Over the past six-plus weeks of this self-isolation, I keep getting a returning image in my head of the cartoon character with an angel over one shoulder and a devil over the other. Not a struggle of good and evil per se, but more an examination of my conscience. A call to be a good citizen, yet a strong desire to get back to my regular life, with all of the normal, good stuff that goes along with it.
I’ve heard people bitching about their rights being taken away; of feeling like prisoners in their own homes. And I get that. In many ways, I concur completely. Then there are those folks reminding everyone to selflessly sacrifice some of our everyday comforts for the greater good, and to protect the fragile, most susceptible members of our society. I get that too.
When this whole nightmare started, I jumped in with both of my gloved hands and supported the cause to contain this virus. I cleaned, disinfected, organized, and cooked up a storm. Initially, it was fun having my husband home every day to eat lunch with me, and I enjoyed posting pictures of our evening meals on social media as a means to entertain myself. Then I saw the masses of hungry, unemployed people, lined up for miles to get food from the food banks across the country. It stopped being fun showing off my culinary skills. Instead my husband and I looked for ways to contribute to the food bank and support local restaurants and businesses we patronize. This helped me feel better. A little.
The first few weeks, I talked or texted with all of my close friends. Everyone wanted to check in with one another to make certain we were all doing okay. Most resigned to a few weeks of knuckling under and riding the wave until things could improve. Now, I notice people have less to say. Although my friends and I continue to touch base, nobody appears to be too chatty. After all, what is there to talk about? No one is doing anything much. And dear God, it keeps raining.
Finally, after a plethora of rainy days, the weather cleared enough to mow the grass. Hallelujah! An outdoor activity to pass the time. Growing up in my family, mowing the grass was a multi-generational, unisex chore. Dad was particular about how the lawn was mowed. He had no qualms chasing after the mower, shouting instructions and correcting ones’ form. Maybe that’s why I like to mow the grass. Whenever I do, it reminds me of my father, and the many times he tried to improve my mowing skills. Today would be his 96th birthday. If I could, I’d mow the grass in his memory. But it’s raining. Again.
As the days continue to morph one into the next, most of my friends find themselves in a dormant phase. Going through the motions of life without feeling as though we’re participating. As time ticks on, I see tempers flaring, patience waning, and the evil twin over my shoulder nudging me to kick the nice one off permanently. But I can’t let that happen. Yet. At least not without a mask.
Hear my plea, Lord. I think we’re all ready to come out of this hibernation phase of life. And please, Dear God, let it feel like spring. Amen.
By Sandy Bush
As I’ve talked about in the past, food is an important part of my life. I’ve cooked since I was a child, and I learned the basics at the elbow of my favorite cook ever: My mother. She taught me a lot about learning how to cook with what you had on hand; how to improvise a recipe if you lacked a specific ingredient, and how to make tasty, nutritious food without breaking the bank. And, the beauty of leftovers for a tasty, hot lunch the next day.
My love of all things food has caused some problems over the course of my life. For example, the ups and downs of the bathroom scale and a lifetime membership in Weight Watchers, now known as WW. Portion control is the bane of my existence, yet I embrace it like a pilgrimage. But, I digress.
On my mind this morning, is the disaster known as Covid-19, like everyone else. In an attempt to encourage others to cook, and use cooking as a creative experience, I posted my dinner menu on social media and shared what I prepare a few days a week. This has led to some surprising backlash. One person asked me, “Do you have a garden growing shrimp?” Uh, no. I removed them from my freezer. For anyone who’s curious, WW touts shrimp as a “zero point” food choice. Sautee them with some veggies, or a starch and you’ve got a relatively low calorie (and delicious) meal.
Others posted passive-aggressive comments regarding my posts and how it compares to meal prep they shared, insinuating a competition of sorts. Uh, no again. If what you post looks good, I’m happy to compliment you, or like your posted dish. If not, I’ll politely ignore it. The only person I compete with, ever, is me. I cook for my husband, and our family, because I love them, and I want to nurture them. Food brings people together, and bonds them. That’s what I’m trying to accomplish. During these unforeseen and unimaginable days of isolation and despair, performing small acts of kindness for people is all we have left.
