Rudolph

Tis the season of lights. Whether a flame that miraculously flickers long past the expected time, an antidote that casts out darkness, or a beacon that guides, lights glow—just like Rudolph’s shiny nose. When our own light shines, we, too, sparkle. We radiate. We wear an aura that makes our world a bit brighter.

During this season, let your light shine by dwelling in a happy place. Bask in memories of moments that put a smile on your face, pep in your step, and warmth in your heart.

I will do the same, right here, right now.

Recipient

One morning, I stopped, as I often do, for breakfast. I read a little, collect my thoughts, and scribble a few to-do notes. I eat, I drink, I pay, and I leave. On this day, the check for my breakfast did not arrive. When I asked the waitress for it, she said, “You’re all set.” While placing a tip on the table, she added, “You’re all set with that, too.” A patron at the restaurant gave the waitress money to pay for someone’s breakfast. “I chose you,” the waitress said. That was one delicious start to my day.

On another morning, at a different venue, I purchased coffee to go and later discovered a surprise treat in the bag, something yummy to enjoy with my coffee. I stopped in the next day to say thank-you and pay for this item when I learned that this treat was a freebie. Why? “Because I like your face!” How sweet is that.

“Thank you for coming here today.” That’s the greeting I regularly heard at a client site whenever I arrived to do some work. Before I settled in to tackle a writing project, I was in a happy mood. How nice to hear words of appreciation said with sincerity.

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I am a published author! In 2011, I published my first book, Career Success in 12 Easy Steps: a Journal. In 2014, I published my second book, A Bisl of This, A Bisl of That: Eating Our Way. In 2017, I published my latest book, Living Well in Froggy’s World of Plenty: Sweet Talk to Read. At this rate, book four should be ready in 2020. Yikes! It’s almost time to consider a topic.

In the meantime, I’m going to write a talk that I can deliver to audiences, sharing my experiences authoring, publishing, and promoting my books. What will I say?

That depends on what audiences want to know. For now, I’ll put my imagination to work and think about one member of my audience—you.

Living Well in Froggy’s World of Plenty

You might like to know that before I started writing about Froggy and his critter friends, I could feel a book percolating. Then on Leap Year day, February 29, 2016, the bubbles surfaced. Froggy has a wart that one day is gone, gone, gone. He wasn’t sure how this happened. Froggy, Flutter By, Orchid, Sweetie B, Bobalong Bird, and their other critter friends would help me to explore and discover healing and wellness.

You might like to know that while writing about Froggy, I was ensconced in a happy place. I sat at the beautiful cherry writer’s desk that my woodworker brother built especially for me. Using a new laptop computer, I wrote in brief stints of maybe an hour or so before starting my workday. From the window at my left, I looked at the changing seasons and let the stories—30 or so slices of life—write themselves.

You might like to know that while writing about Froggy, it occurred to me that, if Mom were still alive, she would be 100 on May 28, 2017. That gave me a goal. Books would be in hand to distribute to family and friends who would gather on that day. I am happy to say, “Mission accomplished.”

A Bisl of This, A Bisl of That

You might like to know about the origins for this book—a combination cookbook, inspiration, and memoir. I called my cousin to wish her well on upcoming surgery. The worrying tone changed when I asked for one of Grandma’s famous recipes. “Let’s start a cookbook,” she suggested. “You send an email to all the cousins, with a copy to me, requesting favorite recipes,” I responded. And so it began.

You might like to know that a few recipes trickled in. Then a few more arrived. I forwarded all arriving emails so that the cousins and others could see how this project was taking shape. More recipes arrived as well as requests to include Larry’s Potato Latkes (pancakes), Aunt Jeanette’s Stuffed Cabbage, Mom’s Chocolate Sponge Cake, Grandma’s special Mile-High Lemon Meringue Pie. Stories accompanied the recipes and the requests—heartwarming remembrances of cooks and kitchens that continue to nourish and sustain.

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An excerpt from Living Well in Froggy’s World of Plenty: Sweet Talk to Read Aloud by Judith Ellison Shenouda

When all is well and good in Froggy’s world, there’s a sense of light—light weight, light load, light mood, light head, and light heart.

