe it is because you can't see their face and never feel that judgement is being made. I don't know.

I can't even remember how this group started, but I do know how much I would miss them if they weren't there every morning. All of them, even our morning chatters that couldn't make the trip this time. Carol, and her daughter Tara who are in the mountains of New Hampshire, Shelley, our resident weather expert, who scoured the web till she found me the perfect clutch for my son's wedding. And Asta, who chimes in from Lithuania each morning (although it's afternoon for her). A women so kind that this Christmas she sent me a beautiful piano CD that her friend had recorded. I often play it while writing.

There is sure to be another lunch soon, another gathering, another venture. Many of us are hoping to meet up at Brimfield in May. (If you don't know what Brimfield is, I suggest you Goggle it because there is no way to explain it here.) That's our goal anyway. So this week, I got to see some of the faces and hear some of the voices of special ladies that I've consider friends for a long time. We had just never met. But in a lovely old New York hotel, that issue was solved over a cup of tea. They way it should be.

Photos supplied by Catherine Avery and Jo Ann Phelps

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Valentine's Day...It's Not All About That Bass

Nah....not really!
When I was a young girl I hated Mother's Day...mostly because I didn't have one. No pity here please, I had a great, loving father who did his best to be both parents (most times - there was that one Easter he bought us sugar crystal eggs instead of chocolate ones because he thought they were pretty. We didn't.) Funny, I can't remember why I went into the closet an hour ago, but I remember that disappointing Easter basket over 50 years ago.

Anyway, how two spring holidays worked into a February blog, is more about how my mind is working these days, then the relevance of holidays. Since my divorce, EVERY holiday is different, not bad, mind you, but different. Admittedly, none more than Valentine's Day. The constant stream of commercials for roses, dinners, chocolates, etc., can be hard to tolerate when your flying solo. So I did what I've come to do best when I find something in need of resurrection...I've re-purposed it.

With the help of my friend Judy, who hosts a fabulous dinner every February 14th,  I have stripped this holiday down to the core, reevaluated it's purpose, and built it back up with the many colors of love in my life! And Judy's party helped point me in that direction since its for everyone! Singles, couples, recently divorced, recently widowed, just got dumped, doesn't matter. We come together to share the many types of love between people. Friendship, and family. She has captured the true meaning of celebrating the contents of our hearts. Kudos to you, my friend.

As a matter of fact, I have now refocused my feelings about February in its entirety. Previously viewed as a cold, dark month wedged between winter and spring, I was always glad it was the shortest of the twelve months. But now, putting things in perspective, how could I not love this month? It gave me my two greatest loves bar none. Both of my sons were born in February. One son on the 17th and the other on the 29th...okay, I get that it only occurs every four years, but it is still in February. And they are both such a reason to celebrate! Then factor in that the mom I lost as a young girl was born on February 16th. Without her, I wouldn't be here, my boys wouldn't be here, still my heart, my grandson wouldn't be on his way!

So, as you can see, February has become a very special time for me now. Even, its most famous holiday.  I can honestly say I have learned to appreciate its page on the calender. So, let's go into the kitchen and celebrate the right way, with chocolate. Valentine's Day is all about chocolate and red. Red velvet cakes are all about chocolate that is dyed red. How can this not be your go to choice for a holiday sweet.

This recipe originally came from one of my youngest sons culinary school books but, as written, it seemed a little dry. The two of us fooled around with it till we found the perfect combination. So successful were we, that after bringing them to a party, he got several orders for more. So, take a gander this Valentine's Day! Bake with your spouse, your partner, your kids (that one is the best)! But at the very, very least this weekend, open up your heart and celebrate with all the loves of your life!

Cake Ingredients;

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons red food coloring
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 pound cream cheese, softened
2 sticks butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 (12-cup) muffin pans with cupcake papers.
In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl gently beat together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla with an electric blender. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins about 2/3 filled. (Ice cream scoop works perfectly.) Bake in oven for about 20 to 22 minutes, turning the pans once, half way through. Test the cupcakes with a toothpick before removing to cool

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until blended. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy. Sprinkle on your favorite red topping! 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

It's Winter...Get Over It!

Don't just look at it...get out there and enjoy!
It's February. It's cold. It will snow and there will be ice for those of us who live in the northern half of the country. What did you think was going to happen in the middle of winter? As a fan and participant of social media, i.e., Facebook, Twitter, I am always amused by comments posted when there is a winter storm in the forecast.

The voices of doom come forth when a low pressure system is forming in the south. "OMG! I can't take it." Really? You live in upstate Pennsylvania. The possibility of snow and wind should not be a surprise. No need to stand on your deck railing and face plant into a drift!

Then there are the inevitable pictures posted of snow covered porches, decks and patio tables where just a few months ago there were hot dogs and grills. "Stuck in the house again." No you're not. Winter always looks worse through a window. Get out there. Take a walk. Clean your elderly neighbors sidewalk. Inhale the cold air so hard that your nostrils get stick together! (Remember that?)

Instead, we go on social media and freak out about a few inches of snow changing life as we know it!
And this provokes our southern counterparts (with a smirk and a sneer, I'm sure) to start posting their weather photos.  There's the beach, the sunsets, mojito's at an outdoor cafe. Life, as they view it, in paradise. My sweet cousin lives on a lake outside of Tampa. She loves to post pictures of her feet dangling off of their boat while we are buried up to our assets in snow.

Seriously. Is this a good idea in Florida?
Andrea, I have two words for you, "gator bait". I can say with certainty, as I hike through crunching snow, that my well bundled toes, will not be appetizers for large reptiles wanting to pull me into the water and have their way with me. (And I'm not even going to mention the real possibility of a visit from a Water Moccasin, which as you posted "just went past the boat.") Enough said.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum are my Facebook and Twitter friends from New Hampshire and Maine who will post  "another 6" or 7" and  -5 out there, no biggie". I love them! They "get" where they live and it is not in a state of perpetual anxiety like those of us in the mid-Atlantic area. At the mere mention of a winter storm, we immediately crave french toast and clean the stores of milk, eggs and bread.

Five years ago, I bought an SUV with four-wheel drive to navigate through the snow covered streets of New Jersey. In the years that followed, I've used that expensive option a grand total of one time. And that was to drive through a wall of snow created by the plows at the Philadelphia Airport which buried my car while I was in um...Florida.

Look, winter is not easy. It makes you earn spring. When you work that hard for something, it is so much more appreciated. Who in the deep south can understand the wonder of that first day you can open a window and allow a fresh breeze through.

And besides, we are talking about a season that only last three months! Short enough to endure but too long to spend it complaining, and even more sad, dreading. So....make some soup, fix some hot chocolate. Bundle up and go for a walk in the woods or a park. There is life out there still! Don't waste yours spending it in a holding pattern waiting for spring.