Some friends have (jokingly?) stated I should stop posting my pictures because it’s making everyone who doesn’t cook look bad. Again, not my intention to make anyone feel inadequate. I don’t feel bad when you post pictures of your trips, or your dogs, or your sewing projects. I cheer for you and am happy for your success.
On the upside, I’ve had people reach out and ask for recipes, which I love to share. Others friends have posted entertaining suggestions for ingredients I should omit or add. Perfect! Even better, are the friends who share what they’re having for dinner. Believe me, I love a good grilled cheese and tomato soup as much as anyone. Show me your roast chicken, your juicy-rare steak, or your chili and it will get me thinking about when I’ll make it too.
Although I’ve fantasized forever about being the Next Phantom Diner (WITF’s (PBS) magazine food critic), chances are it won’t happen. But that doesn’t matter. What does matter is what I saw on national television today: Heartbreaking, long lines of cars waiting for donations from the food banks. The reality of this hit me like a ton of bricks, and I felt ashamed of myself for sharing the bounty of my table. Hunger in our country is real. It’s all around us.
I will not be sharing my recipes for a while. At least until this crisis is behind us. Instead I’ll put my energy and resources behind donating food to my local food bank, and doing what I can to keep this situation at bay in my hometown. Food for the soul.
By Sandy Bush
I’ll admit it. I’ve never liked the month of March. In my mind, it conjures images of windblown hair dos, chilly rain blowing my umbrella inside out, and more than once, the last unwanted snowstorm of the season.
Sure, sometimes, there are nice days in March. Early spring flowers popping up out of nowhere, green grass tentatively appearing, and occasionally, an Easter Sunday when you could wear a new spring outfit. In my memory, these are few and far between.
But, I’m a gal who lives for the summer. I like the heat, and the sunshine and spending time outdoors tending my garden. The dreary winter days sap energy from my soul and leave me longing for sunshine on my face.
So, here it is, the last day of March. I should be happy, but this has been a March like no other. And I’m not the only one wondering what April will bring to our planet.
Until recently, a lot of us thought about a tasty Mexican beer when we heard the word: Corona. Not anymore. Now instead of bringing folks together to tip back a few cold ones, the word Corona symbolizes the complete opposite, social distancing. Another term few of us gave any thought to until recently. Now, we’re under house arrest. Husbands and wives and kids are learning to share the space we all took for granted–our home.
We limit our trips to the grocery store for necessities, dodging fellow shoppers and bathing ourselves, and our shopping carts, in hypothetical antibacterial protection. The Government wants us to stay home, but who can resist seeing if there will be any toilet paper or eggs in the store? They’ve become heavily coveted items. Even Amazon is failing us. The “Prime” membership I’m paying for isn’t getting me the stuff I order; certainly not books. But, I can still watch Mrs. Maisel.
Also in vogue these days, the expression “The New Normal,” which isn’t a new term at all. According to my husband, this terminology became popular in financial circles after the 2008 stock market plunge. And here we find ourselves again, watching the bear and bull markets duke it out. Many folks are not opening their bank statements, and I’m one of them.
I take solace in the basics these days: Cooking, reading, writing, and long phone conversations with friends I used to be more likely to text. Social media helps. But more than anything, I hope all this social distancing sacrifice will do what the experts tell me it will. I pray life will get back to normal soon, and we will be able to hug our loved ones without fear.
Stay healthy and strong friends.
I admit it. I love food. The preparation, the presentation and the consumption of everything delicious makes my heart soar. To prepare food for someone is the ultimate expression of love, and nothing brings me more joy than cooking for my family and friends.
Long before it was chic to Instagram your date-night dinners or share a video of yourself crafting a complex concoction for a Facebook video, people cooked to nourish, celebrate and entertain. Now it’s acceptable to interrupt any four-star meal at a Michelin-rated restaurant to photograph yourself, your meal, or your chef for the sake of sharing on social media. And I’m okay with that.
No stranger to the Food Network, or Iron Chefs, I appreciate watching both the professionals and novice culinary wizards filet, fricassee and flambe like anyone else. But why, please tell me, must I suffer watching the network morning anchor people stuffing their faces on television in the early hours every day?