Froggy stretches and straightens all fours and jumps higher and higher. As if on a springboard and becoming weightless, up, up, up Froggy goes and then gently lands, this time on the lanky, long, lush, green grass growing from terra firma, swaying to and fro, right next to Froggy’s watering hole.

With all the leaps and bounds, Froggy seeks nourishment. A teeny, tiny bug and a wayward ant are just enough to satisfy his hunger and yet maintain a lithe Froggy physique.

During this particular day, Froggy feels especially playful. After all, today is the summer solstice and the sun rises early and sets late. This is a day of light, more light, and more light still. On this day, the hot sun with a powerful, strong beam feels so, so good drying Froggy’s damp, soggy back.

Venturing from the pond, the thick, silky grass tickles Froggy’s toes and legs and tummy, making Froggy laugh and laugh and laugh again. “Croak, croak, croak. Ha, ha, ha.”

“How my critter friends amuse me, day in and day out. Let me explain.”

For Froggy’s explanation and more slices of life well lived, read Living Well in Froggy’s World of Plenty: Sweet Talk to Read Aloud, available at Create Space, Amazon, and other online stores. There’s fun, inspiration, and wisdom on every page.

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A word cloud of sweet talk you’ll read in Froggy’s World of Plenty

On February 29, 2016, Leap Year Day, I started a story here about Froggy. I added a another blog entry about Froggy and his critter friends, and then I added another, and then I added yet another. Along the way, while writing and imagining the critters’ perfect world of plenty, I set a goal. On May 28, 2017, Froggy’s story would be a book that I could distribute at a gathering to honor my dear mother on what would have been her 100th birthday. That wonderful day has now come and gone. Family and friends have their books in hand.

Here is a slice of life just for you from Living Well in Froggy’s World of Plenty: Sweet Talk to Read Aloud.

A hobby makes one limber, lively, and lovely

The critters all had hobbies, activities that brought them pleasure and joy.

Some of the hobbies were physical. Anty Annie, believe it or not, was into body building. She would position each limb, assume a perfect posture, and pose.

Bumbler B and Sweetie B often listened to the birdsongs around them, and they would whirl and twirl and dance, dance, dance.

Flutter By was crafty, indeed. She loved fabrics, textures, and colors, and could she ever sew and knit caps, capes, and other wearable art.

Fuzzy Chick Chick loved teaching Baby Chick Chick how to decorate egg shells with squares and diamonds, dots and lines, and curls and swirls.

Mama Orchid and daughter Minnie O loved to collect and categorize. They had samples of every type of orchid around. They could identify even the minutest details of their pedigree.

Mr. Tree was deeply into genealogy. He meticulously observed the roots and scrupulously studied the origins of his many critter friends. Read More

bookclub

Are you a member of a book club? If so, you may wonder if your book club is representative of the many, many book clubs that thrive in so many venues and so many communities throughout the U.S. and the world. If you are not yet fortunate enough to be part of a book club, you might have wondered what exactly occurs.

To book club members who are curious about other clubs, to book club wannabes, and, especially, to members of the Nonfiction Book Club I’m attending tomorrow, here’s a sneak preview of what to expect.

Our book club protocol

In our book club, members arrive promptly, since the room typically is full with 20 or so serious readers gathered around a large conference table in our town’s library. Club membership is exclusive, only in the sense that we are serious readers. We each attend voluntarily and welcome whoever walks in the door. Often first-timers become regulars.

We select our books for the coming year in December, and, at each month’s meeting, the library provides copies of the book for the following month, which we check out and begin to read. Club members take turns leading the discussion and do so willingly (or with a gentle nudge). Each month’s leader brings a unique, personal style to the table. What all share is a commitment to creating an atmosphere that is respectful. We talk and we listen. We explore many facets of a book and we learn.

Our book for this month is The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan. It will be my pleasure (truly!) to lead tomorrow’s discussion, since I loved, loved, loved this book.

Here’s what I have in mind:

Greet everyone who walks in the door—the regulars and the newbies. Be sure that everyone has a nametag, a copy of the year’s schedule, and “Talking About Nonfiction Books”—a discussion sheet that club members assembled over time.

Kick off the discussion with a brief introduction (my name, length of time with the book club, interests, and so forth) and ask others to do the same. As part of their introductions, ask them to share a few aspects of the book that they want to discuss.