I’ve witnessed this phenomenon on all the early morning, major network talk shows, and I’m not sure when the trend started. In a state of early morning fog, and anxious for coffee, I’m desperate to find actual news and not the morning celebrities chowing their way through another “let’s cook through the magic of television” scenario. NBC, in particular offends me, because it happens daily–or so it seems.
One of the NBC anchors has, on more than one occasion, admitted his own mother is horrified to see him trying to talk on national television with his mouth full. Well, yeah, that makes at least two of us. I’m guessing a lot more.
I get it, I do. The occasional cooking segment has appeal, but must we see this charade every single day? These “news people,” who may or may not have actual cooking skills, embarrassing the guest chef who’s attempting to teach Cooking 101 via Bunsen Burner on live TV? Ridiculous.
Oh, and by the way, make sure not to wait until the commercial break to sample whatever is in front of you. There’s no need to be patient in front of your viewing audience. But, please. Chew with your mouth closed and don’t speak. Remember, mom’s watching.
“The water dispenser on the refrigerator isn’t working again,” my daughter, Chelsea informed me when I walked into the kitchen Tuesday evening. Feeling exhausted after a long meeting, this wasn’t a welcome greeting.
“Great,” I answered. This made the third time in six months the water/ice dispenser on our fourteen-year-old fridge went on the fritz. The local appliance repair dude and I are on a first-name, recognize each other on sight basis.
This scenario has become a family joke. Particularly, when my daughter, Monica in Florida calls me. “A guy is here putting in our radon mitigation system,” I told her a few weeks ago when she phoned. She laughed, reminding me there was always someone working in our house. Truth.
I’m not complaining. Really. My husband and I agreed long ago that our repair skills are non-existent and had the understanding to call in professionals whenever water or electricity was involved. Over the years, it’s expanded to include all skilled labor.
Appliance repair friend arrived Saturday morning to look at the fridge. Within seconds he diagnosed the problem with my husband, “Frozen water line.” Looking at me, he said, “Sorry. Different problem this time.”
He ran through several options, including the unpopular, “Maybe consider replacing it?”
My husband didn’t budge. “No, let’s fix it.”
So, repair dude ordered parts–a heater for the refrigerator door– and had parting advice until they arrived. “Set a timer for fifteen minutes and keep the freezer door open. That should thaw the line and get the water flowing. Might take up to forty-five minutes.”
Sounded crazy, and counterintuitive to those of us always told to close the refrigerator/freezer door. But, it worked.
Earlier this week, I received a call from a number I didn’t recognize. Most often, I ignore these calls, but intuition told me to answer this one.
“Is this Sandra Bush?” The male voice asked.
“This is Phil X. Do you remember me?”
“Uh,” long pause here. “No, I’m sorry.”
“We met in a barbershop,” Phil X said.
And then I knew. It was the creepy private investigator I met in the hair salon in August! The one I chronicled in my blog post, “The Private Detective.”
“I’m ready to start working on my book soon. The one I told you about? You said you were a writer?”
“Yeah, right. I remember.”
“Well, I’ll be traveling to Washington, DC soon to interview some very high profile, famous people. Key witnesses. I wondered if you might like to come along. You know, to observe an actual interrogation.”
“I don’t think my husband would go for that,” I said.
“Okay. So, I researched you pretty thoroughly and I think you might be the right person to write my story, but I need to read something of yours first. Do you think you could let me borrow one of your books? To see if I like it.”
Red flags are dropping from the sky. This total stranger wants me to go to Washington with him, possibly write his book and he won’t even buy one of my books?
“I’ve never had anyone ask to borrow one of my books,” I said.
“Well, you know, I don’t want to buy it. I might not like it.”
“It’s $13.00,” I said. “That’s the way it works when you buy a book. There’s always the risk you might not enjoy it.”
We went back and forth a bit about why he should or shouldn’t buy my book.
“I have other published material you could find online,” I offered. But I was convinced I wanted nothing to do with this loser.
“Well, think about it,” Phil X said. “It’s going to be a best seller. I’m sure Hollywood will want to make a movie about this. It’s got everything: sex trafficking, murders–like at least four murders–Washington politicians.”