With pencil (yes, always a pencil with an eraser) in hand, I circle items on the discussion sheet that we should cover during our time together and scribble notes. For me, this sheet, with everyone’s input noted, guides the give-and-take that ensues.

I then let people talk. Let them ask. Let them discuss. Let them argue (amicably). The task is to simply herd the cats.

My two cents

Every now and then, I throw in my two cents. Read More

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Half moon cookies made from scratch (My brother Larry, me, and the cookies!)

December is here. With the colder weather and holidays, we often look to comfort foods like these yummy half moon cookies. Yes, they include the white flour and sugar that we like to keep in check. Yet, they are so, so good and often are reminiscent of a favorite childhood hometown bakery, like Snowflake or Harrison or Blooms in Syracuse, New York, where I grew up and still have deep roots.

Whether you call them half moons as we did in the ‘cuse, black and whites, or something else, serve them on a special occasion. After all, we all enjoy some extra sweetness.

Here’s the recipe Larry followed (courtesy of family friend, Eileen). Along with the turkey, we gobbled these up at our Thanksgiving feast!

The Recipe

Cookies

1 – Mix and set aside

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp baking power

3 1/2 cup flour (sifted)

2 – Mix

1 cup shortening and 1 1/2 cups sugar

Add 2 eggs and 1 tsp vanilla

Mix until creamy and light

3 – Prepare the sour milk

1 cup milk

1 tbsp vinegar or 1 tbsp lemon juice

Let stand for a few minutes

4 – Alternately add to the shortening / sugar mixture

Some of the dry flour mixture and then mix

Some of the sour milk and then mix

Repeat until all of the ingredients are mixed together

5 – Refrigerate for at least two hours

6 – Drop scoops of the dough on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper

(An ice cream scoop works well. Leave plenty of space between the scoops, since when the cookies flatten, they are large.)

7 – Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until a light golden color

8 – Let cool and add the frosting to the flat side of the cookie

Frosting

1 – Mix

1/4 cup Crisco shortening (can increase to 1/3 cup if the frosting seems too liquidy)

1/4 tsp salt

2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar (can increase to 3 cups if the frosting seems too liquidy)

2 – Add and mix

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

3 tbsp hot milk

3 – Add to half the mixture and mix

unsweetened cocoa (the amount is up to you)

More Favorite Recipes

The cousins, originally from Syracuse and Elmira and with new generations scattered hither and yon, compiled favorite family recipes, which resulted in A Bisl of This, A Bisl of That: Eating Our Way. Have a look. Have a taste. Click here to view on Amazon. Clear here to view on Create Space.

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Image is courtesy of Open Clipart

You may recall that Froggy imagines the day when his wart will be gone, gone, gone! On this particular day, Froggy has not a care in the world. Along with his many friends, Froggy is simply awestruck.

The critters gathered to witness a new birth. The shell wiggled, then crackled, and then broke as Fuzzy, the chick-chick, came into view. It was a miracle.

With a crack-crack here and a cluck-cluck there, Fuzzy’s family and friends rejoiced. The yard filled with papa chick, mama chick, and many other chick-chicks. All were in awe of this new creation.

Froggy, Orchid, Rosie, Squirrely, Belle Birdie, Woody, and Wiggly, too, all simply stopped. On the ground, in the trees, in the air, and near the pond, the many critter friends watched the birth and the antics of the other chickens, along with their feathered kin. Froggy and his critter friends heard the cluck-clucks, the quack-quacks, and even the moo-moos, bah-bahs, and nay-nays of neighboring creatures.

In time, Froggy and friends gathered ‘round. In awe of the new birth and the joy of those who welcomed baby Fuzzy to the yard, they were quieter than usual. Froggy and friends felt close to the cluckers and the surrounding quackers, mooers, bahers, and nayers, and to each other. Squirrely remained still just long enough to give Froggy a knowing wink that conveyed the awe that both experienced that moment.

Woody paused from his usual chipping on a favorite tree trunk and looked down to witness the earth’s critters below. Woody then looked back up, did a little two-step, and turned to see Belle Birdie dancing a pirouette. Woody nodded to Belle. Belle nodded back. Like Froggy and Squirrely, they experienced the wonder of this awe-filled day.

© 2016 Judith Ellison Shenouda

Now, tell Froggy and friends (and me, too) about your awe-filled day.