He paused and I said nothing. “Oh, and I should warn you, you won’t be able to publish under your own name. It’s too dangerous. In fact, you could be killed when they figure out who helped me write it.”
“Yeah, I’ll think about it,” I said. Although there was nothing to think about. This guy knows nothing about the publishing industry, and wants me to write his story for free? A story that might get me killed? No thanks.
Several weeks ago, I received an invitation to participate as a panel judge in a one-page critique “challenge” for the CPRW (Central Pennsylvania Romance Writers). Delighted, I accepted and prepared myself.
So this past Saturday morning, when I showed up for my assignment, I got quite the mental workout. When I’ve critiqued other writers’ works in the past, I had the benefit of reading it myself. But this exercise involved intense, active listening.
As a moderator read the first page of an anonymous author’s work, the panel gave feedback. All without the benefit of a title, or clue about who submitted the work.
I admit, I was nervous going into this adventure, and it proved even harder than I anticipated. But I learned so much listening and concentrating on these novel beginnings. It reminded me that at heart, all writers are storytellers first, whatever the genre. I also learned romance writing has many faces; some stories scared me, some made me laugh, and a couple of them left me scratching my head in confusion.
Thank you to CPRW for the experience! I enjoyed the seven story beginnings I had the honor to judge. Perhaps, more importantly, all of them made me want to read more for myself. And as writers (and readers), we can’t ask for much more.
Yesterday I participated in the first Allegheny Regional Festival of Books as one of many featured authors in beautiful downtown Bedford, PA. My daughter, Chelsea volunteered to help me tote books and set up shop in one of four author tents.
Although the skies were overcast, things brightened after greeting friends I’ve met over the years through Pennwriters and making new friends among my fellow tent-mates.
It’s humbling and nerve-wracking preparing for these kinds of events. There is a sense of immense gratitude for the invitation to participate, as well as a foreboding anxiety wondering how things will fare. The little voice that whispers and wonders: Gee, will I sell any books today?
The weather concerned everyone. Outdoor events and rain do not bode well together. But the drizzle faded, the mood brightened, and folks meandered into our tent and bought books.
An hour into the festival, I sold my first book and breathed a sigh of relief. I texted my husband, Todd and shared the news. “I’m not sure how many books I’ll sell today. The weather’s lousy.”
Todd, eternal optimist texted back, “Don’t worry about how many books you sell. That’s not important. Remember, you’re building your brand. That’s why you’re there.”
Excellent advice. I shared his pep-talk with my tent-mates when I spied them glancing at their watches and pacing around to feed their Fitbits steps. I hoped the message comforted those struggling to sell books. And, I felt a strong sense of kinship as I heard the repeated elevator pitches about their work.
So I sold some books, made some friends, and can’t wait to do it again.
Eavesdropping. We’ve all done it, or fallen prey to it. But has eavesdropping ever worked for you in a way you never imagined?
Last evening my family and I reconnected with friends we hadn’t seen since I’d published my book, Money Man this past January. Our friends, kind and supportive folks, peppered me with questions about my book and graciously listened as I rattled on about the publishing process and the challenges we authors face promoting our work.
My brilliant editor, Demi Stevens gave me invaluable advice when I received the first “proof” copies of my book. “Keep one of these copies with you in your purse at all times,” she said. “Whenever anyone asks you about your book, whip out your copy and hand it to them.” Great advice I strived to follow. If you ever saw me slogging around town with my big purse, now you know why.
True to form, I pulled out my book and handed it to our friends to check out. They took turns reading the back cover and handed it back to me. Meanwhile, seated nearby, a couple appeared to hang on every word of our conversation. I wondered if we needed to adjust our volume.
We finished dinner and settled the bill when the eavesdropping woman approached our table and bent down to speak to me. “Congratulations on your book,” she said. “I found it on Amazon and just ordered it!”
“Wow, thank you,” I said. “I hope you enjoy it.”
“Who was that,” my husband asked?
“I have no idea,” I said.
“Those people were straight-up eavesdropping,” my daughter, Chelsea said.
“Yeah, they were,” I said. “Best advertising ever.”